« VorigeDoorgaan »
Other characters of the two dramas, as well peculiar, as common, which might be accounted for from the just notion of them, delivered above, I leave to the observation of the reader. For my intention is not to write a complete treatise on the drama, but briefly to lay down such principles, from whence its laws may be derived.
OF THE GENIUS OF COMEDY.
But it may not be amiss to express myself a little more fully as to the genius of comedy; which for want of passing through the hands of such a critic as Aristotle, has been less perfectly understood.
Its end is the production of humour : or which comes to the same thing, 6 of that “ pleasure, which the truth of representation « affords, in the exhibition of the private cha“racters of life, more particularly their spe“cific differences." I add this latter clause, because the principal pleasure we take in contemplating characters consists in noting those differences. The general attributes of humanity, if represented ever so truly, give us but a slender entertainment. They, of course, make a part of the drama; but we chiefly delight in a picture of those peculiar traits, which distinguish the species. Now these discriminating marks in the characters of men are not necessarily the causes of ridicule, or pleasantry of any kind; but accidentally, and
according to the nature or quality of them. The vanity, and impertinent boasting of Thraso is the natural object of contempt, and, when truly and forcibly expressed in his own character, provokes ridicule. The easy humanity of Mitio, which is the leading part of his character, is the object of approbation ; and, when shewn in his own conduct, excités a pleasure, in common with all just expression of the manners, but of a serious nature, as being joined with the sentiment of esteem.
But now as most men find a greater pleasure in gratifying the passion of contempt, than the calm instinct of approbation, and since perhaps the constitution of human life is such, as affords more exercise for the one, than the other, hence it hath come to pass, that the comic poet, who paints for the generality, and follows nature, chuses more commonly to select and describe those peculiarities in the human character, which, by their nature, excite pleasantry, than such as create a serious regard and esteem. Hence some persons have appropriated the name of comedies to those dramas, which chiefly aim at producing humour, in the more proper sense of the word; under which view it means “ such an ex* pression or picture of what is odd, or inor
DRAMA. * dinate in each character, as gives us the « fullest and strongest image of the original, 6 and by the truth of the representation ex
poses the ridicule of it.” And it is certain, that comedy receives great advantage from representations of this kind. Nay, it cannot well subsist without them. Yet it doth not exclude the other and more serious entertainment, which, as it stands on the same foundation of truth of representation, I venture to include under the common term.
Further, there are two ways of evidencing the characteristic and predominant qualities of men, or, of producing humour, which require to be observed. The one is, when they are shewn in the perpetual course and tenor of the representation ; that is, when the humour results from the general conduct of the person in the drama, and the discourse, which he holds in it. The other is, when by an happy and lively stroke, the characteristic quality is laid open and exposed at once.
The first sort of humour is that which we find in the ancients, and especially Terence. The latter is almost peculiar to the moderns ; who, in uniting these two species of humour, have brought a vast improvement to the comic scene. The reason of this difference may perhaps have been the singular simplicity of the old writers, who were contented to take up with such sentiments or circumstances, as most naturally and readily occurred in the course of the drama: whereas the moderno have been ambitious to shew a inore exquisite and studied investigation into the workings of human nature, and have sought out for those peculiarly striking lineaments, in which the essence of character consists. On the same account, I suppose, it was that the ancients had fewer characters in their plays, than the moderns, and those more general ; that is, their dramatic writers were well satisfied with picturing the most usual personages, and in their most obvious lights. They did not, as the moderns (who, if they would aspire to the praise of novelty, were obliged to this route), cast about for less familiar characters; and the nicer and less observed peculiarities which distinguish each. Be it as it will, the observation is certain. Later dramatists have apparently shewn a more accurate knowledge of human life: and, by opening these new and untryed veins of humour, have exceedingly enriched the comedy of our times.