« PreviousContinue »
we were now nearly approaching to the French style of composition, several of their best tragedies were about this time translated for our stage, and well received. Zara, Mahomet, the Orphan of China, in which Voltaire had ventured more than one step towards the English taste, were easily adapted to it, by translators who had, on their side, already approximated to that of France. Yet this Aorid and diffuse species of drama, though supported by the genius of Hughes and Thompson, did not exclusively occupy the stage during the period we are treating of. The celebrated Cato of Addison (omitting the unnecessary love intrigue) is an attempt at a more chaste and classical model; taken, however, rather from the Grecian stage, than from that of Shakespeare. Glover formed his Boadicea on the same model, it was studied by Johnson for his Irene, and, with yet more strict conformity to the severity of the ancient rules, Mason produced Elfrida, and his inimitable Caractacus. Yet these pieces, although the welcome of the first was secured by fashion, literary intrigue, and party spirit, do not appear adapted to the taste of an English audience, accustomed, as they are, to pomp and circumstance, rapid incident, and the frequent change of splendid scenery. It is scarcely worth while to notice, that Howard, in his Charles I., attempted to revive the old historical tragedy, the scenes of which fluctuated between a drama and a chronicle; or that Mr Brooke gave a more successful example of somewhat the same style in his Gustavus Vasa. A very different kind of tragedy, formed in direct opposition to the school of Congreve and Rowe, seems to bid more fair for permanent popularity. This is chiefly to be found in the compositions of Lillo, which, representing calamities and crimes of private life, (those chiefly in which the catastrophe is shocking and bloody,) boast little ornament of verse, and claim attention only from the painful interest excited, and the rude, but natural language in which the actors express themselves. And if the more fastidious part of an audience are rather affected with painful horror, than with pleasing sadness, at this too naked picture of human vice and misery, the Gamester of Moore, written on the same plan, representing distress arising from a vice more familiar to their conception and habits, may convey to such the lesson which George Barnwell gives to their inferiors. Of the other tragedies produced during this period we wish to say little. Douglas alone claims distinction, and that chiefly on account of the incomparable felicity of the scene between Lady Randolph and the Shepherd, and the pure and exquisite representation of maternal affection, with which even those sympathise who have forgotten the agitation of love, and never felt the pangs of ambi. tion. Towards the conclusion of the eighteenth century, an attempt was made, by the Honourable Horace Walpole, to illustrate the more powerful passions of terror, remorse, and despair. The Mysterious Mother is a sketch executed with great ability, and, in many scenes, similar to the powerful and gloomy style of Massinger. But no exertion of poetical talent can reconcile us to its radical defect, or induce us to consider as the proper subject for popular amusement, a story more unnaturally horrid than even the Edipus of Sophocles.
In concluding these desultory observations upon the popular tragedy, it seems natural to inquire to what causes it is owing that this beautiful, classical, and moral branch of the dramatic art seems now obviously in 'its decline. We cannot impute it to a dearth of performers, for at no period has the English stage boasted of more excellent tragic representatives. It might more justly be said to arise from a failure in poetic genius, did not the works of Miss Joanna Baillie contain scenes so true to nature and feeling, yet so well graced with poetical beauty, as justly to challenge for her a place in the
foremost rank of tragic authors. The truth seems to be, that the theatre is affected by the change of fashion, which, among other caprices, has assigned late and irregular hours as a test of its votaries adherence to its dictates. Thus, unless on particular nights, the greater part of the audience is composed of persons whose day has been spent in fatiguing occupation, and whose state of mind, not to mention their general taste, seeks relaxation, rather in the amusement of comedy, than from the graver efforts of the tragic author. It were well if this were all. But women of the higher rank, whose taste used formerly to have much influence upon the amusements of the drama, cannot, in the present state of our theatres, easily visit them, without many and inconvenient precautions. A large portion of the house is avowedly abandoned to females of the worst description, whose numbers enable them to outrage decency with insolence and impunity, and to exhibit scenes much fitter for the haunts of low debauchery, than for a place of polished amusement. Late incidents also lead us to complain, that the slightest infraction of the rights of the public, real or supposed, leads to the repetition of tremendous remedies, which irresistibly remind us of the peasant in the fable, who called a squire and a pack of hounds into his garden, to chace out a poor hare, who had eat some of his cabbages. Until the natural good sense of an English audience find some remedy for these growing evils, the taste for this delightful art must become daily more corrupt and degraded. Meanwhile, the Editors may claim some merit, for furnishing the admirers of the drama with an opportunity of deriving from its master-pieces that amusement in their closet, which is now too unfrequently offered to them upon the stage, which GARRICK once Brode, and which still boasts of SIDDONS.
Thierry and Theodoret...................Ditto.............. ..............before 1621 -
TWO NOBLE KINSMEN.
SHAKESPEARE AND FLET CHER.
(Flourish. New plays and maidenheads are near akin . « From me the witless chaff of such a writer Much follow'd both, for both much money gi'n, " That blasts my bays, and my fam'd works makes If they stand sound and well: and a good play 1 , lighter (Whose modest scenes blush on his marriage-day, 1“ Than Robin Hood !” This is the fear we bring; And shake to lose his honour) is like her
For, to say truth, it were an endless thing, That after holy tie, and first night's stir,
And too ambitious, to aspire to him. Yet still is modesty, and still retains
Weak as we are, and almost breathless swim More of the maid to sight, than husband's pains. In this deep water, do but you hold out We pray our play may be so; for I'm sure Your helping hands, and we shall tack about. It has a noble breeder, and a pure,
And something do to save us, you shall hear A learned, and a poet never went
Scenes, though below his art, may yet appear More famous yet 'twixt Po, and silver Trent: Worth two hours' travel. - To his bones sweet Chaucer (of all admired) the story gives;
sleep! There constant to eternity it lives !
Content to you !-If this play do not keep If we let fall the nobleness of this,
A little dull time from us, we perceive And the first sound this child hear be a hiss, Our losses fall so thick, we must needs leave. . How will it shake the bones of that good man,
(Flourish. And make him cry from under-ground, “Oh, fan
EMILIA, her Sister.
Three Queens. VALERIUS, a Theban Nobleman,
Jailor's Daughter, in Love with PALAMON.
Servant to EMILIA.
Nymphs, Wenches, 8c.
A Taborer, Countrymen, Soldiers, 8c.