« PreviousContinue »
WHETHER Heroick Verse ought to be admitted into serious plays, is not now to be disputed: it is already in possession of the stage; and I dare confidently affirm, that very few tragedies, in this age, shall be received without it.3 All the arguments which are formed against it, can amount to no more than this,-that it is not so near
2 This Essay was originally prefixed to our author's CONQUEST OF GRANADA, which was first published in 1672. That play, however, appears to have been first acted in the year 1670; for the author in the Epilogue to the First Part, tells the audience, that he had not yet attained his fortieth year. He was born in August 1631. In the Preface to THE MOCK ASTROLOGER, which appeared in 1671, as we have already seen, he mentions THE CONQUEST OF GRANADA, as having been previously acted, though not then published.
3 Dryden, says Gildon, (Laws of POETRY, 8vo. 1721, p. 65,)" was so fond of rhyme, that he brought it upon the stage, and established it so far by his success, that he ventured in one of his prefaces to say-that it had now so
conversation as prose; and therefore not so natural. But it is very clear to all who understand poetry, that serious plays ought not to imitate conversation too nearly. If nothing were to be raised above that level, the foundation of poetry would be destroyed. And if you once admit of a latitude, that thoughts may be exalted, and that images and actions may be raised above the life, and described in measure without rhyme, that leads you insensibly from your own principles to mine: you are already so far onward of your way, that you have forsaken the imitation of ordinary converse; you are gone beyond it; and, to continue where you are, is to lodge in the open field, betwixt two inns. You have lost that which you call natural, and have not acquired the last perfection of art. But it was only custom which cozened us so long: we thought, because Shakspeare and Fletcher went no farther, that there the pillars of poetry were to
strong possession of the stage, that he durst prophecy no play would take without it; and yet he saw in less than a year's time that scarce any play could be received with it. This change was caused not only by THE REHEARSAL, but also by several admirable reflections in this Essay." [The ESSAY ON POETRY by the Earl of Mulgrave.]-With respect to the effect of that Essay, he is not quite correct; for it could not have co-operated with THE REHEARSAL in discrediting rhyme at the period mentioned, not having been published till about ten years afterwards. See Wood's AтH. OXON. ii. (Fasti) col. 223.
be erected; that, because they excellently described passion without rhyme, therefore rhyme was not capable of describing it. But time has now convinced most men of that errour. It is indeed so difficult to write verse, that the adversaries of it have a good plea against many who undertake that task, without being formed by art or nature for it. Yet, even they who have written worst in it, would have written worse without it: they have cozened many with their sound, who never took the pains to examine their sense. In fine, they have succeeded; though it is true, they have more dishonoured rhyme by their good success, than they could have done by their ill. But I am willing to let fall this argument: it is free for every man to write, or not to write, in verse, as he judges it to be or not to be his talent; or as he imagines the audience will receive it.
For Heroick Plays, (in which only I have used it without the mixture of prose,) the first light we had of them on the English Theatre was from the late Sir William D'Avenant. It being forbidden him in the rebellious times to act tragedies and comedies, because they contained some matter of scandal to those good people, who could more easily dispossess their lawful sovereign, than endure a wanton jest, he was forced to turn his thoughts another way, and to introduce the examples of moral virtue, writ in verse, and performed in reci