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a naked man of his doublet; but a fool of a colder constitution would have stayed to have flead the Pict, and made buff of his skin, for the wearing of the
To bring these observations to some useful purpose of life, what I would propose should be, that we imitated those wise nations, wherein every man learns some handicraft-work.–Would it not employ a beau prettily enough, if, instead of eternally playing with a snuff-box, he spent some part of his time in making one ? Such a method as this would very much conduce to the public emolument, by making every man living good for something; for there would then be no one member of human society, but would have some little pretension for some degree in it: like him who came to Will's coffee-house, upon the merit of having writ a posy of a ring.-R.
N° 44. FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 1711.
Tu, quid ego et populus mecum desideret, audi.
Hor. Ars Poet. ver. 123. Now hear what every auditor expects.-Roscom MON. AMONG the several artifices which are put in tice by the poets to fill the minds of an audience with terror, the first place is due to thunder and lightning, which are often made use of at the descending of a god, or the rising of a ghost, at the vanishing of a devil, or at the death of a tyrant. I have known a bell introduced into several tragedies with good effect; and have seen the whole assembly in a very great alarm all the while it has been ringing. But
there is nothing which delights and terrifies our English theatre so much as a ghost, espe
cially when he appears in a bloody shirt. A spectre has very often saved a play, though he has done nothing but stalked across the stage, or rose through a cleft of it, and sunk again without speaking one word. There may be a proper season for these several terrors; and when they only come in as aids and assistances to the poet, they are not only to be excused, but to be applauded. Thus the sounding of the clock in Venice Preserved makes the hearts of the whole audience quake; and conveys a stronger terror to the mind than it is possible for words to do. The appearance of the ghost in Hamlet is a master-piece in its kind, and wrought up with all the circumstances that can create either attention or horror. The mind of the reader is wonderfully prepared for his reception by the discourses that precede it. His dumb behaviour at his first entrance strikes the imagination very strongly; but every time he enters, he is still more terrifying. Who can read the speech with which young Hamlet accoșts him without trembling?
Hor. Look, my Lord, it comes !
Ham. Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Events for advents, comings, or visits. We read in other
I do not therefore find fault with the artifices above mentioned, when they are introduced with skill, and accompanied by proportionable sentiments and expressions in the writing.
For the moving of pity, our principal machine is the handkerchief; and indeed, in our common tragedies, we should not know
often that the persons are in distress by any thing they say, if they did not from time to time apply their handkerchiefs to their eyes.
Far be it from me to think of banishing this instrument of sorrow from the stage; I know a tragedy could not subsist without it; all that I would contend for, is to keep it from being misapplied. In a word, I would have the actor's tongue sympathize
with his eyes.
A disconsolate mother, with a child in her hand, has frequently drawn compassion from the audience, and has therefore gained a place in several tragedies. A modern writer, that observed how this had took in other plays, being resolved to double the distress, and melt his audience twice as much as those before him had done, brought a princess upon the stage with a little boy in one hand, and a girl in the other. This too had a very good effect. A third poet being resolved to outwrite all his predecessors, a few years ago introduced three children with great success : and as I am informed, a young gentleman, who is fully determined to break the most obdurate hearts, has a tragedy by him, where the first
that appears upon the stage is an afflicted widow in her mourning weeds, with half a dozen fatherless children attending her like those that usually hung about the figure of Charity. Thus several incidents that are beautiful in a good writer, become ridiculous by falling into the hands of a bad one. among
all our methods of moving pity or terror, there is none so absurd and barbarous, and what
more exposes us to the contempt and ridicule of our neighbours, than that dreadful butchering of one another, which is very frequent upon the English stage. To delight in seeing men stabbed, poisoned, racked, or impaled, is certainly the sign of a cruel temper: and as this is often practised before the British audience, several French critics, who think these are grateful spectacles to us, take occasion from them to represent us as a people that delight in blood. It is indeed very odd, to see our stage strewed with carcasses in the last scenes of a tragedy; and to observe in the wardrobe of the playhouse several daggers, poniards, wheels, bowls for poison, and many other instruments of death. Murders and executions are always transacted behind the scenes in the French theatre ; which in general is very agreeable to the manners of a polite and civilized people : but as there are no exceptions to this rule on the French stage, it leads them into absurdities almost as ridiculous as that which falls under our present censure. I remember in the famous play of Corneille, written
upon the subject of the Horatii and Curiatii; the fierce
young hero who had overcome the Curiatii one after another (instead of being congratulated by his sister for his victory being upbraided by her for having slain her lover), in the height of his passion and resentment kills her. If any thing could extenuate so brutal an action, it would be the doing of it on a sudden, before the sentiments of nature, reason, or manhood, could take place in him. However, to avoid public bloodshed, as soon as his passion is wrought to its height, he follows his sister the whole length of the stage, and forbears killing her till they are both withdrawn behind the scenes. I must confess, had he murdered her before the audience, the indecency might have been greater ; but as it is, it appears very unnatural, and looks like killing in cold
blood. To give my opinion upon this case, the fact ought not to have been represented, but to have been told, if there was any occasion for it.
It may not be unacceptable to the reader to see how. Sophocles has conducted a tragedy under the like delicate circumstances. Orestes was in the same condition with Hamlet in Shakspeare, his mother having murdered his father, and taken possession of his kingdom in conspiracy with her adulterer. That young prince, therefore, being determined to revenge his father's death upon those who filled his throne, conveys himself by a beautiful stratagem into his. mother's apartment, with a resolution to kill her. But because such a spectacle would have been too shocking to the audience, this dreadful resolution is executed behind the scenes : the mother is heard calling out to her son for
and the son answering her, that she shewed no mercy to his father ; after which she shrieks out that she is wounded, and by what follows we find that she is slain. I do not remember that in any of our plays there are speeches made behind the scenes, though there are other instances of this nature to be met with in those of the ancients : and I believe my reader will agree
with me, that there is something infinitely more affecting in this dreadful dialogue between the mother and her son behind the scenes, than could have been in any thing transacted before the audience. Orestes immediately after meets the usurper at the entrance of his palace; and by a very happy thought of the poet avoids killing him before the audience, by telling him that he should live some time in his present bitterness of soul before he would dispatch him, and by ordering him to retire into that part of the palace where he had slain his father, whose murder he would revenge in
very same place where it was committed. By this means the poet observes that decency, which