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If when the character to be represented naturally supposes the charms of person in the performer, it is absolutely necessary that the actor should be able to please that part of his audience which have no other means of being affected but by the eyes, as well as those who have ears and understandings. This condition is yet vastly more effential to the actresses who play the parts of those ladies whom the poet has made the objects of love, and represented as worthy to be belov'd and admir'd. It is not only a good face and a regular shape that is necessary for them on these occasions; beauty alone will not answer the purpose: 'tis something that goes infinitely farther than beauty which they ought to be possess’d of; something that exerts its influence more generally and more powerfully over the heart; 'tis that je-ne-sçais-quoi, by means of which one woman appears charming, while the want of it renders a thousand others handsome in vain ; 'tis that victorious agent, which is as certain always to take place, as never to be describ'd or defin'd.
While we in this manner require, that the performers in comedy have all those elegancies of person that we should expect to find in the happiest lovers in real life, who had nothing but their personal charms to recommend them; we also expect in every performer, who is to appear
in character to which the author has given a title and sentiments above the vulgar, an outside which may not disgrace. the qualities within ; such a person, indeed, as we should think ought to be connected with fuch accomplishments.
Tho' nature does not always proportion her endowments, either of mind or person, to the rank and station of life which people are born
to ; and we find often, a very despicable person accompanying a very high title; we cannot reconcile ourselves to this disproportion of things upon the stage; we must always have a repugnance to the seeing an actor of a mean figure attempt the character of a person of the first quality.
We should be yet more displeas'd at seeing such a performer enter in the character of some heroic general, or mighty monarch in tragedy ; he would appear to us not to perform his part, but to burlesque or turn it into travestie. We can hardly recollect an impropriety of this kind on our own stage which has any right to stand in competition with one on the French theatre, the managers of which have been some years ago so struck with an incident owing to this sort of disproportion between the figure of the actor and the inaginary one of the heroe, that they pre. ferve the remembrance of it as an eternal rule for the better adapting such parts for the future. А young perfornier on that ftage, who had all the grand requisites of the mind to the forming a masterly player ; who had sensibility, fire, and an excellent understanding; but with all these, a figure very ill cut out for the representing a heroe, would attempt the character of Mithridates : he play'd it in such a manner that his audience would have been all charm’d with him, if they had been all blind; but unluckily, in spite of all his merit, the disagreeableness of his person prejudic'd the whole house against him ; and, in one of the scenes where a princess who is with him, perceiving some uncommon emotion in his face, tells him, you change countenance ; a pleasant fellow cry'd out from among the spectators, O! let him! let him by all means! In a moment all the merit of the actor was lost and bury'd, and the audience thought of nothing, during the remainder of the performance, but of the difproportion between his person and the character he represented.
Every actor in a tragedy ought to bave a noble and majestic figure; the nature of this species of the drama requires, that every thing about it carry the air of grandeur : there are in tragedy, indeed, subordinate characters, but there are no subaltern, “no low ones, as in comedy : it admits of humble friends or confidents, but then these are the confidents of princes and of heroes, and share with them the danger and the glory of governing kingdoms, or of forming the schemes of the most heroic actions. It is therefore necessary that the figure of every actor in this way, even of those who have the smallest, the least important parts allign'd them, should agree with the dignity of their characters, not with the length of their speeches, or the importance of the share they chance to bear in the action; and that they be such men as we may, without absurdity, suppose the persons they represent to have been.
It is absolutely necessary that those who play the capital parts in tragedy should have majestic and striking figures, fit for every noble enterprize the poet for the night may think proper to put into their characters: and it is not only requisite that we see in them that majesly of air and deportment as well as figure, by which superior souls are generally understood to be described to us, but it is also necessary that there be a sedate composure in their countenance, that few but those of very elevated minds ever attain to.
The whole bufinefs of comedy being to divert and entertain us, it is not wonderful that the very nature of the performance banishes from it every thing that would tend to oppose the pleasure it aims to promote; and terror being one of the impressions which it is the peculiar privilege of tragedy to excite in us, one might be apt to be furpriz'd that it should require in the persons who are to perform in it a figure which might Teem, at first sight, as much as any thing could be, contrary to the nature of such an intent. Two easy reflections will let us into the secret of all this seeming contradiction : tragedy may, on many occasions, represent to us cruel, nay barbarous and savage actions of the persons who make a principal figure in the piece; but then these are always the effect of some violent transport of rage, not of a temper in the person naturally brutal. We are very willing that the heroes in tragedy should be culpable, but we would always have them be criminal with great excuses, and as it were in spite of themselves : we expect that even in the very act of delivering themselves up to the ill, they should preserve a kind of love and reverence for the good ; and that they be led on artfully to the precipice, not that they plunge themselves voluntarily headlong into it.
The murder of Desdemona by Othello : is one of the most brutal things done by the heroe of a play that we have an instance of; but with what a judicious care does the author excuse it in this unhappy man, by the thousand circumstances that he contrives to lead to it, and how nicely has he distinguished between the savage fury of a bravo, and the juft resentment of an unoffending, injur'd husband, by making him in love with her even at the mo
ment that he is about to destroy her. Whoever will look into the following passages with this view, will find great reason to be fatisfy'd with the conduct of this scene of revenge, savage and brutish as it is in the period; I say, whoever will look into them in his closet will find this ; for the judgment of the people who prepare and cut plays for the actors is not quite enough to lead them to comprehend the neceffity of fome of thofe things which affist in the palliating the circumstances in this manner, so that we do not hear them on the stage.
When lago has by his cunning rais’d the jealousy of the heroe to that pitch that he seems certain of his wife's crime, his resentment bursts out not against her, but the suppos'd villain who had wrong'd him with her,
I woulj have him nine years a killing,
we expect some horrible threat next against the lady, but he melts into tenderness, and only says,
A fine woman? a fair woman!. a sweet woman!
and 'tis with difficulty that lago, who answers, Nay, you must forget that, is able to conjure up any other thoughts in him. This is one of thofe soothing passages which shew how much against the nature of the heroe is the crime he is afterwards to commit; and it is one of the many of the same kind struck out by the prompters from his part.
Immediately after this, when he exclaims in the violence of his rage,