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FIRST SPEAKER. — Sir, The question of the morality or immorality of theatrical entertainments is one of the most interesting, and probably one of the most important, that can engage us. When we reflect upon the universal passion that has been exhibited for this species of amusement; when we further remember that some of the noblest productions of human intellect have been offered to the world through the medium of the Stage ; and when, lastly, we bear in mind that the theatre is one of the chief pleasures of the youthful members of the community in all times and countries, we shall see at once that we have here a subject well worthy of debate.
I mean to maintain, Sir, that the Stage has not a moral tendency : and I come to this conclusion not because I have any ascetic objection to the gay nature of the pleasure in itself, nor because I think that there are any sound religious objections against theatrical entertainments in the abstract ; but because, after fairly weighing the arguments
for and against, I conceive that the Stage does more harm than good.
That the Stage might be made a great and powerful moral teacher, I will not pretend to dispute: that it has done much moral good, I will not deny either: but our question concerns the
present tendency of the drama only : and that, I still assert, is evil.
What, then, is the Stage? A medium for presenting to the world the sweepings and rubbish-heaps of intellect : Tragedies of milk and water: Comedies of fashionable licentiousness : Farces of inane absurdity: Dramas of blood, bluefire and slang : Operas of the most irredeemable silliness ; and Ballets of the most gross indecency.
This is the Stage itself; and now what of its promoters? Its authors (with one or two exceptions) are not the men of talent of the day (- they are driven away from the boards by want of encouragement) - but the scavengers of literature: men who do not originate, but copy from the worst originals they can find, and manage to corrupt even them. The implements of our dramatists are not thought, passion, and knowledge ; but scissors and paste merely. Oh! what a change from Shakspere!
• Who but must mourn, while these are all the rage,
The degradations of our vaunted stage? And who are the actors? There are individual
exceptions of great worth, but as a body they are the most profligate, shameless, and impure of the species. You find among them adulterers, seducers, gamblers, drunkards, and common knaves innumerable: who can expect much morality from them?
And who are the patrons of the Stage? Who are the people that visit the theatre ? Listless fashionables, rakish dandies, smug apprentices, dissipated shopmen, and idlers about town: just the very congregation you would expect to attend such preaching !
I feel that I have very little need to ask you whether all this can be in the least favourable to morality : for myself I am at present quite convinced to the contrary; and until I hear arguments stronger than any to which I have ever yet listened on the subject, I fear that I shall remain of the same opinion.
SECOND SPEAKER. — Sir, With a great deal that was smart and pointed in the remarks of the previous speaker, there was, in my opinion, much that was thoughtless, if not illogical. Admitting that the Stage is neither so great nor so pure as it was in Shakspere's time, the proof of this is by no means a fair argument against its abstract morality. Every thing of earth is liable to abuse : and the Stage is of course not an exception.
Our friend referred to the great taste that exists for theatrical entertainments: now does not this of itself prove that the Stage is looked to by mankind as a moral teacher? So extended and universal a passion ought to be gratified because it is extended and universal. I would not pander to that taste: but I would certainly do my best to satisfy it, and through it direct the mind to truly moral pleasures.
What the Stage has done ought to be most carefully borne in mind in answering the question. We should not forget how the Greek tragedians softened, purified, and elevated the barbaric mind; how the Roman players extended civilisation and refinement; how the great Shakspere impressed the heart of the world with thoughts of truth, grace, and beauty, that can never die : and how since, as well as previously, our dramatists have portrayed, and our actors have. delineated, honour, courage, patriotism, friendship, and virtue, till their principles must have been engraven in the very souls of the spectators.
Well, if the Drama has done this, it can surely do it still. What has been, may always be again: and although it must be admitted that the Drama of the present day is not to be approved or defended, still I believe that it is even now working
its own cure, and that before long, the full glory and full value of the Stage will re-appear.
THIRD SPEAKER. – Sir, I really feel some difficulty in following my worthy friend who has just ceased to speak : for I am not accustomed to such peculiar logic, and such extraordinary metaphysics.
The first argument which the gentleman employed to defend dramatic representations was one of the most striking and original I ever remember to have heard. It was to this effect: That a's there exists (whether right or wrong, no matter) in a certain class of the community, a “taste" for dramatic representations, it is right, nay it is necessary, to gratify that taste. Truly this is very entertaining logic; and will lead us to strange conclusions, I imagine. Sir, I have been credibly informed, and by many concurrent testimonies have been led to believe, that there exists, somewhere or other in this great metropolis, a somewhat large class of persons facetiously denominated the “ light-fingered gentry,” who have
” for relieving people's pockets of silk handkerchiefs, purses, snuff-boxes, and other trinkets equally desirable. Now, according to our friend, this taste ought to be gratified. Here it is, and we ought not by any means to oppose it. No matter whether picking and stealing be