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PROVINCES OF THE DRAMA.
In the former Essay, I gave an idea, or slight sketch, of Universal Poetry. In this, I attempt to deduce the laws of one of its kinds, the Dramatic, under all its forms. And I engage
in this task, the rather, because, though much has been said on the subject of the drama, writers seem not to have taken sufficient pains to distinguish, with exactness, its several species.
I deduce the laws of this poem, as I did those of poetry at large, from the consideration of its end: not the general end of poetry, which alone was proper to be considered in the former case, but the proximate end of this kind. For from these ends, in subordination to that, which governs the genus, or which all poetry, as such, designs and prosecutes, are the peculiar rules and maxims of each species to be derived.
The PURPOSE OF THE DRAMA is, universally, “ to represent human life in the way of “ action.” But as such representation is made for separate and distinct ENDS, it is, further, distinguished into different species, which we know by the names of TRAGEDY, COMEDY, and FARCE.
By TRAGEDY, then, I mean that species of dramatic representation, whose end is “ to excite the passions of pity and TERROR, and perhaps some others, nearly allied to them."
By Comedy that, which proposeth, for the ends of its representation, “ the sensation of pleasure arising from a view of the truth of CHARACTERS, more especially their specific differences."
By Farce I understand, that species of the drama, “ whose sole aim and tendency is to excite LAUGHTER."
The idea of these three species being then proposed, let us now see, what conclusions may be drawn from it. And chiefly in respect of Tragedy and Comedy, which are most important. For as to what concerns the province of Farce, this will be easily understood, when the character of the other two is once settled.