Imagens das páginas

1. Comedy, by the very terms of the definition, is conversant about characters. And if we observe, that which creates the pleasure we find in contemplating the lives of men, considered as distinct from the interest we take in their fortunes, is the contemplation of their manners and humours. Their actions, when they are not of that sort, which seizes our admiration, or catches the affections, are no otherwise considered by us, than as they are sensible indications of the internal sentiment and disposition. Our intimate consciousness of the several turns and windings of our nature, makes us attend to these pictures of human life with an incredible curiosity. And herein the

proper entertainment, which comic representation, as such, administers to the mind, consists. By turning the thought on event and action, this entertainment is proportionably lessened; that is, the end of comedy is less perfectly attained a.


d Aristotle was of the same mind, as appears from his definition of comedy, which, says he, is MIMHEIE ArAOTEPNN ; [x. 6.] that is, the imitation of characters, whatever be the distinct meaning of the term φαυλότεροι. . It is true, this critic, in his account of the origin of tragedy and comedy, makes them both the imitations of acTIONς. Οι μεν ζεμνότεροι ΤΑΣ ΚΑΛΑΣ εμιμόνιο ΠΡΑΞΕΙΣ, οι δε ευτελέςεροι ΤΑΣ των φαύλων. [κ. δ.] Yet, even here, the expression is so put, as if he had been conscious that persons, not actions, were the direct object of comedy. And the quotation, now alledged from another place, where a definition is given more in form, shews, that this was, in eiect, his sentiment.

But here, again, though action be not the main object of comedy, yet it is not to be neglected, any more than character in tragedy, but comes in as an useful accessory, or assistant to it. For the manners of men only shew themselves, or shew themselves most usually, in action. It is this, which fetches out the latent strokes of character, and renders the inward temper and disposition the object of

Probable circumstances are then imagined, and a certain train of action contrived, to evidence the internal qualities. There is no other, or no probable way, but this, of bringing us acquainted with them. Again; by engaging his characters in a course of action and the pursuit of some end, the comic poet leaves them to express themselves undisguisedly, and without design; in which the essence of humour consists.


Add to this, that when the fable is so contrived as to attach the mind, we very naturally fancy ourselves present at a course of living action. And this illusion quickens our attention to the characters, which no longer appear to us creatures of the poet's fiction, but actors in real life.


These observations concerning the mode- ' rated use of action in comedy, instruct us what to think “ of those intricate Spanish plots, 6 which have been in use, and have taken both “ with us and some French writers for the

stage. The truth is, they have hindered

very much the main end of comedy. For “ when these unnatural plots are used, the “mind is not only entirely drawn off from " the characters by those surprizing turns and “ revolutions; but characters have no oppor

tunity even of being called out and displaying " themselves. For the actors of all characters “ succeed and are embarrassed alike, when the « instruments for carrying on designs are only perplexed apartments, dark entries, dis

guised habits, and ladders of ropes. The “ comic plot is, and must, indeed, be carried “ on by deceipt. The Spanish scene does it

by deceiving the man through his senses: Te“ rence and Moliere, by deceiving him through his passions and affections. This is the $ right method : for the character is not called "out under the first species of deceipt: under ** the second, the character does all,

[ocr errors]

2. As character, not action, is the object of comedy ; so the characters it paints must not be of singular and illustrious note, either for their virtues or vices. The reason is, that such characters take too fast hold of the affections, and so call off the mind from adverting to the truth of the manners; that is, from receiving the pleasure, which this poein intends. Our sense of imitation is that to which the comic poet addresses himself; but such pictures of eminent worth or villainy seize upon the moral sense; and by raising the strong correspondent passions of admiration and abhorrence, turn us aside from contemplating the imitation itself. And,

3. For a like cause, comedy confines its views to the characters of private und inferior persons. For the truth of character, which is the spring of humour, being necessarily, as was observed, to be shewn through the medium of action, and the actions of the great being usually such as excite the pathos, it follows of course, that these cannot, with propriety, be made the actors in comedy. Persons of high and public life, if they are drawn agreeably to our accustomed ideas of them, must be em. ployed in such a course of action, as arrests the attention, or interests the passions; and

[ocr errors]

either way it diverts the mind from observing the truth of manners, that is, it prevents the attainment of the specific end, which comedy designs.

And if the reason, here given, be sufficient to exclude the higher characters in life from this drama, even where the representation is intended to be serious, we shall find it still more improper to expose them in any pleasant or ridiculous light. 'Tis true, the follies and foibles of the great will apparently take an easier ridicule by representation, than those of their inferiors. And this it was, which misled the celebrated P. Corneille into the opinion, that the actions of the great, and even of kings themselves, provided they be of the ridiculous kind, are as fit objects of comedy, as any other. But he did not reflect, that the actions of the great being usually such, as interest the intire community, at least scarcely any other falling beneath vulgar notice; and, the higher characters being rarely seen or contemplated by the people but with reverence, hence it is, that in fact, the representation of high life cannot, without offence to probability, be made ridiculous, or consequently be admitted into comedy under this view. And therefore PLAUTUS, when he thought fit to

« AnteriorContinuar »