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Of that fort of Dramatic Poem
which is call’d Tragedy.
RAGEDY, as it was antiently compos’d, hath been ever held the gravest, moral
est, and most profitable of all other Poems: therefore said by Aristotle to be of power by raising pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions, that is to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight, stirr'd up by reading or seeing those passions well imitated. Nor is Nature wanting in her own effects to make good his assertion : for so in Physic things of melancholic hue and quality are us'd against melancholy, lowr against sowr, salt to remove falt humours. Hence Philosophers and other gravest Writers, as Cicero, Plutarch and others, frequently cite out of Tragic Poets, both to adorn and illustrate thir discourse. The Apostle Paul himself thought it not unworthy to insert a verse of Euripides into the Text of Holy Scripture, 1 Cor. 15. 33. and Paraus commenting on the Revelation, divides the whole Book as a Tragedy, into Acts distinguisht each by a Chorus of Heavenly Harpings and Song between. Here3 tofore Men in highest dignity have labour'd not a little to be thought able to compose a Tragedy. Of that honour Dionysus the elder was no less ambitious, then before of his attaining to the Tyranny. Augustus Cæfar also had begun his Ajax, but unable to please his own judgment with what he had begun, left it unfinisht. Seneca the Philosopher is by some thought the Author of those Tragedies (at left the best of them) that go under that name. Gregory Nazianzen a Father of the Church, thought it not unbeseeming the sanctity of his person to write a Tragedy, which he entitld, Christ suffering. This is mention'd to vindicate Tragedy from the small esteem, or rather infamy, which in the account of many it undergoes at this day with other common Interludes; hap’ning through the Poets error of intermixing Comic stuff with Tragic sadness and gravity; or introducing trivial and vulgar persons, which by all judicious hath bin counted absurd; and brought in without discretion, corruptly to gratifie the people. And though antient Tragedy use no Prologue, yet using sometimes, in case of self defence, or explanation, that which Martial calls an Epistle ; in behalf of this Tragedy coming forth after the antient manner, much different from what among us passes for best, thus much before-hand may be Epistid; that Chorus is here introduc'd after the Greek manner, not antient only but modern, and still in use among
the Italians. In the modelling therefore of this Poem, with good reason, the Antients and Italians are rather follow'd, as of much more authority and 4 fame. The measure of Verse us'd in the Chorus is of all sorts, call’d by the Greeks Monostrophic, or rather Apolelymenon, without regard had to Strophe, Antistrophe or Epod, which were a kind of Stanza's fram’d only for the Music, then us’d with the Chorus that sung; not essential to the Poem, and therefore not material; or being divided into Stanza's or Pauses, they may be callid Allaostropha. Division into Act and Scene referring chiefly to the Stage (to which this work never was intended) is here omitted.
It fuffices if the whole Drama be found not produc't beyond the fift Act, of the style and uniformitie, and that commonly call’d the Plot, whether intricate or explicit, which is nothing indeed but such economy, or disposition of the fable as may stand best with verisimilitude and decorum; they only will best judge who are not unacquainted with Æschulus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the three Tragic Poets unequalld yet by any, and the best rule to all who endeavour to write Tragedy. The circumscription of time wherein the whole Drama begins and ends, is according to antient rule, and best example, within the space of 24 hours.
at Gaza, there to labour as in a common work-house, on a Festival day, in the general cessation from labour, comes forth into the open Air, to a place nigh, somewhat retir'd there to fit a while and bemoan his condition. Where he happens at length to be visited by certain friends and equals of his tribe, which make the Chorus, who seek to comfort him what they can; then by his old Father Manoa, who endeavours the like, and withal tells him his purpose to procure his liberty by ransom ; lastly, that this Feast was proclaim'd by the Philistins as a day of Thanksgiving for thir deliverance from the hands of Samson, which yet more troubles him. Manoa then departs to profecute his endeavour with the Philistian Lords for Samson's redemption ; who in the mean while is visited by other persons ; and lastly by a publick Officer to require his coming to the Feast before the Lords and People, to play or shew his strength in thir presence ; he at first refuses, dismissing the publick Officer with absolute denyal to come ; at length perswaded inwardly that this was from God, he yields to go along with him, who came now the second time with great threatenings to fetch him ; the Chorus yet remaining on the place, Manoa returns full of joyful hope, to procure e're long his Sons deliverance : in the midst of which difcourse an Ebrew comes in haste confusedly at first ; and afterward more distinctly relating the Catastrophe, what Samson had done to the Philistins, and by accident to himSelf; wherewith the Tragedy ends.