Imatges de pÓgina

mon conversation, forget that they are by this means robbing the tragic muse of a great part of her native and appropriated majesty, which in many cases, tho' not in all, is to be kept up by the dignity of accent in the speaker. There was a time indeed when every thing in tragedy, if it was but the delivering a common message, was {poken in high heroics ; but of late years this absurdity has been in a great measure banish'd from the English, as well as from the French stage. The French owe this rational improvement in their tragedy to Baron and Madam Cauvreur, and we to that excellent player Mr. Macklin: the pains he took while entrusted with the care of the actors at Drury-Lane, and the attention which the success of those pains acquir'd him from the now greatest actors of the Engliha theatre, have founded for us a new method of the delivering tragedy from the first rate actors, and banish'd the bombast that us’d to wound our ears continually from the mouths of the subordinate ones, who were eternally aiming to mimic the majesty that the principal performers, employ'd on scenes that were of the utmost consequence, in the delivery of the most simple and familiar phrases, adapted to the trivial occasions which were afforded them to speak on.

It is certain that the players ought very carefully to avoid a too lofty and sonorous delivery when a fentiment only, not a passion, is to be express’d: it ought also, as the excellent instructer just mention'd us’d eternally to be inculcating into his pupils, to be always avoided when a simple recital of facts was the substance of what was to be spoken, or when pure and cool reasoning was the sole meaning of the scene :


but tho' he banish'd noise and vehemence on these occasions, he allow'd that on many others, the pompous and sounding delivery were just, nay were necessary in this species of playing, and that no other manner of pronouncing the words was fit to accompany the thought the author expressed by them, or able to convey it to the audience in its intended and proper dignity.

For the same reason that induces many people who wholly condemn measure in comedy, to admit and recommend it in tragedy, we are of opinion that a more elevated and pompous manner of expression is proper in the latter, than is to be suffered in the former. : When a piece of any kind is read to us, we are not satisfy'd with the person who reads it, if he does not accommodate his tone of voice to the nature of the matter of the treatise ; and even in common conversation we find no fault with an oratorial tone, provided the subject be of importance. The native majesty of many parts of almost every tragedy require, for the same reafon, that the performer deliver them not in a common tone of voice, but with a dignity which extremely well becomes such sentiments, tho it would be absurd if misapply'd to trifles ; nay, even in the other parts of a well-written tragedy, we are not much hurt by a majesty of delivery, provided that the state and dignity of the speaker be such as set him in a very conspicuous light, and place him much above the vulgar.

We are naturally apt to regard the antient heroes of Greece and Rome with a peculiar refpect, imbib'd with our earliest education, and to elteem them as it were a species of men different from, and plac'd above ourselves; we therefore are not

K 2


[ocr errors]

furpriz'd to hear a Cato or a Pyrrbus deliver himself in a manner far more majeftic than the usual form of speech.

The pompous form of delivering tragedy is yet more peculiarly adapted to certain parts in those plays in which the events are taken from the itories of the heroic ages: without doubt the player ought, in all things, to keep within proper bounds; he is not, even in these cases, to go vaftly beyond nature : all that is to be allow'd him, is to fhew us these scenes in a decent magnificence. Perhaps it is for this reason that no man cver did, or probably ever will, play the part of Corus with the same fuccess that Mr. Quin has done : notwithftanding that his person and age are very improper for the representation of a gay, young, and wanton god of revels; the majetty of his voice, and that pomp and dignity which he has been able to give to the declarations of that deity, charm and astonilh us, and help in a great measure to keep up the illufion. The poet intended representing the character Mr. Quin plays in this masque, not as a man but something greater. The French have likewise had an instance of a like kind in a character they have lately much admir'd, and which being a magic power rais'd far above the ordinary pitch of human nature, they heard, with a just applause, rais'd also above mere nature in the speaking: the character we mean is Medea. When this forceress is lamenting the absence of her faithless husband, the actress who represented her on that stage speaks like another woman ; but when she enters on the folemn rites of her mysteries, when the invokes the triple Hecate, and whirls along the air with her dragons, it was with the higheft admiration that


they heard the actress raise her voice to something more than mortal, and thunder out her



Of certain Obstacles which impair the Truth of the


[ocr errors]


NE of the greateft obstacles we have to

complain of on this account is an unlucky habit which too many of our players have fallen into, of straining their voices. When a man does not play in his natural tone, it is hardly poffible that he should play with truth : if the performers were themselves fenfible but of half the mischief this unnatural trick does them, they would take infinite pains to keep within their compass. The very beft voice may be render'd inharmonious by being carry'd beyond its pitch, and where there is any natural imperfection in the organ, it becomes vastly more fenfible in every strain, than it can be in speaking within compass. We have several voices at this time upon the stage, which, in their medium, are not disagreeable, but which, when the performer chufes to stretch them beyond their pitch, become insupportable to the ear.

Another powerful obftacle to the truth of a player's recitation, is monotony. Of this fault in delivery there are properly three kinds: firft, a continual perseverance in the fame modulation of voice; secondly, a too great resemblance in the closes of periods or speeches; and thirdly, a too frequent repetition of the fame inflexions.


K 3


The first of these kinds of monotony is much more general in this age than it is commonly supposed to be, and is equally the fault of our players in comedy and in tragedy : a great number of the present race of actors are from this fault eternally piping out the same tune, like those little wind instruments with which people teach birds to fing. The second kind is yet more common among our actors than the first, but it is in a manner peculiar to tragedy ; the very people who play in comedy with some sort of natural cadence, frequently when they have blank verse put into their mouths, take up a fort

cant tone, and seem to think it a duty to close every sentence with an octave below. We are forry to bear hard upon the other sex; but as every thing that carries the face of censure here is not meant as raillery but as hints for improvement, we cannot but observe that the actresses in tragedy are more faulty in this kind of monotony than the performers of the other sex; and that some who are now but in a midling rank upon the stage would rise much higher, in the judgments of all those who are worth pleasing, if they could break themselves of this absurd and unnatural custom. We have already mention'd a Lavinia who charm'd us very little less than the Califa of the same play, tho' confessedly the greatest actress on the present stage ; but this happen'd only once from this lady; the next time it was our fate to see her, all the pleasing and sensible variety of her voice was lost, every period closed alike, and the finest language that was ever yet put into the mouth of a woman, that of the Lady in Comus, became lifeless and insipid. The actress binted at will pardon the freedom of this remark, which


[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »