Imatges de pÓgina

emotions of love of their admirer and love of their country, as Cato's daughter would have felt them, but as themselves would ; and have therefore miss'd all the noble ftruggles that the author has painted to us between those two paffions : fome who have reprefented this character have given up wholly to love and tenderness, others to patriotism and the care and concern for the dangers of their country; the one fet have made love wholly triumph over patriotism, which is absurd in the daughter of Cato; and the other have made patriotism wholly triumph over love, which is equally absurd in the mistress of fo amiable a prince as Juba.

According to their manner of playing, this Roman lady is either wholly devoted to love, or else she has no fenfe of it at all; and by this means they either make their character a Roman without that universal paflion, the love of her country, or else an unnaturally frozen mistress, where every pallion submits to reafon and reflexion: what we see is not the Marcia whom Addison drew equally virtuous and tender; diftracted at the thought of the approaching ruin of her country, and at the fame time pining for a lover with all the merit The could wish to find in man; at a time when to indulge a paffion of that kind were monstrous, when to be happy were to be criminal.

If the play of those actors who are tolerably well acquainted with the nature of their profelfion is not always juft and true, what an infinity of contradictions and absurdities does one observe in the performance of those who are but young upon the stage ; and especially of those who have wanted education, or opportunities of convers. ing among people in high life, whose charac-. ters alone are like thofe which they are to reprefent upon the stage. We have seen an eminent inftance of this want of deportment in a young fellow famous for one of the qualities necessary to a player, assurance, and rais'd by that sole mes rit to the honour of performing Hamlet on one of our stages. It will not be necessary to give many instances of the idea this young man had of the deportment of a prince, after we have mention’d that to prepare himself for the famous foliloquy in that character which begins with, To be, or not to be, that is the question; at the end of the second line he took occafion to unload one of his nostrils, by blowing it upon the floor, while he held a finger againft the other; and after supplying the business of a handkerchief, by wiping that finger on his breeches, went very deliberately on with the speech.


[ocr errors]

CH A P. VIII. Of the Care that ought to be taken perfektly to implant the Parts of a Play in the Aftor's Memory, in order to its being play'd with Truth.

HE farther we advance in the examina

tion of the art of performing dramatic writings on the stage, the more we find that a spirit of discernment, and a piercing judgment are necessary, among other qualifications, to every person who would become famous in it. We should also remember, at the same time, how faithful, and how manageable the memory of the players ought to be ; since it is never to be faulty, or to leave them in want of what to say ; nor is it, on the the other hand, ever to be fuffer'd to be fo visibly prevalent in them, that we perceive its furnishing them with the sentences which we admire as they proceed from their mouths. The great pleasure we have from seeing a play acted, rather ihan from hearing it read, is owing to the keeping up the illusion, the appearance of a reality in the former circumstance; and that this may be kept up to us by the actor, it is necessary, that what he delivers shou'd seem the result of the occurrences that have occasioned it, not a part of a leffon got by rote, to be repeated to us at proper periods.

It is a very common thing among the Italian comedians, in their more ludicrous scenes, to fill up their part with something spoke off hand, and not only unwritten, but even unpremeditated. The gestures with which they accompany this sort of pleasantry, often cheat us into a laugh at a very sorry joke; but yet people see their performances with pleasure: they accept of truth in the place of wit, and are very well contented with knowing that whatever the scene wants in eloquence it has in nature. Tho' we are sensible that there are not quite so many good things said in one of these scenes, as in one of our own more regularly perform’d ones; we cannot but be pleased, at the same time, at the height the illusion is kept up to, while we are sensible that it is in a great measure real life, not an imaginary representation of it, that we are attending to.

This crime in actors, if it be .one, is not peculiar to that nation ; we have had instances of it among ourselves. Our celebrated Norris had introduc'd a thousand occasional pleasantries into every one of the ridiculous characters he was famous for playing; and wou'd seldom be prevail’d

with to take much pains about acting a new part ; he only made himself master of the heads and matter of it, and of the sense of the whole play ; his own genius for drollery supply'd the reft ; and if the author rav'd at the abuse, the audience never fail'd to be pleas’d with it.

We live, 'tis true, in an age of criticism in which nothing of this kind is suffer’d; but perhaps if some of the modern farces which have been cram'd down our throats had been play'd off in the same manner, the delicacy of these gentlemen wou'd have been full as little shock'd as it has been at the representation of them as they were written.

It is indeed indisputable that the dramatic writings of a man of wit and genius, as they are ftudied and regular, are infinitely preferable to the impertinent additions that a player can be able to make to them extempore; but the imperfection of the human memory is one great

obstacle to our seeing plays thus regularly compos’d, perform'd with all the advantages we cou'd wish. When an actor's remembrance ferves him but imperfedly, he is liable to be confounded and puzzled in the midst of the most interesting scenes; and even when it serves him faithfully, but that at the expence of infinite labour and difficulty, we continually see the great care of recollecting what he is next to say stamp'd in his forehead, while he is delivering to us what ought to employ his whole attention.

The great care of the player shou'd be to let us see nothing of himself, but every thing of his character, while he is on the stage. We are vext to see that Mr. Garrick in Iago, in Othello ; and in king Lear, as well


as in Abel Drugger : We wou'd, if it were posfible, have the identity, nay the existence of the man funk upon us in the representation, and have only the General or the Villain, the Monarch or the Fool shewn to us.

How shall an actor be able to succeed in thus hiding himself under the covert of his character, if we continually perceive that he is only repeating to us fomething that he has before got by rote for that purpose? Nay, to go farther, how is it poslible for him even to shew us the actor, while his memory is upon the rack, and his principal attention is employ'd about it?

If the course of the waters destin'd to furnish a fountain by their rise and falls, be stop'd in part, by some obftacle thrown into the pipes thro' which they shou'd have been distributed, the jets and cascades will be able to perform but a very small part of their effect; and in the same manner, if what the actor is to deliver do not occur to him with all that freedom and rapidity that it ought, the finest talents in the world will be of very little use in the embellishing it.

There is in this particular a vast advantage in the having been long accustom'd to the itage, and long practis'd in a part.

Indeed without the latter circumstance in fome degree aflift the player, it is fcance poffible for him to succeed well in this great point, of wholly forgetting himfelf and his own concerns, to give us the heroe he represents, unsully'd either with the fears or the awkwardness of the player who represents him.

We have seen the first nights of Macbeth, and fome other characters which Mr. Garrick has afterwards acted with the highest and most desery'd applause, hurt considerably by his unacquaintance


« AnteriorContinua »