Imatges de pÓgina
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tion'd figure in the generality of performers is very absurd and unreasonable when we carry it, as is usually done, beyond its juft bounds. One cannot but acknowlege indeed that there is some sort of justice in the disgust whick an audience is apt to express at the disproportion’d and shocking figures of some who thrust themselves upon the stage; but it is unpardonable, it is contrary to justice, to our own interests, and to the neceffities of a theatre, to determine against admitting into a company any man, of whatever merit he may be possess’d, if he happen not to have a face or shape more elegantly form’d than those of the common run of mankind.

There are indeed some bodily imperfections which can never be suffered in the player, tho’ it is very possible that people in real life may have them ; nay even tho' the person whose character they are to represent on the stage actually had them. A hump'd back, or a leg half a foot shorter than the other, would not have . prevented Cæfar or Scipio from being in real life efteemed the first and greatest men of the world; yet if a man, who had either of these natural imperfections, tho' he had all the merit imaginable as a player, fou'd attempt with these very imperfections to represent heroes, who alio had them, he wou'd be hiss’d, and perhaps pelted off the stage, for his absurdity; we Thould never be able to bring ourselves to overlook those personal imperfections in the player, which the people of the age he liv'd in, might think it easy to overlook in the person; or ourselves in the history of the Heroe.

The Justice Balance of the Recruiting Officer, might possibly in real life have his face disfigured

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by a wen, or drawn to one side by a large scar, and we should easily have disregarded it; but we should never be able to reconc le the audience to a man, who, with either of these natural deformities, tho' join’d with ever so much merit, shou'd attempt to personate the character of this generous friend and father.

Nay, we have had a proof that even the peculiar bodily imperfection which is mentioned in the play itself as belonging to the heroe of it ; and which we even expect the performer shou'd counterfeit to us by boliters and bandages, yet if he be unhappy enough reallyto poffefsit, he offends us in the representation. There is fome where about town a person of the name of Machen, who has been long the darling of the theatres at the Blue Bear, the Tennis Court in James-Street, and sometimes of the Bartholomew. Booths; and who has of late been honour'd with the title of the lame actor of low comedy in Mr. Foot's drolleries. This person has, from an habitual attendance on the players, and a labour'd imitation of them for perhaps forty years together, acquir’d a knack of speaking something that sounds like tragedy declamation. It is his misfortune to be lame of one leg; whichi is so much shorter than the other, that the highest heel he can wear is not enough to raise that side of his body to a level with the rest. Tragedy is the darling palliony of this player, and he concluded, from this natural imperfection, he was the fittest of all men to perform the character of Richard III. which Shakefpear himself (with how much justice we do not presume to say) has figured to us as lame.

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Vast were the expectations of applause with which this man had flatter'd himself, when he Mould come to that part of the character where this peculiar natural defect, by which he thought himself qualified to perform the part, should come on: But what was the event? The audience, when he hop'd across the stage as he spoke the line,

Dogs bark at me as I helt by them,

instead of the applause he listen'd for, burst out into a loud laugh. They could never reconcile themselves to have an original impos'd on them, when they expected or desir'd no more than a copy.

There is a seeming contradiction and absurdity in the judgment of the world on these occasions : but it is only fuch, 'tis not a real one. There is even, when duly consider'd, a sort of justice in it. We look on the soul alone as conftituting the man; and in instances where we know that nature had indeed given a defective body for the habitation of a great and noble mind, we expect that the stage, so far as concerns the figure of the heroe, should redress these injuries, or at least should hide from our inspection these scarce juftifiable caprices. As tragedy pleafes principally by the air of grandeur and nobility which it gives to men, we are not willing that in the paintings it gives us of great events and of exalted personages, any thing should occur which might take off from that honour and esteem which it naturally gives us for the human species.

As we seek in tragedy after objects that may flatter our pride, we wish to find in comedy such

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as may keep up our gaiety and spirits : our intent is by no means answer'd, if while the character the player acts makes us merry, the figure of his body causes a melancholy, by putting us continually in mind what frail creatures we are, and how liable to be render'd even ridiculous by defects which may arise from accidents. Absolute deformity in a player is not to expect from us the fame sort of indulgence that we sometimes bestow upon persons in whom there is at worst but an entire absence of every thing that is pleasing: and on the other hand, a mere want of charms in the person of an actor, ought never to prejudice us against him in the manner that an absolute deformity would. Let us be fensible of perfections; and imperfections, but let us also be just ; let us pay a respect to personal charms where we find them, but let us not despise merit for the want of them, when there is nothing absolutely shocking in the person who is poffefs’d of it. Let us not refuse: ourselves the pleasure of being affected in the most agreeable manner by an actress who has real charms in her face or figure; but if another happens to want this lucky advantage, let us not for that reason refuse her our applause, if she has other powers of pleasing which are not plac'd: within the reach of age or diseases.

Personal charms being more peculiarly the advantages of the other sex than of ours, the ladies may be more naturally expected to overlook the want of this sort of merit in an actor, than we: to pardon it in an actress. We can easily bring ourselves to be fatisfy'd with any thing of our own sex that has real merit, and has no real deformity; and we would fain bring them to consider, that the actor need not always be

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look'd upon as the lover, and that an overseverity against the deficiencies of external charms would often deprive the stage of persons who are indebted to nature for qualifications infinitely more valuable than those which we are angry with her for having been capricious enough to refuse them.

We don't know our own interest if we infist that every actor and actress that appears before us should be of an extraordinary graceful figure; we consider nothing of the laws, the neceilities, or the conveniencies of a theatre when we expect it; and perhaps it were to be wish’d, even for our own better entertainment, not only that all the personal charms we are so fond of were not to fall to the share of every one of our actors, but even that some of the persons who are to entertain us in this way, might not have any one of them.

Regular features, well proportion'd limbs, and a noble and distinguishing air and deportment, ought without doubt, in general, to prejudice us greatly in favour of a performer; but there are evidently some characters in which these accomplishments are not only useless, but it wou'd even be a merit in the player to want them. We cannot but acknowledge that an audience frequently bears the breach of all probability on these occafions without seeming hurt by it; that it is often even with a particular pleasure, that we see a fine blooming young creature take up the character of an old hag; or an actor form’d by nature to please by his aspect, difguise himself, and hide all those charms under the habit of a coarse and clumsy ruftic: People indeed go to a play, as they themselves acknowledge, not to see re4

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