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As Pathos or Humour preponderate in a Dramatic poem, it is denominated a Tragedy or Comedy; and as the Catastrophe or result should denote the conduct or nature of the means, the termination, whether happy or the reverse, in the English Drama confers the title. A great deal has been written to prove Comedy should not introduce serious or Pathetic incident; but if precedent be wanted to give authority, the usage may be cited as universal; for the Greeks, the Romans, the Spaniards, the Peruvians, and the Chinese, all exhibited Comedy in the mixed form; while if names are to establish right, Shakspere and Menander are as worthy as Moliere and Aristophanes, the last of whom was suppressed in consequence of his licentiousness, and is famed as the slanderer of Socrates; while Moliere rises not in reputation as his writings are investigated.
Tragedy and Comedy mark the two grand orders of Drama, which, however, are subdivided into minor orders, in a manner which is at present but little understood. The division, nevertheless, is very simple. Tragedy and Comedy rank first; after which Melodrama and Farce; and Pantomime, serious and comic, completes the system, All other kinds of entertainments are only modifications of these, for Burlesque or Extravaganza is but Farce carried to the extent of personality or improbability. Spectacle, only Melodrama in gorgeous attire ; and Opera and Burleita no more than one or other, interspersed with songs of a sufficient number to make the musical portion of the Drama prominent.
The highest order is the only perfect kind of Drama, and it contains both the inferior orders in their pure state. Tragedy is Melodrama and Pantomime combined with a finer element, by which their presence is disguised so as only to be detected by analyzation. Equally Comedy possesses within itself the pure properties of Farce and Pantomime. Such a piece as a Melodramatic Tragedy or Farcical Comedy, cannot in strictness exist; for the moment Melodrama or Farce is perceived, Tragedy or Comedy must have ceased to be : to prove which, these various sorts of plays in their pure states must be described.
Pantomime, in a pure state, is merely the action of a Drama - the skeleton of a play. The tricks resorted to in this species of entertainment, are necessities imposed by its unnatural condition. In position, Pantomime holds in the Drama the same rank as in Painting would be accorded a pen and ink outline of a picture in which the attitudes and grouping of the subject are made out, but in which the beauties of light and shadow, colour and sentiment, are felt to be wanting.
If such a sketch were heightened by sepia washes, whereby the general effect would be indicated, the drawing then would be parallel in one art with Melodrama in the other; for Melodrama strives only to convey an idea of broad effect, such as may be evolved by attitude, grouping, strong lights and massive shadows. The highest grace and last attainment of art, it never essays; and, neglecting this, falls easily into exaggeration ; and the errors it commits are more difficult to de. tect, in the same degree as faults are less perceptible in a tinted drawing than in a finished picture, which
Tragedy and Comedy may be compared to. By these a general idea is not suggested ; but, as in the finished work of the historical painter, an elevated yet particular conception presented. In the lower styles of art, it is we who by our fancy fill up the deficiencies. We see so much as stimulates the mind to picture more, but the highest effort of Genius rejects assistance. It is not enough to see, but we must study to comprehend. The aim is not to amuse, but to impress, and this the artist does by embodying an ideal in the delicate graces of colour and of feature. The Dramatist accomplishes the same object by the delineation of motives, for herein, to the casual observer, he seems to labour a paradox, appearing only to seek effects, whereas effects are no more than the perfection of motives—the necessary exemplification of the means. To paint the passion is the Dramatist's office, and he can only delineate this by laying bare the motives and tracing them to their termination ; motives, consequently, are the tokens of Tragedy or Comedy. When a Drama puts the spectator in full possession of the actuating impulses of the characters, it is a Tragedy or Comedy. When motives are absent and dialogue retained, Melodrama or Farce is present; but where Tragedy or Comedy exist, Melodrama or Farce will never be perceptible, because effects are not perceived, but motives only felt.
To render this yet more plain, an instance where Shakspere has been reduced from Tragedy to Melodrama shall be quoted. In Othello, act the second, scene the third, the Moor, having requested Cassio personally to inspect the watch, retires to make good the night with the fair Desdemona ; but disturbed by a brawl brought about by lago, re-enters to learn its cause ; when the quarrel being continued in his presencema Magrant breach of discipline-and persisted in in spite of his command to desist, the General becomes enraged.
“Enter Othello and Attendants.
lago. Hold, ho! Lieutenant, Sir, Montano, Gentlemen!
Oth. Why, how now, ho? Whence ariseth this ?” A drunken man enraged, and a “noble swelling spirit” provoked by insult, and smarting with an ignoble wound, naturally disregard command. Othello entering collectedly appears the man "not easily moved,” being used to “ most disastrous chances” from his “ boyish days :" and lago displays his character in every word he utters. “ Hold! the General speaks to you,” reminds the Moor how much reason he has to be justly indignant; while the remonstrance, “ Have you forgot all sense of place and duty ?" paints the enormity of the offence, and evidently afterwards suggests to Othello
“ What, in a town of war,
In night, and on the court and guard of safety."
be present; but the Stage, discarding these, reduces the whole to pure Melodrama; and in the acting copies of the Drama the first quoted passage is thus printed
“ Enter Othello and Attendants. Oth. Hold for your lives !
Why, how now, ho? Whence ariseth this ?” They who have seen the Tragedy performed, will remember the Moor rushes on the stage with his sword drawn, and shouting the first line at the top of his voice, when all the other characters immediately stand still, as they were fixed by magic. The suddenness of the pause after the violence of the tumult surprises, and this is the effect sought through the alteration. But great injury is done to the higher excellence of the play. He who could, with sword out, rush forth to take part in a brawl, would have no quality for a general, more than he who, having witnessed none of the offence, on a slight and hasty hearing, could cashier his principal and chosen officer.
The depth of lago's malice is nowhere more powerfully pictured than where he, in the midst of excitement, under the disguise of friendly counsel, in brief and hasty exclamations lays the foundation of Cassio's ruin, by alarming the Asiatic pride of his judge. Cassio's impulsive nature is displayed in his disregard of all restraint, when his blood is fired; and Montano, forced into the quarrel, yet able to reply, which Cassio is not, shows the difference between the blind vehemence of the drunkard, and the collected anger of the courageous. There is not a line omitted which does not suggest a motive, and therefore contain a characteristic. The gross effect alone is in the theatre retained and this zeal for effect only, and contempt for motives, makes the distinction.
So also, by omitting all the lines, and yet going through the action, Pantomime would be performed, and thus Pantomime and Melodrama may be found to exist, and are capable of being separated in any Tragedy, as Pantomime and Farce may be discovered in any Comedy.
The difference with regard to motives will enable the difference in the moral worth of each kind of Drama to be comprehended. Morality is abstract truth, distilled from observance of mortal action. The highest possible knowledge drawn from the most refined experiencean intimate acquaintance with mankind. Before any man can be known, his motives must be fully ascertained ; and the Legitimate Drama, while it undertakes to lay bare the springs of actions, at the same time holds up the ideal standard of perfection to guide the judgment of the scholar, who, by the process of comparing others, is naturally led to compare himself with the goodness he is forced to allow ; and his nature thus is unconsciously purified. Nothing of this sort can be produced by Melodrama, because effects convey no idea of causes. The sight of the dial, the sound of the bell belonging to a clock, give no notion of the clock itself, more than the contemplation of an animal which had been shot would suggest the nature of the instrument by which it had been slain. The mind of man is naturally inquisitive of motives. If a murder be committed, the first question is, why the crime was perpetrated ? This desire to be informed, Melodrama never satisfies. It shows the effects and assumes the motives, or exhibits molives so limited that nothing can be drawn from them approaching to truth or morality. Motives in this kind of piece are invariably single. Thus one character is all hate, another all love; avarice, lust, pride, or revenge, is depicted as the sole motive in the person who indulges either of these vices. The characters become human, “passions personified, instead of persons impassioned,”-or would be, were their natures fully depicted, but want many additions before they could assimilate with humanity. Nor is the invariable manner of conclusion, with entertainments of the melodramatic kind, less objectionable. “Virtue" is always “rewarded,” and “ Vice” ever “abashed;"- the conviction of Vice, however, invariably consisting in a sudden failure and unexpected death, and Virtue's recompense as invariably being large possessions and a marriage license. Such reduction of all good to "handsome rewards,” teaching that virtue is a worldly speculation, is a puerile untruth ; but Melodrama is compelled to resort to it as the only pretence it can inake to any kind of moral, because, not dealing wiih inward feeling, the mental enrichment and conscious recompense of the virtuous it has no ability to pourtray.
With the mind of man, its sympathies and impulses, to show how bodily appetites affect it, and how temptation is by mental fortitude to be resisted, is the sphere of Tragedy and Comedy-the province of the Legitimate Dramaiist. Would the Melodramatist piciure starvation, the empty cupboard is displayed, the pale cheek obtruded, and all the meannesses of abject want laid bare in their low reality. What good is done? The world is a hard master, and the lesson of necessity all must daily learn. Who needs to visit a theatre to be therein instructed ? Such teaching is too well appreciated ; and thus the Dramatist feels, who discards the conventional attributes of poverty, and paints the mind exposed to its influence, shows how the lack of nourishment weakens the intellect, teaches the manner it tempts to sin; and while thus inculcating charity for the distressed, by exhibiting the truth, in which the poorest may be richest, the weakest strongest, bids all seek there a consolation and a rest that never fails, and nothing can disturb. Man, because poor, is not depicted poorly. The object is not to pain, but to advise; not to show what is, so much as to suggest what may be, and so improve by making the possible good believed in. Motives are exposed to us. We look upon ourselves, and with no eye watching us, in privacy and secret apply the type we see.
A bosom is open to our contemplation. It has been struck, oppressed, and we watch the last pulsation as the curtain drops upon the death. It was a good being that had thus to struggle through misfortune to the grave. Not wholly good, but in man's imperfect nature approaching goodness; and it is seen in the reality of the truth to be persecuted unto death. What moral does the Drama showing us such a sight impress ? Did it not show us how this creature suffered ? In the latest time, with holy thoughts and kindly prayers, the good was comforted; in agony, bad passions mingled not with suffering to increase the pain ; in trial, suspicion sharpened not suspense, but virtue armed the mind to bear the coming blow. Death was not darkened by defeated hate in this world, and hopelessness hereafter. We saw the good in torture, and we saw the worth of goodness, or have no eyes to see such truth. Heaven rewards the feeling; maa rewards the hand; and in the comfort, goodness to the feeling brings. The hope it breeds, and the moral strength it nourishes, a truer, a more rich possession than all the earth can give, the virtuous obtain. Goodness, renouncing selfishness, is thus to self worth most, the loftiest wisdom, and the truest wealth.
All arts, in their highest province calling forth the love of beauty, approach religion, but the Drama mingles with it. The pathetic is the religious; and the sense of humiliation which the highest order of Drama imparts, is an intuitive adoration of the Deity- the acknowledgment of personal imperfection springing out of the perception of truth. Religion, it is true, has a more sublime office, giving a settled form and fixed purpose to the sensations which the Drama can only engender; but the Drama, when properly exhibited, cannot be otherwise than the promoter of religious feeling. The Drama, as the aid to the Pulpit, has a sphere to itself, into the elements of which the priest is in some measure incapacitated to penetrate. Masses, the majority of whom, if left to themselves, would perhaps never seek the church, or listen to the minister, assemble for amusement in the theatre. The frivolous, the depraved, the self-opiniated, are there collected ; and, while looking upon the truth of human suffering, the frivolous is made to meditate, the depraved to think, the self-opinjated to doubt; vanity is lost, self-love overthrown, and appetite destroyed,—while the tear flows for abstract pity. The truth is seen, felt, admired, loved, by those who perhaps nowhere else would be exposed to its refining influence, and the foundation for pure religious sentiment thus laid : for from truth to religion there is no advance; only a change in the mode of acknowledgment. Religion is truth; and the Drama inculcating truth, is incorporated with religion.
To the religious history of our country, therefore, we turn to understand the history of the Drama. And if the principle insisted on in the foregoing paragraph be true, in the changes of religious opinion we shall find the reason of the prosperity and decline of the Dramatic art. How intimately the Greek Drama was connected with religion is well understood; and the manner in which the Spanish was inspired by a similar association of feeling, requires no explanation. These facts have been often enlarged on; but the principle has not been widely applied to the Drama of our own country ; nevertheless, its truth is as perceptible in the one case as in either of the others.
The Ancient Mysteries which the priests were accustomed to perform, pourtray the grossness of the religious opinions of that time, when these exhibitions were popular. The Deity was bodily presented, and the highest abstract truths thus lowered to the meapness of worldly facts; and it is only to prove the moral debasement of the period, to say such exhibitions conveyed the sole notions of the Sacred Writings the general public received ; or that they were listened to with attention and regarded with reverence.
When the Reformation of the English Church was established, the change which simultaneously took place in the Drama was as extra