« AnteriorContinua »
during these intervals, the stage is totally evacuated, and the spectacle suspended. This construction qualifies our drama for subjects spread through a wide space both of time and of place. The time supposed to pass during the suspension of the representation, is not measured by the time of the suspension; nor is any connection formed, berwixt the box we fit in and the place where things are fupposed to be transacted in our abfence : and, by that means, many subjects can be justly represented in our theatres, for which there was no place in those of ancient Greece. This doctrine may be illustrated, by comparing a modern play to a set of historical pictures : let us fuppose them five in number, and the resemblance will be complete. Each of the pictures resembles an act in one of our plays. There must ncceffarily be
the stricteft unity of place and time in each picture ; and the same necessity requires these two unities during each act of a play, because, during an act, there is no interruption in the spectacle. Now, when we view in fucceflion a number of fuch historical pictures, let it be, for example, the history of Alexander by Le Brun, we have no difficulty to conceive, that months or years have passed betwixt the subjects exhibited in two different pictures, though the interruption is imperceptible in paffing our eyes from the one to the other. We have as little difficulty to conceive a change of place, however great. In this matter, there is truly no difference betwixt five acts of a modern play, and five such pictures. Where the representation is suspended, we can with the greatest facility suppose any length of time, or any change of
place. The spectator, it is true, may be confcious that the real time and place are not the same with what are employ'd in the representation, even including the intervals ; but this is a work of reflection. He may also be conscious that Garrick is not king Lear ; that the play. house is not Dover cliffs; nor the noise he hears thunder and lightning. In a word, during an interruption of the representation, it is not more difficult for a spectator to imagine himself carried from place to place, and from one period of time to another, than at once, when the scene first opens, to be carried from London to Rome, or from the present time two thousand years back. And it must appear ridiculous, that a critic, who makes no difficulty of fupposing candle-light to be sun-line, and some painted canvaffes a palace or a prison,
Rould affect so much difficulty in imagining a latitude of place or of time in the story, beyond what is necessary in the representation. *" I consider this remark as decisive in respect to the unities, and sets the absurd exactness of the French critics in a just light.
Mylord Kaimes's observation refutes the following remarks of Batteux : “ The unity of time supposes the space of a natural day the sun makes in, or the revolution of, twenty-four hours, by which is meant, that the action is to begin and end in that, fpace, for the reason we have given elsewhere. And indeed this rule is not so much a rule of rigour as a modification, or a kind of softening of the strict rule. Theabsolute rule confines the duration of the action to the time actually taken up in representation, that is, to begin and end • Elements of Criticism, vol. iii. p. 275.
within two or three hours at fartheft. We taste the pleasure arising from this degree of perfection in the tragedies of Oedipus, the Horatii, and Athaliah, But as it is very rare to meet with subjects that can be confined within such narrow limits ; custom has enlarged the rule, and extended the duration of the action to twenty-four hours. Unity of place taken in the rigorous fenfe of the term, requires that every thing should pass exactly on the same spot. The same indulgence which enlarged the limits of the time, will not be admitced here. Ic is not so easy to deceive the eye, which is always attentively fixed on the representation, as the mind; which in cases of this kind is, in a manner, wholly abforbed in imagination and sentiment. Besides that, when the actors trespass a little upen the unity of time, they have art enough