Imatges de pÓgina
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of*. It is alfo certain, that tho', in confideration of the deficiency of a number of proper fubjects, we are induc'd to pardon in the perfons who only play fubordinate parts, the want of a peculiarly graceful figure, or of that fuperiority in the gifts of nature in general, which we look for in the players of the principal parts; yet we expect to find them tolerable and indeed there is not one of the natural advantages which we require to be poffefs'd eminently by the first perfons of the theatre, but we defire to fee in fomé degree in all the rest.

Let us look into any one of the plays of our writers of credit, and examine by it the merits of this point. We shall find all the characters engag'd in the whole play concern'd in animating and giving force to every fcene of it, either by the fhare their paffions give them in the incidents of it, or by that which they give to the paffions of the reft, by the difficulties and perplexities they find themselves in, or by thofe into which their cunning or their abfurdity throw the persons whom they meant to injure or to ferve: by their well-concerted blunders, the happy fruits of the fprightlinefs of the author's imagination, are the funds of everlafting pleasure to the greater part,

*The very first-rate actors would find a way of encreafing their reputation greatly, if they would fometimes take a pride in appearing in the fecond or even the third parts in our better plays. The honour of occafioning an audience to discover beauties in a part which they had never found in it before, is, in reality, much fuperior to that of obtaining applaufes, from any of thofe grand characters which would itself command it, even tho' performed by but a moderate player.

at leaft, of every audience, and when nicely conducted, to the whole: or finally by their ambiguous actions or difcourfe, which, prefenting two feveral faces, gives occafion to the error of fome other character which is to be deceived, and by their continuance kept up in the mistake they were deftin'd to raife. The very lowest characters in comedy are in this light to be continually in motion, and they are to keep our minds agitated during the whole piece: The very leaft among these are honoured with the name of actors in fuch or fuch a play; a name only. given to the perfons in a dramatic work, because they ought to be in continual action during the performance of it.

Voice and memory are faid by many to be all the qualifications that are necefiary to the fubordinate actors: But can voice and memory alone be fufficient for the player in reprefenting those characters, which, tho' not plac'd in the very fulleft point of view, are yet often not lefs difficult to perform than even the capital part in the play? If the players of this lower rank want understanding, or fire, or, above all things, if nature has left them deficient in fenfibility, how is it poffible they fhould fucceed, we don't fay to please, but barely to make themselves fupportable, even in the lefs confiderable of thofe leffer characters; fince we find there is not one of them on whom the other more eminent perfonages of the piece, in a greater or fmaller degree, have not a dependance?

In tragedy the fuperiority of one of the parts of the play to another, is much greater than in comedy; but even the very loweft of the performers in these pieces, muft not be wanting in the talents, at leaft in fome degree, by which the

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greatest are enabled to pleafe. In many of the modern tragedies, we find a number of characters which tho' they do not intereft the audience fo highly as the three or four capital perfons of the drama, yet in the courfe of their parts have a great many very important things committed to them to be delivered, and those such as the audience will not bear to fee disfigured and mangled. Some paffages there are in those characters which are only introduc'd as the confidants of the Kings and Heroes, and particularly in their recitals of events; this is a bufinefs they are generally charg'd with, and is, at leait to the generality of an audience, as ftriking as the moft artfully condu&ed fcenes, by means of the fucceffion of the paffions they are addre's'd to, and the pomp of images in the defcription.

How can an actor fucceed without those natural advantages we have been defcribing, when he is to preferve all the dignity, all the beauty, that the author has given to one of thefe paffages in the character he reprefents? Thefe interefting recitations make indeed ufually but a very finall part of the character of the confidant and it is for this reafon that these parts are fo difficult to perform, or more properly speaking, are so seldom play'd well: A performer who is fupported in his action by a part which is through the whole interefting and pathetick, must be a very bad one indeed, if he does not get applaufe from it. 'Tis a much greater difficulty to be graceful in the more trivial parts of a character in which there is fomething eminent: to find that fupport from the knowledge of the profeffion, which it is in vain to hope for from the far greater part of the character that it is allotted to appear in, provided

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the performer's figure be not abfolutely shocking, it is his business to impofe upon the audience by a rich and well fancy'd drefs. The player must have been favour'd in an extraordinary manner by nature, who can command refpect in a plain

habit.

The perfons whom the feveral neceffities of a theatre throw at a great diftance from the fhining characters, were much to be pitied, if while they have occasion for so many accomplishments and advantages from nature, they had reason to fear that while they poffefs'd all we require of them, they fhou'd never be in the way of exciting, in any great degree, our attention or regard: Let us undeceive them in this difcouraging circumftance, and give a proper encouragement to their merit, by affuring fuch that our good opinion of them is not proportion'd to the confequence of their parts, but to the manner in which they acquit themselves in them; that real merit will find the way to fhew itself as well under the name of Rossano as of Lothario or Horatio; and that when we are examining the merit of a portrait, we are not influenc'd by its being that of a monarch, more than by its being that of a common foldier.

REFLECTION II.

Tho' Perfons are happy in the principal Advantages which are required in theatrical Performers, ought they not in general, after a certain Age, to quit the Stage?

HAT has been already obferved in regard to the figure, fure be applied alfo to the

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may in a great meaage of the thea

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trical performer. The greater part of an audience may expect to fee upon the stage none but fuch whofe face and figure are made to please, to charm the eyes; or fuch as are in the full bloom of life as to their age. We have abundantly prov'd that the former wou'd be an unreasonable injunction upon the managers of a playhouse; and, on just examination, the other will prove no less fo.

In the fame manner as we are more diverted with the part of a perfon in a play who piques himself upon a beauty which he does not poffefs, as the perfection imaginarily poffefs'd by the character is in reality lefs poffefs'd by the person who performs it; a character in a play, which the author has made very abfurdly to affect the charms and prerogatives of youth, ought to pleafe us the more highly, as it is perform'd by an actress who really has fo little youth, that she cou'd not affect the having it in private life without being ridiculous.

It is evident therefore that players in certain characters appear to much the greater advantage for being past the age of love and pleafure.

But we ought to admonish the actors, and much more the actreffes, not to abuse this principle. When the cool reception they meet with plainly informs them that they can no longer please, let them not obftinately perfift in forcing themselves upon us; and what is yet of much more confequence, and of more frequent neceffity, let them, before they are oblig'd wholly to quit the profeffion, have the prudence and the refignation to give up thofe parts, which tho' they might beE 6

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