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-Migravit ab aure volupta
HOR. I EP. ii. 187.
From heads to ears, and now from ears to eyes."
ABSURDITIES IN THEATRICAL REPRESENTATIONS.
IN the present emptiness of the town, I have several applications from the lower part of the players, to admit suffering to pass for acting. They in very obliging terms desire me to let a fall on the ground, a stumble, or a good slap on the back, be reckoned a jest. * These gambols I shall tolerate for a season, because I hope the evil cannot continue longer than until the people of condition and taste return to town. The method some time ago, was to entertain that part of the audience, who have no faculty above eye sight, with rope-dancers and tumblers; which was a way discreet enough, because it prevented confusion, and distinguished such as could shew all the postures which the body is capable of, from those who were to represent all the passions to which the mind is subject. But though this was prudently settled, corporeal and
* Much of this mechanical wit prevails in our modern panto. mimes, to the great delight of children of all ages. CONGREVE or FielDING never produced wit that gave more general pleasure, than a crab last winter, by taking hold of the clown's nose in Mother Shipton triumphant. Were a stranger to judge of the English from some of their amusements, he would not conclude them to be what they really are, the most sensible and intelligent people in the world.
intellectual actors ought to be kept at a still wider distance than to appear on the same stage at all: for which reason I must propose some methods for the improvement of the bear-garden, by dismissing all bodily actors to that quarter..
In cases of greater moment, where men appear in public, the consequence and importance of the thing can bear them out. And though a pleader or preacher is hoarse or aukward, the weight of their matter commands respect and attention : but in theatrical speaking if the performer is not exactly proper and graceful, he is utterly ridiculous. In cases where there is little else expected, but the pleasure of the ears and eyes, the least diminution of that pleasure is the highest offence. In acting, barely to perform the part is not commendable, but to be the least out is contemptible. To avoid these difficulties and delicacies, I am informed, that while I was out of town, the actors have flown in the air, and played such pranks, and run such hazards, that none but the servants of the fire-office, tilers, and masons, could have been able to perform the like. The author of the following letter, it seems, has been of the audience at one of these entertainments, and has accordingly complained to me upon it; but I think he has been to the utmost degree severe against what is exceptionable in the play he mentions, without dwelling so much as he might have done on the author's most excellent talent of humour. The pleasant pictures he has drawn of life should have been more kindly mentioned, at the same time that he banishes his witches, who are too dull devils to be attacked with so much warmth.
• Upon a report that MOLL White had followed you to town, and was to act a part in the Lancashire
Witches, * I went last week to see that play. my fortune to sit next to a country justice of the peace, a neighbour (as he said) of Sir Roger's, who pretended to shew her to us in one of the dances. There was witchcraft enough in the entertainment almost to incline me to believe him; Ben Jonson was almost Jamed; young Bullock narrowly saved his neck; the audience was astonished, and an old acquaintance of mine, a person of worth, whom I would have bowed to in the pit, at two yards distance did not know me.
• If you were what the country people reported you, a wbite witch, I could have wished you had been there to have exorcised that rabble of broomsticks, with which we were haunted for above three hours. I could have allowed them to set Clod in the tree, to have scared the sportsmen, plagued the justice, and employed honest Teague with his holy water. This was the proper use of them in comedy, if the author had stopped here; but I cannot conceive what relation the sacrifice of the black lamb, and the ceremonies of their worship to the devil, have to the business of mirth and humour.
The gentleman who wrote this play, and has drawn some characters in it very justly, appears to have been misled in his witchcraft by an unwary following the inimitable SHAKESPEAR'. The inctanations in MacBETH have a solemnity admirably adapted to the occasion of that tragedy, and fill the mind with a suitable horror; besides that the witches are a part of the story itself, as we find it very particularly related in HECTOR Boetius, from whom he seems to have taken it. This therefore is a proper machine where the business is dark, horrid, and bloody ; but is extremely foreign from the affair of comedy. Subjects of this kind, which are in
* The Lancashire women are esteemed the handsomest even of English women, which may account for this witchraft.
themselves disagreeable, can at no time become entertaining, but by passing through an imagination like ShakeSPEAR's to form them; for which reason Mr. DRYDEN would not allow even BEAUMONT and FLETCHER capable of imitating him.
“But SHAKESPEAR's magic cou'd not copied be:
· I should not, however, have troubled you with these remarks, if there were not something else in this comedy, which wants to be exorcised more than the Witches: I mean the freedom of some passages, which I should have overlooked, if I had not observed that those jests can raise the loudest mirth, though they are painful to right sense, and an outrage upon modesty.
We must attribute such liberties to the taste of that age: but indeed by such representations a poet sacrifices the best part of his audience to the worst; and, as one would think, neglects the boxes, to write to the orange-wenches.
"I must not conclude till I have taken notice of the moral with which this comedy ends. The two young ladies having given a notable example of outwitting those who had a right in the disposal of them, and marrying without consent of p rents, one of the injured parties, who is easily reconciled, winds up all with this remark,
-Design whale'er we will,
"We are to suppose that the gallanis are men of merit, but if they had been rakes, the excuse might have served as well. Hans CARVEL's wife was of the same principle, but has expressed it with a delicacy wbich shews she is not serious in her excuse, but
in a sort of humorous philosophy turns off the thought of her guilt, and says,
" That if weak women go astray,
· This no doubt is a full reparation, and dismisses the audience with very edifying impressions.
• These things fall under a province you have partly pursued already, and therefore demands your animadversion, for the regulating so noble an entertainment as that of the Stage. It were to be wished, that all who write for it hereafter would raise their genius, by the ambition of pleasing people of the best understanding; and leave others who shew nothing of the human species but risibility, to seek their diversion at the bear-garden, or some other privileged place, where reason and good-manners have no right to disturb them.
I am, &c.