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Hithertou pred, as cour Author practise that
Hitherto we have feen the Italian Stage entirely corrupted, as to Taste and Regularity of Composition ; but our Author tells us further, that when he first began to practise that Profession, about the Year '1690, not only good Tragedies and Comedies, but good Action was so rare a thing, that there were few toleo råble Comedians at that time in Italy'; that they were necessitated to find their Harlequins, and principal Masques' among the common stroling Rope-dancers : so that the Stage was now at its lowest ebb in Italy, having neither Authors nor Actors. '. .
Things were in this State when the Sieur Riccoboni, at twenty-two years of age, put himself at the Head of a Company, and apply'd, with all his might; to the Reformacion of che Stage, by presenting first Translations of the best French, and reviving some of the old Italian Tragedies : and being animated by Success, he attempted the Revival of good Comedy also, in which he proceeded after the fame manner, giving first Translations from the French, which succeeded tolerably well, as did also a Comedy of his own composing, call'd, The Fealous W0-' man. But when he attempted to revive the old Italian Comedies, and had pitch'd upon the Scolastica of Ariosto for the first trial, he succeeded so ill, that having with much difficulty goc through four Acts, he was obliged to let fall the Curtain, and give it over ; which gave him such a disgust at the vitiated Taste of his own Country, that he soon afterwards left Italy and came into France. ...
Having given an account of the ingenious Author's History of the Italian Stage, we shall now give some account of his Differtation on modern Tragedy
After having made fome Apology for the Freedom he takes in remarking on the French Dramatick Performances, he begins his Differtation, by observing the Difference betwixt the Greeks (who were the first Inventers of Tragedy) and the Moderns, in the End and Intention of it. The Greek Poets had a double Design, viz. The Correction of the Passions, which is the immediate and natural Tendency of Tragedy, and the Instruction of the Senates and Princes under whom they liv'd. He instances in the Palamedes of Euripides, in which the Poet (besides the Persecution of Ulyfes against Palamedes) intended to make the Athenians sensible of the Injustice of their Sentence against Socrates. Aristotle ('çis'true) assigns no other End of Tragedy but the Correction of the Passions ; but that is not to be wonder'd at: for besides that the Poets were at a great deal of pains to couch, their Precepts, (it being found to be dangerous in all Ages and Countries to show an Inclination to teach our Betters) his Situation obliged him to approve, at least not to blame the Conduct of his Pupil Alexander the Great. Which was directly contrary to the Moral of the Greek Tragedies, which were moftly calculated to show the bad Effects of Tyranny and Ambition; and therefore that Moral was not proper to be explain’d and insisted on by Aristotle. : !
After the Grecians, the Romans, and after them the Moderns wric Tragedies; but (as our Author thinks) only for the sake of writing Tragedies, without having any political End in view : which Observation I believe will hold pretty generally, with regard ¢o the Italian and French Tragedies; for the Manner of Govern ment in Italy and France is such, as not to
admit of those strong Sentiments of Liberty, which were so beautiful and useful in the ancient Dramatick Performances ;bụt it will by no meansj be found juft, with respect to the Britis Stage : tho? our Author may well be excused, since the profeffes not to be acquainted with it.
- Before the Year 1500, or thereabouts, it was usual in Italy, during Lent, and upon folemn Occasions, to exhibit in the Churches Representations of the Passion of Christ, the Sufferings of the Martyrs, and Lives of the Saints; at which the People assisted out of a Principle of Devda tion, which made the Introduction of regular Tragedy, into, Italy the more difficult: for as the People came generally away from those faz cred Spectacles with Hearts full of religious Sørrow, they did not care to have Grief and Sada ness excited in them oftener than was necessary. While the Belles Lettres, flourished in Italy Tragedy was, for some time, fupported by the Litterati, who were charm'd with the Imitacions of the Ancients : but the Gross of the People, who make the better; part of the Audience, especially in Italy, not relishing that polite Ena tertainment; it soon fell into decay, Triline was the first that made a Tragedy in the Italian Language, upon the Subject of Şopbonisban which our Author says; is an excellent Performance and if succeeding Writers had follow'd his Ex ample, Tragedy might have taken surer footing in Italy. But they, by mixing too much Horror in their Pieces, frighted People from feeing them, and there is but small hope of its being restored to its former Efteem ; tho’ since 1700, it has been a ličtle revived by Gravimas) and the celebrated Marquis Mofen,
Offspring Dearly allied to that their
From the Italian, our Author palles co the Freneb Stage, which was much later, and indeed was not brought to any degree of Perfection before Peter Corneille ; who may be reckon'd not only the Reformer, but Inventer of the Frencb Tragedy, because he and his Successors writ in a manner different from eicher Greeks, Latins, or Italians ; and which was entirely accommodated to the Gallantry and Politeness of the French Court: infomuch that their Tragedies seem to be nearly allied 10, if not the immediate Offspring of Romance ; for Love and Romantick Gallantry is so much in vogue on the Frencb Stage, that in all their Performances, even where the Characters seem to forbid ir, Love is the prevailing Passion. Who would chink (says our Author) that Sertorius and Pompey would conclude a grave and serious Conversation upon Politicks and Matters of State, with a Conference about their Amours? This romantick Gallantry often takes up three fourths of the Play, and without it the whole five Aets might be reduc'd to one or two at most, and the Action not in the least interrupted by that Retrenchment; which he proves by several Instances: nor does he think it a sufficient Excuse to say (as is commonly done) that without a great deal of Love and Gallantry, their Tragedies would never be agreeable to the French Ladies ; for he observes, that-Athaliah had great-Success; änd the greatest Objection to Monsieur de Voltaire's Oedipus, was the Amours of PhiloEtetes änd Jocasta. But 'the true reason (he imagines) is, that it-swells the Piece, supplies the Barrenness of Invention, and throws a Mist before the Readers or Spectators Eyes, and thereby hin.
ders them to perceive the Irregularity and Inperfection in the Conduct of the main Action.
Another Particularity in the French Tragedy, is the Exclusion of the Chorus, and the Introduction of Confidants, which are a sort of Personages both useless and impertinent very often on the Stage, and which seem also to be borrowed from Romance; in which the Knight and the Squire gave the hint of the Principal and Confidant on the Stage. M. Rousseau, in his Letter to our Author (which is prefix'd to the second Volume). thinks this Reflection a little
too fevere, and puts him in mind that Confi· dants are frequently very conveniently brought upon the Stage ; and were also made use of by the Ancients, particularly Euripides : which our Author does not deny, but says, what he finds fault with, is the bringing in Confidants right or wrong, as if they were effential to a Tragedy.
He comes next to what Criticks call the three fundamental Rules of Tragedy, viz. The Unities of Place, Time and Action. Aristotle has faid nothing of the Unity of Place, because the Time being once determin'd, he thought that, from the Nature of the Thing, must determine the Place : besides, the Ancients Manner of Re presentation was at first very simple, having neither Machines, nor Variety of Decorations, which are necessary to help the Imagination when the Place of Action changes: for which reason the first Authors of Tragedy were obliged to chuse such Subjects as could be acted on the same invariable Spot ; and the Decoraa cions and Machines were afterwards introduc'd to heighten the Magnificence of their Shows : yet those Decorations were only Ornaments of the fame Scene, and the Machines were for the