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To all but superficial critics, would it not appear as ridiculous to see Theseus and Achilles wear French manners, as a French dress ? A little reflection would shew it is more so: for there are relations between sentiments and manners, and none between sentiments and dress.
It is strange that painters, who are to give the mute inanimate figure, are required to be rigid observers of the costumi, and that the dramatic poet, who is to imitate sentiment, discourse, and action, should be allowed to neglect them.
ON . ON THE
DR A M A.
Nec minimum meruere decus, vestigia Græca Ausi deserere, et celebrare domestica facta.
DR A M A.
THOSE Dramas of Shakspeare, which he distinguishes by the name of his Histories, being of an original kind and peculiar construction, cannot come within any rules, prior to their existence. The office of the Critic, in regard to Poetry, is like that of the Grammarian and Rhetorician in respect to Language: it is the business of both to shew why such and such modes of speech, are proper and graceful, others improper and ungraceful: but they pronounce on such words and expressions only, as are actually extant.
The rules of Aristotle were drawn from
the tragedies of Æschylus, Sophocles, &c. Had that great critic seen a play so fashioned on the chronicles of his country, thus representative of the manners of the times, and of the characters of the most illustrious persons concerned in a series of important events, perhaps he would have esteemed such a sort of drama well worth his attention, as very peculiarly adapted to those ends, which the Grecian philosophers proposed in popular entertainments. If it be the chief use of history, to teach philosophy by example, this species of history must be allowed to be the best preceptor. The catastrophe of these plays is not built on a vain and idle fable of the wrath of Juno, or of the revenge of sligthed Bacchus; nor is a man represented entangled in the web of Fate, from which his Virtues and his Deities cannot extricate him: but here we are admonished to observe the effects of pride and ambition, the tyrant's dangers and the traitor's fate. The sentiments and the manners, the passions and their consequences, are