Essays Dramatic Poesy

Dryden’s An Essay on Dramatic Poesy


By Dr. Dilip Barad, [[http://www.bhavuni.edu | Bhavnagar University, Bhavnagar, Gujarat.


Chapter Outline


1.0 Introduction
1.1. Objectives
1.2. Dryden as a Critic
1.2.1. Dryden on The Nature of Poetry
1.2.2. Dryden on The Function of Poetry
1.3. An Essay on Dramatic Poesy: An Introduction
1.3.1. Definition of Drama
1.3.2. Violation of the Three Unities
1.3.3. Eugenius Arguments on Superiority of Moderns over the Ancients
1.3.4. Crites’s Arguments in favour of the Ancients
1.3.5. Lisideius’s view in favour of Superiority of the French Drama over English Drama
1.3.6. Neander’s view in favour of Modern (English) Drama
1.3.7. The Ancients versus Modern Playwrights
1.3.8. Mixture of Tragedy and Comedy
1.3.9. Advocacy of writing plays in Rhymed Verse
1.4. Let’s sum up
1.5. Glossary of Key Terms
1.6. Reading List
(A) Bibliography
(B) Further Reading

Introduction


John Dryden (9 August 1631 – 1 May 1700) was a prominent English poet, critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of the Restoration Age; therefore, the age is known as the Age of Dryden. He was a Cambridge Scholar, literary genius and critic, considering his extraordinary literary contribution was credited with the honour of Poet Laureate of England in 1668.

He was a critic of contemporary reality. His critical observation of contemporary reality is reflected in MacFlecknoe(1682). Dryden’s mature thoughts of literary criticism on ancient, modern and English Literature, especially on Drama, are presented in dialogue forms in An Essay on Dramatic Poesy. In An Essay on Dramatic Poesy there are four speakers. Each one argues strongly as to which one is better, “Ancient or Modern, and French or English?”

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(1) Fill in the blanks:

(I) The Restoration Age is also alternatively known as the _________.

(II) Dryden’s critical observation of contemporary reality is reflected in_____________.

(III) How many speakers are there in The Essay on Dramatic Poesy?

(IV) What is all the argument in the Essay on Dramatic Poesy about?
(V) What does Dryden put emphasis on?

(2) Choose the right answer from options (Multiple-choice)


(VI) Neander's overall statement on the literary standards is that.….

(a) the norms can be added to make the work ideal
(b) the norms cannot be added to make the ideal

To check you answers, clickLiterary_Criticism_Page_2.

Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you are expected to learn about:
  • Acquainting the learners with the critical ethos of Dryden’s age.;
  • Familiarizing the learners with the mode of criticism and Dryden’s contribution to literary criticism with special reference to An Essay on Dramatic Poesy.;
1.2 Dryden as a Critic


Dryden was both a writer and a critic and he had rather a dogmatic bent. Most of his critical interpretations are found in the prefaces to his own works. In Dryden we find an interest in the general issues of criticism rather than in a close reading of particular texts. We call Dryden a neoclassical critic, just as Boileau. Dryden puts emphasis on the neoclassical rules. His best-known critical work, An Essay on Dramatic Poesy, partly reflects this tension in Dryden's commitments. Its dialogue form has often been criticized as inconclusive, but actually, as in most dialogues, there is a spokesman weightier than the others. Dryden carried out his critical thoughts effectively, stating his own ideas but leaving some room for difference of opinion. Neander's overall statement on the literary standards is that, the norms can be added to make the work ideal, but the norms will not improve a work which does not contain some degree of perfection. And as Dryden believes, we may find writers like Shakespeare who did not follow the rules but are nevertheless obviously superior to any "regular" writer. Shakespeare disconcerts Dryden; he recognises his superiority but within himself he would feel closer affiliations with Ben Jonson. In Dryden, then, we find a "liberal" neo-classicist, although he is most coherent (a trait of classicism) when he is dealing with that which can be understood and reduced to rule.

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(1) Fill in the blanks:

(vii) Dryden was both a writer and a______.

(viii) Dryden’s best known critical work is____________________. Dryden admires ___________ and loves _____________. Ben Johnson, and Shakespeare.

(ix)We call Dryden a neoclassical critic, just as ________.

1.2.1 Dryden on The Nature of Poetry

Dryden agrees in general terms with Aristotle’s definition of poetry as a process of imitation though he has to add some qualifiers to it. The generally accepted view of poetry in Dryden’s day was that it had to be a close imitation of facts past or present. While Dryden has no problem with the prevalent neo-classical bias in favour of verisimilitude (likeness/fidelity to reality) he would also allow in more liberties and flexibilities for poetry. In the The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy he makes out a case for double-legged imitation. While the poet is free to imitate “things as they are said or thought to be”, he also gives spirited defence of a poet’s right to imitate what could be, might be or ought to be. He cites in this context the case of Shakespeare who so deftly exploited elements of the supernatural and elements of popular beliefs and superstitions. Dryden would also regard such exercises as ‘imitation’ since it is drawing on “other men’s fancies”.

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(1) Fill in the blanks:

(XI)Dryden’s point of view is similar to ________. Aristotle

(XII) Dryden takes pains to emphasize____________________ mentioned in Aristotle’s definition.

(XIII) Dryden takes pains to emphasize the two forms of ___________.

(XIV) While reading Dryden, we find an interest in the general issues of __________ rather than in a close ____________ of ____________ texts.

(XV)We call Dryden a neoclassical critic, just as ________.

(XVI) Dryden’s dialogue form has often been criticized as ___________, but actually, as in most dialogues, there is a spokesman weightier than the others.

(2) Choose the right answer from options (Multiple-choice)

(XVII) Neander's overall statement on the literary standards is that, …..

(a) a. the norms can be added to make the work ideal, but the norms will not improve a work which does not contain some degree of perfection.

(b)the norms cannot be added to make the work ideal, but the norms will improve a work which does not contain some degree of perfection.

(c) the norms can be added to make the work ideal, but the norms will improve a work which contains no degree of perfection

(D)none of the above

To check you answers, clickLiterary_Criticism_Page_2.

1.2.2. Dryden on the Function of Poetry:

As we know, Plato wanted poetry to instruct the reader, Aristotle to delight, Horace to do both, and Longinus to transport. Dryden was a bit moderate and considerate in his views and familiar with all of them. He was of the opinion that the final end of poetry is delight and transport rather than instruction. It does not imitate life but presents its own version of it. According to Dryden, the poet is neither a teacher nor a bare imitator – like a photographer – but a creator, one who, with life or Nature as his raw material, creates new things altogether resembling the original. According to him, poetry is a work of art rather than mere imitation. Dryden felt the necessity of fancy, or what Coleridge later would call “the shaping spirit of imagination”.

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(1) Fill in the blanks:

(XVIII) Plato wanted poetry to instruct __________, Aristotle_________, Horace to do _______, and ___________ to transport.

(XIX) ___________ overall statement on the literary standards is that, the norms can be added to make the work ideal, but the norms will not improve a work which does not contain some degree of perfection.

(XX) Dryden believes, who did not follow the rules but nevertheless obviously superior to any "_______" writer.

(XXI) Dryden; recognizes his superiority but within himself he would feel the closer affiliations with __________.

To check you answers, clickLiterary_Criticism_Page_2.

1.3 An Essay on Dramatic Poesy: An Introduction

John Dryden’s An Essay on Dramatic Poesy presents a brief discussion on Neo-classical theory of Literature. He defends the classical drama saying that it is an imitation of life and reflects human nature clearly.

An Essay on Dramatic Poesy is written in the form of a dialogue among four gentlemen: Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius and Neander. Neander speaks for Dryden himself. Eugenius favours modern English dramatists by attacking the classical playwrights, who did not themselves always observe the unity of place. But Crites defends the ancients and points out that they invited the principles of dramatic art paved by Aristotle and Horace. Crites opposes rhyme in plays and argues that though the moderns excel in sciences, the ancient age was the true age of poetry. Lisideius defends the French playwrights and attacks the English tendency to mix genres.

Neander speaks in favour of the Moderns and respects the Ancients; he is however critical of the rigid rules of dramas and favours rhyme. Neander who is a spokesperson of Dryden, argues that ‘tragic-comedy’ (Dryden’s phrase for what we now call ‘tragi-comedy’) is the best form for a play; because it is closer to life in which emotions are heightened by mirth and sadness. He also finds subplots as an integral part to enrich a play. He finds single action in French dramas to be rather inadequate since it so often has a narrowing and cramping effect.

Neander gives his palm to the violation of the three unities because it leads to the variety in the English plays. Dryden thus argues against the neo-classical critics. Since nobody speaks in rhyme in real life, he supports the use of blank verse in drama and says that the use of rhyme in serious plays is justifiable in place of the blank verse.

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(2) Choose the right answer from options (Multiple-choice)

(XXII) John Dryden’s present essay “An Essay on Dramatic Poesy” gives an account of theory of Literature in general.
1. Renaissance
2. Neo-classical
3. Modern
4. Popular

(XXIII) The essay is written in the form of dialogue concerned to four gentlemen: chose the correct one,
a. Claudius, Macbeth, Elizabeth, Iago
b. Callum, Hugo, Grant, Claudius
c. Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius and Neander
d. None of the above


(XXIV) Identify the spokesperson of Dryden from the options offered.
a. Eugenius
b. Crites
c. Lisideius and
d. Neander


(1) Fill in the blanks:

(XXV) He defends the classical drama standing on the line of Aristotle saying it is an imitation of life, and reflects human __________ clearly.

(XXVI)Neander speaks in favour of the __________and respects the ancients, critical to rigid rules of dramas and he favours rhyme.

To check you answers, clickLiterary_Criticism_Page_2.

1.3.1. Definition on Drama:?

Dryden defines Drama as:

Just and lively image of human nature, representing its passions and humours, and the changes of fortune to which it is subject, for the delight and instruction of mankind.

According to the definition, drama is an ‘image’ of ‘human nature’, and the image is ‘just’ and ‘lively’. By using the word ‘just’ Dryden seems to imply that literature imitates (and not merely reproduces) human actions. For Dryden, ‘poetic imitation’ is different from an exact, servile copy of reality, for, the imitation is not only ‘just’, it is also ‘lively’.

When the group talks about the definition of Drama Lisidieus expresses his views about Drama as “a just and lively Image of Humane Nature.” And then each character expresses his views about Drama and they compare French Drama and English Drama and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of French and English Drama. The debate goes on about the comparison between ancient writers and modern writers. They also discuss the importance of “Unity in French Drama”. So far as the Unities of Time, Place and Action are concerned French Drama was closer to classical notions of Drama. With the influence of Platonic Dialogues Dryden had designed the group that further discusses the Playwrights such as Ben Jonson, Molière, and Shakespeare with a deeper insight. Crites offers an objection specifically to the use of rhyme as he privileges the verisimilitude of the scene while citing Aristotle. On the other hand, Neander favours the natural rhyme since that, according to him, adds artistry to the plays. It was Twilight when the four friends had their final speech at the Somerset-Stairs and then the four friends parted along their separate ways.

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Choose the right option:

(XXVII) According to Dryden _________________ is a just and lively image of human nature.:
a. poetry.
b. drama.
c. language.
d. novel.


(XXVIII) Who express the views about drama?
a. Eugenius.
b. Crites.
c. Lisideius.
d. Neander.

(XXIX) According to Dryden, What should be the ultimate end of work of art?
a. to delight and instruction.
b. only delight.
c. only instruct.
d. to teach language.

To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.

1.3.2. Violation of the Three Unitie

In an age of pseudo- classic criticism, with its precise rules and definitions, Dryden had the boldness to defend the claims of genius to write according to its own convictions, without regard for the prescription and rules which had been laid down for good writing. He cleared the ground for himself by brushing away all the arbitrary bans upon freedom of judgment and refused to be cowed down by the French playwrights and critics.

Dryden’s Defence:

Dryden’s liberalism, his free critical disposition, is best seen in his justification of the violation of three unities on the part of the English dramatists and in his defense of English tragi-comedies. As regards the unities, his views are as under:

a) The English violation of the three unities lends greater copiousness (existing in large amounts, profuse in speech) and variety to the English plays. The unities have narrowing and cramping effects on the French plays, and they are often betrayed into absurdities from which English plays are free.

b) The English disregard of the unities enables them to present a more ‘just’ and ‘lively’ picture of human nature. The French plays may be more regular but they are not as lively, not so pleasant and delightful as that of English. e.g., Shakespeare’s plays which are more lively and just images of life and human nature.
c) The English when they do observe the rules as Ben Jonson has done in The Silent Woman, show greater skill and art than the French. It all depends upon the ‘genius’ or ‘skill’ of the writer. d) There is no harm in introducing ‘sub-plots’, for they impart variety, richness, and liveliness to the play. In this way the writer can present a more ‘just’ and ‘lively’ picture than the French with their narrow and cramped plays.

e) To the view that observance of the unities is justified on the ground that (i) their violation results in improbability , (ii) that it places too great a strain on the imagination of the spectators , and (iii) that credibility is stretched too for, Dryden replies that it is all a question of ‘dramatic illusion’. Lisideius argues that “we cannot so speedily recollect ourselves after a scene of great passion and concernment to pass to another of mirth and humour, and to enjoy it with any relish”. Neander questions this assumption and replies to it by saying why should he imagine the soul of man more heavy than his senses? “ Does not the eye pass from an unpleasant object to a pleasant in a much shorter time?” – ‘gratification of sense is primary, secondary that of soul’. Sensory perception helps in dramatic illusion

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Choose the right option:

(XXX) What does the term violation mean here?
a. fight.
b. breaking up of the rule.
c. changes.
d. variations.

(XXXI) The three unities talk about ………………… .
a. Unity of plot, language and speakers.
b. Unity of time, place and action.
c. Unity of author, work and reader.
d. Unity of tragedy, comedy and poetry.

(XXXII) What imparts variety, richness, and liveliness to the play ?
a. language.
b. sub-plots.
c. actors.
d. unity.

(XXXIII) Who is the writer of The play The Silent Women?
a. William Shakespeare.
b. John Dryden.
c. Ben Johnson.
d. Dr. Jonson.

(XXXIV) Who had violated three unities?
a. William Shakespeare.
b. Ben Johnson.
c. Aristotle.
d. Plato.

To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.

1.3.3. Eugenius’s Arguments on the Superiority of the Moderns over the Ancients:

Eugenius says that "the moderns have profited by the rules of the ancients" but moderns have "excelled them." He points first to some discrepancies in the applications of the Unities, mentioning that there seem to be four parts in Aristotle's method: the entrance, the intensifying of the plot, the counter-turn, and the catastrophe. But he points out that somewhere along the line, and by way of Horace, plays developed five acts (the Spanish only 3). As regards the action, Eugenius contends that they are transparent, everybody already having known what will happen; that the Romans borrowed from the Greeks; and that the deus ex machina convention is a weak escape. As far as the unity of place is concerned, he suggests that the Ancients were not the ones to insist on it so much as the French, and that insistence has caused some artificial entrances and exits of characters. The unity of time is often ignored in both. As to the liveliness of language, Eugenius countersfutes Crites by suggesting that even if we do not know all the contexts, good writing is always good, wit is always discernible, if done well. He goes on to say also that while the Ancients portrayed many emotions and actions, they neglected love, "which is the most frequent of all passions" and known to everyone. He mentions Shakespeare and Fletcher as offering "excellent scenes of passion."

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(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
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___________ says that "the moderns have profited by the rules of the ancients" but moderns have "excelled them.". _____________ convention is a weak escape. __________ is the most frequent of all passions. __________ and ________ stated "excellent scenes of passion.".

To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.

1.3.4. Crites’s Arguments in favour of the Ancients:

Crites develops the main points in defending the ancients and raises objections to modern plays. The Moderns are still imitating the Ancients and using their forms and subjects, relying on Aristotle and Horace, adding nothing new and yet not following their good advice closely either, especially with respect to the Unities of time, place and action. While the unity of time suggests that all the action should be portrayed within a single day, the English plays attempt to use long periods of time, sometimes years. In terms of place, the setting should be the same from beginning to end with the scenes marked by the entrances and exits of the persons having business within each. The English, on the other hand, try to have all kinds of places, even far off countries, shown within a single play. The third unity, that of action, requires that the play "aim at one great and complete action", but the English have all kinds of sub-plots which destroy the unity of the action.

In anticipating the objection that the Ancients' language is not as vital as the Moderns’s, Crites says that we have to remember that we are probably missing a lot of subtleties because the languages are dead and the customs are far removed from this time.

Crites uses Ben Jonson as the example of the best in English drama, saying that he followed the Ancients "in all things" and offered nothing really new in terms of "serious thoughts".

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Choose the right option:

(XXXV) Who defended Ancients and opposed Modern?
a. Eugenius.
b. Crites.
c. Lisideius.
d. Neander.


(XXXVI) The ancients age was the true age of ___________ .
a. Eugenius.
b. Crites.
c. Lisideius.
d. Neander.

(XXXVII) The ancients age was the true age of ___________ .
a. Eugenius.
b. Crites.
c. Lisideius.
d. Neander.


(XXXVIII) Which had single action of course which caused narrowing and cramping effect ?
a. Franch drama.
b. greek drama.
c. english drama.
d. modern drama.


(XXXIX) The French do not burden their play with _____________ .

a. fat plot.
b. characters.
c. songs.
d. language.


To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.

1.3.5. Lisideius’s view in favour of the Superiority of the French Drama over the English Drama:

Lisideius speaks in favour of the French. He agrees with Eugenius that in the last generation the English drama was superior. Then they had their Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher. But English drama has decayed and declined since then. They live in an awful age full of bloodshed and violence, and poetry is an art of peace. In the present age, it flourishes

in France and not in England. The French have their Corneille (1606-84), and the English have no dramatist equal to him.

The French are superior to the English for various reasons:

1. They follow the Ancients. They favour the Unity of time and they observe it so carefully. When it comes to the Unity of Place, they are equally careful. In most of their plays, the entire action is limited to one place. And the Unity of Action is even more obvious. Their plays are never over-loaded with sub-plots as is the case with the English plays. The attention of the English playwrights is constantly diverted from one action to the other, and its due effects. This fault of double-action gives rise to another fault till the end. Lisideius therefore concludes: no drama in the world is as absurd as the English tragic-comedy. The French plays also have much variety but they do not provide it in such a bizarre manner. The English are guilty of the folly, while the French are not.

2. The Plots of the French tragedies are based on well-known stories with reference to the theory and practice of the Ancients. But these stories are transformed for dramatic purposes; in this regard they are superior even to the Ancients. So their stories are mixture of truth with fiction, based on historical invention. They both delight and instruct, at one and the same time. But the English dramatists for example Shakespeare, do not modify and transform their stories for dramatic purpose. In order to satisfy the human soul, the drama must have verisimilitude (likeness to reality). The French plays have it, while the English do not.

3. The French do not burden the play with a fat plot. They represent a story which will be one complete action, and everything which is unnecessary is carefully excluded. But the English burden their plays with actions and incidents which have no logical and natural connection with the main action so much so that an English play is a mere compilation. Hence the French plays are better written than the English ones.

4. The English devote considerable attention to one single character, and the others are merely introduced to set off that principal character. But Lisideius does not support or favour this practice. In the English plays, one character is more important than the others, and quite naturally, the greater part of the action is concerned with him. The English play the character relates to life and therefore, it is proper and reasonable that it should be so also in the drama. But in French plays, the other characters are not neglected. While in the French plays such narrations are made by those who are in some way or the other connected with the main action. Similarly the French are more skilled than the Ancients.

5. Further, the French narrations are better managed and more skilful than those of the English. The narration may be of two kinds. The action of the play which is dull and boring, and is often not listened to by the audience. The narration of things happening during the course of the play. The French are able to avoid the representation of scenes of bloodshed, violence and murder on the stage, such scenes of horror and tumult has disfigured many English plays. In this way, they avoid much that is ridiculous and absurd in the English plays.

6. The major imperfection of English plays is the representation of Death on the stage. All passions can be in a lively manner represented on the stage, only if the actor has the necessary skill, but there are many actions which cannot be successfully represented, and dying is one of them. The French omit the same mistake. Death should better be described or narrated rather than represented.

7. It is wrong to believe that the French represent no part of their action on the stage. Instead, they make proper selection. Cruel actions which are likely to cause hatred, or disbelief by their impossibility, must be avoided or merely narrated. They must not be represented. The French follow this rule in practice and so avoid much of the tumult of the English plays by reducing their plots to reasonable limits. Such narrations are common in the plays of the Ancients and the great English dramatists like Ben Jonson and Fletcher. Therefore, the French must not be blamed for their narration, which are judicious and well managed.

8. The French are superior to the English in other ways, too:

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Choose the right option:

(XI) Whose plays are over loaded with sub-plots?
a. French.
b. English.
c. greek.
d. modern.

(XII) Who devote considerable attention to one single character?
a. English.
b. Greek.
c. French.
d. Modern.

(XIII) Whose narrations are better managed and more skilful than those of the English?
a. Greek.
b. French.
c. Modern.
d. Ancients.


(XIIII) What is the major imperfection of English plays?
a. representation of death scene on the stage.
b. representation of love scene on the stage.
c. representation of god on the stage.
d. representation of long plays on the stage.

To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.

1.3.6. Neander’s View in Favour of Modern (English) Drama:

Based on the definition of the play, Neander suggests that English playwrights are best at "the lively imitation of nature" (i.e.,human nature). French poesy is beautiful; it is beautiful like a "statue". He even says that the newer French writers are imitating the English playwrights. One fault he finds in their plots is that the regularity also makes the plays too much alike. He defends the English invention of tragi-comedy by suggesting that the use of mirth with tragedy provides "contraries" that "set each other off" and gives the audience relief from the heaviness of straight tragedy. He suggests that the use of well-ordered sub-plots makes the plays interesting and help the main action. Further, he suggests that English plays are more entertaining and instructive because they offer an element of surprise that the Ancients and the French do not. He brings up the idea of the suspension of disbelief. While the audience may know that none of them are real, why should they think scenes of deaths or battles any less "real" than the rest? Here he credits the English audience with certain robustness in suggesting that they want their battles and "other objects of horror." Ultimately he suggests that it may be there are simply too many rules and often following them creates more absurdities than they prevent.

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(XIIV) According to the definition of the play Neander suggests that English playwrights are best as:
a. "the lively imitation of nature" (human nature).
b. “Truth is beauty, beauty truth”.
c. “reality vs. appearance”.
d. “theory of existentialism”.

(1) Fill in the blanks:

(XIV)In this article French Poesy is compared with ___________.

(XIVI)The newer French writers are imitating _________________.

(XIVII)Neander defends the English invention of ______________.

(XIVIII)Neander suggests that well ordered sub-plot make _________ interesting and help the main action.

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1.3.7. The Ancients versus Modern Playwrights:

Dryden in his essay, An Essay on Dramatic Poesy, vindicated the Moderns. The case for the ‘Ancients’ is presented by Crites. In the controversy Dryden takes no extreme position and is sensible enough to give the Ancients their respect. Through his wit and shrewd analysis, he removes the difficulty which had confused the issue. He makes us see the achievement of the Ancients and the gratitude of the Moderns to them. Thus, he presents the comparative merits and demerits of each in a clearer way.

Crites Favours the Ancients:

(i) The superiority of the Ancients is established by the very fact that the Moderns simply imitate them, and build on the foundations laid by them. The Ancients are the acknowledged models of the Moderns.

(ii) The Ancients had a special genius for drama, and in their particular branch of poetry they could reach perfection. Just as they excel them in drama.

(iii) Thirdly, in ancient Greece and Rome poetry was more honoured than any other branch of knowledge. Poets were encouraged to excel in this field through frequent competitions, judges were appointed and the dramatists were rewarded according to their merits. But in modern times there is no such spirit of healthy rivalry and competition. Poets are neither suitably honoured nor are they rewarded.

(iv) The Ancient drama is superior because the Ancients closely observed Nature and faithfully represented her in their work. The Moderns do not observe and study Nature carefully and so they distort and disfigure her in their plays.

(v) The rules of Dramatic Composition which the Moderns now follow have come down to them from the Ancients.

(vi) Crites makes special mention of the Unities, of Time, Place, and Action. The Ancients followed these rules and the effect is satisfying and pleasing. But in Modern plays the Unity of Time is violated and often of the Action of a play covers whole ages.

(vii) The Ancients could organize their plays well. We are unable to appreciate the art and beauty of their language, only because many of their customs, stories, etc, are not known to us. There is much that is highly proper and elegant in their language but we fail to appreciate it because their language is dead, and remains only in books.

Eugenius’ Case for the Moderns:

Eugenius then replies to Crites and speaks in favour of the Moderns.

In the very beginning, he acknowledges that the Moderns have learnt much from the Ancients. But he adds that by their own labour the Moderns have added to what they have gained from them, with the result that they now excel them in many ways. The Moderns have not blindly imitated them. Had they done so, they would have lost the old perfection, and would not achieve any new excellences. Eugenius proceeds to bring out some defects of the Ancients, and some excellences of the Moderns.

(i) The Moderns have perfected the division of plays and divided their plays not only into Acts but also into scenes. The Spaniards and the Italians have some excellent plays to their credit, and they divided them into three Acts and not into five. They wrote without any definite plan and when they could write a good play their success was more a matter of chance and good fortune than of ability. In the characterization they no doubt, imitate nature, but their imitation is only narrow and partial – as if they imitated only an eye or a hand and did not dare to venture on the lines of a face, or the proportion of the body. They are inferior to the (English) Moderns in all these respects.

(ii) Even the Ancients’ observance of the three unities is not perfect. The Ancient critics, like Horace and Aristotle, did not make mention of the Unity of Place. Even the Ancients did not always observe the Unity of Time. Euripides, a great dramatist, no doubt, confines his action to one day, but, then, he commits many absurdities.

(iii) There is too much of narration at the cost of Action. Instead of providing the necessary information to the audience through dialogues the Ancients often do so through monologues. The result is, their play becomes monotonous and tiresome.

(iv) Their plays do not perform one of the functions of drama, that of giving delight as well as instruction. There is no poetic justice in their plays. Instead of punishing vice and rewarding virtue, they have often shown a prosperous wickedness, and an unhappy piety.

(v) Eugenius agrees with Crites that they are not competent to judge the language of the Ancients since it is dead, and many of their stories, customs, habits, etc., have been lost to them. However, they have certain glaring faults which cannot be denied. They are often too bold in their metaphors and in their coinages. As far as possible, only such words should be used as are in common use, and new words should be coined only when absolutely necessary. Horace himself has recommended this rule, but the Ancients violated it frequently.

(vi) Ancient themes are equally defective. The proper end of Tragedy is to arouse “admiration and concernment (pity)”. But their themes are lust, cruelty, murder, and bloodshed, which instead of arousing admiration and pity arouse “horror and terror”. The horror of such themes can be softened a little by the introduction of love scenes, but in the treatment of this passion they are much inferior to such Moderns as Shakespeare and Fletcher. In their comedies, no doubt they introduce a few scenes of tenderness but, then, their lovers talk very little.

Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -12
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
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(1) Fill in the blanks:

(XIIX) The case for the ‘Ancients’ is presented by ________.

(I) Dryden’s view expresses the achievement of _____________ and the gratitude of the moderns to them.

(II) Dryden presents _______________merits and demerits of each in a clearer way. 52. ______________ had a special genius for drama, and in their particular branch of poetry they could reach perfection.


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1.3.8. Mixture of Tragedy and Comedy

Dryden is more considerate in his attitude towards the mingling of the tragic and the comic elements and emotions in the plays. He vindicates tragi-comedy on the following grounds:

a) Contrasts, when placed near, set off each other.

b) Continued gravity depresses the spirit, a scene of mirth thrown in between refreshes. It has the same effect on us as music. In other words, comic scene produces relief, though Dryden does not explicitly say so.

c) Mirth does not destroy compassion and thus the serious effect which tragedy aims at is not disturbed by mingling of tragic and comic.

d) Just as the eye can pass from an unpleasant object to a pleasant one, so also the soul can move from the tragic to the comic. And it can do so much more swiftly.

e) The English have perfected a new way of writing not known to the Ancients. If they had tragic-comedies, perhaps Aristotle would have revised his rules.

f) It is all a question of progress with the change of taste. The Ancients cannot be a model for all times and countries, “What pleased the Greeks would not satisfy an English audience”. Had Aristotle seen the English plays “He might have changed his mind”. The real test of excellence is not strict adherence to rules or conventions, but whether the aims of dramas have been achieved. They are achieved by the English drama.

Dryden’s view on Tragi-comedy (Dryden’s own phrase is ‘Tragic-comedy’) clearly brings out his liberal classicism, greatness and shrewdness as a critic. Dryden is of the view that mingling of the tragic and the comic provides dramatic relief.

Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -13
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

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(1) Fill in the blanks:

(IIII)Dryden is more considerate in his attitude towards the mingling of the ________and the ________ elements and emotions in the plays. Mirth does not destroy _____________ . “What pleased the Greeks would not satisfy an ¬___________”Dryden is of the view that mingling of the tragic and the comic provides ___________ relief.


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1.3.9. Advocacy of writing plays in Rhymed Verse

Rhymed Verse versus Blank Verse Controversy:

In the Restoration era rhymed verse or Heroic Couplet was generally used as the medium of expression for Heroic Tragedy, while the great Elizabethan dramatists had used blank verse for their plays. Dryden himself used rhyme for his plays upto ‘Aurangzebe’. But in the Preface to this play he bids farewell to his ‘mistress rhyme’, and express his intention of turning to blank verse. However, in the Essay, he has expressed himself strongly in favour of rhyme through the mouth of Neander.

Crites’s attack on Rhyme occurs towards the end of the Essay, the discussion turns on rhyme and blank verse, and Crites attacks rhyme violently on the following grounds:

• Rhyme is not to be allowed in serious plays, though it may be allowed in comedies.

• Rhyme is unnatural in a play, for a play is in dialogues, and no man without premeditation speaks in rhyme.

• Blank Verse is also unnatural for no man speaks in verse either, but it is nearer to prose and Aristotle has laid down that tragedy should be written in a verse form which is nearer to prose – “Aristotle, 'Tis best to write Tragedy in that kind of Verse which is the least such, or which is nearest Prose: and this amongst the Ancients was the Iambique, and with us is blank verse.” (………)

• Drama is a ‘just’ representation of Nature, and rhyme is unnatural, for nobody in Nature expresses himself in rhyme. It is artificial and the art is too apparent, while true art consists in hiding art.

• It is said that rhyme helps the poet to control his fancy. But one who has not the judgment to control his fancy in blank verse will not be able to control it in rhyme either. Artistic control is a matter of judgment and not of rhyme or verse.

Neander’s defence:

• The choice and the placing of the word should be natural in a natural order – that makes the language natural, whether it is verse or rhyme that is used.

• Rhyme itself may be made to look natural by the use of run-on lines, and variety, and variety resulting from the use of hemistich, manipulation of pauses and stresses, and the change of metre. • Blank Verse is no verse at all. It is simply poetic prose and so fit only for comedies. Rhymed verse alone, made natural or near to prose, is suitable for tragedy. This would satisfy Aristotle’s dictum. • Rhyme is justified by its universal use among all the civilized nations of the world.

• The Elizabethans achieved perfection in the use of blank verse and they, the Moderns, cannot excel; them, or achieve anything significant or better in the use of blank verse. Hence they must perforce use rhyme, which suits the genius of their age.

• Tragedy is a serious play representing nature exalted to its highest pitch; rhyme being the noblest kind of verse is suited to it, and not to comedy.

At the end of the Essay, Dryden gives one more reason in favour of rhyme i.e. rhyme adds to the pleasure of poetry. Rhyme helps the judgment and thus makes it easier to control the free flights of the fancy. The primary function of poetry is to give ‘delight’, and rhyme enables the poet to perform this function well.

Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -14
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
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Choose the right option:

(IIV) In which era rhymed verse or Heroic Couplet was generally used as the medium of expression for Heroic Tragedy ?
a. Restoration
b. Elizabethan
c. Reformation
d. Puritan Age

(IV) Up to Which play Dryden had used rhyme?
a. ‘Aurangzebe’
b. Mac flacknoe

(IVI) Who said that blank verse is not verse at all, it is simply poetic prose?
a. Crites
b. Neander


To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.

1.4. Let’s sum up

In a nutshell, John Dryden in his essay, An Essay on Dramatic Poesy, gives an account of the Neo-classical theory. He defends the classical drama saying that it is an imitation of life, and reflects human nature clearly. He also discusses the three unities, rules that require a play to take place in one place, during one day, and that it develops one single action or plot.

The Essay is written in the form of a dialogue concerned to four gentlemen: Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius and Neander. Neander seems to speak for Dryden himself.Eugenius takes the side of the modern English dramatists by criticizing the faults of the classical playwrights who did not themselves observe the unity of place. But Crites defends the ancient and pointed out that they invited the principles of dramatic art enunciated by Aristotle and Horace. Crites opposes rhyme in plays and argues that through the moderns excel in science; the ancient age was the true age of poetry. Lesideius defends the French playwrights and attacks the English tendency to mix genres. He defines a play as a just and lively image of human and the change of fortune to which it is subject for the delight and instruction of mankind.

Neander favours the Moderns, respects the Ancients, critical to rigid rules of dramas and he favours rhyme if it is in proper place like in grand subject matter. Neander a spokesperson of Dryden argues that tragic comedy is the best form for a play; because it is the closest to life in which emotions are heightened by both mirth and sadness. He also finds subplots as an integral part to enrich a play. He finds the French drama, with its single action.

Neander favours the violation of the unities because it leads to the variety in the English plays. The unities have a narrowing and crumpling effect on the French plays, which are often betrayed into absurdities from which the English plays are free. The violation of unities helps the English playwright to present a mere, just and lively image of human nature.

In his comparison of French and English drama, Neander characterizes the best proofs of the Elizabethan playwrights. He praises Shakespeare, ancients and moderns.Neander comes to the end for the superiority of the Elizabethans with a close examination of a play by Jonson which Neander believes a perfect demonstration that the English were capable of following the classical rules. In this way, Dryden’s commitment to the neoclassical tradition is displayed.

1.5. Glossary of Key Terms

John Dryden

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dryden Restoration Literature http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restoration_literature Marriage A-la-Mode http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_%C3%A0_la_mode_(play) Absalom and Achitophel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absalom_and_Achitophel Don Sebastian (1689) http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O54-DonSebastian.html Amphitryon (1690) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphitryon_(Dryden) Shakespeare http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare The Tempest http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tempest All for Love (1677) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_for_Love_(play) Antony and Cleopatra http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_and_Cleopatra References of Difficult Words libretto http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libretto The State of Innocence (1677) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_State_of_Innocence

Milton

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Milton Paradise Lost http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradise_Lost King Arthur(1691) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur_(opera) Ancient and Modern(1700) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/199755/Fables-Ancient-and-Modern Purcell http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Purcell Ovid http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ovid Boccaccio http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/70836/Giovanni-Boccaccio Geoffrey Chaucer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Chaucer MacFlecknoe(1682) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mac_Flecknoe Essay of Dramatic Poesy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essay_of_Dramatick_Poesie Jonson's The Silent Woman http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic%C5%93ne,_or_The_silent_woman neoclassical critic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticisms_of_neoclassical_economics French neo-Classicism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoclassicism

T.S. Eliot

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._S._Eliot "liberal" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal poesy http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/poesy?q=poesy drama http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drama R.A.Scott – JAMES http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolfe_Arnold_Scott-James sub-plot http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subplot observance http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/observance Dr. Johnson http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Johnson Imitation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imitation tragi-comedy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragicomedy suspension of disbelief http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_of_disbelief rhyme and verse http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhyme deus ex machina http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina

French tragedies

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy verisimilitude http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verisimilitude Sejanus and Catiline http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3716954?uid=3738256&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21100830255121 The King and No King http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_King_and_No_King The Scornful Lady http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scornful_Lady EUNUCH http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eunuch Adelphi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adelphi Blank Verse http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blank_verse Aurangzebe http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurangzeb

1.6. Reading List


(A) Webliography-

1. http://danassays.wordpress.com/encyclopedia-of-the-essay/an-essay-of-dramatic-poesy-by-john-dryden/ 2. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/essay/237822 3. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/39817/39817-h/39817-h.htm 4. http://danassays.wordpress.com/encyclopedia-of-the-essay/an-essay-of-dramatic-poesy-by-john-dryden/ 5. http://literarycriticismjohn.blogspot.in/2011/11/00030-why-is-dryden-called-father-of.html 6. http://www.brysons.net/academic/dryden.html 7. http://www.archive.org/stream/anessayofdramati00dryduoft/anessayofdramati00dryduoft_djvu.txt 8. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/39817/39817-h/39817-h.htm 9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essay_of_Dramatick_Poesie 10. http://core.ecu.edu/engl/kaind/crit/drydtext.html 11. http://neoenglish.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/consider-the-problem-of-dramatic-theory-and-prac

(B) Further Reading

 The Works of John Dryden, 20 vols., ed. H. T. Swedenberg Jr. et al., (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1956–2002)
 Daiches, David, A Critical History Of English Literature (Volume - II) ISBN: 8189930443, 2010, Paperback
 John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987)
 The Works of John Dryden, ed. by David Marriott, (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1995)
 John Dryden Selected Poems, ed by David Hopkins, (London: Everyman Paperbacks, 1998)
 Of Dramatic Poesy: An Essay, 1667: revised edition, 1684; as An Essay of Dramatic Poesy, edited by Thomas Arnold, 1889, P D Arundell. 1929, George Watson, 1962, and John L. Mahoney, 1995.
 Aden, John M., “Dryden, Corneille, and the Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Review of English Studies 6 (1955):147–56
 Aden, John M., The Critical Opinions of John Dryden: A Dictionary, Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press, 1963
 Archer, S., “The Persons in An Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Papers on Language and Literature 2 (1966):305–14
 Atkins, J.W.H., English Literary Criticism: 17th and 18th Centuries, London: Methuen, 1951
 Davie, D., “Dramatic Poetry: Dryden’s Conversation Piece,” Cambridge Journal 5 (1952):553–61
 Hume, R.D., Dryden’s Criticism, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1970
 Huntley, Frank L., “On the Persons of Dryden’s Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Modern Language Notes 63 (1948):88–95
 Huntley, Frank L., On Dryden’s “Essay of Dramatic Poesy”, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1951
 Jensen, H.James, A Glossary of John Dryden’s Critical Terms, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969
 LeClercq, R.V., “Corneille and An Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Comparative Literature 22 (1970):319–27
 LeClercq, R.V., “The Academic Nature of the Whole Discourse of An Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Papers on Language and Literature 8 (1972):27–38
 Thale, Mary, “Dryden’s Dramatic Criticism: Polestar of the Ancients,” Comparative Literature 18 (1966):36–54
 Williamson, G., “The Occasion of An Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Modern Philology 44 (1946):1–9
 Wimsatt, W.K., and Cleanth Brooks, Literary Criticism: A Short History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978 (original edition, 1957)
 Winn, James Anderson. John Dryden and His World, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987)
 Eliot, T. S., ‘John Dryden’, in Selected Essays, (London: Faber and Faber, 1932)
 Hopkins, David, John Dryden, ed. by Isobel Armstrong, (Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers, 2004)
 Oden, Richard, L. Dryden and Shadwell, The Literary Controversy and 'Mac Flecknoe (1668–1679), (Scholars' Facsmilies and Reprints, Inc., Delmar, New York, 1977)


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It was that memorable day, in the first Summer of the late War, when our Navy engaged the Dutch: a day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed Fleets which any age had ever seen, disputed the command of the greater half of the Globe, the commerce of Nations, and the riches of the Universe. While these vast floating bodies, on either side, moved against each other in parallel lines, and our Country men, under the happy conduct of his Royal Highness, went breaking, by little and little, into the line of the Enemies; the noise of the Cannon from both Navies reached our ears about the City: so that all men, being alarmed with it, and in a dreadful suspense of the event, which we knew was then deciding, every one went following the sound as his fancy led him; and leaving the Town almost empty, some took towards the Park, some cross the River, others down it; all seeking the noise in the depth of silence.

Amongst the rest, it was the fortune of Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius and Neander, to be in company together: three of them persons whom their wit and Quality have made known to all the Town: and whom I have chose to hide under these borrowed names, that they may not suffer by so ill a relation as I am going to make of their discourse.

Taking then a Barge which a servant of Lisideus had provided for them, they made haste to shoot the Bridge, and left behind them that great fall of waters which hindered them from hearing what they desired: after which, having disengaged themselves from many Vessels which rode at Anchor in the Thames, and almost blocked up the passage towards Greenwich, they ordered the Watermen to let fall their Oars more gently; and then every one favoring his own curiosity with a strict silence, it was not long ere they perceived the Air break about them like the noise of distant. Thunder, or of Swallows in a Chimney: those little undulations of sound, though almost vanishing before they reached them, yet still seeming to retain somewhat of their first horror which they had betwixt the Fleets: after they had attentively listened till such time as the sound by little and little went from them; Eugenius lifting up his head, and taking notice of it, was the first who congratulated to the rest that happy Omen of our Nations Victory adding, we had but this to desire in confirmation of it, that we might hear no more of that noise which was now leaving the English Coast. When the rest had concurred in the same opinion, Crites, a person of a sharp judgment, and somewhat too delicate a taste in wit, which the world have mistaken in him for ill nature, said, smiling to us, that if the concernment of this battle had not been so exceeding great, he could scarce have wished the Victory at the price he knew must pay for it, in being subject to the reading and hearing of so many ill verses as he was sure would be made upon it; adding, that no Argument could scape some of those eternal Rhymers, who watch a Battle with more diligence than the Ravens and birds of Prey; and the worst of them surest to be first in upon the quarry, while the better able, either out of modesty writ not at all, or set that due value upon their Poems, as to let them be often called for and long expected! “There are some of those impertinent people you speak of,” answered Lisideius, “who to my knowledge, are already so provided, either way, that they can produce not only a Panegyric upon the Victory, but, if need be, a funeral elegy upon the Duke: and after they have crowned his valor with many Laurels, at last deplore the odds under which he fell, concluding that his courage deserved a better destiny.” All the company smiled at the conceit of Lisideius, but Crites, more eager than before, began to make particular exceptions against some Writers, and said the public Magistrate ought to send betimes to forbid them; and that it concerned the peace and quiet of all honest people, that ill Poets should be as well silenced as seditious Preachers. “In my opinion,” replied Eugenius, “you pursue your point too far; for as to my own particular, I am so great a lover of Poesy, that I could wish them all rewarded who attempt but to do well; at least I would not have them worse used than Sylla the Dictator did one of their brethren heretofore: Quem in concione vidimus (says Tully speaking of him) cum ei libellum malus poeta de populo subjecisset, quod epigramma in eum fecisset tantummodo alternis versibus longiuculis, statim ex iis rebus quæ tunc vendebat jubere ei præmium tribui, sub ea conditione ne quid postea scriberet.” [We saw him once in an assembly, when out of the crowd a bad poet offered him an epigram in elegiac verse that he had just written as an attack on Sylla; he immediately ordered that the poet be given a reward out of the articles that he was selling, with the condition that he never again write anything—ed.] “I could wish with all my heart,” replied Crites, “that many whom we know were as bountifully thanked upon the same condition, that they would never trouble us again. For amongst others, I have a mortal apprehension of two Poets, whom this victory with the help of both her wings will never be able to escape.” “’Tis easy to guess whom you intend,” said Lisideius; “and without naming them, I ask you if one of them does not perpetually pay us with clenches upon words and a certain clownish kind of raillery? if now and then he does not offer at a Catachresis or Clevelandism, wresting and torturing a word into another meaning: In fine, if he be not one of those whom the French would call un mauvais buffon; one that is so much a well-willer to the Satire, that he spares no man; and though he cannot strike a blow to hurt any, yet ought to be punished for the malice of the action, as our Witches are justly hanged because they think themselves so; and suffer deservedly for believing they did mischief, because they meant it.” “You have described him,” said Crites, “so exactly, that I am afraid to come after you with my other extremity of Poetry: He is one of those who having had some advantage of education and converse, knows better than the other what a Poet should be, but puts it into practice more unluckily than any man; his stile and matter are every where alike; he is the most calm, peaceable. Writer you ever read: he never disquiets your passions with the least concernment, but still leaves you in as even a temper as he found you; he is a very Leveller in Poetry, he creeps along with ten little words in every line, and helps out his Numbers with For to, and Unto, and all the pretty Expletives he can find, till he drags them to the end of another line; while the Sense is left tired half way behind it; he doubly starves all his Verses, first for want of thought, and then of expression; his Poetry neither has wit in it, nor seems to have it; like him in Martial: Pauper videri Cinna vult, et est pauper [Cinna wants to seem to be a pauper; and, sure enough, he is a pauper]: He affects plainness, to cover his want of imagination: when he writes the serious way, the highest flight of his fancy is some miserable Antithesis, or seeming contradiction; and in the Comic he is still reaching at some thin conceit, the ghost of a Jest, and that too flies before him, never to be caught; these Swallows which we see before us on the Thames, are just resemblance of his wit: you may observe how near the water they stoop, how many proffers they make to dip, and yet how seldom they touch it: and when they do, ’tis but the surface: they skim over it but to catch a gnat, and then mount into the air and leave it.”

“Well Gentlemen,” said Eugenius, “you may speak your pleasure of these Authors; but though I and some few more about the Town may give you a peaceable hearing, yet, assure yourselves, there are multitudes who would think you malicious and them injured: especially him who you first described; he is the very Withers of the City: they have bought more Editions of his Works than would serve to lay under all the Pies at the Lord Mayor’s Christmas. When his famous Poem first came out in the year, I have seen them reading it in the midst of Change-time; many so vehement they were at it, that they lost their bargain by the Candles ends: but what will you say, if he has been received amongst the great Ones? I can assure you he is, this day, the envy of a great person, who is Lord in the Art of Quibbling; and who does not take it well, that any man should intrude so far into his Province.” “All I would wish,” replied Crites, “is, that they who love his Writings, may still admire him, and his fellow Poet: Qui Bavium non odit, etc. [who does not hate Bavius—ed.] is curse sufficient.” “And farther,” added Lisideius, “I believe there is no man who writes well, but would think himself very hardly dealt with, if their Admirers should praise anything of his: Nam quos contemnimus eorum quoque laudes contemnimus [For we detest praise that comes from those we detest—ed.]” “There are so few who write well in this Age,” said Crites, “that methinks any praises should be welcome; then neither rise to the dignity of the last Age, nor to any of the Ancients; and we may cry out of the Writers of this time, with more reason than Petronius of his, Pace vestra liceat dixisse, primi omnium eloquentiam perdidistis [If I may be permitted to say so, you were, of all, the first to lose the old eloquence]: you have debauched the true old Poetry so far, that Nature, which is the soul of it, is not in any of your Writings.”

“If your quarrel,” said Eugenius, “to those who now write, be grounded only upon your reverence to Antiquity, there is no man more ready to adore those great Greeks and Romans than I am: but on the other side, I cannot think so contemptibly of the Age I live in, or so dishonorably of my own Country, as not to judge we equal the Ancients in most kinds of Poesy, and in some surpass them; neither know I any reason why I may not be as zealous for the Reputation of our Age, as we find the Ancients themselves in reference to those who lived before them. For you hear your Horace saying,

Indignor quidquam reprehendi, non quia crassé

Compositum, illepidève putetur, sed quia nuper
[I bristle when something is condemned, not because
it is badly or obscurely written, but just because it is new—ed.].

And after,

Si meliora dies, ut vina, poemata reddit,

Scire velim pretium chartis quotus arroget annus?
[If books, like wines, improve with age, tell me

in what year they achieve value?—ed.].

“But I see I am engaging in a wide dispute, where the arguments are not like to reach close on either side; for Poesy is of so large extent, and so many both of the Ancients and Moderns have done well in all kinds of it, that, in citing one against the other, we shall take up more time this Evening, than each man’s occasions will allow him: therefore I would ask Crites to what part of Poesy he would confine his Arguments, and whether he would defend the general cause of the Ancients against the Moderns, or oppose any Age of the Moderns against this of ours?”

Crites a little while considering upon this Demand, told Eugenius he approved his Propositions, and, if he pleased, he would limit their Dispute to Dramatic Poesy; in which he thought it not difficult to prove, either that the Ancients were superior to the Moderns, or the last Age to this of ours.

Eugenius was somewhat surprised, when he heard Crites make choice of that Subject; “For ought I see,” said he, “I have undertaken a harder Province than I imagined; for though I never judged the Plays of the Greek or Roman Poets comparable to ours; yet on the other side those we now see acted, come short of many which were written in the last Age: but my comfort is if we are o’ercome, it will be only by our own Countrymen: and if we yield to them in this one part of Poesy, we more surpass them in all the other; for in the Epic or Lyric way it will be hard for them to show us one such amongst them, as we have many now living, or who lately were so. They can produce nothing so courtly writ, or which expresses so much the Conversation of a Gentleman, as Sir John Suckling; nothing so even, sweet, and flowing as Mr. Waller; nothing so Majestic, so correct as Sir John Denham; nothing so elevated, so copious, and full of spirit, as Mr. Cowley; as for the Italian, French, and Spanish Plays, I can make it evident that those who now write, surpass them; and that the Drama is wholly ours.”

All of them were thus far of Eugenius’s opinion, that the sweetness of English Verse was never understood or practiced by our Fathers; even Crites himself did not much oppose it: and every one was willing to acknowledge how much our Poesy is improved, by the happiness of some Writers yet living; who first taught us to mould our thoughts into easy and significant words; to retrench the superfluities of expression, and to make our Rime so properly a part of the Verse, that it should never mislead the sense, but itself be led and governed by it.

Eugenius was going to continue this Discourse, when Lisideius told him it was necessary, before they proceeded further, to take a standing measure of their Controversy; for how was it possible to be decided who writ the best Plays, before we know what a Play should be? but, this once agreed on by both Parties, each might have recourse to it, either to prove his own advantages, or discover the failings of his Adversary.

Lisideius, after some modest denials, at last confessed he had a rude Notion of it; indeed rather a Description than a Definition: but which served to guide him in his private thoughts, when he was to make a judgment of what others writ: that he conceived a Play ought to be, A just and lively Image of Humane Nature, representing its Passions and Humors, and the Changes of Fortune to which it is subject; for the Delight and Instruction of Mankind.

This Definition, though Crites raised a Logical Objection against it; that it was only a genere et fine [that is, too broadly, according to category and purpose—as though one defined “shirt” as “a garment to keep one warm”—ed.], and so not altogether perfect; was yet well received by the rest: and after they had given order to the Water-men to turn their Barge, and row softly, that they might take the cool of the Evening in their return; Crites, being desired by the Company to begin, spoke on behalf of the Ancients, in this manner:

“If Confidence presage a Victory, Eugenius, in his own opinion, has already triumphed over the Ancients; nothing seems more easy to him, than to overcome those whom it is our greatest praise to have imitated well: for we do not only build upon their foundation; but by their models. Dramatic Poesy had time enough, reckoning from Thespis (who first invented it) to Aristophanes, to be born, to grow up, and to flourish in Maturity. It has been observed of Arts and Sciences, that in one and the same Century they have arrived to a great perfection; and no wonder, since every Age has a kind of Universal Genius, which inclines those that live in it to some particular Studies: the Work then being pushed on by many hands, must of necessity go forward.

“Is it not evident, in these last hundred years (when the Study of Philosophy has been the business of all the Virtuosi in Christendom) that almost a new Nature has been revealed to us? that more errors of the School have been detected, more useful Experiments in Philosophy have been made, more Noble Secrets in Optics, Medicine, Anatomy, Astronomy, discovered, than in all those credulous and doting Ages from Aristotle to us? so true it is that nothing spreads more fast than Science, when rightly and generally cultivated.

“Add to this the more than common emulation that was in those times of writing well; which though it be found in all Ages and all Persons that pretend to the same Reputation; yet Poesy being then in more esteem than now it is, had greater Honors decreed to the Professors of it; and consequently the Rival-ship was more high between them; they had Judges ordained to decide their Merit, and Prizes to reward it: and Historians have been diligent to record of Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Lycophron, and the rest of them, both who they were that vanquished in these Wars of the Theater, and how often they were crowned: while the Asian Kings, and Grecian Commonwealths scarce afforded them a Nobler Subject than the unmanly Luxuries of a Debauched Court, or giddy Intrigues of a Factious City. Alit æmulatio ingenia (says Paterculus) et nunc invidia, nunc admiratio incitationem accendit: Emulation is the Spur of Wit, and sometimes Envy, sometimes Admiration quickens our Endeavors.

“But now since the Rewards of Honor are taken away, that Virtuous Emulation is turned into direct Malice; yet so slothful, that it contents itself to condemn and cry down others, without attempting to do better: ’Tis a Reputation too unprofitable, to take the necessary pains for it; yet wishing they had it, is incitement enough to hinder others from it. And this, in short, Eugenius, is the reason, why you have now so few good Poets; and so many severe Judges: Certainly, to imitate the Ancients well, much labor and long study is required: which pains, I have already shown, our Poets would want encouragement to take, if yet they had ability to go through with it. Those Ancients have been faithful Imitators and wise Observers of that Nature, which is so torn and ill represented in our Plays, they have handed down to us a perfect resemblance of her; which we, like ill Copiers, neglecting to look on, have rendered monstrous and disfigured. But, that you may know how much you are indebted to those your Masters, and be ashamed to have so ill requited them: I must remember you that all the Rules by which we practice the Drama at this day, either such as relate to the justness and symmetry of the Plot; or the Episodical Ornaments, such as Descriptions, Narrations, and other Beauties, which are not essential to the Play; were delivered to us from the Observations that Aristotle made, of those Poets, which either lived before him, or were his Contemporaries: we have added nothing of our own, except we have the confidence to say our wit is better; which none boast of in our Age, but such as understand not theirs. Of that Book which Aristotle has left us, Peri tes Poiekes, Horace’s Art of Poetry is an excellent Comment, and, I believe, restores to us that Second Book of his [Aristotle’s—ed.] concerning Comedy, which is wanting [missing—ed.] in him.

“Out of these two has been extracted the Famous Rules which the French call, Des Trois Unitez, or, The Three Unities, which ought to be observed in every Regular Play; namely, of Time, Place, and Action.

“The unity of Time they comprehend in hours, the compass of a Natural Day; or as near it as can be contrived: and the reason of it is obvious to every one, that the time of the feigned action, or fable of the Play, should be proportioned as near as can be to the duration of that time in which it is represented; since therefore all Plays are acted on the Theater in a space of time much within the compass of hours, that Play is to be thought the nearest imitation of Nature, whose Plot or Action is confined within that time; and, by the same Rule which concludes this general proportion of time, it follows, that all the parts of it are to be equally subdivided; as namely, that one act take not up the supposed time of half a day; which is out of proportion to the rest: since the other four are then to be straitened within the compass of the remaining half; for it is unnatural that one Act, which being spoke or written, is not longer than the rest, should be supposed longer by the Audience; ’Tis therefore the poet’s duty, to take care that no Act should be imagined to exceed the time in which it is represented on the Stage, and that the intervals and inequalities of time be supposed to fall out between the Acts.

“This Rule of Time how well it has been observed by the Ancients, most of their Plays will witness; you see them in their Tragedies (wherein to follow this Rule is certainly most difficult) from the very beginning of their Plays, falling close into that part of the Story which they intend for the action or principal object of it; leaving the former part to be delivered by Narration: so that they set the Audience, as it were, at the Post where the Race is to be concluded: and, saving them the tedious expectation of seeing the Poet set out and ride the beginning of the Course) you behold him not, till he is in sight of the Goal, and just upon you.

“For the Second Unity, which is that of place, the Ancients meant by it, That the Scene ought to be continued through the Play, in the same place where it was laid in the beginning: for the Stage, on which it is represented, being but one and the same place, it is unnatural to conceive it many; and those far distant from one another. I will not deny but by the variation of painted Scenes, the Fancy (which in these cases will contribute to its own deceit) may sometimes imagine it several places, with some appearance of probability; yet it still carries the greater likelihood of truth, if those places be supposed so near each other, as in the same Town or City; which may all be comprehended under the larger Denomination of one place: for a greater distance will bear no proportion to the shortness of time, which is allotted in the acting, to pass from one of them to another; for the Observation of this, next to the Ancients, the French are to be most commended. They tie themselves so strictly to the unity of place, that you never see in any of their Plays a Scene changed in the middle of the Act: if the Act begins in a Garden, a Street, or Chamber, ’tis ended in the same place; and that you may know it to be the same, the Stage is so supplied with persons that it is never empty all the time: he that enters the second has business with him who was on before; and before the second quits the Stage, a third appears who has business with him. This Corneille calls La Liaison des Scenes, the continuity or joining of the Scenes; and ’tis a good mark of a well contrived Play when all the Persons are known to each other, and every one of them has some affairs with all the rest.

“As for the third Unity which is that of Action, the Ancients meant no other by it than what the Logicians do by their Finis, the end or scope of an action that which is the first in Intention, and last in Execution: now the Poet is to aim at one great and complete action, to the carrying on of which all things in his Play, even the very obstacles, are to be subservient; and the reason of this is as evident as any of the former.

“For two Actions equally labored and driven on by the Writer, would destroy the unity of the Poem; it would be no longer one Play, but two: not but that there may be many actions in a Play, as Ben Jonson has observed in his Discoveries; but they must be all subservient to the great one, which our language happily expresses in the name of under-plots: such as in Terence’s Eunuch is the difference and reconcilement of Thais and Phædria, which is not the chief business of the Play, but promotes; the marriage of Chærea and Chreme’s Sister, principally intended by the Poet. There ought to be one action, says Corneille, that is one complete action which leaves the mind of the Audience in a full repose: But this cannot be brought to pas but by many other imperfect ones which conduce to it, and hold the Audience in a delightful suspense of what will be.

“If by these Rules (to omit many other drawn from the Precepts and Practice of the Ancients) we should judge our modern Plays; ’Tis probable, that few of them would endure the trial: that which should be the business of a day, takes up in some of them an age; instead of one action they are the Epitomes of a man’s life,; and for one spot of ground (which the Stage should represent) we are sometimes in more Countries than the Map can show us.

“But if we will allow the Ancients to have contrived well, we must acknowledge them to have writ better; questionless we are deprived of a great stock of wit in the loss of Meander among the Greek Poets, and of Caeilius, Affranius and Varius, among the Romans: we may guess of Menander’s Excellency by the Plays of Terence, who translated some of his, and yet wanted so much of him that he was called by C. Cæsar the Half-Menander, and of Varius, by the Testimonies of Horace Martial, and Velleus Paterculus: ’Tis probable that these, could they be recovered, would decide the controversy; but so long as Aristophanes in the old Comedy, and Plautus in the new are extant; while the Tragedies of Euripides, Sophocles, and Seneca are to be had, I can never see one of those Plays which are now written, but it increases my admiration of the Ancients; and yet I must acknowledge further, that to admire them as we ought, we should understand them better than we do. Doubtless many things appear flat to us, whose wit depended upon some custom or story which never came to our knowledge, or perhaps upon some Criticism in their language, which being so long dead, and only remaining in their Books, ’tis not possible they should make us know it perfectly. To read Macrobius, explaining the propriety and elegancy of many words in Virgil, which I had before passed over without consideration, as common things, is enough to assure me that I ought to think the same of Terence; and that in the purity of his style (which Tully so much valued that he ever carried his works about him) there is yet left in him great room for admiration, if I knew but where to place it. In the mean time I must desire you to take notice, that the greatest man of the last age (Ben Jonson) was willing to give place to them in all things: He was not only a professed Imitator of Horace, but a learned Plagiary of all the others; you track him every where in their Snow: If Horace, Lucan, Petronius Arbiter, Seneca, and Juvenal, had their own from him, there are few serious thoughts which are new in him; you will pardon me therefore if I presume he loved their fashion when he wore their clothes. But since I have otherwise a great veneration for him, and you Eugenius, prefer him above all other Poets, I will use no farther argument to you than his example: I will produce Father Ben to you, dressed in all the ornaments and colors of the Ancients, you will need no other guide to our Party if you follow him; and whether you consider the bad Plays of our Age, or regard the good ones of the last, both the best and worst of the Modern Poets will equally instruct you to esteem the Ancients.”

“I have observed in your Speech that the former part of it is convincing as to what the Moderns have profited by the rules of the Ancients, but in the latter you are careful to conceal how much they have excelled them: we own all the helps we have from them, and want neither veneration nor gratitude while we acknowledge that to overcome them we must make use of the advantages we have received from them; but to these assistances we have joined our own industry; for (had we sat down with a dull imitation of them) we might then have lost somewhat of the old perfection, but never acquired any that was new. We draw not therefore after their lines, but those of Nature; and having the life before us, besides the experience of all they knew, it is no wonder if we hit some airs and features which they have missed: I deny not what you urge of Arts and Sciences, that they have flourished in some ages more than others; but your instance in Philosophy makes for me: for if Natural Causes be more known now than in the time of Aristotle, because more studied, it follows that Poesy and other Arts may with the same pains arrive still nearer to perfection, and, that granted, it will rest for you to prove that they wrought more perfect images of human life than we; which, seeing in your Discourse you have avoided to make good, it shall now be my task to show you some part of their defects, and some few Excellencies of the Moderns; and I think there is none among us can imagine I do it enviously, or with purpose to detract from them; for what interest of Fame or Profit can the living lose by the reputation of the dead? on the other side, it is a great truth which Velleius Paterculus affirms. Audita visis libentius laudemus; et præsentia invidia, prœterita admiratione prosequimur; a his nos obrui, illis instrui credimus [we praise what we have heard more readily than what we have seen, and we regard the present with envy and the past with admiration; we feel weighed down by the former, lifted up by the latter]: That praise or censure is certainly the most sincere which unbribed posterity shall give us.

“Be pleased then in the first place to take notice, that the Greek Poesy, which Crites has affirmed to have arrived to perfection in the Reign of the old Comedy, was so far from it, that the distinction of it into Acts was not known to them; or if it were, it is yet so darkly delivered to us that we can not make it out.

“All we know of it is from the singing of their Chorus, and that too is so uncertain that in some of their Plays we have reason to conjecture they sung more than five times: Aristotle indeed divides the integral parts of a Play into four: First, The Protasis or entrance, which gives light only to the Characters of the persons, and proceeds very little into any part of the action: Secondly, The Epitasis, or working up of the Plot where the Play grows warmer: the design or action of it is drawing on, and you see something promising that it will come to pass: Thirdly, the Catastasis, or Counterturn, which destroys that expectation, embroils the action in new difficulties, and leaves you far distant from that hope in which it found you, as you may have observed in a violent stream resisted by a narrow passage; it runs round to an eddy, and carries back the waters with more swiftness than it brought them on: Lastly, the Catastrophe, which the Grecians called lysis, the French le denouement, and we the discovery or unraveling of the Plot: there you see all things settling again upon their first foundations, and the obstacles which hindered the design or action of the Play once removed, it ends with that resemblance of truth and nature, that the audience are satisfied with the conduct of it. Thus this great man delivered to us the image of a Play, and I must confess it is so lively that from thence much light has been derived to the forming it more perfectly into Acts and Scenes; but what Poet first limited to five the number of the Acts I know not; only we see it so firmly established in the time of Horace, that he gives it for a rule in Comedy; Neu brevior quinto, neu sit productior actu [let it be neither shorter nor longer than five acts—ed.]: So that you see the Grecians cannot be said to have consummated this Art; writing rather by Entrances than by Acts, and having rather a general indigested notion of a Play, than knowing how and where to bestow the particular graces of it.

“But since the Spaniards at this day allow but three Acts, which they call Jornadas, to a Play; and the Italians in many of theirs follow them, when I condemn the Ancients, I declare it is not altogether because they have not five Acts to every Play, but because they have not confined themselves to one certain number; ’Tis building an House without a Model: and when the succeeded in such undertakings, they ought to have sacrificed to Fortune, not to the Muses.

“Next, for the Plot, which Aristotle called to mythos and often Tōn pragmatōn synthesis [the ordering of the actions—ed.], and from him the Romans Fabula, it has already been judiciously observed by a late Writer, that in their Tragedies it was only some Tale derived from Thebes or Troy, or at least some thing that happened in those two Ages; which was worn so threadbare by the Pens of all the Epic Poets, and even by Tradition itself of the Talkative Greeklings (as Ben Jonson calls them) that before it came upon the Stage, it was already known to all the Audience: and the people so soon as ever they heard the Name of Oedipus, knew as well as the Poet, that he had killed his Father by mistake, and committed Incest with his Mother, before the Play; that they were now to hear of a great Plague, an Oracle, and the Ghost of Laius: so that they sat with a yawning kind of expectation, till he was to come with his eyes pulled out, and speak a hundred or two of Verses in a Tragic tone, in complaint of his misfortunes. But one Oedipus, Hercules, or Medea, had been tolerable; poor people they scaped not so good cheap: they had still the Chapon Bouillé [boiled capon, a delicacy and a luxury—ed.] set before them, till their appetites were cloyed with the same dish, and the Novelty being gone, the pleasure vanished: so that one main end of Dramatic Poesy in its Definition, which was to cause Delight, as of consequence destroyed.

“In their Comedies, the Romans generally borrowed their Plots from the Greek Poets; and theirs was commonly a little Girl stolen or wandered from her Parents, brought back unknown to the same City, there got with child by some lewd young fellow; who, by the help of his servant, cheats his father, and when her time comes, to cry Juno Lucina fer opem [Juno, goddess of childbirth, bring help—ed.]; one or other sees a little Box or Cabinet which was carried away with her, and so discovers her to her friends, if some God do not prevent it, by coming down in a Machine, and take the thanks of it to himself.

“By the Plot you may guess much of the Characters of the Persons. An Old Father that would willingly before he dies see his Son well married; his Debauched Son, kind in his Nature to his Wench, but miserably in want of Money, a Servant or Slave, who has so much wit to strike in with him, and help to dupe his Father, a Braggadochio, Captain, a Parasite, and a Lady of Pleasure.

“As for the poor honest Maid, whom all the Story is built upon, and who ought to be one of the principal Actors in the Play, she is commonly a Mute in it: She has the breeding of the Old Elizabeth way, for Maids to be seen and not to be heard; and it is enough you know she is willing to be married, when the Fifth Act requires it.

“These are Plots built after the Italian Mode of Houses, you see through them all at once; the Characters are indeed the Imitations of Nature, but so narrow as if they had imitated only an Eye or an Hand, and did not dare to venture on the lines of a Face, or the Proportion of a Body.

“But in how straight a compass soever they have bounded their Plots and Characters, we will pass in by, if they have regularly pursued them, and perfectly observed those three Unities of Time, Place, and Action: the knowledge of which you say is derived to us from them. But in the first place give me leave to tell you, that the Unity of Place, how ever it might be practiced by them, was never any of their Rules: We neither find it in Aristotle, Horace, of any who have written of it, till in our age the French Poets first made it a Precept of the Stage. The unity of time, even Terence himself (who was the best and the most regular of them) has neglected: His Heautontimoroumenos or Self-Punisher takes up visibly two days; therefore says Scaliger, the two first Acts concluding the first day, were acted over-night; the three last on the ensuing day: and Euripides, in trying himself to one day, has committed an absurdity never to be forgiven him: for in one of his Tragedies he has made Theseus go from Athens to Thebes, which was about forty English miles, under the walls of it to give battle, and appear victorious in the next Act; and yet from the time of his departure to the return of the Nuntius, who gives the relation of his Victory, Æthra and the Chorus have but Verses; that is not for every Mile a Verse.

“The like error is as evident in Terence’s Eunuch, when Laches, the old man, enters in a mistake the house of Thais, where betwixt his Exit and the entrance of Pythias, who comes to give an ample relation of the Garboyles he has raised within, Parmeno who was left upon the Stage, has not above five lines to speak: C’est bien employé un temps si court [It is well to employ such a short time—Corneille, Troisième Discours—ed.], says the French Poet, who furnished me with one of the observations; And almost all their Tragedies will afford us examples of the like nature.

“’Tis true, they have kept the continuity, or as you called it Liaison des Scenes somewhat better: two do not perpetually come in together, talk, and go out together; and other two succeed them, and do the same throughout the Act, which the English call by the name of single Scenes; but the reason is, because they have seldom above two or three Scenes, properly so called, in every act; for it is to be accounted a new Scene, not every time the Stage is empty, but every person who enters, though to others, makes it so: because he introduces a new business: Now the Plots of their Plays being narrow, and the persons few, one of their Acts was written in a less compass than one of our well wrought Scenes, and yet they are often deficient even in this: To go no further than Terence, you find in the Eunuch, Antipho entering single in the midst of the third Act, after Chremes and Pythias were gone off: In the same Play you have likewise Dorias beginning the fourth Act alone; and after she has made a relation of what was done at the Soldier’s entertainment (which by the way was very inartificial to do, because she was presumed to speak directly to the Audience, and to acquaint them with what was necessary to be known, but yet should have been so contrived by the Poet as to have been told by persons of the Drama to one another, and so by them to have come to the knowledge of the people) she quits the Stage, and Phœdria enters next, alone likewise: He also gives you an account of himself, and of his returning from the Country in Monologue, his Adelphi or Brothers, Syrus and Demea enter; after the Scene was broken by the departure of Sostrata, Geta and Cathara; and indeed you can scarce look into any of his Comedies, where you will not presently discover the same interruption.

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