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PAGE 2

Whether Actors Ought To Sit In The Boxes?
by [?]

An actor, after having performed his part well, instead of courting farther distinction, should affect obscurity, and ‘steal most guilty-like away,’ conscious of admiration that he can support nowhere but in his proper sphere, and jealous of his own and others’ good opinion of him, in proportion as he is a darling in the public eye. He cannot avoid attracting disproportionate attention: why should he wish to fix it on himself in a perfectly flat and insignificant part, viz. his own character? It was a bad custom to bring authors on the stage to crown them. Omne Ignotum pro magnifico est. Even professed critics, I think, should be shy of putting themselves forward to applaud loudly: any one in a crowd has ‘a voice potential’ as the press: it is either committing their pretensions a little indiscreetly, or confirming their own judgment by a clapping of hands. If you only go and give the cue lustily, the house seems in wonderful accord with your opinions. An actor, like a king, should only appear on state occasions. He loses popularity by too much publicity; or, according to the proverb, familiarity breeds contempt. Both characters personate a certain abstract idea, are seen in a fictitious costume, and when they have ‘shuffled off this more than mortal coil,’ they had better keep out of the way–the acts and sentiments emanating from themselves will not carry on the illusion of our prepossessions. Ordinary transactions do not give scope to grace and dignity like romantic situations or prepared pageants, and the little is apt to prevail over the great, if we come to count the instances.

The motto of a great actor should be aut Caesar aut nihil. I do not see how with his crown, or plume of feathers, he can get through those little box-doors without stooping and squeezing his artificial importance to tatters. The entrance of the stage is arched so high ‘that players may get through, and keep their gorgeous turbans on, without good-morrow to the gods!’

The top-tragedian of the day has too large and splendid a train following him to have room for them in one of the dress-boxes. When he appears there, it should be enlarged expressly for the occasion; for at his heels march the figures, in full costume, of Cato, and Brutus, and Cassius, and of him with the falcon eye, and Othello, and Lear, and crook-backed Richard, and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and numbers more, and demand entrance along with him, shadows to which he alone lends bodily substance! ‘The graves yawn and render up their dead to push us from our stools.’ There is a mighty bustle at the door, a gibbering and squeaking in the lobbies. An actor’s retinue is imperial, it presses upon the imagination too much, and he should therefore slide unnoticed into the pit. Authors, who are in a manner his makers and masters, sit there contented–why should not he? ‘He is used to show himself.’ That, then, is the very reason he should conceal his person at other times. A habit of ostentation should not be reduced to a principle. If I had seen the late Gentleman Lewis fluttering in a prominent situation in the boxes, I should have been puzzled whether to think of him as the Copper Captain, or as Bobadil, or Ranger, or Young Rapid, or Lord Foppington, or fifty other whimsical characters; then I should have got Munden and Quick and a parcel more of them in my head, till ‘my brain would have been like a smoke-jack’: I should not have known what to make of it; but if I had seen him in the pit, I should merely have eyed him with respectful curiosity, and have told every one that that was Gentleman Lewis. We should have concluded from the circumstance that he was a modest, sensible man: we all knew beforehand that he could show off whenever he pleased!