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No. 044 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 44
Friday, April 20, 1711. Addison.

‘Tu, quid ego et populus mecum desideret, audi.’


Among the several Artifices which are put in Practice by the Poets to fill the Minds of [an] [1] Audience with Terror, the first Place is due to Thunder and Lightning, which are often made use of at the Descending of a God, or the Rising of a Ghost, at the Vanishing of a Devil, or at the Death of a Tyrant. I have known a Bell introduced into several Tragedies with good Effect; and have seen the whole Assembly in a very great Alarm all the while it has been ringing. But there is nothing which delights and terrifies our ‘English’ Theatre so much as a Ghost, especially when he appears in a bloody Shirt. A Spectre has very often saved a Play, though he has done nothing but stalked across the Stage, or rose through a Cleft of it, and sunk again without speaking one Word. There may be a proper Season for these several Terrors; and when they only come in as Aids and Assistances to the Poet, they are not only to be excused, but to be applauded. Thus the sounding of the Clock in ‘Venice Preserved’, [2] makes the Hearts of the whole Audience quake; and conveys a stronger Terror to the Mind than it is possible for Words to do. The Appearance of the Ghost in ‘Hamlet’ is a Master-piece in its kind, and wrought up with all the Circumstances that can create either Attention or Horror. The Mind of the Reader is wonderfully prepared for his Reception by the Discourses that precede it: His Dumb Behaviour at his first Entrance, strikes the Imagination very strongly; but every time he enters, he is still more terrifying. Who can read the Speech with which young ‘Hamlet’ accosts him, without trembling?

Hor. Look, my Lord, it comes!

Ham. Angels and Ministers of Grace defend us!
Be thou a Spirit of Health, or Goblin damn’d;
Bring with thee Airs from Heav’n, or Blasts from Hell;
Be thy Events wicked or charitable;
Thou com’st in such a questionable Shape
That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee Hamlet,
King, Father, Royal Dane: Oh! Oh! Answer me,
Let me not burst in Ignorance; but tell
Why thy canoniz’d Bones, hearsed in Death,
Have burst their Cearments? Why the Sepulchre,
Wherein we saw thee quietly inurn’d,
Hath op’d his ponderous and marble Jaws
To cast thee up again? What may this mean?
That thou dead Coarse again in compleat Steel
Revisit’st thus the Glimpses of the Moon,
Making Night hideous?

I do not therefore find Fault with the Artifices above-mentioned when they are introduced with Skill, and accompanied by proportionable Sentiments and Expressions in the Writing.

For the moving of Pity, our principal Machine is the Handkerchief; and indeed in our common Tragedies, we should not know very often that the Persons are in Distress by any thing they say, if they did not from time to time apply their Handkerchiefs to their Eyes. Far be it from me to think of banishing this Instrument of Sorrow from the Stage; I know a Tragedy could not subsist without it: All that I would contend for, is, to keep it from being misapplied. In a Word, I would have the Actor’s Tongue sympathize with his Eyes.

A disconsolate Mother, with a Child in her Hand, has frequently drawn Compassion from the Audience, and has therefore gained a place in several Tragedies. A Modern Writer, that observed how this had took in other Plays, being resolved to double the Distress, and melt his Audience twice as much as those before him had done, brought a Princess upon the Stage with a little Boy in one Hand and a Girl in the other. This too had a very good Effect. A third Poet, being resolved to out-write all his Predecessors, a few Years ago introduced three Children, with great Success: And as I am informed, a young Gentleman, who is fully determined to break the most obdurate Hearts, has a Tragedy by him, where the first Person that appears upon the Stage, is an afflicted Widow in her mourning Weeds, with half a Dozen fatherless Children attending her, like those that usually hang about the Figure of Charity. Thus several Incidents that are beautiful in a good Writer, become ridiculous by falling into the Hands of a bad one.