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

But among all our Methods of moving Pity or Terror, there is none so absurd and barbarous, and what more exposes us to the Contempt and Ridicule of our Neighbours, than that dreadful butchering of one another, which is so very frequent upon the English Stage. To delight in seeing Men stabbed, poysoned, racked, or impaled, is certainly the Sign of a cruel Temper: And as this is often practised before the British Audience, several French Criticks, who think these are grateful Spectacles to us, take occasion from them to represent us as a People that delight in Blood. [3] It is indeed very odd, to see our Stage strowed with Carcasses in the last Scene of a Tragedy; and to observe in the Ward-robe of a Play-house several Daggers, Poniards, Wheels, Bowls for Poison, and many other Instruments of Death. Murders and Executions are always transacted behind the Scenes in the French Theatre; which in general is very agreeable to the Manners of a polite and civilized People: But as there are no Exceptions to this Rule on the French Stage, it leads them into Absurdities almost as ridiculous as that which falls under our present Censure. I remember in the famous Play of Corneille, written upon the Subject of the Horatii and Curiatii; the fierce young hero who had overcome the Curiatii one after another, (instead of being congratulated by his Sister for his Victory, being upbraided by her for having slain her Lover,) in the Height of his Passion and Resentment kills her. If any thing could extenuate so brutal an Action, it would be the doing of it on a sudden, before the Sentiments of Nature, Reason, or Manhood could take Place in him. However, to avoid publick Blood-shed, as soon as his Passion is wrought to its Height, he follows his Sister the whole length of the Stage, and forbears killing her till they are both withdrawn behind the Scenes. I must confess, had he murder’d her before the Audience, the Indecency might have been greater; but as it is, it appears very unnatural, and looks like killing in cold Blood. To give my Opinion upon this Case; the Fact ought not to have been represented, but to have been told, if there was any Occasion for it.

It may not be unacceptable to the Reader, to see how Sophocles has conducted a Tragedy under the like delicate Circumstances. Orestes was in the same Condition with Hamlet in Shakespear, his Mother having murdered his Father, and taken possession of his Kingdom in Conspiracy with her Adulterer. That young Prince therefore, being determined to revenge his Father’s Death upon those who filled his Throne, conveys himself by a beautiful Stratagem into his Mother’s Apartment with a Resolution to kill her. But because such a Spectacle would have been too shocking to the Audience, this dreadful Resolution is executed behind the Scenes: The Mother is heard calling out to her Son for Mercy; and the Son answering her, that she shewed no Mercy to his Father; after which she shrieks out that she is wounded, and by what follows we find that she is slain. I do not remember that in any of our Plays there are Speeches made behind the Scenes, though there are other Instances of this Nature to be met with in those of the Ancients: And I believe my Reader will agree with me, that there is something infinitely more affecting in this dreadful Dialogue between the Mother and her Son behind the Scenes, than could have been in anything transacted before the Audience. Orestes immediately after meets the Usurper at the Entrance of his Palace; and by a very happy Thought of the Poet avoids killing him before the Audience, by telling him that he should live some Time in his present Bitterness of Soul before he would dispatch him; and [by] ordering him to retire into that Part of the Palace where he had slain his Father, whose Murther he would revenge in the very same Place where it was committed. By this means the Poet observes that Decency, which Horace afterwards established by a Rule, of forbearing to commit Parricides or unnatural Murthers before the Audience.