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

Nec coram populo natos Medea trucidet.

Let not Medea draw her murth’ring Knife,
And spill her Children’s Blood upon the Stage.

The French have therefore refin’d too much upon Horace’s Rule, who never designed to banish all Kinds of Death from the Stage; but only such as had too much Horror in them, and which would have a better Effect upon the Audience when transacted behind the Scenes. I would therefore recommend to my Countrymen the Practice of the ancient Poets, who were very sparing of their publick Executions, and rather chose to perform them behind the Scenes, if it could be done with as great an Effect upon the Audience. At the same time I must observe, that though the devoted Persons of the Tragedy were seldom slain before the Audience, which has generally something ridiculous in it, their Bodies were often produced after their Death, which has always in it something melancholy or terrifying; so that the killing on the Stage does not seem to have been avoided only as an Indecency, but also as an Improbability.

Nec pueros coram populo Medea trucidet;
Aut humana palam coquat exta nefarius
Aut in avem Progne vertatur, Cadmus in anguem,
Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi.


Medea must not draw her murth’ring Knife,
Atreus there his horrid Feast prepare.
Cadmus and Progne’s Metamorphosis,
(She to a Swallow turn’d, he to a Snake)
And whatsoever contradicts my Sense,
I hate to see, and never can believe.

(Ld. ROSCOMMON.) [4]

I have now gone through the several Dramatick Inventions which are made use of by [the] Ignorant Poets to supply the Place of Tragedy, and by [the] Skilful to improve it; some of which I could wish entirely rejected, and the rest to be used with Caution. It would be an endless Task to consider Comedy in the same Light, and to mention the innumerable Shifts that small Wits put in practice to raise a Laugh. Bullock in a short Coat, and Norris in a long one, seldom fail of this Effect. [5] In ordinary Comedies, a broad and a narrow brim’d Hat are different Characters. Sometimes the Wit of the Scene lies in a Shoulder-belt, and Sometimes in a Pair of Whiskers. A Lover running about the Stage, with his Head peeping out of a Barrel, was thought a very good Jest in King Charles the Second’s time; and invented by one of the first Wits of that Age. [6] But because Ridicule is not so delicate as Compassion, and [because] [7] the Objects that make us laugh are infinitely more numerous than those that make us weep, there is a much greater Latitude for comick than tragick Artifices, and by Consequence a much greater Indulgence to be allowed them.


[Footnote 1: the]

[Footnote 2: In Act V The toll of the passing bell for Pierre in the parting scene between Jaffier and Belvidera.]

[Footnote 3: Thus Rene Rapin,–whom Dryden declared alone

‘sufficient, were all other critics lost, to teach anew the rules of writing,’

said in his ‘Reflections on Aristotle’s Treatise of Poetry,’ translated by Rymer in 1694,

The English, our Neighbours, love Blood in their Sports, by the quality of their Temperament: These are Insulaires, separated from the rest of men; we are more humane … The English have more of Genius for Tragedy than other People, as well by the Spirit of their Nation, which delights in Cruelty, as also by the Character of their Language, which is proper for Great Expressions.’]

[Footnote 4: The Earl of Roscommon, who died in 1684, aged about 50, besides his ‘Essay on Translated Verse,’ produced, in 1680, a Translation of ‘Horace’s Art of Poetry’ into English Blank Verse, with Remarks. Of his ‘Essay,’ Dryden said:

‘The Muse’s Empire is restored again
In Charles his reign, and by Roscommon’s pen.’]

[Footnote 5: Of Bullock see note, p. 138, ante. Norris had at one time, by his acting of Dicky in Farquhar’s ‘Trip to the Jubilee,’ acquired the name of Jubilee Dicky.

[Footnote 6: Sir George Etherege. It was his first play, ‘The Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub’, produced in 1664, which introduced him to the society of Rochester, Buckingham, etc.

[Footnote 7: as]