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Tragoedia estimitatio actionis seriae, &c., per misericordiamet metum perficiens talium affectuum lustrationem.
OF THAT SORT OF DRAMATIC POEM WHICH IS
TRAGEDY, as it was anciently composed, hath been ever held the gravest, moralest, and most profitable of all other poems; therefore said by Aristotle to be of power, by raising pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions, that is, to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight, stirred up by reading
1 The tragedy of “Samson Agonistes” has been celebrated as the second work of the great author of “Paradise Lost,” and opposed, with all the confidence of triumph, to the dramatic performances of other nations. It contains, indeed, just sentiments, maxims of wis. dom, and oracles of piety, and many passages written with the ancient spirit of choral poetry, in which there is a just and pleasing mixture of Seneca's moral declamation, with the wild enthusiasm of the Greek writers. It is therefore worthy of examination, whether a perform: ance thus illuminated with genius, and enriched with learning, is composed according to the indispensable laws of Aristotelian criti. cism; and, omitting at present all other considerations, whether it exhibits a beginning, a ...iddle, or an end.
The beginning is undoubtedly beautiful and proper, opening with a graceful abruptness, and proceeding naturally to a mournful recital or seeing those passions well imitated. , Nor is nature wanting in her own effects to make good his assertion: for so in physic, things of melancholic hue and quality are used against melancholy, sour against sour; salt to remove salt humours. Hence, philosophers and other gravest writers, as Cicero, Plutarch, and others, frequently cite out of tragic poets, both to adorn and illustrate their discourse. The Apostle Paul himself thought it not unworthy to insert a verse of Euripides into the text of Holy Scripture, 1 Cor. xv. 33; and Paraeus, commenting on the #. divides the whole book as a tragedy, into acts distinguished each by a chorus of heavenly harpings and song between. Heretofore, men in highest dignity have laboured not a little to be thought able to compose a tragedy. Of that honour Dionysius, the elder was no less ambitious, than before of his attaining to the tyranny. Augustus Caesar also begun his Ajax, but unable to please his own judgment with what he had begun, left it unfinished. Seneca, the philosopher, is by some thought the author of those tragedies (at least the best of them), that go under that name. Gregory Nazianzen, a father of the church, thought it not unbeseeming the sanctity of his person to write a tragedy, which is entitled “Christ Suffering.” This is mentioned to vindicate tragedy from the small esteem, or rather infamy, which, in the account of many, it undergoes at this day with other common interludes; happening through the poets' error of intermixing comic stuff with tragic sadness and gravity; or introducing trivial and vulgar persons, which by all judicious hath been counted absurd ; and brought in without discretion, corruptly to gratify the people. And though ancient tragedy use no prologue, yet using sometimes, in case of self defence or explanation, that which Martial calls an epistle; in behalf of this tragedy coming forth after the ancient manner, much different from what among us passes for best, thus much beforehand may be epistled; that chorus is here introduced after the Greek manner, not ancient only but modern, and still in use among the Italians. In the modelling, therefore, of
of facts necessary to be known. Samson's soliloquy is interrupted by a chorus or company of men of his own tribe, who condole his miseries, extenuate his fault, and conclude with a solemn vindication of divine justice. So that, at the conclusion of the first act, there is no design iaid, no discovery made, nor any disposition formed, towards the consequent event.—Johnson, Rambler, No. 139.
this poem, with good reason, the ancients and Italians are rather followed, as of much more authority and fame, The measure of verse used in the chorus is of all sorts, called by the Greeks Monostrophic, or rather Apolely. menon, without regard had to Strophe, Antistrophe, or Epode, which were a kind of stanzas framed only for the music then used with the chorus that sung; not essential to the poem, and therefore not material; or being divided into stanzas or pauses, they may be called Alloeostropha. Division into act and scene referring chiefly to the stage (to which this work never was intended), is here omitted.
It suffices if the whole drama be found not produced beyond the fifth act. Of the style and uniformity, and that commonly called the plot, whether intricate or explicit, which is nothing, indeed, but such oeconomy or disposition of the fable as may stand best with verisimilitude and de corum; they only will best judge who are not unacquainted with AEschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the three tragic poets unequalled yet by any, and the best rule to all who endeavour to write tragedy. The circumscription of time, wherein the whole drama begins and ends, is, according to ancient rule and best example, within the space of twentyfour hours.
Chorus of Danites.
The SCENE before the Prison in Gaza.
Samson made captive, blind, and now in the prison at Gaza, there to labour as in a common workhouse, on a festival day, in the general cessation from labour, comes forth into the open air to a place nigh, somewhat retired, there to sit awhile and bemoan his condition ; where he happens at length to be visited by certain friends and equals of his tribe, which make the Chorus, who seek to comfort him what they can ; then by his old father, Manoah, who endeavours the like, and withal tells him his purpose to procure his liberty by ransom; lastly, that this feast was proclaimed by the Philistines as a day of thanksgiving for their deliverance from the hands of Samson, which yet more troubles him. Manoah then departs to prosecute his endeavour with the Philistian lords for Samson's redemption; who in the mean while is visited by other persons, and lastly by a public officer, to require his coming to the feast before the lords and people, to play or show his strength in their presence: he at first refuses, dismissing the public officer with absolute denial to come; at length, persuaded inwardly that this was from God, he yields to go along with him, who came now the second time with great threatenings to fetch him. The Chorus yet remaining on the place, Manoah returns, full of joyful hope, to procure ere long his son's deliverance; in the midst of which discourse an Hebrew comes in haste, confusedly at first, and afterward more distinctly, relating the catastrophe, what Samson had done to the Philistines, and by accident to himself; wherewith the tragedy ends.
* The opening scene of this tragedy is highly suggestive of the commencement of the GEdipus at Colonus of Sophocles, where the blind (Edipus is introduced, guided by his daughter Antigone.
* See note on Paradise Lost, i, 462.
Laborious works; unwillingly this rest