I have now gone through the several dramatic 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 failed of this effect.[A] In ordinary comedies a broad and a narrow brimmed hat are different characters. Sometimes the wit of a 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 the age.[B] But because ridicule is not so delicate as compassion, and because the objects that make us laugh are infinitely more numerous than those that make us weep, there is a much greater latitude for comic than tragic artifices, and by consequence a much greater indulgence to be allowed them.
[Footnote A: Addison’s comment about these two favourite comedians shows that then, as now, eccentricity in dress formed a popular species of stage humour.]
[Footnote B: Sir George Etherege, in his comedy of “The Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub.”]
(From the “Spectator")
No. 338. FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 1712.
“Nil fuit unquam
Sic dispar sibi.”
HOR. SAT. III. 1-1-18.
“Made up of nought but inconsistencies.”
I find the tragedy of the “Distressed Mother” is published to-day. The author of the prologue,[A] I suppose pleads an old excuse I have read somewhere, of “being dull with design;” and the gentleman who writ the epilogue[B] has, to my knowledge, so much of greater moment to value himself upon, that he will easily forgive me for publishing the exceptions made against gaiety at the end of serious entertainments in the following letter: I should be more unwilling to pardon him, than anybody, a practice which cannot have any ill consequence, but from the abilities of the person who is guilty of it.
[Footnote A: Steele.]
[Footnote B: Addison credited Budgell with the epilogue.]
“MR. SPECTATOR,—I had the happiness the other night of sitting very near you, and your worthy friend Sir Roger, at the acting of the new tragedy, which you have in a late paper or two so justly recommended. I was highly pleased with the advantageous situation fortune had given me in placing me so near two gentlemen, from one of which I was sure to hear such reflections on the several incidents of the play as pure nature suggested; and from the other, such as flowed from the exactest art and judgment; though I must confess that my curiosity led me so much to