PROLOGUE FOR THE LADY-ACTORS. SPOKEN BEFORE KING CHARLES II.
Amaze us not with that majestic frown,
But lay aside the greatness of your crown!
And for that look which does your people awe,
When in your throne and robes you give them law,
Lay it by here, and give a gentler smile,
Such as we see great Jove’s in picture, while
He listens to Apollo’s charming lyre,
Or judges of the songs he does inspire.
Comedians on the stage show all their skill,
And after do as Love and Fortune will. 10
We are less careful, hid in this disguise;
In our own clothes more serious and more wise.
Modest at home, upon the stage more bold,
We seem warm lovers, though our breasts be cold;
A fault committed here deserves no scorn,
If we act well the parts to which we’re born.
Scarce should we have the boldness to pretend
So long-renown’d a tragedy to mend,
Had not already some deserved your praise
With like attempt. Of all our elder plays
This and Philaster have the loudest fame;
Great are their faults, and glorious is their flame.
In both our English genius is express’d; 7
Lofty and bold, but negligently dress’d.
Above our neighbours our conceptions are;
But faultless writing is th’effect of care.
Our lines reform’d, and not composed in haste,
Polished like marble, would like marble last.
But as the present, so the last age writ;
In both we find like negligence and wit.
Were we but less indulgent to our faults,
And patience had to cultivate our thoughts,
Our Muse would flourish, and a nobler rage
Would honour this than did the Grecian stage.
Thus says our author, not content to see
That others write as carelessly as he; 20
Though he pretends not to make things complete,
Yet, to please you, he’d have the poets sweat.
In this old play, what’s new we have express’d
In rhyming verse, distinguish’d from the rest;
That as the Rhone its hasty way does make
(Not mingling waters) through Geneva’s lake,
So having here the different styles in view,
You may compare the former with the new.
If we less rudely shall the knot untie,
Soften the rigour of the tragedy, 30
And yet preserve each person’s character,
Then to the other this you may prefer.
’Tis left to you: the boxes and the pit,
Are sov’reign judges of this sort of wit.
In other things the knowing artist may
Judge better than the people; but a play,
(Made for delight, and for no other use)
If you approve it not, has no excuse.