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Of that fort of Dramatic Poem which is called Tragedy.
RAGEDY, as it was anciently compos'd, hath been ever held the graveft, moraleft, and moft profitable of all other poems: therefore said by Ariftotle to be of power, by raifing pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and fuch like paffions, that is, to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight, ftirr'd up by reading or feeing thofe paffions well imitated. Nor is Nature wanting in her own effects to make good his affertion: for fo in phyfic things of melancholic hue and quality are us'd against melancholy, four against four, falt to remove falt humors. Hence philofophers and other graveft writers, as Cicero, Plutarch, and others, frequently cite out of tragic poets, both to adorn and illuftrate their difcourfe. The Apoftle Paul himself thought it not unworthy to infert a verfe of Euripides into the text of Holy Scripture, 1 Cor. xv. 33. and Paræus, commenting on the Revelation, divides the whole book as a tragedy, into acts diftinguifh'd each by a chorus of heavenly harpings and fong between. Heretofore men in highest dignity have labor'd not a little to be thought able to compofe a tragedy. Of that honor Dionyfius the elder was no less ambitious, than before of his attaining to the tyranny. Auguftus Cæfar alfo had begun his Ajax, but, unable to please his own judgment with what he had begun, left it unfinish'd. Seneca the philofopher is by fome thought the author of thofe tragedies (at least the best of them) that go under that name. Gregory Nazianzen, a Father of the Church, thought it not unbefeeming the fanctity of his perfon to write a tragedy, which is intitled Chrift fuffering. This is mention'd to vindicate tragedy from the fmall efteem, or rather infamy, which in the account of many it undergoes at this day with other common interludes; hap'ning through the poets error of intermixing comic ftuff with tragic fad
nefs and gravity; or introducing trivial and vulgar perfons, which by all judicious hath been counted abfurd and brought in without difcretion, corruptly to gratify the people. And though ancient tragedy ufe no prologue, yet ufing fometimes, in cafe of felf-defenfe, or explanation, that which Martial calls an epiftle; in behalf of this tragedy coming forth after the ancient manner, much different from what among us paffes for beft, thus much before-hand may be epiftled; that chorus is here introduc'd after the Greek manner, not ancient only but modern, and still in ufe among the Italians. In the modeling therefore of this poem, with good reafon, the Ancients and Italians are rather follow'd, as of much more authority and fame. The measure of verfe us'd in the chorus is of all forts, call'd by the Greeks Monoftrophic, or rather Apolelymenon, without regard had to Strophe, Antiftrophe, or Epod, which were a kind of ftanzas fram'd only for the mufic, then us'd with the chorus that fung; not effential to the poem, and therefore not material; or, being divided into ftanzas or paufes, they may be call'd Allæoftropha. Divifion into act and fcene referring chiefly to the ftage (to which this work never was intended) is here omitted.
It fuffices if the whole drama be found not produc'd beyond the fifth act. Of the ftile and uniformity, and that commonly call'd the plot, whether intricate or explicit, which is nothing indeed but fuch economy, or difpofition of the fable as may ftand beft with verfimilitude and decorum; they only will beft judge who are not unacquainted with Æfchylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the three tragic poets unequal'd yet by any, and the best rule to all who endevor to write tragedy. The circumfcription of time, wherein the whole drama begins and ends, is according to ancient rule, and best example, within the space of twenty-four hours.
Samfon made captive, blind, and now in the prifon at Gaza, there to labor as in a common workhouse, on a festival day, in the general ceffation from labor, comes forth into the open air, to a place nigh, fomewhat retir'd, there to fit a while 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 feek to comfort him what they can; then by his old father Manoah, who endevors the like, and withal tells him his last purpose to procure his liberty by ranfom; laftly, that this feast was proclam'd by the Philistines as a day of thankfgiving for their deliverance from the hands of Samfon, which yet more troubles him. Manoah then departs to profecute his endevor with the Philistine lords for Samfon's redemption; who in the mean while is vifited by other perfons; and laftly by a public officer to require his coming to the feaft before the lords and people, to play or fhow his ftrength in their prefence; he at firft refufes, difmiffing the public officer with abfolute denial to come; at length perfuaded inwardly that this was from God, he yields to go along with him, who came now the fecond time with great threatnings to fetch him: The Chorus yet remaining on the place, Manoah returns full of joyful hope, to procure ere long his fon's deliverance: in the midft of which difcourfe an Hebrew comes in hafte, confusedly at first, and afterward more diftinctly relating the catastrophe, what Samfon had done to the Philiftines, and by accident to himself; wherewith the tragedy ends.
MANOAH, the Father of Samfon.
HARAPHA of Gath.
Chorus of Danites.
The SCENE before the Prifon in Gaza.
Little onward lend thy guiding hand
To these dark steps, a little further on; For yonder bank hath choice of fun or fhade: There I am wont to fit, when any chance Relieves me from my task of servile toil, Daily' in the common prifon else injoin'd me, Where I, a prisoner chain'd, scarce freely draw The air imprifon'd also, close and damp, Unwholesome draught: but here I feel amends, The breath of Heav'n fresh blowing, pure and fweet, With day-fpring born; here leave me to refpire. This day a folemn feast the people hold
To Dagon their fea-idol, and forbid