Item of the Day: All for Love (1692)

Full Title: All for Love: or, World well Lost. A Tragedy, as it is Acted at the Theatre-Royal, and Written in Imitation of Shakespeare’s Stile. Written by Mr. Dryden. In the Savoy: Printed for H. Herringman, and sold by R. Bently, J. Tonson, F. Saunders, and T. Bennet, 1692.

PREFACE.

The death of Anthony and Cleopatra, is a Subject which has been treated by the greatest Wits of our Nation, after Shakespear; and by all so variously, that their Example has given me the confidence to try my self in this Bowe of Ulysses amongst the Crowd of Sutors; and, withal, to take my own measures, in aiming at the Mark. I doubt not but the same Motive has prevailed with all of us in this attempt; I mean the excellency of the Moral: for the chief Persons represented, were famous Patterns of unlawful Love; and their end accordingly was unfortunate. All reasonable Men have long since concluded, That the Heroe of the Poem, ought not to be a Character of perfect Virtue, for, then, he could not, without injustice, be made unhappy; nor yet altogether wicked, because he could not then be pitied: I have therefore steer’d the middle course; and have drawn the character of Anthony as favourably as Plutarch, Appian, and Dion Cassius wou’d give me leave: the like I have observ’d in Cleopatra. That which is wanting to work up the pity to a greater heighth, was not afforded me by the story: for the crimes of Love which they both committed, were not occasioned by any necessity, or fatal ignorance, but were wholly voluntary; since our passions are, or ought to be, within our power. The Fabrick of the Play is regular enough, as to the inferior parts of it; and the Unities of Time, Place and Action, more exactly observ’d, than, perhaps, the English Theatre requires. Particularly, the Action is so much one, that it is the only of the kind without Episode, or Underplot; every Scene in the Tragedy conducing to the main design, and every Act concluding with a turn of it. The greatest error in the contrivance seems to be in the person of Octavia: For, though I might use the privilege of a Poet, to introduce her into Alexandria, yet I had not enough consider’d, that the compassion she mov’d to her self and Children, was destructive to that which I reserv’d for Anthony and Cleopatra; whose mutual love being founded upon vice, must lessen the favour of the Audience to them, when Virtue and Innocence were oppress’d by it. And, though I justified Anthony in some measure, by making Octavia’s departure, to proceed wholly from her self; yet the force of the first Machine still remain’d; and the dividing of pity, like the cutting of a River into many channels, abated the strength of the natural Stream. But this is an Objection which none of my Criticks have urg’d against me; and therefore I might have let it pass, if I could have resolv’d to have been partial to my self. The faults my enemies have found, are rather cavil concerning little, and not essential Decencies; which a Master of the Ceremonies may decide betwixt us. The French Poets, I confess, are strict Observers of these Punctilio’s: They would not, for example, have suffer’d Cleopatra and Octavia to have met; or if they had met, there must only have pass’d betwixt them some cold civilities, but not eagerness of repartee, for fear of offending against the greatness of their Characters, and the modesty of their Sex. This Objection I foresaw, and at the same time contemn’d: for I judg’d it both natural and probable, that Octavia, proud of her new-gain’d Conquest, would search out Cleopatra to triumph over her; and that Cleopatra, thus attack’d, was not of a spirit to shun the encounter: and ’tis not unlikely, that two exasperated Rivals should use such Satyr as I have put into their mouths; for after all, though the one were a Roman, and the other a Queen, they were both Women. ‘Tis true, some actions, though natural, are not fit to be represented; and broad obscenities in words, ought in good manners be avoided: expressions therefore are a modest cloathing of our thoughts, as Breeches and Petticoats are of our bodies. If I have kept my self within the bounds of modesty, all beyond it is but nicety and affectation; which is no more but Modesty deprav’d into a Vice: they betray them selves who are too quick of apprehension in such cases, and leave all reasonable Men to imagine worse of them, than of the Poet. . . .

 

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Filed under 1690's, Drama, Literature, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Theater

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