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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of representation.

But to leave our Playes, and return to theirs, I have noted one great advantage they have had in the Plotting of their Tragedies; that is, they are always grounded upon some known History: accarding to that of Horace, Ex noto fictum carmen sequar; and in that they have so imitated the Ancients that they have supass’d them. For the Ancients, as was observ’d before, took for the foundation of their Playes some Poetical Fiction, such as under that consideration could move but little concernment in the Audience, because they already knew the event of it. But the French goes farther;

Atque ita mentitur; sic veris falsæ remiscet,
Primo ne medium, medio ne discrepet imum:

He so interweaves Truth with probable Fiction, that he puts a pleasing Fallacy upon us; mends the intrigues of Fate, and dispenses with the severity of History, to reward that vertue which has been rendred to us there unfortunate. Sometimes the story has left the sucess so doubtful, that the Writer is free, by the priviledge of a Poet, to take that which of two or more relations will best sute with his design: As for example, the death of Cyrus, whom Justin and some others report to have perish’d in the Scythian war, but Xenophon affirms to have died in his bed of extream old age. Nay more, when the event is past dispute, even then we are willing to be deceiv’d, and the Poet, if he contrives it with appearance of truth; has all the audience of his Party; at least during the time his Play is acting: so naturally we are kind to vertue, when our own interest is not in question, that we take it up as the general concernment of Mankind. On the other side, if you consider the Historical Playes of Shakespeare, they are rather so many Chronicles of Kings, or the business many times of thirty or forty years, crampt into a representation of two hours and a half, which is not to imitate or paint Nature, but rather to draw her in miniature, to take her in little; to look upon her through the wrong end of a Perspective, and receive her Images not onely much less, but infinitely more imperfect then the life: this instead of making a Play delightful, renders it ridiculous.

Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi.

For the Spirit of man cannot be satisfied but with truth, or at least verisimility; and a Poem is to contain, if not τα ετυμα, yet ετυμοισιν ομοια, as one of the Greek Poets has expres’d it.

John Dryden, Esq.


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