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ingly, Milton does explain, and in such a way as to distinguish as widely as possible between the Tragedy he has written and the stage-dramas then popular. “Tragedy, as it was anciently com“posed," he says, " hath been ever held the gravest, moralest, and
most profitable of all other poems.” In order to fortify this statement he repeats Aristotle's definition of Tragedy, and reminds his readers that “philosophers and other gravest writers ” frequently cite from the old tragic poets-nay, that St. Paul himself had quoted a verse of Euripides, and that, according to the judgment of a Protestant commentator on the Apocalypse, that book might be viewed as a tragedy of peculiar structure, with choruses between the acts. Some of the most eminent and active men in history, he adds, including one of the Fathers of the Christian Church, had written or attempted Tragedies. All this, he says, “is men" tioned to vindicate Tragedy from the small esteem, or rather
infamy, which in the account of many it undergoes at this day, “ with other common interludes; happening through the poet's
error of intermixing comic stuff with tragic sadness and grayity,
or introducing trivial and vulgar persons; which by all judicious “ hath been counted absurd, and brought in without discretion,
corruptly to gratify the people.” It is impossible not to see, in the carefulness of this apology, that Milton felt that he was treading on perilous ground, and might give offence to the weaker brethren, by his use of the dramatic form at all, especially for a sacred subject. It is hardly possible either to avoid seeing, in the reference to the "error of intermixing comic stuff with tragic sadness and gravity," an allusion to Shakespeare, as well as to Dryden and the post-Restoration dramatists.
Samson Agonistes, therefore, was offered to the world as a tragedy avowedly of a different order from that which had been established in England. It was a tragedy of the severe classic order, according to that noble Greek model which had been kept up by none of the modern nations, unless it might be the Italians. In reading it, not Shakespeare, nor Ben Jonson, nor Massinger, must be thought of, but Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Claiming this in general terms, the poet calls especial attention to his fidelity to ancient Greek precedents in two particulars--his use of the chorus, and his observation of the rule of unity in time. The tragedy, he says, never having been intended for the stage, but only to be read, the division into acts and scenes is omitted. He does not say, however (and this is worth noting), that, had it been possible to produce the tragedy on the stage in a becoming manner, he would have objected to its being done. It is said that Bishop Atterbury, about 1722, had a scheme for bringing it on the stage at Westminster, the division into acts and names to be arranged by Pope. It was a fitter compliment when Handel, in 1742, made Samson the subject of an Oratorio, and married his great music to Milton's as great words.
A DRAMATIC POEM.
Aristot. Poet. cap. 6. Tpayodla mlunois apáčews orovdalas, &c. --Tragoedia est imitatio actionis serie, &c., per misericordiam et metum perficiens talium affectuum lustrationem.
OF THAT SORT OF DRAMATIC POEM CALLED
TRAGEDY, as it was anciently composed, hath been ever held the gravest, moralest, and most profitable of all other poems; therefore said by Aristotle to be of power, by raising pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such-like passions-that is, to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight, stirred up by reading or seeing those passions well imitated. Nor is Nature wanting in her own effects to make good his assertion; for so, in physic, things of melancholic hue and quality are used against melancholy, sour against sour, salt to remove salt humours. Hence philosophers and other gravest writers, as Cicero, Plutarch, and others, frequently cite out of tragic poets, both to adorn and illustrate their discourse. The Apostle Paul himself thought it not unworthy to insert a verse 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, distinguished each by a Chorus of heavenly harpings and song between. Heretofore men in highest dignity have laboured not a little to be thought able to compose a tragedy. Of that honour Dionysius the elder was no less ambitious than before of his attaining to the tyranny. Augustus Cæsar also had begun his Ajax, but, unable to please his own judgment with what he had begun, left it unfinished. Seneca, the philosopher, is by some thought the author of those tragedies (at least the best of them) that go under that name. Gregory Nazianzen, a Father of the Church, thought it not unbeseeming the sanctity of his person to write a tragedy, which he entitled