no previous Next next

 image pending 420

For the Literary Magazine.

are theatrical exhibitions

THE usefulness of theatres is a
question that has often been discuss-
ed, but, perhaps, never in a manner
perfectly satisfactory. Subjects of
this kind are very complex, and the
foundation of our reasonings lies
much deeper than is commonly sup-
posed. The question may be stated
in the compass of a page, but could
not be thoroughly discussed in less
than a volume.

Three things are necessary to a
theatrical exhibition; a drama, ac-
tors, and auditors.

We may consider the drama as it
is in itself; we may analyze this
mode of composition, and determine
its power and efficacy as an instru-
ment of morals; we may inquire
what the dramatic art is capable of

But this art has already been em-
ployed to some purpose, good or bad.
Dramas having been written in con-
siderable numbers, it is a momen-
tous question what the tendency of
these identical dramas is, and whe-
ther they inculcate falsehood or
truth. In order to this, an accurate
acquaintance with dramatic authors
is necessary: to this we must add a
knowledge of the actual history of
mankind, and an investigation of the
influence which certain plays have
actually had upon human manners.

Plays may be written and read,
but not exhibited. Whatever influ-
ence theatrical exhibitions may
have, the tenor of the piece perform-
ed must have some share in produ-

cing it. On this question we are not
concerned to ask, merely, what in-
fluence plays may have on the wri-
ter or reader, but what is the share
of influence they possess in a public

The tragedy of Cato has been per-
formed a certain number of times:
so have “The Jealous Husband,”
and “A Trip to the Jubilee.” Cer-
tain effects have been produced, and
numerous causes have each borne a
part in producing these effects. One
of these causes is the nature of the
scene exhibited. What consequen-
ces have flowed from the peculiar
structure of these three dramas? A
question not easily solved. To this
influence, whatever it be, there are
two kinds of persons subject, actors
and auditors; and, in weighing this
influence, a just attention must be
paid to this distinction.

Plays have been very numerous.
This circumstance, among others,
obliges managers to make a selec-
tion from them. Different managers,
or the same managers at different
periods, may make different selec-
tions. In order to arrive at a use-
ful or exact decision, therefore, it
behoves us to confine our inquiries
to some particular period or place.
If the tendency of all plays be the
same or similar, differing from each
other not at all, or differing only in
degree, this nicety will be superflu-
ous; but if the tendency of differ-
ent plays be opposite, a theatrical
exhibition, so far as its influence is
modified by the nature of the scene,
may, under different managers, pro-
duce opposite effects.

This is only one among three
points of view, in which the subject
ought to be considered. It is not,
perhaps, of chief, but it is of indis-
pensable importance. It cannot be
denied that the influence of theatri-
cal exhibitions is, in part, to be as-
cribed to the texture of the pieces
performed. But it would not be pro-
per to suppose that other circum-
stances have not their share of in-
fluence, be it greater or less.

Acting being a trade, it is to be
inquired, first, what influence this

 image pending 453

trade has on the morals or happi-
ness of those who follow it? and se-
condly, what share the personal cha-
racter of actors has, in producing
the effects that flow from theatrical

Plays are performed to numerous
auditories, under a roof, at certain
hours of the day, for a stated price
to each auditor, and with certain
appendages and decorations. None
of these circumstances are to be
overlooked in a candid discussion of
this subject, because they accompa-
ny every dramatic performance,
and because none of them are neu-
tral or indifferent with regard to
the effects produced by this species
of amusement on the morals and
happiness of mankind.

To examine all these points with
suitable accuracy; to furnish an im-
partial mind with just conceptions of
the usefulness or hurtfulness of these
establishments; to enable him to
judge whether it be his duty to dis-
countenance or encourage them;
and to apprize him of the means
most suitable to that end which shall
appear to be the best, would be con-
ferring no small benefit on mankind.


no previous Next next