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The Mirror of Taste, and Dramatic Censor Vol I, No. 2, February 1810   By: (1774-1852)

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Vol. I. FEBRUARY 1810. No. 2.




It has been already remarked that at a very early period, considerably more than three thousand years ago, the Chinese and other nations in the east understood the rudiments of the dramatic art. In their crude, anomalous representations they introduced conjurers, slight of hand men and rope dancers, with dogs, birds, monkies, snakes and even mice which were trained to dance, and in their dancing to perform evolutions descriptive of mathematical and astronomical figures. To this day the vestiges of those heterogeneous amusements are discernible all over Indostan: but that which will be regarded by many with surprise, is that in all countries pagan or christian the drama in its origin, with the dancings and spectacles attending it have been intermixed with divine worship. The Bramins danced before their god Vishnou, and still hold it as an article of faith that Vishnou had himself, "in the olden time" danced on the head of a huge serpent whose tail encompassed the world. That very dance which we call a minuet, has been proved by an ingenious Frenchman, to be the same dance originally performed by the priests in the temple of Apollo, and constructed by them, to be symbolical of the zodiac; every figure described by the heavenly bodies having a correspondent movement in the minuet: the diagonal line and the two parallels representing the zodiac generally, the twelve steps of which it is composed, representing the twelve signs, and the twelve months of the year, and the bow at the beginning and the end of it a profound obedience to the sun. About the year four hundred after the building of the city of Rome, the Romans, then smarting under great public calamity, in order to appease the anger of heaven, instituted theatrical performances, as feasts in honour of their gods. The first Spanish plays were founded, sometimes on the loves of shepherds, but much more frequently on points of theology, such as the birth of Christ, the passion, the temptation in the desert and the martyrdom of saints. The most celebrated dramatic poet of Portugal, Balthazar, wrote dramas which he called AUTOS chiefly on pious subjects and the prelate Trissino, the pope's nuncio, wrote the first regular tragedy, while cardinal Bibiena is said to be the author of the first comedy known in Italy, after the barbarous ages. The French stage began with the representation of MYSTRIES, by the priests, who acted sacred history on a stage, and personated divine characters. The first they performed was the history of the death of our Saviour, from which circumstance the company who acted, gave themselves the name of THE CONFRATERNITY OF THE PASSION: and in England one single paper which remains on record, proves that the clergy were the first dramatists. This paper is a petition of the clerks or clergy of St. Paul's to king Richard the Second, and dated in 1378 which prayed his majesty to prohibit a company of unexpert people from representing the history of the Old Testament, to the great prejudice of the said clergy, who had been at great charge and expense to represent the same at christmas.

It would be little to the purpose, to dwell longer on that part of the history of the drama, which lies back in the darkness of remote antiquity. Having shown that it did exist, in some shape or other, of which but very imperfect traces remain, and of course very inadequate notions can be collected, all further inquiry backward would be but the loss of so much time and trouble. The scope of human knowledge is extended at too heavy a price when the industry which might be more usefully applied, is exercised in hunting down origins into the obscurity of times so extremely distant. Where the greatest pains have been lavished on that sort of research, little knowledge has been gained; and the most diligent inquirers have been compelled either to confess that they were baffled, or rather than own their disappointment, to substitute fable for fact, and pass the fictions of imagination for historical truths... Continue reading book >>

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