Dramatic Setting

In addition to the six several arts above enumerated, the invention of which has already been traced, there are three other pursuits which, although not generally ranked among the number of the arts, for the reasons I shall adduce, appear to possess a fair claim to be so classified, and which, therefore, ought here to be included, although it may not be necessary throughout this work to treat fully on each of them, inasmuch as the same primary principles will be found to regulate art of each kind. The pursuits alluded to are dramatic acting, costume, and gardening.

Dancing cannot properly be considered as an independent art by itself, but it is a branch of that of dramatic acting, or rather, perhaps, an imperfect effort by the same art. In dancing, as in acting, the emotions and passions of the soul are attempted to be represented, and the expression of them is typified by the attitudes and motions of the body. But in acting, the voice as well as the motion of the body is resorted to; and in most cases the aid of costume, occasionally of painting as well, is called in to give effect to the performance of the actor. Nor can the composition of novels and romances, and of works of fiction of this kind be regarded as a separate art of itself, but it is compounded of three of the primary arts already described ; partaking in part of the dramatic art as regards the mode of representing the characters introduced, in part of poetry as regards the descriptions given which par-take of this art, and in part of eloquence as regards the material mainly employed in the work.

Acting, costume, and gardening are each regulated by and de-pendent upon the capacity of taste, and the ultimate end of each of them is to appeal to the mind, and not to the mere animal feelings. This circumstance, indeed, must be held to constitute the only true test of the real genuineness of an art. The first of these arts is, as it were, an offshoot of painting and sculpture, the second of architecture, the third of each of these in part.

Dramatic acting must be supposed to owe its invention in the first instance to the effort made to imitate the actions of others, especially those which are most striking, and to counterfeit the exhibition of strong passions. We are naturally prone to copy the manners and habits of those about us, which is a sort of natural dramatic acting, the germ of the art itself. The different kinds of play with which children amuse them-selves are many of them the puerile efforts of dramatic acting, in the imitation of the characters which they see around them. Indeed, in all the games where they ape the actions of grown-up persons, they may be said to practise acting in its original, and simplest, and infant form.

The art of acting, whether upon the stage or while merely reciting the sentiments composed either by ourselves or other persons, consists essentially and really in causing the tones of the voice, the expression of the countenance, and the physical gestures, to accord in exact consistency with these sentiments, so as to give full effect to their delivery, and to second and confirm what the voice utters. In many, if not in all cases, the manner of delivering our sentiments is almost as important as is their matter. Acting may in reality therefore be said to consist in nothing more or less than in making the actions of the body conform and attune themselves, or at any rate appear outwardly to do so, to the expressions of the soul. So far it is one of the simplest and most directly imitative of all the arts, and one which would therefore probably be among the earliest invented. Various causes and circumstances may have led persons in the first instance to resort to this pursuit, and to reduce it to a regular art, which, like most of the other arts, was in its earlier stages rude and uncouth, more especially when the higher efforts of which the art is capable were aimed at. No sustaining medium is required for the production of this art, which is not grounded on any practical pursuit.

At an early stage of acting, before skill in. modulating the countenance and the voice, so as to imitate different emotions and passions, was attained, masks, representing the effect produced on the face by the various feelings, and also speaking-trumpets which imitated the sound of the voice under the same circumstances, were ordinarily resorted to.

The drama has been well and most correctly said to ” hold the mirror up to nature ;” and on the stage we behold exactly represented or reflected that real life from the imitation of which this art was first invented. In dramatic acting, the actions, the language, the appearance of the personages referred to, are all imitated; and by the aid of painting and architecture, the very scene where the event occurred is also depicted.

Of all the arts, dramatic acting is the purest as regards its invention, being a mere transcript from the book of nature to the book of art ; and among the earliest and the rudest nations, a drama of some kind has been discovered. But although no sustaining medium was required for the invention of acting, yet all the earliest efforts in this art were not imitative or even artistical, but actually real.