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CriticLast night’s meeting of Ad Alta Voce, my not-quite-reading-group, had a theme of “Fictions, Lies and Play-acting”. In answer, among other things, I read from Sheridan’s The Critic, and found it as lovely as I remembered from years ago

In fact, judging from the annotations in pencil on my (translated) copy, it would seem I had begun considering a production. It never happened, but I was glad to renew the acquaintance last night.

And I thought I’d share a bit from Act 2, Scene II, in which two critics, Mr. Dangle and Mr. Sneer observe a rehearsal of Mr. Puff’s new Tragedy, The Spanish Armada:

Tilbury Fort.

Sneer. […] But tell us, who are these coming?

Puff. These are they—Sir Walter Raleigh, and Sir Christopher Hatton. You’ll know Sir Christopher by his turning out his toes—famous, you know, for his dancing. I like to preserve all the little traits of character.—Now attend.

“Enter SIR WALTER RALEIGH and SIR CHRISTOPHER HATTON.

Sir Christ. True, gallant Raleigh!”

Dang. What, they had been talking before?

Puff. O yes; all the way as they came along.—[To the actors.] I beg pardon, gentlemen, but these are particular friends of mine, whose remarks may be of great service to us.— [To SNEER and DANGLE.] Don’t mind interrupting them whenever anything strikes you.

“Sir Christ.
True, gallant Raleigh
But oh, thou champion of thy country’s fame,
There is a question which I yet must ask
A question which I never ask’d before—
What mean these mighty armaments?
This general muster? and this throng of chiefs?”

Sneer. Pray, Mr. Puff, how came Sir Christopher Hatton never to ask that question before?

Puff. What before the play began?-how the plague could he?

Dang. That’s true, i’faith!

Puff. But you will hear what he thinks of the matter.

“Sir Christ.
Alas I my noble friend, when I behold
Yon tented plains in martial symmetry
Array’d; when I count o’er yon glittering lines
Of crested warriors, where the proud steeds’ neigh,
And valour-breathing trumpet’s shrill appeal,
Responsive vibrate on my listening ear;
When virgin majesty herself I view,
Like her protecting Pallas, veil’d in steel,
With graceful confidence exhort to arms!
When, briefly, all I hear or see bears stamp
Of martial vigilance and stern defence,
I cannot but surmise—forgive, my friend,
If the conjecture’s rash—I cannot but
Surmise the state some danger apprehends!”

Sneer. A very cautious conjecture that.

Puff. Yes, that’s his character; not to give an opinion but on secure grounds.—Now then.

Sir Walt.
“O most accomplish’d Christopher!”—

Puff. He calls him by his Christian name, to show that they are on the most familiar terms.

Sir Walt. “O most accomplish’d Christopher! I find
Thy staunch sagacity still tracks the future,
In the fresh print of the o’ertaken past.”

Puff. Figurative!

“Sir Walt. Thy fears are just.

Sir Christ. But where? whence? when? and what
The danger is,—methinks I fain would learn.

Sir Walt. You know, my friend, scarce two revolving suns,
And three revolving moons, have closed their course
Since haughty Philip, in despite of peace,
With hostile hand hath struck at England’s trade.

Sir Christ. I know it well.

Sir Walt. Philip, you know, is proud Iberia’s king!

Sir Christ. He is.

Sir Walt. His subjects in base bigotry
And Catholic oppression held;-while we,
You know, the Protestant persuasion hold.

Sir Christ. We do.

Sir Walt. You know, beside, his boasted armament,
The famed Armada, by the Pope baptized,
With purpose to invade these realms—

Sir Christ. Is sailed,
Our last advices so report.

Sir Walt. While the Iberian admiral’s chief hope,
His darling son—

Sir Christ. Ferolo Whiskerandos—

Sir Walt. The same—by chance a prisoner hath been ta’en,
And in this fort of Tilbury—

Sir Christ. Is now
Confined—’tis true, and oft from yon tall turret’s top
I’ve mark’d the youthful Spaniard’s haughty mien
Unconquer’d, though in chains.

Sir Walt. You also know—”

Dang. Mr. Puff, as he knows all this, why does Sir Walter go on telling him?

Puff. But the audience are not supposed to know any-thing of the matter, are they?

Sneer. True; but I think you manage ill: for there certainly appears no reason why Sir Walter should be so communicative.

Puff. ‘Fore Gad, now, that is one of the most ungrateful observations I ever heard!—for the less inducement he has to tell all this, the more, I think, you ought to be obliged to him; for I am sure you’d know nothing of the matter without it.

Dang. That’s very true, upon my word. Puff. But you will find he was not going on.

“Sir Christ. Enough, enough—’tis plain—and I no more
Am in amazement lost!”

Puff. Here, now you see, Sir Christopher did not in fact ask any one question for his own information.

Sneer. No, indeed: his has been a most disinterested curiosity!

Dang. Really, I find that we are very much obliged to them both.

So it would seem that info-dumps were a trouble already, back in 1779, wouldn’t it? One doesn’t know whether to find it mildly consoling or downright depressing… I’m certainly going to put a translation of The Critic in the reading list for my next writing course.

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