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Home » , » Discuss Addison as a critic of the contemporary stage. Do you think his observations are correct?
In the essay The Aim of the Spectator, Addison remarks that he would make all areas of society and manners and tastes his target of ridicule if he found any extravagances or fall from good taste in them. He would not hesitate to protest, he says, if Punch grew extravagant. It is in keeping with his contention that he attacks certain conventions of the stage and the tastes of the audience in one set of papers in the Spectator. These essays are Stage Realism, Nicolini and the Lions, Stage Murder, and The Trunk Maker.
Addison as a critic of contemporary stage

The Eassys

In Stage Realism, he attacks the ridiculous stage conventions in practice in the times. Opera managers introduced all sorts of devices in the interests of 'realism' on the stage. As a result there were painted dragons emitting actual fire, and real waterfalls in an otherwise artificial landscape. In one scene in an opera real sparrows were released to fly across the stage and provide real bird music. Addison finds such conventions utterly absurd. He ridicules this confusion of the real with the artificial. He says : "The shadows and realities ought not to be mixed together in the same piece, and...... the scenes which are designed as the representations of nature should be filled with resemblances, and not with the things themselves." He also criticises the fashion of using "a florid from of words" and "tedious circumlocutions".Nicolini and the Lions is an admirably ironical exposition on the Italian opera. Here Addison attacks the " forced thoughts, cold conceits, and unnatural expressions." In the same essay, he criticises the lack of common sense in the audience of the day which enjoyed scenes such as that of the combat between a 'hero' and a sham lion in one of the operas of the day. He reproaches the audience which he says, suffers from a lack of common sense."Our present grievance does not seem to be the want of a good taste, but of common sense."Another essay which comes down hard and ironically upon the tastes and lack of discrimination of the theatre audience of the day is The Trunk-Maker. Here we are told that the audience waits for the trunk-maker's hammer to clap and applaud any particular scene. They do not have any sense of discrimination themselves. The actors too are ridiculed in this essay for measuring the standard of their own performances with the help of the trunk-maker's signals!Stage Murder criticises the contemporary stage practice of using various devices for the introduction of terror and pity on stage. Addison comes down hard on all those devices which he considers barbarous, absurd and crude. He would not exclude from presentation all murders on stage. If it were dramatically relevant and necessary, he would not ask that it is to be omitted from the stage, but he would still ask for the elimination of unnatural murders such as that of Clytemnestra by her son. And he supports his point with the authority of the ancient poet Horace. "I would, therefore, recommend to my countrymen the practice of the ancient poets, who were very sparing of their public executions, and rather chose to perform them behind the scenes, if it could be done with as great an effect upon the audience."

Sound critical approach

Addison's views on the stage and its audience are prompted by the essential sanity and rationality of his outlook. It is not easy to find fault with what he says regarding the absurdities prevalent on the contemporary stage and the lack of sense and taste in the audience. He attacks the irrational, the fantastical, and the absurdities which were too incredible or shocking. He was against extravagance and immoderation of any kind. His view is based on common sense and rationality. The criticism of the stage is prompted by the desire to improve stage techniques and audience's tastes. The views may not be relevant in the context of modem stage and dramatic techniques but in the context of Addison's time their value must have been appreciable.


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