"A Perfect Tragedy Is The Noblest Production Of Human Nature"

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Last Updated on May 28, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 206

Context: In the five hundred and fifty-five regular issues of the Spectator, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele brought popular essay journalism to a height of perfection never achieved before and seldom since. For a large middle-class reading public they created an interest in public affairs, literary and dramatic criticism, public morality, and manners. In this essay concerned with the development of English drama, Addison summarizes Aristotle's comments on tragedy, discusses several characteristics of classical drama, and reviews the strengths and weaknesses of English dramatists from the time of Shakespeare to his own. The line quoted is from the opening paragraph:

As a perfect tragedy is the noblest production of human nature, so it is capable of giving the mind one of the most delightful and most improving entertainments. "A virtuous man," says Seneca, "struggling with misfortunes is such a spectacle as gods might look upon with pleasure." And such a pleasure it is which one meets with in the representation of a well-written tragedy. Diversions of this kind wear out of our thoughts everything that is mean and little. They cherish and cultivate that humanity which is the ornament of our nature. They soften insolence, soothe affliction, and subdue the mind to the dispensations of Providence.

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