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Lines in Defence of the Stage

William Topaz McGonagall 1825 – 1902 (Greyfriars Parish, Edinburgh)

Good people of high and low degree,
I pray ye all be advised by me,
And don't believe what the clergy doth say,
That by going to the theatre you will be led astray.

No, in the theatre we see vice punished and virtue rewarded,
The villain either hanged or shot, and his career retarded;
Therefore the theatre is useful in every way,
And has no inducement to lead the people astray.

Because therein we see the end of the bad men,
Which must appall the audience - deny it who can
Which will help to retard them from going astray,
While witnessing in a theatre a moral play.

The theatre ought to be encouraged in every respect,
Because example is better than precept,
And is bound to have a greater effect
On the minds of theatre-goers in every respect.

Sometimes in theatres, guilty creatures there have been
Struck to the soul by the cunning of the scene;
By witnessing a play wherein murder is enacted,
They were proven to be murderers, they felt so distracted,

And left the theatre, they felt so much fear,
Such has been the case, so says Shakespeare.
And such is my opinion, I will venture to say,
That murderers will quake with fear on seeing murder in a play.

Hamlet discovered his father's murderer by a play
That he composed for the purpose, without dismay,
And the king, his uncle, couldn't endure to see that play,
And he withdrew from the scene without delay.

And by that play the murder was found out,
And clearly proven, without any doubt;
Therefore, stage representation has a greater effect
On the minds of the people than religious precept.

We see in Shakespeare's tragedy of Othello, which is sublime,
Cassio losing his lieutenancy through drinking wine;
And, in delirium and grief, he exclaims -
"Oh, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains!"

A young man in London went to the theatre one night
To see the play of George Barnwell, and he got a great fright;
He saw George Barnwell murder his uncle in the play,
And he had resolved to murder his uncle, but was stricken with dismay.

But when he saw George Barnwell was to be hung
The dread of murdering his uncle tenaciously to him clung,
That he couldn't murder and rob his uncle dear,
Because the play he saw enacted filled his heart with fear.

And, in conclusion, I will say without dismay,
Visit the theatre without delay,
Because the theatre is a school of morality,
And hasn't the least tendency to lead to prodigality.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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William Topaz McGonagall

William Topaz McGonagall (March 1825 – 29 September 1902) was an Irish weaver, poet and actor who lived in Scotland. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers' opinions of his work. He wrote about 200 poems, including "The Tay Bridge Disaster" and "The Famous Tay Whale", which are widely regarded as some of the worst in English literature. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his work, and contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many listeners were appreciating McGonagall's skill as a comic music hall character. Collections of his verse remain popular, with several volumes available today. McGonagall has been lampooned as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms are that he was deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme. McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language. His work is in a long tradition of narrative ballads and verse written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public. more…

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    "Lines in Defence of the Stage" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 14 Jun 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/41826/lines-in-defence-of-the-stage>.

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