« FöregåendeFortsätt »
cessfully waylaid, must experience an ironical smile. From this piece, it is evident that the Greeks brought horses on their stage to increase the pageantry: "tutto il mundo e fatto come la nostra famiglia."
The grounds of internal evidence are still stronger for assigning to Sophocles the Trojan Dames. The Hecuba, a tragedy on the same theme, is certainly a work of Euripides; the heroine, tottering on a crutch and rolling in the dust, has that ignoble raggedness with which Aristophanes reproaches this tragedian; and critics notice the piece as his composition, praising his description of the death of Polyxena, still in her last moments attentive to every decorum, and gathering the robes over her person so as to fall with decency. In the Hecuba, this sacrifice takes place on the Thracian Chersonesus: but, in the Trojan Dames, Polyxena is sacrificed under the walls of Troy. Now if these two plays had the same poet for their author, a consistent, uniform, undeviating legend would be adopted in both. The Trojan Dames, therefore, appears to be taken from Euripides; and, as the character of Hecuba in this tragedy is a noble and beautiful delineation, worthy of the taste of Sophocles, as the monotonous prolongation of the same emotion is peculiar to his manner, as the perpetual climax of feminine woe is worthy of his art and ingenuity, as the appropriate tone of the choral odes is so studiously preserved, and as the mythological passages have none of that contemptuous impiety which marks the theology of Euripides, -it seems more rational and probable to attribute this tragedy to his cotemporary and rival. Among the lost plays of Sophocles, are enumerated Athamas, Thamyris, Phryxus, Erechtheus, Nausicaa, or the Wash-women IIAUтpia), according to Lessing a comic or satiric piece, and Thyestes, of which some idea may be formed from the Latin imitation preserved in the dramatic anthology of Seneca.
The fifth lecture treats of Euripides, the favourite poet of Socrates and of Milton. Yet his dramas are valued low by M. Schlegel, who considers them as indicating the decline of art. Certainly, they have not the uniform loftiness of those of Eschylus, nor the uniform beauty of those of Sophocles: but they include greater variety of character, of situation, and of emotion; they have more of nature, if they have less of stage-trick; and they abound with sentiments of a penetrating wisdom. Eschylus imprints his own heroic and unbending disposition on every one of his personages; the poet himself speaks through each mask. His Clytemnestra is but Prometheus in petticoats; his Electra is cast in her mother's mould; and Eteocles and Antigone have the same proud courageous
soul. As in Alfieri's tragedies, the author sits to himself for the principal figures in every fresh delineation.— Sophocles has less energy than his predecessor. In the character of Edipus, he has scarcely imprinted traces of that wild intemperance of feeling, which was destined to tear out his own eyes in the catastrophe. It is not by sudden sparks of passion that Sophocles touches, but by repeatedly and permanently harping on the same string; he excels in patient feminine tenderness, in refinement of feeling, and in moral beauty, but not in fluctuations of emotion. Though his range of characters is wider than that of Eschylus, and is made conspicuous by contrasts, yet the outlines of his personages are vague, and the marks of individuality faint ; they have the average compassed features of an unappropriated bust, which the artist has shapen beautifully, but has not yet chipped and channeled into a specific portrait. He is at home only in virtuous nature, in Neoptolemos, Antigone, and Chrysothemis; his criminals have not the spirit of crime. Nor is he inventive, being obliged often to borrow from himself; Electra, for instance, when she clasps the supposed urn of Orestes, employing nearly the same sentiments which Antigone advances before Creon. On the contrary, Euripides neither casts his characters in one mould nor transplants his sentiments from play to play, but is ever various, creative, and original. His heroes may be deficient in majesty, and his plots in taste, but all his personages have the distinct individuality of nature. We trace no resemblance between his Hecuba, Andromache, Medea, Phædra, Iphigenia, Alcestes, and Electra; no repetition of the common-places of sorrow, but a deeply pathetic and strictly appropriate display of emotion at the trying instant. Characters which border on each other are still discriminated; such as Ion and Hippolytus, or the insane Hercules and the insane Orestes. Emotions almost incompatible are also made to succeed each other in a breath: thus Hercules indulges his joviality when Alcestes is dying, without spoiling the pathetic scenes; and this, though not a mark of taste, is an indication of power. If Æschylus be the Schiller, and Sophocles be the Racine, Euripides is the Shakspeare, of the Greeks; and it is inconsistent in M. Schlegel to assign to Euripides so low and to Shakspeare so high a rank. Neither of these writers pursues an ideal beauty, but both are distinguished for truth of nature. They do not aim, like schylus and Schiller, at a grandeur beyond reality, at a majesty more than human; they are not to be classed among the heroic or ennobling poets: they do not, like Sophocles and Racine, subdue within the limits of grace and beauty
every expression of feeling or passion: nor are they to be classed among the idealizing or embellishing poets: but it is for copying the impressive phænomena of human kind with fidelity, for catching a striking likeness of men and events in a narrow compass, for giving an inherent vitality to their personages, and animating each with a soul of its own, that Euripides and Shakspeare must be applauded. If they too often sink into vulgarity, their bursts of feeling and of passion gush into the heart and thrill to the marrow; and they are omnipotent over the present impression, whether it be grave or gay.
In the sixth lecture, the author treats of comedy, which seems to have begun in the parody of tragedy. A high and (we think) a well-founded panegyric of Aristophanes is here undertaken; whose resources of fancy gave a variety to Greek comedy, of which the modern stage is in want of the return.In the appendix to this lecture, a scene is translated from Aristophanes, in which Euripides is happily ridiculed.
The seventh lecture relates to the middle comedy of the Greeks, which more nearly resembles that of the modern world than the early comedy of Aristophanes. We here meet with an ingenious application of Xenophon's doctrine of two souls to criticism:
There are other moral defects, which are beheld by their possessor with a certain degree of satisfaction, and which he has even resolved not to remedy, but to cherish and preserve. Of this kind is all that, without reference to selfish pretensions, or hostile inclinations, merely originates in the preponderance of sensuality. This may, without doubt, be united to a high degree of intellect, and when such a person applies his mental powers to the consideration of his own character, laughs at himself, confesses his failings to others, or endeavours to reconcile them to them, by the droll manner in which they are mentioned, we have then an instance of the self-conscious comic. This kind always supposes a certain inward duality of character, and the superior half, which rallies and laughs at the other, has from its tone and its employment a near affinity to the comic poet himself. He occasionally delivers over his functions entirely to this representative, while he allows him studiously to overcharge the picture which he draws of himself, and to enter into a sort of understanding with the spectators, to throw ridicule on the other characters. We have in this way the arbitrary comic, which generally produces a very powerful effect, however much the critics may affect to under-rate it. In the instance in question, the spirit of the old comedy prevails; the privileged fool or buffoon, who has appeared on almost all stages under different names, and whose character is at one time a display of shrewdness and wit, and at another of absurdity and stupidity, has inherited something of the extravagant inspiration, and the
rights and privileges of the free and unrestrained old comic writer; and this is the strongest proof that the old comedy, which we have described as the original species, was not founded alone in the peculiar circumstances of the Greeks, but is essentially rooted in the nature of things.'
We do not, however, feel convinced that the critic can so easily teach a comic as a tragic poet. There is an instantaneous contagiousness in skilful ridicule, which must be learnt by practice, not from precept. In life, he who reasons about conduct before he acts is commonly a loser of opportunities; and he who must be jogged for a repartee will invent it too late for effect. The painful have not the rapidity of the cheerful emotions.
Lecture viii. gives an account of the Roman theatre, which had little original merit. Its tragedies are imitated from the Greek; and some of its comedies are referred to an Etrurian origin. A tragedy intitled Medea, and ascribed to Ovid, is probably the piece included in Seneca's collection. — From the declension of Roman art, M. Schlegel proceeds to the commencement of modern or Italian art; notices the pastoral drama as a peculiarity which had no classical model; and describes the masked comedy conducted by improvisator actors. Alfieri is criticized with severity: but we would assign to his Conspiracy of the Pazzi a more elevated station than M. Schlegel allots.
The ninth lecture treats of the antiquities of the French stage, and of the influence of Aristotle and his supposed rules on the forms of French plays. The three unities are discussed; and the unity of action is alone defended.
Lecture the tenth criticizes the principal dramatic works of the French. To the Cid of Corneille a high rank is granted: but, though it has the merit of neglecting unity of place, and the earlier scenes are spirited, the interest is in anti-climax; and the love of Chimene almost acquires a comic character in the latter acts. - Of Racine's tragedies, Athalie and Britannicus are especially praised: but his Greek and Turkish plays violate all costume of manners. Among Voltaire's tragedies, Alzire is here preferred. We do not think, however, that the philosophic dialogues, which it includes, are placed with probability in the mouths of Peruvians: here is surely as gross a violation of the costume of manners as we find in the Achilles of Racine. In Zaire, the discovery of her relation to Lusignan, which occurs early in the play, is perhaps more interesting than the catastrophe, so that the anxiety of the spectator is in an inverted order; and the character of Orosman is Hot Sultanic, but French :-still we consider this tragedy as the
most masterly and original of all those of Voltaire. The Père de Famille of Diderot is grievously under-rated. Its fable, or plot, is perhaps the completest of any dramatic poem extant: the action is intricate, progressively interesting, and the solution or catastrophe is rapid and complete: the characters are various and well-discriminated; and, though the style is perhaps too declamatory, this poetic prose is the French substitute for metrical diction even in epic writing, and must be taken, like recitative at the opera, as the condition of the appropriate frame of mind in the spectator. The situations are critical, picturesque, and ethically harassing, yet admirably probable; and all the unities are conquered without constraint. It is perhaps the only French play in which the exposition is accomplished without any narration: generally speaking, the French dramatist is as aukward as Euripides in his opening: but, in the Père de Famille, the necessary preliminary information is all communicated by implication, and wrought into the action.
With the tenth lecture, the Second Volume opens. It continues in greater detail a survey of the French theatre, and the Horatii, the Death of Pompey, Cinna, and Polyeucte, pass in review. On the whole, the best tragedies of the French are those which treat of Roman subjects: Voltaire, in his Brutus, - his Caesar, and his Triumvirate, enters more into the spirit of the times than in Edipus or Semiramis; and the Britannicus of Racine is his master-piece.
The eleventh lecture includes a survey of French comedy, which is under-valued by M. Schlegel. In delicate embarassment, and in teasing situation, which gratifies the grinning passion of our nature, the French comic writers excel. Something of malice and something of ridicule are mixed up in this passion; yet it is too good-natured not to sympathize with its object, and too polite to make a laughing-stock of it: no apt name exists for this state of mind, of which irony is an ebullition. An excellent piece of criticism is the comparison between the Aulularia of Plautus, and the Avare of Moliere.
Diderot's essay on Dramatic Poetry, which Lessing considered as the best specimen of criticism extant in French, is here placed unjustly low. It was perhaps too carefully directed to the defence of domestic tragedy and sentimental drama, in which line the author aspired to reputation: but surely it contains delicate, original, feeling, and profound remarks on art, and has the the merit of trampling under foot every national prejudice. Such tragedies as Othello, the Fatal Curiosity, and the Gamester, must remain admirable works of