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Madâme, dites-moi seulement que j'espere,
Why is it that these promises, so singular in the mouth of the son of Achilles, far from wounding our ears, appear to be very natural? It is not only because they belong to the character already announced, to the wildness of youth and the enthusiasm of passion, but even because there is nothing in them inconsistent with the heroism of a warrior. It is not a cold compliment of gallantry, like that which Alexander paid to queen Cleophik, when he said that for her sake he had come to conquer India. This we perceive at once is false, and that without any fault of the queen, Alexan. der might entertain the hope of conquering the whole world. But when a young leader who has overturned Troy, makes it at the same time his pleasure and his glory to rebuild it for the son of his mistress, the son of Hector, this idea flatters his love and his pride; we see that he promises what he can do, and passion in him speaks the language of truth.
Is the same Pyrrhus, a moment afterwards, offended at the refusal of Andromache? He is no longer the same man who asked only the sad permission to hope. He knows nothing but extremes:
Eh bien! Madame, eh bien! il faut vous obéir,
These are the natural alternations and contrasts of passion. Happily love-affairs are not often affected by matters of such importance: but the foundation is the same; the difference is relative. Those women who have met with men really in love, know that it requires but a word to make them pass from the transports of love to those of rage. This vivacity of imagination, which is necessary in depicting the human passions, reminds me of an anecdote of Voltaire.
He was teaching an actress, and endeavouring to infuse more fire into her manner-Sir, said the actress, if I perform thus, they will think the devil is in me.-Ah! mademoiselle, replied the poet, that is precisely what I want. To perform a tragedy well, it is necessary that you should seem to have the devil
If the love of Pyrrhus be tragical, is that of Orestes less so? Orestes fulfils perfectly the idea which we collect from all the mythological traditions. He appears to have been followed by an invincible fatality: to foresee the crimes of which he is to be guilty, and which are in a manner attached to his name. His passion is dark and mournful; it is tinged with that melancholy which approaches despair. He sees, he imagines nothing but what is gloo. my.
He says to Pylades, at the moment when Hermione believes herself certain of espousing Pyrrhus:
S'il faut ne te rien déguiser,
que malheurs qui condamnent les dieux.
Quand nos etats vengés jouiront se nos soins,
Tout lui rirait, Pylade; et moi pour mon partage,
J'irais loin d'elle encor, tâcher de l'oublier?
In fact we pity Orestes more than we condemn him, and the friendship which unites him with Pylades, gives a sort of interest to his character, and carries us still further in lessening his crime. We think vaguely, that a man who has one friend remaining, may have been guilty, though not absolutely wicked.
We are struck when, in the midst of all his sinister projects, he resolved to bear away Hermione; the only soft sentiment which remains, is in favour of Pylades: .
Mais toi, par quelle erreur veux-tu toujours sur toi
And what is the answer of Pylades? It is not one of those sententious phrases such as we see so often in Corneille. He does not say a real friend should sacrifice every thing to his duty:-or, I know how a true friend would act in such a case: friendship fears no danger, &c. He shows all this in a single word:
Allons, seigneur, enlevons Hermione. One word like this is better than a whole treatise on friendship; in the same manner as the recommendations to virtue, which occur in our good tragedies, surpass what is said by the moralists One of the great advantages of the drama consists in the superiority of action to discourse.
How affecting is the reply of Orestes!
Excuse un malheureux qui perd tout ce qu'il aime,
How different the distress! yet all are interesting, all appeal to the heart, all are tragical.
But Hermione surpasses every thing. This is one of the most astonishing creations of Racine's pen: it is the triumph of a new and sublime art. No one will deny that it belongs entirely to his genius. Where is the model of Hermione? where, before the time of Racine, do we behold such profound developments of the recesses of the human heart: such a flow and reflux so incessant and active of all the passions which can agitate a noble and wounded mind; such prompt and conflicting emotions, crossing each other like lightning; such rapid transitions from the imprecations of hatred to all the tenderness of love, from the effusions of joy to the transports of fury, from indifference and affected disdain to a despair which vents itself in lamentations, reproaches, and menaces; such rage, at one time blind and concentrated, and secretly meditating all the horrors of vengeance, and then furious, declaring the most terrible threats? When Pyrrhus, driven to despair by the disdain of Andromache, is about to espouse Hermione, in what manner does she address her confidante!
Pyrrhus revient à nous! Eh bien! chere Cléone,
Pyrrhus returns to Andromache: she is silent, and only waits for Orestes, to demand from him the head of a perjured lover. On his arrivai 'he commences with a profusion of protestations. She inrerrupts him:
Vengez-moi: je crois tout. Orestes resolves, though with pain, to serve her, and we see what a struggle it costs him to become an assassin, even when a rival is the object. Notwithstanding his promises, she does not believe herself secure of him.
Pyrrhus n'est pas coupable à ses yeux comme aux miens
She perceives Pyrrhus. Her first emotion is that of hope; her first cry is an order to him to run after Orestes, and prevent him from doing any thing until she sees him. Pyrrhus acknowledges all his wrongs, and avows his determination to espouse Andromache. Hermione at first dissembles her resentment. She thinks that it would be degrading to appear too sensible of his conduct, and we behold the last struggle of pride against love. She even affects to lessen the hero whom she had just before exalted to the skies. His exploits are nothing but cruelties: she reproaches him with the death of the aged Priam. Pyrrhus answers her like a man quite indifferent. He applauds her tranquillity, and believes himself not so culpable as he feared. He flatters himself that their marriage would have been no more than an arrangement dictated by policy. But Hermione will not let him off so easily: irritated love can no longer contain itself, and when Pyrrhus says,
Rien ne vous engageait à m'aimer en effect; she bursts forth in the following terms:
Je ne t'ai point aimé, cruel! qu'ai-je donc fait?