« IndietroContinua »
scenic exhibition ; in that case they This was a favourite notion of the two must have been thrown upon conflicts Schlegels. But it is evident that of tempestuous passion: the more tem- many Greek tragedies, both amongst pestuous the better. But being, by the those which survive,and amongst those early religious character of tragedy, the title and subjects of which are reand by the colossal proportions of corded, did not, and could not present their theatres, imperiously driven to a any opening at all for this dark life more awful and still —upon life as agency. Consequently it was not esit existed in elder days, amongst men
sential. And, even where it did inso far removed that they had become tervene, the Schlegels seem to have invested with a patriarchal or even an
misunderstood its purpose. antediluvian mistiness of antiquity, phetic colouring, a colouring of anand often into the rank of demi-gods cient destiny, connected with a cha-they felt it possible to present this racter or an event, has the effect of mode of being in states of suffering, . exalting and ennobling. But whatfor suffering is enduring and indefinite; ever tends towards this result, inevitabut never in states of conflict, for cona bly translates the persons and their fict is, by its nature, fugitive and situation from that condition of ordievanescent. The tragedy of Greece nary breathing life which it was the is always held up as a thing long past constant effort of the Greek tragedy -the tragedy of England as a thing to escape ; and therefore it was, that now passing. We are invited by So- the Greek poet preferred the gloomy phocles or Euripides, as by some great idea of Fate: not because it was necromancer, to see long-buried forms essential, but because it was elevastanding in solemn groups upon the ting. It is for this reason, and apstage-phantoms from Thebes or from parently for this reason only, that Cyclopian cities. But Shakspeare is Cassandra is connected by Æschylus a. Cornelius Agrippa, who shows us in with Agamemnon. The Sphynx, inhis magic glass creatures yet breath- deed, was connected with the horrid ing and actually mixing in the great tale of Edipus in every version of game of life upon some distant field, the tale : but Cassandra was brought inaccessible to us without a magician's upon the stage out of no certain his. aid.
toric tradition, or proper relation to The Greek drama, therefore, by its Agamemnon, but to confer the solemn very necessities, proposing to itself and mysterious hoar of a dark prophe. only a few grand attitudes or situa- tic woe upon the dreadful catastrophe tions, and brief dialogues, as the means Fate was therefore used, not for it of illuminating those situations, with own direct moral value as a force ups scarcely any thing of action actually on the will, but for its derivative power occurring on the stage from these of ennobling and darkening. purposes derives its other peculiarities : VII. Hence, too, that habit amongst in the elementary necessities lay the the tragic poets of travelling back to fundus of the rest.
regions of forgotten fable and dark leV. The notion, for example, that gendary mythus. Antiquity availed murder or violent death was banished powerfully for their purposes, because from the Greek stage, on the Parisian of necessity it abstracted all petty deconceit of the shock which such bloody tails of individuality and local notoincidents would give to the taste, is riety; all that would have composed a perfectly erroneous. Not because it character. It acted as twilight acts, was sanguinary, but because it was ac- (which removes day's " mutable distion, had the Greeks an objection to tinctions,") and reduced the historic such violences. No action of any kind person to that sublime state of monotoproceeds legitimately on that stage. nous gloom which suited the views of The
persons of the drama are always . a poet who wanted only the situation, in a reposing state so long as they are but would have repelled a poet who before the audience. And the very sought also for the complex features meaning of an act is, that in the in- of a character. It is true that such tervals, the suspensions of the acts, remote and fabulous periods are visitany possible time may elapse, and any ed at times, though not haunted, by the possible action may go on.
modern dramatist. Events are sought, VI. Hence, also, a most erroneous
even upon the French stage, from Gotheory has arisen about Fate as brood- thic or from Moorish times. But in ing over the Greek tragic scene.
that case, the poet endeavours to im
prove and strengthen any traits of yet he brings both Xerxes and his character that tradition may have pre- father Darius (by means of his appaserved, or by a direct effort of power rition) upon the stage; though the to create them altogether, where his. very Marathon of the father was but tory presents a blank neutrality ten years earlier than the Thermopylæ whereas the Greek poet used simply and Salamis of the son. But in this that faint outline of character, in its instance the scene is not properly gross distinctions of good and bad, Grecian: it is referred by the mind which the situation itself implied. to Susa, the capital of Persia, far For example, the Creon of Thebes is eastward even of Babylon, and four pretty uniformly exhibited as tyranni- months' march from Hellas. Remotecal and cruel. But that was the mere ness of space in that case counterresult of his position as a rival origi- vailed the proximity in point of time; nally for the throne, and still more as though it may be doubted whether, the executive minister of the popular without the benefit of the supernatuvengeance against Polynices for hav. ral, it would, even in that case, have ing brought a tide of war against his satisfied the Grecian taste. And it mother land : in that representative certainly would not, had the whole character, Creon is compelled to acts reference of the piece not been so inof cruelty against Antigone in her sub- tensely Athenian. For, when we talk lime exercise of natural piety—both of Grecian tragedy, we must rememsisterly and filial; and this cruelty to ber that, after all, the Pagan tragedy her and to the miserable wreck her was in any proper sense exclusively father, making the very wrath of Athenian; and the tendency of the Heaven an argument for further perse- Grecian taste, in its general Grecian cution, terminates in leaving him an character, was in various instances object of hatred to the spectator. But modified or absolutely controlled by after all, his conduct seems to have that special feature of its existence. been purely official and ministerial. 2dly, It will be urged, as indicating Nor, if the reader think otherwise, this craving after antiquity to be no will he find any further emanation peculiar or distinguishing feature of from Creon's individual will or heart the Greek stage, that we moderns also than the mere blank expression of ty- turn away sometimes with dislike from ranny in a public cause : nothing, in a modern subject. Thus, if it had no short, of that complexity and inter- other fault, the Charles I. of Banks is . weaving of qualities, that interaction coldly received by English readers, of moral and intellectual powers, which doubtless ; but not because it is too we moderns understand by a charac- modern. The objection to it is, that ter. In short, all the rude outlines of a parliamentary war is too intensely character on the Greek stage were, in political ; and political, moreover, in the first place, mere inheritances from a way which doubly defeated its othertradition, and generally mere deter- wise tragic power; first, because quesminations from the situation : and in tions too notorious and too domineerno instance did the qualities of a man's ing of law and civil polity were then will, heart, or constitutional tempera- at issue; the very same which came ment, manifest themselves by and to a final hearing and settlement at through a collision or strife amongst 1688-9. Our very form of governeach other; which is our test of a ment at this day is the result of the dramatic character. And therefore it struggle then going on-a fact which was, that elder or even fabulous ages eclipses and dwarfs any separate or were used as the true natural field of private interest of an individual prince, the tragic poet; partly because anti- though otherwise and by his personal quity ennobled; partly also because, character in the highest degree an by abstracting the individualities of a object of tragic pity and reverence. character, it left the historic figure in Secondly, because the political interest that neutral state which was most en- afloat at that era (1649) was too comtirely passive to the moulding and de- plex and intricate; it wanted the simtermining power of the situation.
plicity of a poetic interest. That is Two objections we foresee- lst, That the objection to Charles I. as a traeven Æschylus, the sublimest of the gedy; not because modern, but beGreek tragedians, did not always go cause too domineeringly political; and back to a high antiquity. He himself because the political features of the had fought in the Persian war; and case were too many and too intricate.
VIII. Thus far, therefore, we now so distinct from any which are pur. comprehend the purposes and true sued upon the modern stage, arose a locus to the human imagination of the corresponding distinction of the diaGrecian tragedy-that it was à most logue. Had the dialogue ministered to imposing scenic exhibition of a few
any purpose so progressive and so active grand situations; grand from their very as that of developing a character, with simplicity, and from the consequences new incidents and changes of the which awaited their dénouement; and speakers coming forward at every moseeking support to this grandeur from ment, as occasions for evoking the constantly fixing its eye upon elder peculiarities of that character_in such ages lost in shades of antiquity; or, if a case the more it had resembled the departing from that ideal now and movement, the fluctuations, the hurthen, doing so with a view to patriotic ry of actual life and of real colloquial objects, and seeking an occasional intercourse, the more it would have dispensation from the rigour of art in aided the views of the poet. But the the popular indulgence to whatever purpose of the Greek dialogue was touched the glory of Athens. Let not progressive; essentially it was the reader take, along with them, two retrospective. For example, the Heother circumstances, and he will then racleide opens with a fine and imprescomplete the idea of this stately dra- sive group as ever sculptor chiselled ma: first, the character of the DIA
-a group of young children, princeLOGUE; secondly, the functions of the ly daughters of a great hero, whose CHORUS.
acts resound through all mythology; IX. From 150 to 180 lines of hexa- viz. of Hercules, of a Grecian cleanser meter iambic verse compose the dia- and deliverer from monsters, once irrélogue of each act. * This space is sistible to quell the oppressor, but now sufficient for the purpose of unfolding dead, and himself the subject of outrage the situation to the spectator ; but, as in the persons of his children. These a means of unfolding a character, youthful ladies, helpless from their would have been by much too limited. sex, with their grandmother Alcmenė, For such a purpose, again, as this last, now aged and infirm, have arranged numerous scenes, dialogues, or so- themselves as a marble group on the liloquies, must have been requisite; steps ascending to the altars of a local whereas generally, upon the Greek deity. They have but one guide, one stage, a single scene, one dialogue be- champion-a brother in arms of the tween two interlocutors, occupies the deceased Hercules, and his reverential entire act. The object of this dia- friend; but this brave man also sufferlogue was, of course, to bring forward ing, through years and martial toils, unthe prominent points of the situation, der the penalties of decaying strength. and to improve the interest arising out Such is the situation, such the inauof–1. its grandeur; 2. its statuesque guration of this solemn tragedy. The arrangement to the eye; or, 3. the dialogue which follows between loburden of tragic consequences which laus, the faithful guardian of the ladies, it announced. With such purposes,
and the local ruler of the land, takes
* The five acts, which old tradition prescribed as binding upon the Greek tragio drama, cannot always be marked off by the interruptions of the chorus. In the Heracleidæ of Euripides they can, But it is evident that these acts existed for the sake of the chorus, by way of allowing sufficient openings (both as to number and length) for the choral dances; and the necessity must have grown out of the time allowed for a dramatic representation, and originally, therefore, out of the mere accidental convenience prescribed by the social usages of Athens. The rule, therefore, was at any rate an arbitrary rule. Purely conventional it would have been, and local, had it even grown out of any Attic superstition (as we have sometimes thought it might) as to the number of the choral dances. But most probably it rested upon a sort of convention, which of all is the least entitled to respect or translation to foreign soils, viz. the mere local arrangement of meals and sleeping hours in Athens; which, having prescribed a limited space to the whole performance, afterwards left this space to be distributed between the recitation and the more popular parts, addressed to eye and ear as the mob of Athens should insist. Horace, in saying roundly, as a sort of brutum fulmen, “ Non quinto brevior, non sit productior, actu fabulæ," delivers this capricious rule in the capricious manner which becomes it. The stet pro ratione voluntas comes forward equally in the substance of the precept and the style of its delivery.
up this inaugural picture--so pompous which our experience suggests no corfrom blazing altars and cloudy incense responding case, except that of a leper -80 ceremonial from the known reli- in the middle ages, or the case of a gious meaning of the attitudes-50 man under a papal interdict,) fix the beautiful from the loveliness of the attention of the spectators beyond any youthful suppliants, rising tier above other situation in Grecian tragedy. tier according to their ages, and the And the compliment to Athens, not graduation of the altar steps-so mo- verbal but involved in the very situaving in its picture of human calamity tion, gave a depth of interest to this by the contrasting figure of the two drama, for the very tutelary region of grey-haired supporters--so complete the drama ; which ought to stamp it and orbicular in its delineation of huo with a sort of prerogative as in some man frailty by the surmounting cir- respects the ideal tragedy or model of cumstances of its crest, the altar, the the Greek theatre. priestess, the temple, the serene Gre- Now, this one dialogue, as filling cian sky-this impressive picture, ha- one act of a particular drama, is quite ving of itself appealed to every one of sufficient to explain the view we take of thirty thousand hearts, having already the Greek tragic dialogue. It is alto. challenged universal attention, is now gether retrospective. It takes for its explained and unfolded through the theme the visible group arranged on entire first act. Iolaus, the noble old the stage before the spectators from warrior, who had clung the closer to the first. Looking back to this, the the fluttering dovecot of his buried two interlocutors (supposed to come friend from the unmerited persecution forward upon the stage) contrive be. which had assaulted them, comments tween them, one by pertinent questo the stranger prince upon the spec- tions, the other by judicious managetacle before him--a spectacle signifi. ment of his replies, to bring out those cant to Grecian eyes, intelligible at circumstances in the past fortunes and once to every body; but still rare, and immediate circumstances of this inwitnessed in practice by nobody. The teresting family, which may put the prince, Demophoon, is a ruler of audience in possession of all which it Athens : the scene is placed in the is important for them to know. The Attic territory, but not in Athens ; reader sees the dark legendary charabout fifteen miles, in fact, from that acter which invests the whole tale; city, and not far from the dread field and in the following acts this darkness of Marathon. To the prince, Iolaus is made more emphatic from the fact explains the lost condition of his young that incidents are used, of which conflock. The ruler of Argos had driven tradictory versions existed, some poets them out of every asylum in the Pe. adopting one version, some another: loponnesus. From city to city he had so cloudy and uncertain were the followed them at the heels, with his facts. All this apocryphal gloom aids cruel heralds of persecution. They that sanctity and awe which belong to were a party of unhappy fugitives, another and a higher mode of life; to (most of them proclaiming their inno- that slumbering life of sculpture, as cence by their very age and helpless. opposed to painting, which we have ness,) that had run the circle of Greek called a life within a life.
Grecian hospitality: every where had been taste would inevitably require that the hunted out like wild beasts, or those dialogue should be adjusted to this common nuisances from which their starting-point and standard. Accordillustrious father had liberated the ingly, in the first place, the dialogue earth : that the long circuit of their is always (and in a degree quite un. unhappy wanderings had brought perceived by the translators up to this them at the last to Athens, in which time) severe, massy, simple, yet sothey had a final confidence, as know- lemnized intentionally by the use of a ing well not only the justice of that select vocabulary, corresponding in state, but that she only would not be point of archaism and remoteness from moved from her purposes by fear of ordinary use) to our scriptural voca. the aggressor. No finer opening can bulary. Secondly, the metre is of a be imagined. The statuesque beauty kind never yet examined with suitable of the group, and the unparalleled There were two objects aimed persecution which the first act ex- at in the Greek iambic of the tragic poses, (a sort of misery and an ab. drama; and in some measure these solute hostility of the human race to objects were in collision with each
other, unless most artfully managed. a good reader) of the recitative in the
One was, to exhibit a purified imita. Italian opera : as, indeed, in other lee tion of real human conversation. The points, the Italian opera is a much
other was, to impress upon this collo- nearer representative of the Greek quial form, thus far by its very nature tragedy, than the direct modern trarecalling ordinary human life, a char- gedy-professing that title. acter of solemnity and religious con- X. As to the Chorus, nothing needs versation. Partly this was effected by to be said upon this element of the arts of omission and commission; by Athenian tragedy. Every body knows banishing certain words or forms of how solemn, and therefore how solem
words ; by recalling others of high nizing, must have been the richest and jantiquity : particular tenses, for in- most lyrical music, the most passion1. stance, were never used by the tragic ate of the ancient poetry, the most
poets ; not even by Euripides, (the dithyrambic of tragic and religious most Wordsworthian of the Athenian raptures, supported to the eye by the poets in the circumstance of having a most hieroglyphic and therefore mys
peculiar theory of poetic diction, terious of dances. For the dances of x which lowered its tone of separa- the chorus—the strophe and the anti
tion, and took it down from the cothur- strophe—were symbolic, and therefore nus:) other verbal forms, again, were full of mysterious meanings; and not used nowhere but upon the stage. the less impressive, because these Partly, therefore, this consecration of meanings and these symbols had lost the tragic style was effected by' the their significancy to the mob; since antique cast, and the exclusive cast of the very cause of that loss lay in the its phraseology. But, partly also, it antiquity of their origin. One great was effected by the metre,
From error which remains to be removed, whatever cause it may arise-chiefly, is the notion that the chorus either perhaps, from differences in the genius did support, or was meant to support of the two languages-certain it is, the office of a moral teacher. The that the Latin iambics of Seneca, &c., chorus simply stood on the level of a (in the tragedies ascribed to him,) sympathizing spectator, detached from cannot be so read by an English mouth the business and interests of the acas to produce any thing like the sono. tion; and its office was to guide or to Tous rhythmus, and the grand inton- interpret the sympathies of the audi. ation of the Greek iambics. This is
Here was a great error of a curious fact, and as yet, we believe, Milton's : but it is not an error of unnoticed. But, over and above this this place or subject. At present, it original adaptation of the Greek lan. is sufficient to say, that the mysterious guage to the iambic metre, we have solemnity conferred by the chorus, no doubt whatever that the recitation presupposes, and is in perfect harmony of verse on the stage was of an arti- with, our theory of a life within a lifeficial and semi-musical character. It
a life sequestrated into some far off was undoubtedly much more sustained slumbering state, having the severe and intonated with a slow and measur_ tranquillity of Hades,a life symboed stateliness, * which, whilst harmon- lized by the marble life of sculpture ; izing it with the other circumstances but utterly out of all symmetry and of solemnity in Greek tragedy, would proportion to the realities of that hubring it nearer to music. Beyond a
man life which we moderns take up donbt, it had the effect (and might have the effect even now, managed by
as the basis of our tragic drama.
* Any man, who has at all studied the Greek iambics, must well remember those forms of the metre which are used in a cadence, at the close of a resounding passage, feneant to express a full pause, and the prodigious difference from such as were meant
These cadences, with their full body of rhythmus, are never reproduced in the Latin imitations of the iambic hexamefelha nor does it seem within the compass of Latin metre to reach such effects : though otherwise
, and especially by the dactylic hexameter, the Latin language is more power
ful than the Greek.