Page images
PDF
EPUB

inquire whether this is worth preserving, at the cost, action. Secondly, There is evidence that in the of imposing heavy restrictions on dramatic genius. Eumenides of Æschylus, and the Ajar of SophoBut granting the affirmative, probability is as much cles, the scene is actually changed, in defiance of violated by compressing the events of twenty-four the presence of the Chorus; and a much greater hours into a period of only three, as if the author violation of probability is incurred than could have had exercised the still greater license of the English taken place in a modern theatre, where, before every and Spanish theatres. There is no charm in the rechange of scene, the stage is emptied of the performvolution of the sun, which circumscribes, within that ers. Thirdly, The ancients were less hardly pressparticular period, the events of a Drama. When the ed by this rule than the modern writers. From the magic circle drawn around the author by the actual dimensions of their theatres, and the size of their date of representation is once obliterated, the argu- stages, the place of action was considerably larger, ment grounded upon probability falls; and he may and might be held to include a wider extent than extend his narrative unconfined by any rule, except ours. The climate of Greece admitted of many what may be considered as resolving itself into the things being transacted with propriety in the open unity of action. A week, a month, a year, years,may air; and, finally, they had a contrivance for displaybe included in the course of the Drama, provided al- ing the interior of a house or temple to the audience, ways the poet has power so to rivet the attention of which, if not an actual change of scene, was adaptthe audience on the passing scene, that the lapse of ed to the same purpose. time shall pass unregarded. There must be none of If this long litigated question, therefore, is to be those marked pauses which force upon the specta- disposed of by precedent, we have shown that the tor's attention the breach of this unity. Still less rule of the ancients was neither absolute, nor did ought the judicious dramatist to permít his piece to the circumstances of their stage correspond with embrace such a space of time, as shall necessarily those of ours; to which it may be added, that the produce the change on the persons of the charac- simple and inartificial structure of their plots selters ridiculed by Boileau. "The extravagant con- dom required a change of scene. But, surely, it is duct of the plot in the Winter's Tale has gone far of less consequence merely to ascertain what was to depreciate that Drama, which, in passages of de- the practice of the ancienis, than to consider how tached beauty, is inferior to none of Shakspeare's, far such practice is founded upon truth, good taste, in the opinion of the best judges. It might perhaps and general elect. Granting, therefore, that the be improved in acting, by performing the three first supposed illusion, which transports the spectator to acts as a play, and the fourth and filth as an after the actual scene of action, really exists, let us inpiece. Yet, even as it is now acted, who is it that, quire whether, in sacrificing the privilege of an occanotwithstanding the cold objection arising out of sional change of scene, we do not run the risk of the breach of unity, witnesses, without delight, the shocking the spectator, and disturbing his delightexquisite contrast betwixt the court and the hamlet, ful dreams, by other absurdities and improbabilithe fascinating and simple elegance of Perdita, or ties, attendant necessarily on a scrupulous adhethe witty rogueries of Autolycus? The poet is too rence to this restriction. powerful for the critic, and we lose the exercise of If the action is always to pass in the scene, some our judgment in the warmth of our admiration. place of general resort must be adopted, a ball. an.

The faults of Shakspeare, or of his age, we do not, teroom, or the like. It can seldom be so fortunatehowever, recommend to the modern dramatist, 1 ly selected but that much must be necessarily diswhose modesty will certainly place him in his own cussed there, which, in order to preserve any appearestimation far beneath that powerful magician, ance of probability, should be transacted elsewhere; whose art could fascinate us even by means of de- that many persons must be introduced, whose preformity itself. But if, for his own sake, the author sence in that particular place must appear unnatuought to avoid such gross violations of dramatic rule, ral; and that much must be done there, which the the public, for theirs, ought not to tie him down to very circumstances of the piece render totally absuch severe limitations as must cramp, at least, if surd. Dennis has applied these observations with they do not destroy, his power of affording them great force, and at the same time with great bitterpleasure. If the whole five acts are to be compres nesa, in his critique upon Cato, which Johnson bas bed within the space of twenty-four hours, the quoted at length in his Life of Addison. The scene, events must, in the general case, be either so much it must be remembered, is laid, during the whole crowded upon each other as to defeat the very pro- Drama, with scrupulous attention to the classical bability which it is the purpose of this law to pre-mule, in the great hall of Cato's palace at Utica. serve; or, many of them, being supposed to have Here the conspirators lay their plots, the lovers carhappened before the commencement of the piece, ry on their intrigues; and yei Sempronius, with must be detailed in narrative, which never fails to great inconsistency, diguises himself as Juba, to obhave a bad effect on the stage.

tain entrance into this vestibule, which was com The same objections apply to the rigid enforce- mon to all. Here Cato retires to moralize, and ment of the third unity, that of Place; and, indeed, chides his son for interrupting him, and, although the French authors have used respecting it the he goes out to stab himself, it is to this place that license of relaxing, in practice, the severity of their he is brought back to die. All this affords a striking theory. They have frequently infringed the rule proof how genius and taste can be fettered and emwhich they affirm to be inviolable; and their flexible barrassed by a 100 pedantic observance of rules. creed permits the place to be changed, provided the Let no one suppose that the inconveniences arising audience are not transported out of the city where from the rigid observance of the unity of place, occur the scene is laid. This mitigation of doctrine, like in the tragedy of Cato alone; they might, in that that granted in the unity of time, is a virtual resig- case, be attributed to the inexperience or want of nation of the principle contended for. Let us exa- skill in the author. The tragedies of Corneille and mine, however, upon what that principle is founded. Racine afford examples enough that the authors

The rule, which prohibits the shifting the scene found themselves compelled to violate the rules of during the period of performance, was borrowed by probability and common sense, in order to adhere to the French froin the ancients, without considering those of Aristotle. In the tragedy of Cinna, for eso the peculiar circumstances in which it arose. Firsi, ample, the scene is laid in the Emperor's cabinet; We have seen already that, during the ancient Dra- and, in that very cabinet, compelled, donbtless, by ma, there was no division into acts

, and that the the laws of unity, Amelia shouts forth aloud her resoaction was only suspended during the songs of the lution to assassinate the Emperor. It is there, too, Chorus, who themselves represented a certain class that Maximus and Cinna confide to each other all of personages connected with the scene. The the secrets of their conspiracy; and it is there, where, stage, therefore, was always filled; and a supposed to render the impropriety more glaring, Cinna sudden change of place would have implied the violent im- ly reflects upon the rashness of his own conduct :probability, that the whole Chorus were transported, while in the sight of the spectators, and employed

Amis, dans ce palais on peut nous écouter ;

Et nous parlons peut etre avec trop d'imprudence, in the discharge of their parts, to the new scene of Dans un lieu ei mal propre à notre confidence.

It would be an invidious, but no difficult task, to spectator, a tone of feeling similar to that which exshow that several of the chefs-d'aurres of the isted in his own bosom, ere it was bodied forth by French Drama are liable to similar objections; and his pencil

, tongue, or pen. It is the artist's object, that the awkward dilemmas in which the unity of in short, to tune the readers imagination to the same place involves them, are far more likely to desiroy pitch with his own; and to communicate, as well the illusion of the performance, than the mere as colours and words can do, the same sublime senchange of scene would have done. But we refer the sations which had dictated his own compositions. reader to the Dramaturgie of Lessing upon this | The tragedian attempts to attain this object still curious topic.

more forcibly, because his art combines those of the The main question yet remains behind, namely, poet, orator, and artist, by storming, as it were, the whether such an illusion is actually produced in the imagination at once through the eye and the ear, minds of the audience by the best acted play, as in- Undoubtedly, a Drama with such advantages, and duces them to suppose themselves witnessing a rea with those of dresses and costume, approaches more lity ;-an illusion, in short so complete, as to suffer nearly to actual reality; and, therefore, has a better interruption from the occasional extension of time, chance of attaining iis object, especially when ador change of place, in the course of the piece? We dressing the sluggish and inert fancies of the multido not hesitate to say, that no such impression was tude; although it may remain a doubtful question, ever produced on a sane understanding; and that whether, with all these means and appliances, minds the Parisian critic, in whose presence the unities of a high poetic temperature may not receive a more are never violated, no more mistakes Talma for Ne- lively impression from the solitary perusal, than from ro, than a London citizen identifies Kemble with the representation, of one of Shakspeare's plays. Coriolanus, or Kean with Richard III. The ancients, But, to the most ignorant spectator, however unacfrom the distance of the stage, and their mode of customed to the trick of the scene, the excitement dressing and disguising their characters, might cer- which his fancy receives, falls materially short of tainly approach a step nearer to reality; and, pro- actual mental delusion. Even the sapient Partridge ducing on their stage, the very images of the deities himself never thought of being startled at the apparithey worshipped, speaking the language which they tion of the King of Denmark, which he knew to be accounted proper to them, it is probable that, to only a man in a strange dress; it was the terror so minds capable of high excitation, there might be a admirably expressed by Garrick, which communishade of this illusion in their representations. The cated itself to his feelings, and made him reverse solemn distance of the stage, ihe continuous and the case of the fiends, and tremble without believing. uninterrupted action, kept the attention of the In truth, the effects produced upon this imaginary Greeks at once more closely rivetted, and more ab- character, as described by an excellent judge of hustracted from surrounding circumstances. But, in man nature, exhibit, probably, the highest point of the modern theatre, the rapid succession of inter- illusion to which theatrical exhibition can conduct vals for reflection; the well-known features of the a rational being. In an agony of terror which made actors; the language which they speak, differing his knees knock against each other, he never forgets frequently from that which belongs to the age and that he is only witnessing a play. The presence of country where the scene is laid--interrupt, at every Mrs. Millar and his master assures him against the turn, every approximation to the fantastic vision of reality of the apparition, yet he is no more able to reality into which those writers who insist upon the subdue his terrors by this comfortable reflection, strict observance of the unities, suppose the audience than we have been to check our tears, although well to be lulled. To use the nervous words of John- aware that the Belvidera, with whose sorrows we son, “ It is false, that any representation is mista sympathised, was no other than our own inimitable ken for reality; ibat any dramatic fable in its mate- Mrs. Siddong. With all our passions and all our riality was ever credible, or, for a single moment, sympathies, we are still conscious of the ideal chawas ever credited." There is a conventional treaty racter of that which excites them; and it is probably between the author and the audience, that, upon this very consciousness of the unreality of the scene, certain suppositions being granted by the latter, his that refines our sorrows into a melancholy, yet delipowers of imagination shall be exerted for the cious emotion, and extracts from it that bitterness amusement of the spectators. The postulates which necessarily connected with a display of similar miseare demanded, even upon the French theatre, and ry in actual life. under the strictest model, are of no ordinary magni If, therefore, no allusion subsists of a character to tude. Although the stage is lighted with lamps, be affected by a change of scene, or by the prolongathe spectator must say with the subjugated Catha- tion of the time beyond the rules of Aristotle, the very rine,

foundation of these unities is undermined: but, at "I grant it is the sun that shines so bright.”

the same time, every judicious author will use liberty

with prudence. The painted canvass must pass for a landscape; the If we are inclined to ascend to the origin of these well known faces of the performers for those of an celebrated rules, we ought not to be satisfied with the cient Greeks, or Romans, or Saracens, and the ipse dixit of a Grecian critic, who wrote so many present time for many ages distant. He that sub-centuries ago, and whose works have reference to a mits to such a convention ought not scrupulously to state of dramatic composition which has now no limit his own enjoyment. That which is supposed existence. Upon the revival of letters, indeed, the Rome in one act, may, in the next, be fancied Paris; authority of Aristotle was considered as omnipotent; and as for time, it is, to use the words of Dr. John- but even Boilean remonstrated against his authority son, " of all modes of existence, most obsequious to when weighed with that of reason and common imagination; a lapse of years is as easily conceived as a passage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time of real actions, and, therefore,

"Un podant enivré de sa vaine science,

Tout herissí de Grec, tout bouffi d'arrogance, willingly permit it to be contracted when we only Et qui de mille auteurs retenus mot pour mot, see their imitation.''

Dans la teste entassez, n'a souvent fait qu'un sot, If dramatic representation does not produce the

Croit qu'un livre fait tout, et que kans Aristote

La raison ne voit goulle, et la bon sens radote.' impression of reality, in what, it may be asked, consists its power? We reply, that its effects are pro The opinions of Aristotle must be judged of accordduced by the powerful emotions which it excites in ing to the opportunities and authorities which lay the minds of the spectators. The professors of every open before him; and from the high critical judgfine art operate their impressions in the same man ment he has displayed, we can scarce err in supponer, though they address themselves to different sing he would have drawn different results in differorgans. The painter exhibits his scene to the eye; ent circumstances. Dr. Drake, whose industry and the orator pours his thunder upon the ear; the poet taste have concentrated so inuch curious informaawakens the imagination of his reader by written tion respecting Shakspeare and his age, has quoted description; but each has the same motive, the upon this topic a striking passage from Mr. Morhope, namely, of exciting in the reader, hearer, or gan's Essay on the Character of Falstaff.

sense.

Speaking, says Dr. Drake, of the magic influence the case, the interest of the plot, and, above all, the which our poei almost invariably exerts over his talents of the author. He that despises the praise auditors, Mr. Morgan remarks, ihat "on such an of regularity which is attainable by study, cannot occasion, a fellow like Rymer, , waking from his reckon on the indulgence of the audience, unless on trance, shall lift up his constable's staff, and charge the condition of indemnifying them by force of this great magician, this daring practiser of arts genius. If a definitive rule were to be adopted, we inhibited, in the name of Aristotle to surrender ;should say, that it would certainly be judicious to whilst Aristotle himself, disowning his wretched place any change of place or extension of time at officer, would fall prostrate at his feet and acknow- the beginning of a new act; as the falling of the ledge his supremacy.-0 supreme of dramatic ex curtain and cessation of the action have prepared cellence! (might he say,) not to me be imputed the the audience to set off, as it were, upon a new score. insolence of fools. The bards of Greece were con But we consider the whole of these points of profined within the narrow circle of the Chorus, and priety as secondary to the real purposes of the hence they found themselves constrained to prac-Drama, and not as limitary of that gifted genius, tise, for the most part, the precision, and copy the who can, in the whirlwind of his scene, bear the details, of nature." I followed them, and knew not imagination of his audience along with him over the that a larger circle might be drawn, and the Drama boundaries of place, extended to the whole reach of human genius. Convinced, I see that a more compendious nature may

"While panting Time toils after them in vain. be obtained ; a nature of effects only, to which nei But it is not upon the observance of the unities ther the relation of place, or continuity of time, are alone that the French found their pretensions to a always essential. Nature, condescending to the classical Theatre. They boast also to have disfaculties and apprehensions of man, has drawn carded that intermixture of tragic and comic scenes, through human life a regular chain of visible causes which was anciently universal upon the Spanish and and effects : But Poetry delights in surprise, con- English stages. ceals her steps, seizes at once upon the heart, and If it had been only understood by this reformation, obtains the sublime of things without betraying the that the nch condemned and renounced that rounds of her ascent. True poetry is magic not species of tragi-comedy, which comprehended two nature; an effect from causes hidden or unknown. distinct plots, the one of a serious, the other of a To the magician I prescribed no laws; his law and humorous character, and these two totally unconhis power are one; his power is his law. If his end nected, we give them full credit for their

restriction. is obtained, who shall question his course ? Means, Dryden, in the Spanish Friar, and other pieces; whether apparent or hidden, are justified in poesy by and Southern, both in Oroonoko and Isabella, as success; but then most perfect and most admirable well as many other authors of their age, have in when most concealed.

this particular transgressed unpardonably the unity Yes, continues Mr. Morgan, whatever may be of action. For, in the cases we have quoted, the comthe neglect of some, or the censure of others, there bination of the two plots is so slight, that the serious are those who firmly believe that this wild, this un- and comic scenes, separated, might each furnish forth cultivated barbarian, as he has been called, has not a separate Drama : so that the audience appear to be yet obtained one half of his fame; and who trust listening not to one play only, but to two dramatie that some new Stagyrite will arise, who, instead of actions independent of each other, although conpecking at the surface of things, will enter into the tained in the same piece. So far, therefore, we inward soul of his compositions, and expel, by the heartily agree in the rule which excludes such an unforce of congenial feelings, those foreign impurities happy interchange of inconsistent scenes, moving upwhich have stained and disgraced his page. And on opposite principles and interests. as to those spots which still remain, they may per when, however, the French critics carry this haps become invisible, to those who shall seek them rule further, and proscribe the appearance of comic through the medium of his beauties, instead of look- or inferior characters, however intimately coning for those beauties, as is too frequently done, nected with the tragic plot, we would observe, through the smoke of some real or imputed obscurity in the first place, that they run the risk of diminWhen the hand of time shall have brushed off his ishing the reality of the scene; and secondly, that present editors and commentators, and when the they exclude a class of circumstances essential to very name of Voltaire, and even the memory of the its heauty. language in which he has written, shall be no more, On the first point, it must be observed, that the the Apalachian mountains, the banks of the Ohio, rule which imposes upon valets and subordinate perand the plains of Sciola, shall resound with the ac- sonages the necessity of talking as harmonious verse cents of this barbarian. In his native tongue he and as elegant poetry as their masters, entirely shall roll the genuine passions of nature ; nor shall ruins the probability of the action. Where all is the griefs of Lear be alleviated, or the charms and wit elegant, nothing can be sublime; where all is ornaof Rosalind be abated by time.”+

mented, nothing can be impressive; where all is In adopting the views of those authors who have tuned to the same smooth falsetto of sentiment, pleaded for the liberty of the poet, it is not our inten. much or all may be ingenious, but nothing can be tion to deny, that great advantages may be obtained natural or real. By such an assimilation of manners by the observance of the unities; not considering and language, we stamp fiction on the very front of them as in themselves essential to the play; but our dramatic representation. The touches of nature only as points upon which the credibility and intelli- which Shakspeare has exhibited in his lower and gibility of the action in some sort depend. We ac- gayer characters, like the chastened back-ground knowledge, for example, that the author would be of a landscape, increase the effect of the principal deficient in dramatic art, who should divide the in- group. The light and fanciful humour of Mercutio, terest of his piece into two or more separate plots, serves, for example, to enhance and illustrate the instead of combining it in one progressive action romantic and passionate character of Romeo. Even We confess, moreover, that the writer, who more the doating fondness and silly peevishness of the violently extends the time, or more frequently Nurse tend to relieve the soft and affectionate chachanges the place of representation, than can be racter of Juliet, and to place her before the audience justified by the

necessity of the story, and vindicated in a point of view, which those who have seen Miss by his exertion of dramatic force, acts unwisely, in O'Neil perform Juliet, in the fifth scene of the so far as he is likely to embarrass a great part of the second act, know how to appreciate. A contrast is audience, who, from imperfect hearing, or slowness effected, which a French author dared not attempt; of comprehension, may find it difficult to apprehend but of which every bosom at once acknowledges the plot of his play. The latitude which we are dis- the power and the truth. Let us suppose, that the posed to grant, is regulated by the circumstances of gay and gallant Mercutio had as little character as • Rymer wag 8 calumniator of Shakspeare.

the walking confidant of a French hero, who echoes + Shekspeare and his Times, by Nathan Drake, M. D. p. 553, the hexameters of his friend in hexameters of a low564, vol. II.

er level ; or let us suppose the nurse of Juliet to be

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a gentle Nora, as sublime in white linen as her prin- cite their common-places of gallantry, in language cipal in white satin; and let the reader judge as cold as it mexaggerated, and as inconsisteni with whether the piece would gain in dignity or decorum, passion and feeling as with propriety and common any thing, proportioned to what it must lose in sense. Even the horrid tale of dipus has the truth and interest. The audience at once sympathi- inisplaced garnishment of a love intrigue between zes with the friendship of Romeo and Mercutio, ren-Theseus, brought there for no other purpose, and a dered more natural and more interesting, by the certain Dirce, whom, in the midst of the pestilence, very contrast of their characters; and each specta he thus gallantly compliments : tor seels as a passion, not as a matter of reflection, that desire of vengeance which impels Romeo against

Quelque ravage affreux qu'etale ici la peste,

L'absence aux vrais amans est encore plus funeste." Tibalt; for we acknowledge as an amiable and interesting individual, the friend whom he has lost by the The predominance of a passion which expresses sword of the Capulet. Even the anilities of the Nurse itself so absurdly, is all that the French have congive a reality to the piece, which, whatever French descended to adopt from the age of chivalry, so rich critics may pretend, is much more seriously disturbed in more dramatic stores; and they have borrowed by inconsistency of manners, than by breach of their it in all its pedantry, and without its tenderness and dramatic unities. "God forbid,” says Mr. Puff, in fire. Riccoboni has probably alleged the true reason the Critic, “that, in a free country, all the fine for the introduction of these heavy scenes of love inwords in the language should be engrossed by the trigue, which is, that at little expense of labour to higher characters of the piece." The French cri- the author, they fill up three quarters of the action of ties did not carry their ideas of equality quite so far; his play. We quote, from the French version, as but they tuned the notes of their subalterns just one that immediately before us, and most generally intelpitch lower than those of their principal characters, ligible: "Par exemple, otons de NICOMEDE les dis so that their language, similar in style, but lower scenes de LAODICE; de L'Edipe, les dir scenes de in sentiment and diction, presents still that subordi- DIRCE; de POLIEUCTE les scenes d'amour de SEVERE; nate resemblance and correspondence to that of their de la PHEDRE de Monsieur Racine, les six seenes superiors, which the worsted lace upon the livery of d'ARICIE, -et nous verrons que non seulement l'aca servant bears to the embroidery upon the coat of tion ne sera point interrompui, mais qu'elle en sera his master.

plus vive; en sorte que l'on verra manifestement, que It is not to mere expression which these remarks ces scenes de tendresses n'ont servi qu'à ralentir l'acare confined; for if we consult the course of human tion de la piice, à la refroidir, et à rendre les heros life, we shall find that mirth and sorrow, and events moins grands. Si, après ces deux meilleurs Tragewhich cause both, are more nearly allied than per- dies de la France, on eramine tous les autres, on conhaps it is altogether pleasing to allow. Considered noitra bien mieux cette verité. Lorsque l'amour relatively to a spectator, an incident may often ex- fait le sujet de la tragedie, ce sentiment, si intercite a mingled emotion, partaking at once of that Jessant par lui-meme, occupe la scene avec raison, i which is moving, and that which is ludicrous; and j'aime l'amour de PHEDRE, mais de PHEDRE seule. there is no reader who has not, at some period of Under this thraldom, the fathers of the French his life, met with events at which he hesitated stage long laboured, notwithstanding the noble exwhether to laugh or to cry. It remains to be proved, ample of Athalie, the chef-d'æuvre of Racine. By why scenes of this dubious, yet interesting descrip- the example of Voltaire, in one or two of his best tion, should be excluded from the legitimate Drama, pieces, they have of late ventured occasionally to while their force is acknowledged in that of human discard their uninteresting Cupid, whose appearance life. We acknowledge the difficulty of bringing on the stage as a matter of course and of cerethem upon the scene with their full and correspond- mony, produced as little effect as when his altar

ing effect. It was, perhaps, under this persuasion, and godhead are depicted on the semicircle of a fé that the Pool, whose wild jests were too much the fan.

result of habit and practice to be subdued even by We have already observed, that the refined, artithe terrors of the storm, has been banished from the ficial, and affected character of the French tragedy, terrific scene of King Lear. But, in yielding to this arose from its immediate connexion with the pleadifficulty, the terrible contrast has been thus de- sures and with the presence of an absolute sovereign. stroyed, in which Shakspeare exhibited the half. From the same circumstance, however, the French perceptions of the natural Fool, as contrasted with stage derived several advantages. A degree of digthe assumed insanity of Edgar, and the real mad- cipline, unknown in other theatres, was early introness of the old Kng. They who prefer to this duced among the French actors; and those of a living variety of emotion, the cold uniformity of a subordinate rank, who, on the English stage, some French scene of passion, must be numbered among tiines exhibit intolerable, contemptuous, and wilful

those who read for the pleasure of criticism, and negligence, become compelled, on that of France x without hope of partaking the enthusiasm of the to pay the same attention to their parts as their supoet.

periors, and to exert what limited talents they While we differ from French criticism respecting possess in the subordinate parts to which they are the right to demand an accurate compliance with adapted. The effect of this common diligence upon

the unities, and decline to censure that casual inter- the scene, is a general harmony and correspondence i mixture of comic character which gives at once in its parts, which never fails to strike a stranger

reality and variety to the Drama, we are no less with admiration disposed to condemn the impertinent love-scenes, The Royal protection also, early produced on the which these authors have, as a matter of etiquette, Parisian stage, an improved and splendid style of introduced into all their tragedies, however alien scenery, decoration, and accompaniments. The from the passion on which they are grounded. The scenes and machinery which they borrowed from French Drama assumed its present form under the Italy, they improved with their usual alert ingenuity. auspices of Louis XIV., who aimed at combining They were still further improved under the auspices all the characters of a hero of romance. The same of Voltaire, the first who had the merit of introduspirit which inspired the dull monotony of the end- cing natural and correct costume. Before his time less folios of Scudery and Calprenede, seemed to the actors, whether Romans or Scythians, appeared dictate to Corneille, and even to Racine, those scenes in the full dress of the French court; and Augustuş of frigid metaphysical passion which encumber their himself was represented in a huge full-bottomed best plays. We do not dispute the deep interest wig, surmounted by a crown of laurel. The strict which attaches to the passion of love, so congenial national costume introduced by Voltaire is now obto the human breast, when it forms the ground served. That author has also the merit of excludwork of the play; but it is intolerably nauseous to ing the idle crowd of courtiers and men of fashion, find a dull love tale mingled as an indispensable in- who thronged the stage during the time of representgredient in every dramatic plot, however inconsist, ation, and formed a sort of semicircle round the ent with the rest of the piece. The Amoureur and actors, leaving them thus but a few yards of an Amoureuse of the piece come regularly forth to re area free for performance, and disconcerting at once

the performers and the audience, by the whimsical talk like men of no peculiar character or distinct intermixture of players and spectators. The nerves age and nation; but, like the other heroes of the of those pedants who contended most strenuously French dramatic school, are "all honourable men;" for the illusion of the scene, and who objected against who speak in high, grave, buskined rhymes, where its being interrupted by an occasional breach of the an artificial brilliancy of language, richness of met: dramatic unities, do not appear to have suffered from aphor, and grandeur of senument, are substituted the singular presence of this Chorus.

for that concise and energetic tone of dialogue, which It was not decoration and splendour alone which shows at once the national and individual character the French stage owed to Louis XIV. Its princi- of the personage who uses it. In Mahomet, Alzire, pal obligation was for that patronage which called and one or two other pieces, Voltaire has aitempted forth in its service the talents of Corneille and Ra- some discrimination of national character; the cine, the Homer and Virgil of the French Drama. groundwork, however, is still French; and under However constrained by pedantic rules; however every disguise, whether of the turban of the Ottoman. withheld from using that infinite variety of mate the feathery crown of the savage, or the silk tune op rials, which national and individual character pre- the Chinese, the character of that singular people can sented to them; however frequently compelled by be easily recognised. Voltaire probably saw the system to adopt a pompous, solemn, and declama- deficiency of the national Drama with his usual tóry style of dialogue-these distinguished authors acuteness; but, like the ancient philosophers, he still remain the proudest boast of the classical age contentedly joined in the idolatry which he des of France, and a high honour to the European re- pised. public of letters. It seems probable that Corneille, It seems, indeed, extremely doubtful, whether the if left to the exercise of his own judgment, would French tragedy can ever be brought many steps have approximated more to the romantic drama. nearer to nature. That nation is so unfortunate as The Cid possesses many of the charms of that to have no poetical language; so that some deste species of composition. In the character of Don of unnatural exaltation of sentiment is almost naar Gourmas, he has drawn a national portrait of the sary to sustain the tone of tragedy at a pitch higher Spanish nobility, for which very excellence he was than that of ordinary life. The people are passonsubjected to the censure of the Academy, his national ately fond of ridicule; their authors are equally court of criticism. In a general point of view, he afraid of incurring it: they are aware, like their late seems to have been ambitious of overawing his au- ruler, that there is but one step betwixt the sublue dience by a display of the proud, the severe, the am- and 'the ridiculous; and they are afraid to an at bitious, and the terrible. Tyrants and conquerors the former, lest their attempt falling short, should have never sat to a painter of greater skill; and the expose them to derision. They cannot reckon on romantic tone of feeling which he adopts in his more the mercy or enthusiasm of their audience; and perfect characters is allied to that of chivalry. But while they banish combats and deaths, and even Corneille was deficient in tenderness, in dramatic violent action of any

kind, from the stage, this seems art, and in the power of moving the passions. His chiefly on account of the manifest risk, that a people fame, too, was injured by the multiplicity of his ef- more alive to the ludicrous than the lofty. mig! forts to extend it. Critics of his own nation have laugh when they should applaud. The drunken and numbered about twenty of his Dramas, which have dizzy fury with which Richard, as personated little to recommend them; and no foreign reader is Kean, continues to make the motion of striking af very likely to verify or refute the censure, since he ter he has lost his weapon, would be caviare iu 19€ must previously read them to an end.

Parisian parterre. Men must compound with their Racine, who began to write when the classical fet- poets and actors, and pardon something like ettaters were clinched and rivetted upon the French vagance, on the score of enthusiasrn. But if they Drama, did not make that effort of struggling with are nationally dead to that enthusiasm, they resemhis chains, which we observe in the elder drama- ble a deaf man listening to eloquence, who is more tists; he was strong where Corneille evinced weak- likely to be moved to laughter by the gestures of ness, and weak in the points where his predecessor the orator, than to catch fire at his passionate de showed vigour. Racine delineated the passion of clamation. love with truth, softness, and fidelity; and his scenes Above all, the French people are wedded to their of this sort, form the strongest possible contrast with own opinions. Each Parisian is, or supposes him. those in which he, as well as Corneille, sacrificed sell, master of the rules of the critical art ; and to the dull Cupid of metaphysical romance. In re- whatever limitations it imposes on the author, the finement and harmony of versification, Racine has spectators receive some indemnirication from the pleahitherto been unequalled; and his Athalie is, per sure of sitting in judgment upon him. To require haps, likely to be generally acknowledged as the from a dancer to exhibit his agility without touching most finished production of the French Drama. any of the lines of a diagran chalked on the floor,

Subsequent dramatists, down to the time of Vol. would deprive the performance of much ease, taire, were contented with imitating the works of strength, and grace; but still the spectator of such these two great models; until the active and inge- a species of dance, might feel a certain interest in nious spirit of that celebrated author seems tacitly watching the dexterity with which the artist avoided to have meditated further experimental alterations treading on the interdicted limits, and a certain than he thought it prudent to defend or to avow. pride in detecting ocersional infringements. In 15e His extreme vivacity and acute intellect were min same manner. the French critic obtains a triumpb gled, as is not unfrequent in such temperaments

, from watching the transgressions of the dramauc with a certain nervous timidity, which prevented poet against the laws of Aristotle ; equal, perhaps him from attempting open and bold innovation, even to the more legitimate pleasure he might have de where he felt compliance with existing rules most rived from the unfettered exercise of his talents. inconvenient and dispiriting. He borrowed, there Upon the whole, the French tragedy, though its repu. fore, liberally from Shakspeare, whose irregulari- lations seem to us founded in pedantry, and its sedties were the frequent object of his ridicule; and he timents to belong to a state of false and artificial did not hesitate tacitly to infringe the dramatic uni- refinement, contains, nevertheless, passages of such ties in his plays, while in his criticism he holds them perfect poetry and exquisite moral beauty, that to up as altogether inviolable. While he altered the hear them declaimed with the art of Talma, cancostume of the stage, and brought it nearer to that not but afford a very high pitch of intellectual gratof national truth, he made one or two irresolute fication. steps towards the introduction of national charac The French comedy assumed a regular shape

If we were, indeed, to believe the admirers of about the same period with the tragedy; and MoCorneille, little remained to be done in this depart- liere was in his department what Corneille and Ra. ment; he had already, it is said, taught his Romans cine were in theirs; an original author, approached to speak as Romans, and his Greeks as Greeks; in excellence by none of those that succeeded him. but of such national discrimination foreigners are the form which he assumed for a model was that of unable to perceive a trace. His heroes, one and all, I the comedy of Menander; and he has copied pretty

ter.

« PreviousContinue »