Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Tacitus and Salluft.

Such of this author's

pieces as he boasts to be grounded on antiquity and folid learning, and to lay hold on removed myfteries *, have neither the majesty of Shakespear's serious fables, nor the pleafing sportfulness and poetical imagination of his fairy tales, Indeed if we compare our countryman, in this respect, with the most admired writers of antiquity, we shall, perhaps, not find him inferior to them..

Efchylus, with greater impetuofity of genius than even our countryman, makes bold incurfions into the blind chaos of mingled allegory and fable, but he is not fo happy in diffufing the folemn fhade; in cafting the dim, religious light that should reign there. When he introduces his furies, and other fupernatural beings, he expofes them by too glaring a light; causes affright in the spectator, but never rifes to imparting that unlimited terror which we feel when Macbeth to his bold addrefs,

* Prologue to the Mafque of Queens.

How

[ocr errors]

How now! ye fecret, foul, and midnight hags,

What is't ye do?

is answered,

A deed without a name.

The witches of the foreft are as important in the tragedy of Macbeth, as the Eumenides in the drama of Æfchylus; but our poet is infinitely more dexterous and judicious in the conduct of their part. The fecret, foul, and midnight hags are not introduced into the castle of Macbeth; they never appear but in their allotted region of folitude and night, nor act beyond their fphere of ambiguous prophecy, and malignant forcery. The Eumenides, fnoring in the temple of Apollo, and then appearing as evidences against Oreftes in the Areopagus, seem both acting out of their fphere, and below their character. It was the appointed office of the venerable goddeffes, to avenge the crimes unwhipt of justice, not to demand the public trial of guilty men. They must lose much of the fear and reverence in which they were held

for

for their fecret influence on the mind, and

the terrors they could inflict on criminal confcience, when they were reprefented as obliged to have recourse to the ordinary method of revenge, by being witnesses and pleaders in a court of juftice, to obtain the corporal punishment of the offender. Indeed, it is poffible, that the whole story of this play might be allegorical, as thus, that Oreftes, haunted by the terrors which pursue the guilty mind, mind, confeffed his crime to the Areopagus, with all the aggravating circumstances remorfe fuggested to him, from a pious defire to expiate his offence, by fubmitting to whatever sentence this refpectable affembly fhould pronounce for that purpose. The oracle, which commanded him to put Clytemnestra to death, would plead for him with his judges: their voices being equal for abfolving or punishing, wisdom gives her vote for abfolving him.

Thus confidered, what appears fo odd in the mouth of the goddess, that she is little affected

affected by the circumftance of Clytemneftra's relation to the murderer, because fhe herfelf had no mother, means only, that

[ocr errors]

justice is not governed by any affection or
perfonal confideration, but acts by an inva-
riable and general rule. If the oracle com-
manded, and the laws juftified the act of
Oreftes, by appointing the next in blood to
avenge the murder, then other circumftances
of a special and inferior kind, were not to
have any weight. I am inclined to think
this tragedy is a mixture of history and
allegory. Æfchylus affected the allegorical
manner so much as to form a tragedy, called
the Balance, upon the allegory in Homer,
of Jupiter's weighing the fates of Hector
and Achilles*; and it is apparent, that the
Prometheus of this author, is the ancient
allegory of Prometheus wrought into a
drama. Prometheus makes his first appear-
ance with two fymbolical perfons, Violence
and Force, which are, apparently, of the
poet's fiction.
Pere Brumoy intimates a

Apud Plut. de modo leg. poëtas.
K 6

fuf

fufpicion that this tragedy is an allegory, but imagines it alludes to Xerxes or Darius, because it abounds with reflections on tyranny. To flatter the republican fpirit, all the Grecian tragedies are full of such reflections. But an oblique cenfure on the Perfian monarch could not have excufed the direct imputations thrown on the character of Jupiter, if the circumstances of the storyhad been taken in a literal fenfe; nor can it be fuppofed that the Athenians would have endured the moft violent affronts to have been offered to the character of that deity to whom they every day offered facrifice. An allegory being fometimes a mere physical hypothesis, without impiety might be treated with freedom.It is probable that many allegories brought from the hieroglyphic land of Ægypt, were, in the groffer times of Greece, literally understood by the vulgar; but, in more philofophic ages, were again transmuted into allegory; which will account for the mythology of the Greeks and Ægyptians varying greatly,

but

« VorigeDoorgaan »