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sidering it as the direct opposite of Tragedy. This was probably the meaning of the assertion of Socrates, which is given by Plato towards the end of his Symposium. He tells us that, after the other guests were dispersed or had fallen asleep, Socrates was left awake with Aristophanes and Agathon, and that while he drank with them out of a large cup, he forced them to confess, however unwillingly, that it is the business of one and the same man to be equally master of tragic and comic composition, and that the tragic poet is, in virtue of his art, comic poet also. This was not only repugnant to the general opinion, which wholly separated the two kinds of talent, but also to all experience, inasmuch as no tragic poet had ever attempted to shine in Comedy, nor conversely; his remark, therefore, can only have been meant to apply to the inmost essence of the things. Thus at another time, the Platonic Socrates says, on the subject of comic imitation : “All opposites can be fully understood only by and through each other; consequently we can only know what is serious by knowing also what is laughable and ludicrous.” If the divine Plato by working out tuat dialogue had been pleased to communicate his own, or his niaster's thoughts, respecting these two kinds of poetry, we should have been spared the necessity of the following investigation.
One aspect of the relation of comic to tragic poetry may be comprehended under the idea of parody. This parody, however, is one infinitely more powerful than that of the mock heroic poem, as the subject parodied, by means of scenic representation, acquired quite another kind of reality and presence in the mind, from what the epopée did, which relating the transactions of a distant age, retired, as it were, with them into the remote olden time. The comic parody was brought out when the thing parodied was fresh in recollection, and as the representation took place on the same stage where the spectators were accustomed to see its serious original, this circumstance must have greatly contributed to heighten the effect of it. Moreover, not merely single scenes, but the very form of tragic composition was parodied, and doubtless the parody extended not only to the poetry, but also to the music and dancing, to the acting itself, and the scenic decoration. Nay, even where the drama trod in the footsteps of the plastic arts, it was still the subject
THE NEW COMEDY—THE OLD COMEDY.
of comic parody, as the ideal figures of deities were evidently transformed into caricatures*. Now the more immediately the productions of all these arts fall within the observance of the external senses, and, above, all the more the Greeks, in their popular festivals, religious ceremonies, and solemn processions, were accustomed to, and familiar with, the noble style which was the native element of tragic representation, so much the more irresistibly ludicrous must have been the effect of that general parody of the arts, which it was the object of Comedy to exhibit.
But this idea does not exhaust the essential character of Comedy; for parody always supposes a reference to the subject which is parodied, and a necessary dependence on it. The Old Comedy, however, as a species of poetry, is as independent and original as Tragedy itself; it stands on the same elevation with it, that is, it extends just as far beyond the limits of reality into the domains of free creative fancy.
Tragedy is the highest earnestness of poetry; Comedy altogether sportive. Now earnestness, as I observed in the Introduction, consists in the direction of the mental powers to an aim or purpose, and the limitation of their activity to that object. Its opposite, therefore, consists in the apparent want of aim, and freedom from all restraint in the exercise of the mental powers ;) and it is therefore the more perfect, the more unreservedly it goes to work, and the more lively the appearance there is of purposeless fun and unrestrained cap
Wit and raillery may be employed in a sportive manner, but they are also both of them compatible with the severest earnestness, as is proved by the example of the later Roman satires and the ancient Janubic poetry of the Greeks, where these means were employed for the expression of indignation and hatred.
The New Comedy, it is true, represents what is amusing in character, and in the contrast of situations and combinations; and it is the more comic the more it is distinguished by a want of aim : cross purposes, mistakes, the vain efforts of ridiculous passion, and especially if all this ends at last in nothing; but still, with all this mirth, the form of the repre
* As an example of this, I may allude to the well-known vase-figures, where Mercury and Jupiter, about to ascend by a ladder into Alcmene's chamber, are represented as comic masks.
IDEALITY OF COMEDY-IDEALITY OF TRAGEDY
sentation itself is serions, and regularly tied down to a certain aim. In the Old Comedy the form was sportive, and a seeming aimlessness reigned throughout; the whole poem was one big jest, which again contained within itself a world of separate jests, of which each occupied its own place, without appearing to trouble itself about the rest. In tragedy, - if I may be allowed to make my meaning plain by a comparison, the monarchical constitution prevails, but a monarchy without despotism, such as it was in the heroic times of the Greeks : everything yields a willing obedience to the diguity of the heroic sceptre. Comedy, on the other hand, is the democracy of poetry, and is more inclined even to the confusion of anarchy than to any circumscription of the general liberty of its mental powers and purposes, and even of its separate thoughts, sallies, and allusions.
Whatever is dignified, noble, and grand in human nature, admits only of a serious aud earnest representation; for whoever attempts to represent it, feels himself, as it were, in the presence of a superior being, and is consequently awed and restrained by it. The comic poet, therefore, must divest his characters of all such qualities; he must place himself without the sphere of them; nay, even deny altogether their existence, and form an ideal of human nature the direct opposite of that of the tragedians, namely, as the odious and base. But as the tragic ideal is not a collective model of all possible virtues, so neither does this converse ideality consist in an aggregation, nowhere to be found in real life, of all moral enormities and marks of degeneracy, but rather in a dependence on the animal part of human nature, in that want of freedom and independence, that want of coherence, those inconsistencies of the inward man, in which all folly and infatuation originate.
The earnest ideal consists of the unity and harmonious • blending of the sensual man with the mental, such as may be most clearly recognised in Sculpture, where the perfection of form is merely a symbol of mental perfection and the loftiest moral ideas, and where the body is wholly pervaded by soul, and spiritualized even to a glorious transfiguration. The merry or ludicrous ideal, on the other hand, consists in the perfect harmony and unison of the ligher part of our nature, with the animal as the ruling principle. Reason and
ALLEGORICAL AND POLITICAL SIGNIFICATION,
understanding are represented as the voluntary slaves of the sepses.
Hence we shall find that the very principle of Comedy necessarily occasioned that which in Aristophanes has given so much offence; namely, his frequent allusions to the base necessities of the body, the wanton pictures of animal desire, which, in spite of all the restraints imposed on it by morality and decency, is always breaking loose before one can be aware of it. If we reflect a moment, we shall find that even in the present day, on our own stage, the infallible and inexhaustible source of the ludicrous is the same ungovernable impulses of sensuality in collision with higher duties; or cowardice, childish vanity, loquacity, gulosity, laziness, &o. Hence, in
, the weakness of old age, amorousness is the more laughable, as it is plain that it is not mere animal instinct, but that reason has only served to extend the dominion of the senses beyond their proper limits. In drunkenness, too, the real man places himself, in some degree, in the condition of the comic ideal.
The fact that the Old Comedy introduced living characters on the stage, by name and with all circumstantiality, must not mislead us to infer that they actually did represent certain definite individuals. For such historical characters in the Old Comedy have always an allegorical signification, and represent a class; and as their features were caricatures in the masks, so, in like manner, were their characters in the representation. But still this constant allusion to a proximate reality, which not only allowed the poet, in the character of the chorus, to converse with the public in a general way, but also to point the finger at certain individual spectators, was essential to this species of poetry. As Tragedy delights in harmonious unity, Comedy flourishes in a chaotic exuberance; it seeks out the most motley contrasts, and the unceasing play of cross purposes. It works up, therefore, the most singular, unheard-of, and even impossible incidents, with allusions to the wellknown and special circunstances of the immediate locality and time.
The comic poet, as well as the tragic, transports his characters into an ideal element : not, however, into a world subjected to necessity, but one where the caprice of inventive wit rules without check or restraint, and where all the laws
of reality are suspended. He is at liberty, therefore, to invent an action as arbitrary and fantastic as possible; it may even be unconnected and unreal, if only it be calculated to place a circle of comic incidents and characters in the most glaring light. In this last respect, the work should, nay, must, have a leading aim, or it will otherwise be in want of keeping; and in this view also the comedies of Aristophanes may be considered as perfectly systematical. But then, to preserve the comic inspiration, this aim must be made a matter of diversion, and be concealed beneath a medley of all sorts of out-of-the-way matters. Comedy at its first commencement, namely, under the hands of its Doric founder, Epicharmus, borrowed its materials chiefly from the mythical world. Even in its maturity, to judge from the titles of many lost plays of Aristophanes and his contemporaries, it does not seem to have renounced this choice altogether, as at a later period, in the interval between the old and new comedy, it returned, for particular reasons, with a natural predilection to mythology. But as the contrast between the matter and form is here in its proper place, and nothing can be more thoroughly opposite to the ludicrous form of exhibition than the most important and serious concerns of men, public life and the state naturally became the peculiar subject matter of the Old Comedy. It is, therefore, altogether political; and private and family life, beyond which the new never soars, was only introduced occasionally and indirectly, in so far as it might have a reference to public life. The Chorus is therefore essential to it, as being in some sort a representation of the public: it must by no means be considered as a mere accidental property, to be accounted for by the local origin of the Old Comedy; we may assign its existence to a more substantial reason—its
necessity for a complete parody of the tragic form. It contributes also to the expression of that festal gladness of which Comedy was the most unrestrained effusion, for in all the national and religious festivals of the Greeks, choral songs, accompanied by dancing, were performed. The comic chorus transforms itself occasionally into such an expression of public joy, as, for instance, when the women who celebrate the Thesmophoriæ in the piece that bears that name, in the midst of the most amusing drolleries, begin to chant their melodious hymn, just as in a real festival, in honour of the presiding