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USE OF MASKS JUSTIFIED.
character. In this they did better than many comic poets of modern times, who, for the sake of novelty of character, torture themselves to attain complete individuality, by which efforts no other effect generally is produced than that of diverting our attention from the main business of the piece, and dissipating it on accessory circumstances. And then after all they imperceptibly fall back again into the old wellknown character. It is better to delineate the characters at first with a certain breadth, and to leave the actor room to touch them up more accurately, and to add the nicer and more personal traits, according to the requirements of each composition. In this respect the use of masks admits of justification; which, like many other peculiarities of the ancient theatre, (such as the acting in the open air,) were still retained, though originally designed for other departments of the drama, and though they seem a greater incongruity in the New Comedy than in the Old, and in Tragedy. But certainly it was unsuitable to the spirit of the New, that, while in other respects the representation approached nature with a more exact, nay, illusive resemblance, the masks deviated more from it than in the Old, being overcharged in the features, and almost to caricature. However singular this may appear, it is too expressly and formally attested to admit of a doubt*. As they were prohibited from bringing portraits of real persons on the stage they were, after the loss of their freedom, very careful lest they should accidentally stumble upon any resemblance, and especially to any of their Macedonian rulers; and in this way they endeavoured to secure themselves against the danger. Yet the exaggeration in question was hardly without its meaning. Accordingly we find it stated, that an unsymmetrical profile, with one eyebrow drawn up and the other down, denoted an idle, inquisitive, and intermeddling busy-bodyt, and we may in fact remark that men, who are in the habit of looking at things with anxious exact observation, are apt to acquire distortions of this kind.
* See Platonius, in Aristoph. cur. Küster, p. xi.
+ See Jul. Pollux, in the section of comic masks. Compare Platonius, is above, and Quinctilian, 1. xi. c. 3. The supposed wonderful discovery of Voltaire respecting tragic masks, which I mentioned in the fourth Lecture, will hardly be forgotten.
THE GREEK COMIC WRITERS.
Among other peculiarities the masks in comedy have this advantage, that from the unavoidable repetition of the same characters the spectator knew at once what he had to expect. I once witnessed at Weimar a representation of the Adelphi of Terence, entirely in ancient costume, which, under the direction of Goëthe, furnished us a truly Attic evening. The actors used partial masks, cleverly fitted to the real countenance*, and notwithstanding the smallness of the theatre, I did not find that they were in any way prejudicial to vivacity. The mask was peculiarly favourable for the jokes of the roguish slave: his uncouth physiognomy, as well as his apparel
, stamped him at once as a man of a peculiar race, (as in truth the slaves were, partly even by extraction,) and he might therefore well be allowed to act and speak differently from the rest of the characters.
Out of the limited range of their civil and domestic life, and out of the simple theme of the characters above mentioned, the invention of the Greek comic writers contrived to extract an inexhaustible multitude of variations, and yet, what is deserving of high praise, even in that on which they grounded their development and catastrophe, they ever remained true to their national customs.
The circumstances of which they availed themselves for this purpose were generally the following:-Greece consisted of a number of small separate states, lying round about Athens on the coast and islands. Navigation was frequent, piracy pot upusual, which, moreover, was directed against human beings in order to supply the slave-market. Thus, even free-born children might be kidnapped. Not unfrequently, too, they were exposed by their own parents, in virtue of their legal rights, and being unexpectedly saved from destruction, were afterwards restored to their families. All this prepared a ground-work for the recognitions in Greek Comedy between parents and children, brothers and sisters, &c., which as a means of bringing about the dénouement, was borrowed by the
* This also was not unknown to the ancients, as it proved by many comic masks having in the place of the mouth a circular opening of considerable width, through which the mouth and the adjoining features were allowed to appear; and which, with their distorted movements, must have produced a highly ludicrous effect, from the contrast in the fixed distortion of the rest of the countenance.
ANTIQUE TRAGEDY AND OLD COMEDY INIMITABLE.
comic from the tragic writers. The complicated intrigue is carried on within the represented action, but the singular and improbable accident on which it is founded, is removed to a distance both of time and place, so that the comedy, though taken from every-day life, has still, in some degree, a marvellons romantic back-ground.
The Greek Comic writers were acquainted with Comedy in all its extent, and employed themselves with equal diligence on all its varieties, the farce, the Play of Intrigue, and the various kinds of the Play of Character, from caricature to the nicest delicacy of delineation, and even the serious or sentimental drama. They possessed moreover a most enchanting species, of which, however, no examples are now remaining. From the titles of their pieces, and other indications, it appears they sometimes introduced historical personages, as for instance the poetess Sappho, with Alcæus's and Anacreon's love for her, or lier own passion for Phaon; the story of her leap from the Leucadian rock owes, perhaps, its origin, solely to the invention of the comic writers. To judge from their subjectmatter, these comedies must have approached to our romantic drama; and the mixture of beautiful passion with the tranquil grace of the ordinary comic representation must 'undoubtedly have been very attractive.
In the above observations I have, I conceive, given a faithful picture of the Greek Comedy. I have not attempted to disguise either its defects or its limitation. The ancient Tragedy and the Old Comedy are inimitable, unapproachable, and stand alone in the whole range of the history of art. But in the New Comedy we may venture to measure our strength with the Greeks, and even attempt to surpass them. Whenever we descend from the Olympus of true poetry to the common earth, in other words, when once we mix the prose of a definite reality with the ideal creations of fancy, the success of productions is no longer determined by the genius alone, and a feeling for art, but the more or less favourable nature of circumstances. The figures of the gods of the Grecian sculptors stand before us as the perfect models for all ages. The noble occupation of giving an ideal perfection to the human form having once been entered upon by the fancy, all that is left even to an equal degree of inspiration is but to make a repetition of the same attempts. In the
PORTRAIT-STATUES OF MENANDER AND POSIDIPPUS. 199
execution, however, of personal and individual resemblances, the modern statuary is the rival of the ancient: but this is no pure creation of art; observation must here come in: and whatever degree of science, profundity, and taste may be displayed in the execution, the artist is still tied down to the object which is actually before him.
In the admirable portrait-statues of two of the most celebrated comic writers, Menander and Posidippus (in the Vatican), the physiognomy of the Greek New Comedy appears to me to be almost visibly and personally expressed. Clad in the most simple dress, and holding a roll in their hands, they are sitting in arm-chairs with all the ease and self-possession which mark the conscious superiority of the master; and in that maturity of age which befits the undisturbed impartial observation which is requisite for Comedy, but yet hale and active, and free from all symptoms of decay. We recognise in them that corporeal vigour, which testifies at once to equal soundness both of mind and of temper; no lofty enthusiasm, but at the same time nothing of folly or extravagance; rather does a sage seriousness dwell on a brow wrinkled indeed, though not with care, but with the exercise of thought; while in the quick-searching eye, and in the mouth half curling into a smile, we have the unmistakable indications of a light playful irony.
THE ROMAN THEATRE.
Roman Theatre-Native kinds : Atellane Fables, Mimes, Comoedia To
gata—Greek Tragedy transplanted to Rome-Tragic Authors of a former Epoch, and of the Augustan Age—Idea of a National Roman TragedyCauses of the want of success of the Romans in Tragedy-Seneca.
The examination of the nature of the Drama in general, as well as the consideration of the Greek theatre, which was as peculiar in its origin as in its maturity it was actually perfect, have hitherto alone occupied our attention. Our notice of the dramatic literature of most of the other nations, which principally call for consideration, must be marked with greater brevity; and yet, we are not afraid that we shall be accused in either case of either disproportionate length or conciseness.
And first, with respect to the Romans, whose theatre is in every way immediately attached to that of the Greeks, we have only, as it were, to notice one great gap, which partly arises from their own want of creative powers in this department, and partly from the loss, with the exception of a few fragments, of all that they did produce in it. The only works which have descended to us from the good classical times are those of Plautus and Terence, whom I have already characterised as copyists of the Greeks.
Poetry in general had no native growth in Rome; it was first artificially cultivated along with other luxuries in those later times when the original character of Rome was being fast extinguished under an imitation of foreign manners. In the Latin we have an example of a language modelled into poetical expression, altogether after foreign grammatical and metrical forms. This imitation of the Greek was not accomplished easily and without force: the Græcising was carried even to the length of a clumsy intermixture of the two languages. Gradually only was the poetical style smoothed and softened, and in Catullus we still perceive the last traces of its early harshness, which, however, are not without a