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CENSURABLE CHARACTER OF THE SENECA TRAGEDIES. 211

therefore no doubt can be raised against the authenticity of this piece, though it seems to be in no way pre-eminent above the rest*. We find also in Lucan, a contemporary of Nero, a similar display of bombast, which distorts everything great into nonsense. The state of constant outrage in which Rome was kept by a series of blood-thirsty tyrants, gave an unnatural character even to eloquence and poetry. The same effect has been observed in similar periods of modern history. Under the wise and mild government of a Vespasian and a Titus, and more especially of a Trajan, the Romans returned to a purer taste. But whatever period may have given birth to the tragedies of Seneca, they are beyond description bombastic and frigid, unnatural both in character and action, revolting from their violation of propriety, and so destitute of theatrical effect, that I believe they were never meant to leave the rhetorical schools for the stage. With the old tragedies, those sublime creations of the poetical genius of the Greeks, these have nothing in common, but the name, the outward form, and the mythological materials; and yet they seem to have Deen composed with the obvious purpose of surpassing them; in which attempt they succeed as much as a hollow hyperhole would in competition with a most fervent truth. Every tragical common-place is worried out to the last

all is phrase; and even the most common remark is forced and stilted. A total poverty of sentiment is dressed out with wit and acuteness. There is fancy in them, or at least a phantom of it; for they contain an example of the misapplication of every mental faculty. The authors have found out the secret of being diffuse, even to wearisomeness, and at the same time so epigrammatically laconic, as to be often obscure and unintelligible. Their characters are neither ideal nor real beings, but misshapen gigantic puppets, who are set in motion at one time by the string of an unnatural heroism, and at another by that of a passion equally unnatural, which no guilt nor enormity can appal

gas;

* The author of this Medea makes the heroine strangle her children before the eyes of the people, notwithstanding the admonition of Horace, who probab'y had some similar example of the Roman theatre before his eyes; for a Greek would hardly have committed this error The Roman tragedians must have had a particular rage for novelty and effect to seek them in such atrocities.

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IMITATION ON MODERN TIMES.

In a history, therefore, of Dramatic Art, I should altogether have passed over the tragedies of Seneca, if, from a blind prejudice for everything which has come down to us from antiquity, they had not been often imitated in modern times. They were more early and more generally known than the Greek tragedies. Not only scholars, without a feeling for art, have judged favourably of them, nay, preferred them to the Greek tragedies, but even poets have accounted them worth studying. The influence of Seneca on Corneille's idea of tragedy cannot be mistaken ; Racine too, in his Phædra, has condescended to borrow a good deal from him, and among other things. nearly the whole scene of the declaration of love, 28 may be seen in Brumoy's enumeration.

DRAMATIC LITERATURE OF THE MODERNS,

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LECTURE XVI.

The Italians—Pastoral Dramas of Tasso and Guarini-Small progress in

Tragedy-Metastasio and Alfieri-Character of both-Comedies of Ariosto, Aretin, Porta — Improvisatore Masks — Goldoni — Gozzi

Latest state. LEAVING now the productions of Classical Antiquity, we proceed to the dramatic literature of the moderns. With respect to the order most convenient for treating our present subject, it may be doubtful whether it is better to consider, serriatim, what each nation has accomplished in this domain, or to pass continually from one to another, in the train of their reciprocal but fluctuating influences. Thus, for instance, the italian theatre, at its first revival, exercised originally an influence on the Freuch, to be, however, greatly influenced in its turn by the latter. So, too, the French, before their stage attained its full maturity, borrowed still more from the Spaniards than from the Italians; in later times, Voltaire attempted to enlarge their theatrical circle, on the model of the English; the attempt, however, was productive of no great effect, even because everything had already been immutably fixed, in conformity with their ideas of imitation of the ancients, and their taste in art. The English and Spanish stages are nearly independent of all the rest, and also of each other; on those of other countries, however, they have exercised a great influence, but experienced very little in return. But, to avoid the perplexity and confusion which would attend such a plan, it will be advisable to treat the several literatures separately, pointing out, at the same time, whatever effects foreign inAuence may have produced. This course is also rendered necessary, by the circumstance that among modern nations the principle of imitation of the ancients has in some prevailed, without check or modification; while in others, the romantic spirit predominated, or at least an originality altogether independent of classical models. The former is the

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THE ITALIANS-TRISSION.

a

a

Case with the Italians and French, and the latter with the English and Spaniards.

I have already indicated, in passing, how even before the eruption of the northern conquerors had put an end to everything like art, the diffusion of Christianity led to the abolition of plays, which, both with Greeks and Romans, had become extremely corrupt. After the long sleep of the dramatic and theatrical spirit in the middle ages, which, however uninfluenced by the classical models, began to awake again in the Mysteries and Moralities, the first attempt to imitate the ancients in the theatre, as well as in the other arts and departments of poetry, was made by the Italians. The Sophonisba of Trissino, which belongs to the beginning of the sixteenth century, is generally named as the first regular tragedy. This literary curiosity I cannot boast of having read, but from other sources I know the author to be a spiritless pedant. Those even of the learned, who are most zealous for the imitation of the ancients, pronounce it a dull laboured work, without a breath of true poetical spirit; we may therefore, without further examination, safely appeal to their judgment upon it. It is singular, that while all ancient forms, even the Chorus, are scrupulously retained, the province of mythology is abandoned for that of Roman history.

The pastoral dramas of Tasso and Guarini (which belong to the middle of the sixteenth century), whose subjects, though for the most part not tragical, are yet noble, not to say ideal, may be considered to form an epoch in the history of dramatic poetry. They are furnished with choruses of the most ravishing beanty, which, however, are but so many lyrical voices floating in the air; they do not appear as personages, and still less are they introduced with due regard to probability as constant witnesses of the represented actions. These compositions were, there is no doubt, designed for the theatre; and they were represented at Ferrara and at Turin

with great pomp, and we may presume with eminent taste. This fact, however, serves to give us an idea of the infantine state of the theatre at that time; although, as a whole, they have each their plot and catastrophe, the action nevertheless stands still in some

Their popularity, therefore, would lead us to conclude that the spectators, little accustomed to theatrical amusements, were consequently not difficult to please, and

scenes.

TRAGEDY OF THE ITALIANS.

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patiently followed the progress of a beautiful poem, even though deficient in dramatic development. The Pastor Fido, in particular, is an inimitable production; original and yet classical ; romantic in the spirit of the love which it portrays; in its form impressed with the grand but simple stamp of classical antiquity; and uniting with the sweet triflings of poetry, the high and chaste beauty of feeling. No poet has succeeded so well as Guarini in combining the peculiarities of the modern and antique. He displays a profound feeling of the essence of Ancient Tragedy; for the idea of fate pervades the subject matter, and the principal characters may be said to be ideal: he has also introduced caricatures, and on that account called the composition a Tragi-Comedy; but it is not from the vulgarity of their manners that they are caricatures, as from their over-lofty sentiments, just as in Ancient Tragedy the subordinate personages ever are invested with more or less of the general dignity.

The great importance of this work, however, belongs rather w the History of Poetry in general ; on Dramatic Poetry it had no effect, as in truth it was not cale ulated to produce any.

I then return to what may properly be called the Tragedy of the Italians. After the Sophonisba, and a few pieces of the same period, which Calsabigi calls the first tragic lispings of Italy, a number of works of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries are cited; but of these none niade, or at any rate maintained any considerable reputation. Although all these writers, in intention at least, laboured to follow the rules of Aristotle, their tragical abortions are thus described by Calsabigi, a critic entirely devoted to the French system: “Distorted, complicated, improbable plots, ill-understood scenic regulations, useless personages, louble plots, inconsistent characters, gigantic or childish thoughts, feeble verses, affected phrases, the poetry neither harmonious nor natural; all this decked out with ill-timed descriptions and similes, or idle philosophical and political disquisitions ; in every scene some silly amour, with all the trite insipidity of common-place sentimentality; of true tragic energy, of the struggle of conflicting passions, of overpowering theatrical catastrophes, not the slightest trace.” Amongst the lumber of this forgotten literature we cannot stop to rummage, and we shall therefore proceed immediately to the consideration of the Merope of

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