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INFLUENCE ON THE STRUCTURE OF PIECES.
*their tragedies similar to those in the ancient tragedies where the lyric parts come in. There are moments in human life which are dedicated by every religious mind to self-meditation, and when, with the view turned towards the past and the future, it keeps as it were holiday. This sacredness of the moment is not, I think, sufficiently reverenced: the actors and spectators alike are incessantly hurried on to something that is to follow; and we shall find very few scenes indeed, where a mere state, independent of its causal connexion, is represented developing itself. The question with them is always what happens, and only too seldom how happens it. And yet this is the main point, if an impression is to be made on the witnesses of human events. Hence every thing like silent effect is almost entirely excluded from their domain of dramatic art. The only leisure which remains for the actor for his silent pantomime is during the delivery of the long discourses addressed to him, when, however, it more frequently serves to embarrass him than assists him in the development of his part. They are satisfied if the web of the intrigue keeps uninterruptedly in advance of their own quickness of tact, and if in the speeches and answers the shuttle flies diligently backwards and forwards to the end.
Generally speaking, impatience is by no means a good disposition for the reception of the beautiful. Even dramatic poetry, the most animated production of art, bas its contemplative side, and where this is neglected, the representation, from its very rapidity and animation, engenders only a deafening tumult in our mind, instead of that inward music which ought to accompany it.
The existence of many technical imperfections in their tragedy has been admitted even by French critics themselves; the confidants, for instance. Every hero and heroine regularly drags some one along with them, a gentleman in waiting or a court lady. In not a few pieces, we may count three or four of these merely passive hearers, who sometimes open their lips to tell something to their patron which he must have known better himself, or who on occasion are dispatched hither and thither on messages. The confidants in the Greek tragedies, either old guardian-slaves and nurses, or servants, have always peculiar characteristical destinations, and the ancient tragedians felt so little the want of communication
FALSE SYSTEM OF EXPOSITIONS
between a hero and his confidant, to make us acquainted with the hero's state of mind and views, that they even introduce as a mute personage so important and proverbially famous a friend as a Pylades. But whatever ridicule was cast on the confidants, and however great the reproach of being reduced to make use of them, no attempt was ever made till the time of Alfieri to get rid of them.
The expositions or statements of the preliminary situation of things are another nuisance. They generally consist of choicely turned disclosures to the confidants, delivered in a happy moment of leisure. That very public whose impatience keeps the poets and players under such strict discipline, has, however, patience enough to listen to the prolix unfolding of what ought to be sensibly developed before their eyes. It is allowed that an exposition is seldom unexceptionable; that in their speeches the persons generally begin farther back than they naturally ought, and that they tell one another what they must both have known before, &c. If the affair is complicated, these expositions are generally extremely tedious: those of Heraclius and Rodogune absolutely make the head giddy. Chaulieu says of Crebillon’s Rhadamiste, “The piece would be perfectly clear were it not for the exposition. me it seems that their whole system of expositions, both in Tragedy and in High Comedy, is exceedingly erroneous. Nothing can be more ill-judged than to begin at once to instruct ns without any dramatic movement. At the first drawing up of the curtain the spectator's attention is almost unavoidably distracted by external circumstances, his interest has not yet been excited; and this is precisely the time chosen by the poet to exact from him an earnest of undivided attention to à dry explanation,-a demand which he can hardly be supposed ready to meet. It will perhaps be urged that the same thing was done by the Greek poets. But with them the subject was for the most part extremely simple, and already known to the spectators; and their expositions, with the exception of the unskilful prologues of Euripides, have not the didactic particularising tone of the French, but are full of life and motion. How admirable again are the expositions of Shakspeare and Calderon! At the very outset they .ay hold of the imagination; and when they have once gained the spectator's interest and sympathy they then bring forward
TIIEORY OF TIE TRAGIC ART IN FRANCE,
the information necessary for the full understanding of the implied transactions. This means is, it is true, denied to the French tragic poets, who, if at all, are only very sparingly allowed the use of any thing calculated to make an inpression on the senses, any thing like corporeal action ; and who, therefore, for the sake of a gradual heightening of the impression are obliged to reserve to the last acts the little which is within their power.
To sum up all my previous observations in a few words: the French have endeavoured to form their tragedy according to a strict idea; but instead of this they have set up merely an abstract notion. They require tragical dignity and grandeur, tragical situations, passions, and pathos, altogether simple and pure, and without any foreign appendages. Stript thus of their proper investiture, they lose much in truth, profundity, and character; and the whole composition is deprived of the living charm of variety, of the magic of picturesque situations, and of all those ravishing effects which a light but preparatory matter, when left to itself, often produces on the inind by its marvellous and spontaneous growth. to the theory of the tragic art, they are yet at the very same point that they were in the art of gardening before the time of Lenotre. All merit consisted, in their judgment, in extorting a triumph from nature by means of art. They had no other idea of regularity than the measured symmetry of straight alleys, clipped edges, &c. Vain would have been the attempt to make those who laid out such gardens to comprehend that there could be any plan, any hidden order, in an English park, and demonstrate to them that a succession of landscapes, which from their gradation, their alternation, and their opposition, give effect to each other, did all aim at exciting in ns a certain mental impression.
The rooted and lasting prejudices of a whole nation are seldom accidental, but are connected with some general want of intrinsic capacities, from which even the eminent minds who lead the rest are not exempted. We are not, therefore, to consider such prejudices merely as causes; we must also consider them at the same time as important effects. We allow that the narrow system of rules, that a dissecting criticism of the understanding, has shackled the efforts of the Freuch tragedians; still, however, it remains doubtful whether of
THEORY OF THE TRAGIC ART IN FRANCE.
their own inclination they would ever have mado choico of more comprehensive designs, and, if so, in what way they would have filled them up. The most distinguished among them have certainly not been deficient in means and talents. In a particular examination of their different productions we cannot show them any favour; but, on general view, they are more deserving of pity than censure; and when, under such unfavourable circumstances, they yet produce what is excellent, they are doubly entitled to our admiration, although we can by no means admit the justice of the common-place observation, that the overcoming of difficulty is a source of pleasure, nor find anything meritorious in a work of art merely because it is artificially composed. As for the claim which the French advance to set themselves up, in spite of all their one-sidedness and inadequacy of view, as the lawgivers of taste, it must be rejected with becoming indignation.
USE MADE OF THE SPANSE THEATRE.
LEC-JRE XIX. Use at first made of the Sruish Theatre by the French-General Cha
racter of Corneille, R he, and Voltaire ---Review of the principal Works of Corneille ar
of Racine Thomas Corneille, and Crebillon. I have briefly puced all that was necessary to mention of the antiquitie of the French stage. The duties of the poet were
aally more rigorously laid down, under a belief in the uthority of the ancients, and the infallibility of Aristotle By their own inclination, however, the poets were led + the Spanish theatre, as long as the Dramatic Art in Franc, under a native education, had not attained its full maturity They not only imitated the Spaniards, but, from this pine of ingenious invention, even borrowed largely and direcly. I do not merely allude to the earlier times under R;nelieu; this state of things continued through the whole
the first half of the age of Louis XIV.; and Racine is peraaps the oldest poet who seems to have been altogether unacquainted with the Spaniards, or at least who was in no manner influenced by them. The comedies of Corneille are nearly all taken from Spanish pieces; and of his celebrated works, the Cid and Don Sancho of Aragon are also Spanish. The only piece of Rotrou which still keeps its place on the theatre, Wenceslas, is borrowed from Francisco de Roxas: Molière's unfinished Princess of Elis is from Moreto, his Don Garcia of Navarre from an unknown author, and the Festin de Pierre carries its origin in its front* : we have only to look at the works of Thomas Corneille to be at once convinced that, with the exception of a few, they are all Spanish; as also are the earlier labours of Quinault, namely, his comedies and tragicomedies. Tbe right of drawing without scruple from this source was so universal, that the French imitators, when they borrowed without the least disguise, did not even give themselves the trouble of naming the author of the original, and
* And betrays at the same time Molière's ignorance of Spanish. For if he had possessed even a tolerable knowledge of it, how could he have translated El Convidado de Piedra (the Stone Guest) into the Stone Feast, which has no meaning here, and could only be applicable to the Feasts of Midas ?