Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

CHARMS OF THE DRAMA.

41

too many plays favourably received throughout Europe, overflowing with ebullitions of good-heartedness and traits of mag. nanimity, and in which, notwithstanding, a keener eye cannot fail to detect the hidden purpose of the writer to sap the foundations of moral principle, and the veneration for whatever ought to be beld sacred by man; while all this sentimentality is only to bribe to his purpose the effeminate softheartedness of his contemporaries*.' On the other hand, if any person were to undertake the moral vindication of poor Aristophanes, who has such a bad name, and whose licentiousness in particular passages, is to our ideas quite intolerable, he will find good grounds for his defence in the general object of his pieces, in which he at least displays the sentiments of a patriotic citizen.

The purport of these observations is to evince the importance of the subject we are considering. The theatre, where many arts are combined to produce a magical effect; where the most lofty and profound poetry has for its interpreter the most finished action, which is at once eloquence and an animated picture; while architecture contributes her splendid decorations, and painting her perspective illusions, and the aid of music is called in to attune the mind, or to heighten by its strains the emotions which already agitate it; the theatre, in short, where the whole of the social and artistic enlightenment, which a nation possesses, the fruit of many centuries of continued exertion, are brought into play within the representation of a few short hours, has an extraordinary charm for every age, sex, and rank, and has ever been the favourite amusement of every cultivated people. Here, princes, statesmen, and generals, behold the great events of past times, similar to those in which they themselves are called upon tó act, laid open in their inmost springs and motives; here, too, the philosopher finds subject for profoundest reflection on the nature and constitution of man; with curious eye the artist follows the groups which pass rapidly before him, and from them impresses on his fancy the germ of many a future picture; the susceptible youth opens his heart to every elevating feeling; age becomes young again in recollection; even childhood sits with anxious expectation before the gaudy

а

The author it is supposed alludes to Kotzebue.-Trans.

42

CIIARMS OF THE DRAMA.

curtain, which is soon to be drawn up with ts rustling sound, and to display to it so many unknown wonders: ali alike are diverted, all exhilarated, and all feel themselves for a time raised above the daily cares, the troubles, and the sorrows of life. As the drama, with the arts which are subservient to it, may, from neglect and the mutual contempt of artists and the public, so far degenerate, as to become nothing better than a trivial and stupid amusement, and even a downright waste of time, we conceive that we are attempting something more than a passing entertainment, if we propose to enter on a consideration of the works produced by the most distinguished nations in their most brilliant periods, and to institute an inquiry into the means of ennobling and perfecting so important an art.

43

PRINCIPAL SPECIES OF THE DRAMA.

CHARMS OF THE DRAMA.

LECTURE III.

curtain, which is soon to be drawn up with ts rustling sound, and to display to it so many unknown wonders: all alike are diverted, all exhilarated, and all feel themselves for a time raised above the daily cares, the troubles

, and the sorrows of life. As the drama, with the arts which are subservient to it

, may, from neglect and the mutual contempt of artists and the public, so far degenerate, as to become nothing better than a trivial and stupid amusement, and even s downright waste of time, we conceive that we are attempting something more than a passing entertainment, if we propose to enter on a consideration of the works produced by the most distinguished nations in their most brilliant periods, and to institute an inquiry into the means of ennobling and perfecting so important an art.

Essence of Tragedy and Comedy-Earnestness and Sport—How far it

is possible to become acquainted with the Ancients without knowing

Original Languages—Winkelmann. The importance of our subject is, I think, fully proved. Let us now enter upon a brief consideration of the two kinds into which all dramatic poetry is divided, the tragic and comic, and examine the meaning and import of each.

The three principal kinds of poetry in general are the epic, the lyric, and the dramatic.

All the other subordinate species are either derived from these, or formed by combination from them. If we would consider these three leading kinds in their purity, we must

go back to the forms in which they appeared among the Greeks. For the theory of poetial art is most conveniently illustrated by the history of Grecian poetry; for the latter is well entitled to the appellation of systematical, since it furnishes for every independent idea derived from experience the most distinct and precise manifestation.

It is singular that epie and lyric poetry admit not of any such precise division into two opposite species, as the dramatic dões. The ludicrous epopee has, it is true, been styled a peculiar species, but it is only

an accidental variety, a mere parody of the epos, and consists in applying its solemn staidness of development, which seems only suitable to great objects, to trifling and insignificant events. "in lyric poetry there are only intervals and gradations between the song, the ode, and the elegy, but ne proper contrast.

The spirit of epic poetry, as we recognise it in its father representation of an action in progress,

The poet relates joyful as well as mournful events, Lut he relates them with equanimity, and considers them as already past, and at certain remoteness from our mincis.

The lyric poem is the musical expression of mental emo

[ocr errors]

44

ESSENCE OF TRAGEDY AND COMEDY.

[ocr errors]

tions by language. The essence of musical feeling consists in this, that we endeavour with complacency to dwell on, and even to perpetuate in our souls, a joyful or painful emotion. The feeling must consequently be already so far mitigated as not to impel us by the desire of its pleasure or the dread of its pain, to tear ourselves from it, but such as to allow ass unconcerned at the fluctuations of feeling which time produces, to dwell upon and be absorbed in a single moment 4f existence.

The dramatic poet, as well as the epic, represents external events, but he represents them as real and present. In common with the lyric poet he also claims our mental partcipation, but not in the same calm composedness; the feeling of joy and sorrow which the dramatist excites is more immediate and vehe. ment. He calls forth all the emotions which the sight of similar deeds and fortunes of living men would elicit, and it is only by the total sum of the impression which he produces that he ultimately resolves these conflicting emotions into a harmonious tone of feeling. As he stands in such close proximity to real life, and endeavours to 'endue his own imaginary creations with vitality, the equanimity of the epic poet would in him be indifference; he must decidedly take part with one or other of the leading views of human life, and constrain his audience also to participate in the same feeling.

To employ simpler and more intelligible language: the tragic and comic bear the same relation to one another as earnest and sport. Every man, from his own experience, is acquainted with both these states of mind; but to determine their essence and their source would demand deep philosophical investigation. Both, indeed, bear the stamp of our com. mon nature; but earnestuess belongs more to its moral, and mirth to its animal part. The creatures destitute of reason are incapable either of earnest or of sport. Animals seem indeed at times to labour as if they were earnestly intent upon some aim, and as if they made the present moment subordinate to the future; at other times they seem to sport, that is, they give themselves up without object or purpose to the pleasure of existence: but they do not possess consciousness, which alone can entitle these two conditions to the names of earnest and sport. Man alone, of all the animals with which we are acquainted, is capable of looking back towards the past, and

TRAGIC POETRY-ITS ORIGIX.

45

forward into futurity; and he has to purchase the enjoyment of this noble privilege at a dear rate. Earnestness, in the most extensive signification, is the direction of our mental powers to some aim. But as soon as we begin to call ourselves to account for our actions, reason compels us to fix this aim higher and higher, till we come at last to the highest end of our existence: and here that longing for the infinite which is inherent in our being, is baffled by the liinits of our finite existence. All that we do, all that we effect, is vain and perishable; death stands everywhere in the back ground, and to it every well or ill-spent moment brings us nearer and closer; and even when a man has been so singularly fortunate as to reach the utmost term of life without any grievous calamity, the inevitable doom still awaits him to leave or to be left by all that is most dear to him on earth. There is no bond of love without a separation, no enjoyment without the grief of losing it. When, however, we contemplate the relations of our existence to the extreme limit of possibilities : when we reflect on its entire dependence on a chain of causes and effects, stretching beyond our ken : when we consider how weak and belpless, and doomed to struggle against the enormous powers of nature, and conflicting appetites, we are cast on the shores of an unknown world, as it were, shipwrecked at our very binh; how we are subject to all kinds of errors and deceptions, any one of which may be our ruin; that in our passions we cberish an enemy in our bosoms; how every moment demands from us, in the name of the most sacred duties, the sacrifice of our dearest inclinations, and how at one blow we may be robbod of all that we have acquired with much toil and difficulty; that with every accession to our stores, the risk of loss is proportionately increased, and we are only the more exposed to the malice of hostile fortune: when we think upon all this, every heart which is not dead to feeling must be overpowered byan inexpressible melaucholy, for which there is no other counterpoise than the consciousness of a vocation transcending the limits of this earthly life. This is the tragic tone of mind; and when the thought of the possible issues out of the mind as a living reality, when this tone pervades and animates a visible representation of the most striking instances of violent revolutions in a man's fortunes, either prostrating his mental energies or calling forth the most heroic endurance-then the result is

« VorigeDoorgaan »