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tenance; hence the mechanism by which it was made to swell the intonations of the voice like the brazen tubes of an organ.
element in the situation of the Grecian tragedy, which operated by degrees to evoke all the rest, was the original elevation of the scale by which all was to be measured, in consequence of two accidents-1st, the sanctity of the ceremonies in which tragedy arose; 2d, the vast size of the ancient theatres.
Here, then, you have a tragedy, by its very origin, in mere virtue of the accidents out of which it arose, standing upon the inspiration of religious feeling; pointing, like the spires of our English parish churches, up to heaven by mere necessity of its earliest purpose, from which it could not alter or swerve per saltum; so that an influence once there, was always there. Even from that cause, therefore, you have a tragedy ultra-human and Titanic. But next, from political causes falling in with that early religious cause, you have a tragedy forced into a more absolute and unalterable departure from a human standard. That figure so noble, that voice so profound, and, by the very construction of the theatres as well as of the masks, receiving such solemn reverberations, proclaim a being elevated above the ordinary human scale. And then comes the countenance always adjusted to the same unvarying tone of sentiment, viz. the presiding sentiment of the situation, which of itself would go far to recover the key-note of Greek tragedy. These things being given, we begin to perceive a life removed by a great gulf from the ordinary human life even of kings and heroes: we descry a life within a life.
The first point we need not dwell on : every body is aware that tragedy in Greece grew by gradual expansions out of an idolatrous rite-out of sacrificial pomp: though we do not find any body who has noticed the consequent overruling effect which this had upon the quality of that tragedy: how, in fact, from this early cradle of tragedy, arose a sanctity which compelled all things to modulate into the same religious key. But next, the theatres-why were they so vast in ancient cities, in Athens, in Syrain Capua, in Rome? Purely from democratic influences. Every citizen was entitled to a place at the public scenical representations. In Athens, for example, the state paid for him. He was present, by possibility and by legal fiction, at every performance; therefore, room must be prepared for him. And, allowing for the privileged foreigners, (the domiciled aliens called Toxo,) we are not surprised to hear that the Athenian theatre was adapted to an audience of thirty thousand persons. It is not enough to say naturally-inevitably out of this prodigious compass, exactly ten times over the compass of the large Drury-Lane burned down a generation ago, arose certain immediate results that moulded the Greek tragedy in all its functions, purposes, and phenomena. The person must be aggrandized, the countenance must be idealized. For upon any stage corresponding in its scale to the colossal dimensions of such a house, the unassisted human figure would have been lost; the unexaggerated human features would have been seen as in a remote perspective, and besides, have tragic life presupposed another life, had their expression lost; the unrethe spectator's, thrown into relief beverberated human voice would have fore it. The tragedy was projected been undistinguishable from the surrounding murmurs of the audience. Hence the cothurnus to raise the ac
III. Here, therefore, is the first great landing-place, the first station, from which we can contemplate the Greek tragedy with advantage. It is, by comparison with the life of Shakspeare, what the inner life of the mimetic play in Hamlet is to the outer life of the Hamlet itself. It is a life below a life. That is-it is a life
treated upon a scale so sensibly dif
ferent from the proper life of the spectator, as to impress him profoundly with the feeling of its idealization. Shakspeare's tragic life is our own
life exalted and selected: the Greek
upon the eye from a vast profundity in the rear and between this life and the spectator, however near its phan
tor; hence the voluminous robes to tasmagoria might advance to him,
hide the disproportion thus resulting
to the figure
larger than life, painted to represent the noble Grecian contour of coun
hence the mask
was still an immeasurable gulf of shadows.
Hence, coming nearer still to the determinate nature and circumscrip
tion of the Greek tragedy, it was not in any sense a development-1. Of human character; or, 2. Of human passion. Either of these objects, attributed to tragedy, at once inoculates it with a life essentially on the common human standard. But that neither was so much as dreamed of, in the Grecian tragedy, is evident from the mere mechanism and ordinary conduct of those dramas which survive; those especially which seem entitled to be viewed as fair models of the common standard. About a thousand lines, of which one-fifth must be deducted for the business of the chorus, may be taken as the average extent of a Greek tragic drama. Five acts, of one hundred and sixty lines each, allow no sweep at all for the systole and diastole, the contraction aud expansion, the knot and the dénoue ment, of a tragic interest, according to our modern meaning. The ebb and flow, the inspiration and expiration, cannot find room to play in such a narrow scene. Were the interest made to turn at all upon the evolution of character, or of passion modified by character, and both growing upon the reader through various aspects of dialogue, of soliloquy, and of multiplied action-it would seem a storm in a wash-hand basin. A passion which advanced and precipitated itself through such rapid harlequin changes, would at best impress us with the feeling proper to a hasty melodrame, or perhaps serious pantomime. It would read like the imperfect outline of a play; or, still worse, would seem framed to move through such changes as might raise an excuse for the dancing and the lyric music. But the very external phenomena, the apparatus and scenic decorations of the Greek tragedy, all point to other functions. Shakspearethat is, English tragedy-postulates the intense life of flesh and blood, of animal sensibility, of man and woman-breathing, waking, stirring, palpitating with the pulses of hope and fear. In Greek tragedy, the very masks show the utter impossibility of these tempests or conflicts. Struggle there is none, internal or external not like Hamlet's with his own constitutional inertia, and his gloomy irresolution of conscience; not like Macbeth's with his better feeling as a man, with his generosity as a host. Medea, the most tragic figure in the Greek scene, passes through no flux
and reflux of passion, through no convulsions of jealousy on the one hand, or maternal love on the other. She is tossed to and fro by no hurricanes of wrath, wrenched by no pangs of anticipation. All that is supposed to have passed out of the spectator's presence. The dire conflict no more exhibits itself scenically and coram populo,' than the murder of her two innocent children. Were it possible that it should, how could the mash be justified? The apparatus of the stage would lose all decorum; and Grecian taste, or sense of the appropriate, which much outran the strength of Grecian creative power, would have been exposed to perpetual shocks.
IV. The truth is now becoming palpable: certain great situations—not passion in states of growth, of movement, of self-conflict-but fixed, unmoving situations were selected; these held on through the entire course of one or more acts. A lyric movement of the chorus, which closed the act, and gave notice that it was closed, sometimes changed this situation; but throughout the act it continued unchanged, like a statuesque attitude. The story of the tragedy was pretty nearly involved and told by implication in the tableaux vivans which presided through the several acts. The very slight dialogue which goes on, seems meant rather as an additional exposition of the interest-a commentary on the attitude originally assumed-than as any exhibition of passions growing and kindling under the eye of the spectator. The mask, with its monotonous expression, is not out of harmony with the scene; for the passion is essentially fixed throughout, not mantling and undulating with the breath of change, but frozen into marble life.
And all this is both explicable in itself, and peremptorily determined, by the sort of idealized life-life in a state of remotion, unrealized, and translated into a neutral world of high cloudy antiquity which the tragedy of Athens demanded for its atmosphere.
Had the Greeks, in fact, framed to themselves the idea of a tumultuous passion-passion expressing itself by the agitations of fluctuating will, as any fit, or even possible, subject for scenic treatment; in that case they must have resorted to real life, the more real the better. Or, again, had real life offered to their conceptions a just field for
scenic exhibition; in that case they must have been thrown upon conflicts of tempestuous passion: the more tempestuous the better. But being, by the early religious character of tragedy, and by the colossal proportions of their theatres, imperiously driven to a life more awful and still-upon life as it existed in elder days, amongst men so far removed that they had become invested with a patriarchal or even an antediluvian mistiness of antiquity, and often into the rank of demi-gods -they felt it possible to present this mode of being in states of suffering, for suffering is enduring and indefinite; but never in states of conflict, for conflict is, by its nature, fugitive and evanescent. The tragedy of Greece is always held up as a thing long past -the tragedy of England as a thing now passing. We are invited by Sophocles or Euripides, as by some great necromancer, to see long-buried forms standing in solemn groups upon the stage-phantoms from Thebes or from Cyclopian cities. But Shakspeare is a Cornelius Agrippa, who shows us in his magic glass creatures yet breathing and actually mixing in the great game of life upon some distant field, inaccessible to us without a magician's aid.
The Greek drama, therefore, by its very necessities, proposing to itself only a few grand attitudes or situations, and brief dialogues, as the means of illuminating those situations, with scarcely any thing of action actually occurring on the stage-from these purposes derives its other peculiarities : in the elementary necessities lay the fundus of the rest.
V. The notion, for example, that murder or violent death was banished from the Greek stage, on the Parisian conceit of the shock which such bloody incidents would give to the taste, is perfectly erroneous. Not because it was sanguinary, but because it was action, had the Greeks an objection to such violences. No action of any kind proceeds legitimately on that stage. The persons of the drama are always in a reposing state so long as they are before the audience. And the very meaning of an act is, that in the intervals, the suspensions of the acts, any possible time may elapse, and any possible action may go on.
This was a favourite notion of the two
VII. Hence, too, that habit amongst the tragic poets of travelling back to regions of forgotten fable and dark legendary mythus. Antiquity availed powerfully for their purposes, because of necessity it abstracted all petty details of individuality and local notoriety; all that would have composed a character. It acted as twilight acts, (which removes day's "mutable distinctions,") and reduced the historic person to that sublime state of monotonous gloom which suited the views of a poet who wanted only the situation, but would have repelled a poet who sought also for the complex features of a character. It is true that such remote and fabulous periods are visited at times, though not haunted, by the modern dramatist. Events are sought, VI. Hence, also, a most erroneous even upon the French stage, from Gotheory has arisen about Fate as brood- thic or from Moorish times. But in ing over the Greek tragic scene. that case, the poet endeavours to im
prove and strengthen any traits of character that tradition may have preserved, or by a direct effort of power to create them altogether, where history presents a blank neutrality; whereas the Greek poet used simply that faint outline of character, in its gross distinctions of good and bad, which the situation itself implied. For example, the Creon of Thebes is pretty uniformly exhibited as tyrannical and cruel. But that was the mere result of his position as a rival originally for the throne, and still more as the executive minister of the popular vengeance against Polynices for having brought a tide of war against his mother land: in that representative character, Creon is compelled to acts of cruelty against Antigone in her sublime exercise of natural piety-both sisterly and filial; and this cruelty to her and to the miserable wreck her father, making the very wrath of Heaven an argument for further persecution, terminates in leaving him an object of hatred to the spectator. But after all, his conduct seems to have been purely official and ministerial. Nor, if the reader think otherwise, will he find any further emanation from Creon's individual will or heart than the mere blank expression of tyranny in a public cause: nothing, in short, of that complexity and interweaving of qualities, that interaction of moral and intellectual powers, which we moderns understand by a character. In short, all the rude outlines of character on the Greek stage were, in the first place, mere inheritances from tradition, and generally mere determinations from the situation and in no instance did the qualities of a man's will, heart, or constitutional temperament, manifest themselves by and through a collision or strife amongst each other; which is our test of a dramatic character. And therefore it was, that elder or even fabulous ages were used as the true natural field of the tragic poet; partly because antiquity ennobled; partly also because, by abstracting the individualities of a character, it left the historic figure in that neutral state which was most entirely passive to the moulding and determining power of the situation.
Two objections we foresee- 1st, That even Eschylus, the sublimest of the Greek tragedians, did not always go back to a high antiquity. He himself had fought in the Persian war; and
yet he brings both Xerxes and his father Darius (by means of his apparition) upon the stage; though the very Marathon of the father was but ten years earlier than the Thermopyla and Salamis of the son. But in this instance the scene is not properly Grecian: it is referred by the mind to Susa, the capital of Persia, far eastward even of Babylon, and four months' march from Hellas. Remoteness of space in that case countervailed the proximity in point of time; though it may be doubted whether, without the benefit of the supernatural, it would, even in that case, have satisfied the Grecian taste. And it certainly would not, had the whole reference of the piece not been so intensely Athenian. For, when we talk of Grecian tragedy, we must remember that, after all, the Pagan tragedy was in any proper sense exclusively Athenian; and the tendency of the Grecian taste, in its general Grecian character, was in various instances modified or absolutely controlled by that special feature of its existence.
2dly, It will be urged, as indicating this craving after antiquity to be no peculiar or distinguishing feature of the Greek stage, that we moderns also turn away sometimes with dislike from a modern subject. Thus, if it had no other fault, the Charles I. of Banks is. coldly received by English readers, doubtless; but not because it is too modern. The objection to it is, that a parliamentary war is too intensely political; and political, moreover, in a way which doubly defeated its otherwise tragic power; first, because questions too notorious and too domineering of law and civil polity were then at issue; the very same which came to a final hearing and settlement at 1688-9. Our very form of government at this day is the result of the struggle then going on-a fact which eclipses and dwarfs any separate or private interest of an individual prince, though otherwise and by his personal character in the highest degree an object of tragic pity and reverence. Secondly, because the political interest afloat at that era (1649) was too complex and intricate; it wanted the simplicity of a poetic interest. That is the objection to Charles I. as a tragedy; not because modern, but because too domineeringly political; and because the political features of the case were too many and too intricate.
VIII. Thus far, therefore, we now comprehend the purposes and true locus to the human imagination of the Grecian tragedy that it was a most imposing scenic exhibition of a few grand situations; grand from their very simplicity, and from the consequences which awaited their dénouement; and seeking support to this grandeur from constantly fixing its eye upon elder ages lost in shades of antiquity; or, if departing from that ideal now and then, doing so with a view to patriotic objects, and seeking an occasional dispensation from the rigour of art in the popular indulgence to whatever touched the glory of Athens. Let the reader take, along with them, two other circumstances, and he will then complete the idea of this stately drama: first, the character of the DIALOGUE; secondly, the functions of the CHORUS.
IX. From 150 to 180 lines of hexameter iambic verse compose the dialogue of each act.* This space is sufficient for the purpose of unfolding the situation to the spectator; but, as a means of unfolding a character, would have been by much too limited. For such a purpose, again, as this last, numerous scenes, dialogues, or soliloquies, must have been requisite; whereas generally, upon the Greek stage, a single scene, one dialogue between two interlocutors, occupies the entire act. The object of this dialogue was, of course, to bring forward the prominent points of the situation, and to improve the interest arising out of-1. its grandeur; 2. its statuesque arrangement to the eye; or, 3. the burden of tragic consequences which it announced. With such purposes,
so distinct from any which are pursued upon the modern stage, arose a corresponding distinction of the dialogue. Had the dialogue ministered to any purpose so progressive and so active as that of developing a character, with new incidents and changes of the speakers coming forward at every moment, as occasions for evoking the peculiarities of that character-in such a case the more it had resembled the movement, the fluctuations, the hurry of actual life and of real colloquial intercourse, the more it would have aided the views of the poet. But the purpose of the Greek dialogue was not progressive; essentially it was retrospective. For example, the Heracleidæ opens with a fine and impressive group as ever sculptor chiselled -a group of young children, princely daughters of a great hero, whose acts resound through all mythology; viz. of Hercules, of a Grecian cleanser and deliverer from monsters, once irresistible to quell the oppressor, but now dead, and himself the subject of outrage in the persons of his children. These youthful ladies, helpless from their sex, with their grandmother Alcmenė, now aged and infirm, have arranged themselves as a marble group on the steps ascending to the altars of a local deity. They have but one guide, one champion-a brother in arms of the deceased Hercules, and his reverential friend; but this brave man also suffering, through years and martial toils, under the penalties of decaying strength. Such is the situation, such the inauguration of this solemn tragedy. The dialogue which follows between Iolaus, the faithful guardian of the ladies, and the local ruler of the land, takes
* The five acts, which old tradition prescribed as binding upon the Greek tragic drama, cannot always be marked off by the interruptions of the chorus. In the Heracleida of Euripides they can. But it is evident that these acts existed for the sake of the chorus, by way of allowing sufficient openings (both as to number and length) for the choral dances; and the necessity must have grown out of the time allowed for a dramatic representation, and originally, therefore, out of the mere accidental convenience prescribed by the social usages of Athens. The rule, therefore, was at any rate an arbitrary rule. Purely conventional it would have been, and local, had it even grown out of any Attic superstition (as we have sometimes thought it might) as to the number of the choral dances. But most probably it rested upon a sort of convention, which of all is the least entitled to respect or translation to foreign soils, viz. the mere local arrangement of meals and sleeping hours in Athens; which, having prescribed a limited space to the whole performance, afterwards left this space to be distributed between the recitation and the more popular parts, addressed to eye and ear as the mob of Athens should insist. Horace, in saying roundly, as a sort of brutum fulmen, “Non quinto brevior, non sit productior, actu fabula," delivers this capricious rule in the capricious manner which becomes it. The stet pro ratione voluntas comes forward equally in the substance of the precept and the style of its delivery.