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Existence of Middle Comedy as a distinct species.
its absurdities and contradictions. Of this kind, he tells us, was “Æolosicon,” one of Aristophanes' latest works. The description comes to the notion of Parody from which we set out in our account of the Old Comedy. Platonius names as an example of this kind, Cratinus' Ulysses, a parody on the Odyssee. But in the order of time, no play of Cratinus, whose death Aristophanes mentions in his “ Peace,” could belong to the Middle Comedy. And was that play of Eupolis, in which he described what we call Lubberland or Utopia, any thing but a parody on the poetical legends of the golden age? And in Aristophanes, not to mention the parodies on so many tragic scenes, are not the Heaven-journey of Trygæus, and the Hell-journey of Bacchus, ludicrous imitations of the achievements of Bellerophon and Hercules as celebrated in Epos and Tragedy? It would be vain, therefore, to seek a real boundary-line in the restriction to parody. In a poetical point of view, the only essential criteria of the older species are sportive caprice and allegorical significance in the representation. Where these appear, we would assign a work to the Old Comedy, in whatever age, and under whatever circumstances it might be composed.
As it was a mere negation that gave rise to the New Comedy; namely, the abolition of the political freedom of the Old; it is easy to conceive, that there might be an interval of hesitation and search after a substitute, before a new form of the art was developed and established. Therefore, one might assume many species of the Middle Comedy, many intermediate gradations between the New and Old, as has been done by some of the learned. Historically considered, indeed, this is but reasonable; but in a critical point of view, a transition from one species to another does not itself constitute a species.
We therefore proceed forthwith to the New Comedy, or that kind of poetry, which, among us, bears the name of Comedy. I think we shall form a more correct conception of it, if we view it in its historical connexion, and explain it as a mixed and secondary species according to its different elements, than we should by taking it for an original and pure species, as those do, who either do not concern themselves at all with the Old Comedy, or regard it only as a rude commencement. What makes Aristophanes so infinitely remarkable, is, that in him we
have a kind of poetry, of which no other example is to be found
New Comedy, indeed, in a certain point of view, may be
The loss incurred in the interdict laid upon the old unrestricted freedom of mirth, the New Comedians sought to compensate by throwing in a touch of earnestness- borrowed from Tragedy, both in the form of representation and the connexion of the whole, and likewise in the impressions they aimed at producing. We have seen how tragic poetry, in its last epoch, lowered itself from its ideal elevation, and came nearer to common reality, both in the characters and in the tone of the dialogue, but especially as it aimed at conveying useful instruction on the proper conduct of civil and domestic life in all their several emergencies. This utilitarian turn Aristophanes has ironically commended in Euripides'. Euripides was the precursor of the New Comedy; the poets of this species admired him especially, and acknowledged him for their master. Nay, so great is this affinity in tone and spirit between Euripides and the poets of the New Comedy, that apophthegms of Euripides have been ascribed to Menander, and vice versa.
On the other hand, we find among the fragments of Menander maxims of consolation, which remarkably rise into the tragic tone.
_New Comedy, therefore, is a mixture of sport and earnest. The poet no longer makes a joke of poetry and the world, he does not abandon himself to an enthusiasm of fun, but he seeks the sportive character in his subjects, he depicts what is Taughable in human characters and situations. But his work is no longer intended to come forward as a pure creation of his fancy, but to be verisimilar, that is, to seem real. The above assigned Comic Ideal of human nature must therefore be examined anew under this restrictive law of composition, and we must define the different varieties and gradations of the Comic accordingly.
The highest tragic earnestness, as I have shown, is in all cases ultimately based upon the Infinite; and the subject of Tragedy is properly the contest between the finite exterior being and the infinite interior capability. The mitigated earnestness,
6 Ran. 971-991.
on the contrary, of New Comedy, does not pass beyond the sphere of experience. Here in place of Destiny comes Chance, for the latter is just the empirical conception of the former, considered as that which is not under our control. And accordingly we find among the fragments of the Comedians many expressions about Chance, as we do in the tragedians about Destiny. To unconditional Necessity, nothing but moral freedom could be opposed; as for Chance, the individual must use_ his wits, and turn it to his own advantage as he may. There- . fore the whole moral of Comedy is, just like that of the Fable, the doctrine of prudence. In this sense, an ancient critic has expressed the whole sum of the matter with incomparable brevity: “ Tragedy is a running away from life, or making an end of it; Comedy, its regulation."
In Old Comedy the representation is a fantastic jugglery, a merry vision of a dream, which, at last, in respect of all but the general meaning, resolves itself into nothing. On the contrary, in New Comedy, the representation subjects itself to earnestness in its form. It rejects all that is contradictory, and by which itself would be abolished. It endeavours after strict coherence, and has in common with Tragedy a formal complication and unravelling of the plot. Like Tragedy, it connects the incidents as cause and effect, except that it takes the law of this connexion as it exists in experience, without referring it, as Tragedy does, to an idea. As Tragedy aims at contenting the feelings at last, so New Comedy seeks to terminate in at least an apparent resting-point for the understanding. This is, we may remark in passing, not the easiest task in the world for the comic poet: the contradictions, the confused medley of which has amused us during the continuance of the play, must be adroitly shoved aside at its conclusion: if he really balances them, if he makes his fools rational, and reforms or punishes his villains, the mirthful impression is done away.
Such then, pretty nearly, are the comic and tragic elements of New Comedy, or Comedy in general, in the modern sense of the term. But besides these, there is a third element, which, in itself, is neither comic nor tragic, no, nor even poetical. I mean, portrait-like truth. The ideal and the caricature in art, as in dramatic poetry, lay claim to no other
truth, than that which lies in their significance; they are not intended to seem real, as individual beings. Tragedy moves in an ideal world, Old Comedy in a fantastic one. As New Comedy sets bounds to the creative activity of the fancy, it must offer compensation for this to the understanding, and this compensation consists in the verisimilarity (the understanding being judge) of the objects represented. By this, I do not mean a calculation as to the rare or frequent occurrence of the incidents portrayed (for unless it be allowed to represent those rarer incidents as occurring within the limits of every-day life, comic amusement would perhaps be quite impossible), but I mean individual truth. New Comedy must be a true picture of existing manners, its tone must be local and national: and even admitting that we see comedies acted, which belong to other times and nations, yet we shall discover this in them and value it. By portrait-like truth, it is not meant that the comic characters must be altogether individual. The poet may select the most striking features of different individuals of a species, and combine these into a certain completeness, if he do but invest them with sufficient peculiarity to have individual life, and not to come forward as examples of a partial conception. But in so far as Comedy depicts social and domestic life in general, it is a portrait: on this its prosaic side, it must modify itself according to time and place, while the comic motives, in respect of their poetical basis, are always the same.
The ancients themselves acknowledged the New Comedy to be. a strict copy of reality. The Grammarian Aristophanes, penetrated by the sense of this, exclaimed with a somewhat studied but ingenious turn of expression, “O Life, and Menander, which of you copied the other?” Horace tells us, that some doubted whether Comedy be a poem or not, because neither in the subject nor in the diction is there the same emphasis and elevation as in other kinds of poetry, and the language is distinguished only by its metre from that of common conversation. But, objected others, even Comedy does sometimes raise its tone, for instance, when an angry father reproaches a son for his extravagances. This answer Horace rejects as insufficient. “Would Pomponius,” he says with a sarcastic application, “ come off with milder reproaches, if his father were living ?” In order to solve this doubt, we must attend to those particulars,
Whether Versification be essentially necessary.
in which comedy goes beyond common reality. In the first place, it is a simulated whole, composed of accordant parts by artificial proportion. Moreover, the subject exhibited is treated according to the stipulations of theatrical representation in general ; all that is foreign and distracts the attention is eliminated, all that is essential to the matter in hand is compressed into swifter progress; the whole, namely, both the situations and the characters of the persons, is invested with a clearness, which the vague undecided outlines of reality seldom possess. This is the poetical element in the form of Comedy ; the prosaic principle lies in the matter, in the required assimilation to something individual, something exterior.
Here we may as well settle at once the much mooted question, whether versification be essential to Comedy and a comedy written in prose always somewhat defective. Many have answered this question in the affirmative, on the authority of the ancients, who, it must be owned, had no prose compositions destined for the theatre; though this may partly have been owing to accidental circumstances; for instance, the great extent of their stage, where verse and its more emphatic delivery contributed to audibility. These critics forgot that Sophron's Mimes, so much admired by Plato, were written in prose. And what were these Mimes, if we may form a conception of thes from the account that some of the Idylls of Theocritus were hexametrical imitations of them? They were pictures of real life, in dialogues, wherein all appearance of poetry was avoided as much as possible. Now this appearance there is even in the coherence and connexion of a drama, and therefore such coherence and connexion is not admitted into these Mimes : they are detached scenes, where all follows each other as much by chance and without preparation, as the events which the hours of a work-day or holiday bring with them. What is lacking in dramatic tension of interest is supplied by the mimic character, that is, by the most exact copy of those individual singularities
manners and language, which are produced by national character in its most local determinations, and further, by sex, age, condition, occupation, and so forth.
Even in versified Comedy, the language must, in its choice and combination of words, be not at all or little more than imperceptibly removed from that of common conversation; those