« AnteriorContinuar »
is a problem not demonstrable on either side. But in reference to Sir Robert'a acknowledgment, that he had rather read good verse than prose, he adds triumphantly, "that is enough for me; for if all the enemies of verse will confess as much, I shall not need to prove that it is natural. I am satisfied if it cause delight; for delight is the chief, if not the only end of poesy; instruction can be admitted but in the second place, for poesy only instructs as it delights. It is true, that to imitate well is a poet's work; but to affect the soul, and to excite the passions, and, above all, to move admiration, (which is the delight of Serious Plays,) a bare imitation will not serve. The converse, therefore, which a poet is to imitate, must be heightened with all the arts and ornaments of poesy; and must be such as, strictly considered, could never be supposed spoken by any without premeditation."
In his various argument in defence of the use of rhyme on the stage, Dryden, we have seen, always speaks of its peculiar adaptation to "Serious Plays,"or"HeroicPlays." In an essay thereon, prefixed to the " Conquest of Grenada," in the pride of success he says, "whether heroic verse ought to be admitted into Serious Plays, is not now to be disputed." And he again takes up the obstinate objection to rhyme, which he had not yet, it secms, battered to death, that it is not so near conversation as prose, and therefore not so natural. But it is very clear to all who understand poetry, that Serious Plays ought not to imitate conversation too nearly. If nothing were to be traced above that level, the foundation of poetry would be destroyed. Once grant that thoughts may be exalted, and that images and actions may be raised above the life, and described in measure without rhyme, and that leads you insensibly from your principles; admit some latitnde, and having forsaken the imitation of ordinary converse, where are you now? "You are gone beyond it, and to continue where you are, is to lodge in the open fields between two inns." Yon have lost that which you call natural, and have not acquired the last perfection of art. It was only custom, he says,
which cozened us so long; we thought because Shakspeare and Fletcher went no further, that there the pillars of poetry were to be erected; that because they excellently described passion without rhyme, therefore rhyme was not capable of describing it. But time has since convinced most men of that error.''
What, then, according to Dryden's idea of it, was a serious or heroic play? An heroic play, he says, ought to be an imitation, in litjle, of an heroic poem; and, consequently, Love and Valour ought to be the subject of it. D'Avenaut's astonishing "Siege of Rhodes "—formerly declared to be the beau-ideal of an heroic play—was after all, it seems, wanting in fulness of plot, variety of character, and even beauty of style. Above all, it was not sufficiently great and majestic. He knew not, honest man, that, in a true heroic play, you ought to draw all things as far above the ordinary proportion of the stage, as that is beyond the common words and actions of human life. The play that imitates mere nature as she walks in this world, may be written in suitable language; but, as in epic poetry all poets have agreed that we shall behold the highest pattern of human life, so in the heroic play, modelled by the rules of an heroic poem, we must be shown only correspondent characters. Gods and spirits, too, are privileged to appear on such a stage, and so are drums and trumpets. But Dryden himself denies that he was the first to introduce representations of battles on the English stage, Shakspeare having set him the example; while Jonson, though he shows no battle, lets you hear in " Catiline," from behind the scenes, the shouts of fighting armies. Warlike instruments, and some fighting on the stage, are indeed necessary to produce the effects of a heroic play. They help the imagination to gam absolute dominion over the mind of an andience.
Were we to believe Dryden, his heroic plays were dramatic imitations of such epic poems as the Iliad and the iEneid. And he has the brazen-faced assurance to say, that the first image he had of Almanzor, in the " Conquest of Grenada," was from the Achilles of Homer 1 The next was from Tasso's Rinaldo, and the third— risum teneatis amici—j'rom the A rtaban of Monsieur Catpranede! Unquestionably our English heroic plays were borrowed from the French—as these were the legitimate offspring of the dramas of Calpranede and Scnderi. But Dryden's compositions are unparalleled in any literature. Nature is systematically outraged in one and all—from beginning to end. Never was such mouthing seen and heard beneath moon and stars. Through the whole range of rant he rages like a man inspired. He is the emperor of bombast. Yet these plays contain many passages of powerful declamation—not a few of high eloquence; gome that in their argumentative amplitnde, if they do not reach, border on the sublime. Nor are their wanting outhreaks of genuine passion among the utmost extravagances of false sentiment—when momentarily heroes and heroines warm into men and women, and for a few sentences confabulate like flesh and blood.
But it is with Drytlen as a critic, not as a poet, that we have now to do: and we have said these few words about his heroic plays only in connexion with our account of his argument in support of his doctrine with regard to heroic verse in rhyme. That blank verse is better adapted than any other for the drama, has been settled by Shakspearc. But though Dryden has driven his argument too farj till his doctrine, as he promulgates it, becomes untenable, as little do we doubt that he has made good this position, that there may be good plays in rhyme. His heroic plays are bad, not because they are in rhyme, but because they arc absurd; the rhyme is their chief merit; 'tis not possible to dream what they had been in blank verse. True, that "All for Love" and "Don Sebastian" are in blank verse, and may be said, after a fashion, to be fine plays. But they are constructed on rational principles, and in them he was doing his best to write like Shakspearc. What reason is there for believing that those plays, in many respects excellent, arc the better for not being in rhyme? None whatever. Rhyme, in our opinion, would have given them both a superior charm. In his heroic plays, it often
carries us along with absurdities which we know not whether we should call tame or wild; it gives an air of originality to trivial commouplaces; it embellishes what is vigorous, and invigorates what is beautiful; and among events and characters alike unnatural, its music sustains our flagging interest, and enables us to read on. There can be no doubt, that in representations on the stage, the same cause must have been most effective on andiences accustomed to that kind of pleasure, and who delighted in rhyme, to them at once a necessary and a luxury of life. "Aurengzebe," the last of his rhyming plays, is, to our mind, little if at all inferior to "All for Love," or " Don Sebastian;" and we know that it was most successful on the stage.
Sir Walter says, "that during the space which occurred between the writing of the 'Conquest of Grenada,' and 'Aurengzebe,' Dryden's researches into the nature and causes of harmony of versification, led him to conclnde that the Drama ought to be emancipated from the fetters of rhyme — and that the perusal of Shakspearc, on whom Dryden had now turned his attention, led him to feel that something further might be attained in tragedy than the expression of exaggerated sentiment in smooth verse, and that the scene ought to represent, not a fanciful set of agents exerting their superhuman faculties in a fairyland of the poet's own creation, but human characters acting from the direct and energetic influence of human passions, with whose emotions the andience might sympathize, because akin to the feelings of their own hearts. When Dryden had once discovered that fear and pity were more likely to be excited by other causes than the logic of metaphysical love, or the dictates of fantastic honour, he must have found that rhyme sounded as unnatural in the dialogue of characters drawn upon the usual scale of humanity, as the plate and mail of chivalry would have appeared on the persons of the actors." All this is finely said; but docs it not assume the point in question? Dryden may have learned at last from the stndy of Shakspeare, (in whom, however, he was well read many years before, as witness his Essay on Dramatic Poesy,) that "something further might be attained in tragedy than the expression of exaggerated sentiment in smooth verse." But we do not see the necessity of the inference, "that rhyme sounded unnatural in the dialogue of characters drawn upon the usual scale of humanity." Is rhyme self-evidently unnatural in the expression, in verse, of strong and deep human passion? To that question, put thus generally, the right answer is—No. And is it, then, necessarily unnatural in the drama?
Like all great powers, that of rhyme is a secret past finding out. In itself a mere barbarous jingle, it yet gives perfection to speech. The music of versification has endless varieties of measures, and rhyme lends enchantment to them all. Not an afl'ection, emotion, or passion of the soul that may not be soothed by its syllablings, enkindled, or raised to rapture. Pity and terror, joy and grief, love and devotion, are all alike sensible of its influence; as the sweet similarities keep echoing through some artful strain, that all the while is thought by them who listen to come in simplicity from the uupremeditating heart. Songs, hymns, elegies, epicedia, epithalamia — rhyme rules alike all the shadowy tribes. The trinmphant ode—the penitential psalm—wisdom's moral lesson—the philosophic strain "that vindicates the ways of God to man;" such is the range of rhyme, down all the depths of the pathetic, up all the heights of the sublime. It is yet unlimited. Where shall we find its bounds? Let us try.
In the Epos, the poet in person is the relater. But he hides his own personality in that of the Muse he invokes; and offers himself to his anditors as the Voice only by which she speaks. She, the Muse, is thought to be throughout a faithful recorder; for she is supposed to have access to know all; and however marvellous may be the narrations, they are accepted with undoubting faith. Since she speaks, or rather sings, and the anditor only listens, the commonest and the most uncommon events are, in one respect, upon an even footing. For the hearer must picture them for himself. All are alike acted
absent from the senses, and before the imagination alone. Hence the Epic Poet has an extraordinary facility afforded him for introducing into his work that order of representation which is called the marvellous. For it is just as easy to the hearer to set before his fancy a giant or a pigmy, as a man; the one-eyed monster Polyphemus, as the beautiful, the graceful, the swift, the strong, the sublime, the terrible Achilles. It is just as easy for him to transport himself in fancy to the summit of Olympus, to the palace of Jupiter, and to the Council or to the Bauquet of the Gods, or to the deep sea-caves where Thetis sits with her companion nymphs in the hall of her father, the sea-god Nereus—as it is to remove himself from the festal hall, where the poet is singing to him and to the other guests, away to the camp of the Greeks, or to the court of Priam, or to the bower of Andromache. He has no more difficulty to think of Minerva darting, in the likeness of a hawk, from the snowy crest of Olympus to the shore of the Hellespont—or to imagine the Thunderer in his celestial car, lashing on his golden-maned steeds that pace the clonds and the air, and waft him at the speed almost of a wish from the unfolding portals of heaven to the summit of Mount Ida —than when he is called upon, in the midst of some totally different scene, to figure to himself a mortal hero, with waving crest, glittering in polished brass, advancing erect in his warchariot, hurling his lance that misses his foe; and in return transpierced by that of his antagonist, falling backwards to the ground in his resounding arms, and groaning out his soul in the bloody dust. The truth is, that when you are called upon to see and to hear within the mind, you rejoice in the capacities of seeing and hearing that are thus unfolded in you, infinitely surpassing similar capacities which you possess in your bodily eye and ear; and therefore the stronger the demands that are made, the more readily even do you comply with them; and in this way, in part, we must understand the character that is impressed upon the Iliad, and the temper of mind in the hearer answering to the character. It is one of infinite liberty. The mind of the poet seems to be released from all bonds and from all bounds; and the temper in the hearer is the same. Another character, proper to Epic poetry, jndging after its great model, the Iliad—is universality. In the direct narrative, we have gods and men, heaven, earth, sea, for seats of action —and, for a moment, a glimpse of hell. Recollect whilst the conflagration of war is raging, how the poet has found a moment, at the Sc»an Gate, for the touching picture of an heroic father, a noble mother, and a babe in arms, scared at his father's dazzling and overshadowing helmet, who smiles, puts it from his head upon the ground, and lifts up the boy, with a prayer to Jove. Sacrifices to the gods, games, funeral rites, come in the course of the relation; and because the scene of the poem is distracted with warfare, the great poet has found, in the Vulcanian sculptures on the shield of Achilles, place for images of peace— the labours of the husbandman; the mirthful gathering in of the vintage with dance and song; the hymeneal pomp led along the streets. And in the similes, what pictures from animal life and manners! And then our enchantment is heightened by a prevailing duplication. Throughout, or nearly so, the transactions that are presented in the natural, are also presented in the supernatural. Thus we have earthly councils, heavenly councils; waning men, warring gods; kings of men, kings of gods; mortal husbands and wives, and sons and daughters; immortal husbands and wives, and sons and daughters. Palaces in heaven as on earth. The sea, in a manner, triplicates. Terrestrial steeds—celestial steeds—marine steeds! The natural and supernatural are united—when Achilles is half of mortal, half of immortal derivation; when heavenly coursers are yoked in the chariots of men ; when Juno, for a moment, grants voice to the horse of Achilles; and the horse, whom Achilles has unjustly reproved, answers prophesying the death of the hero.
Why Homer made the Iliad in hexameters, no man can tell; but having done so, he thereby constituted for ever the proper metre of Greek— and Latin—Epic poetry. But what a
multitnde of subjects, how different from one another does that, and every other Epic poem, comprehend! Glory to the hexameter! it suits them all. Now, in every Epic poem, and in few more than in the Iliad, there are many dramatic scenes. But in the Greek tragic drama, the dialogue is mainly in iambics; for this reason, that iambics are naturally suited for the language of conversation. Be it so. Yet here in the Epic, the dialogue is felt to be as natural in hexameters as the heart of man can desire. Hear Agamemnon and Achilles. Call to mind that colloquy in Pelides' tent.
Rhyme is unknown in Greek; and it is of rhyme that we are treating, though you may not see our drift. From Homer, then, pass on to Ariosto and Tasso. They, too, are Epic poets who have charmed the world. Their poems may not have such a sweep as the Iliad, still their sweep is great. Rich in, rhyme is their language— rich the stanza they delighted in— ottava rima, how rich the name! Is rhyme unnatural from the lips of their peers and paladins? No—an inspired speech. Is hexameter blank verse alone fit for the mouths of Greek heroes—eight-line stanzas of oft-recurring rhymes for the mouths of Italian? Gentle shepherd, tell me why.
But the "Paradise Lost" is in blank verse. It is. The fallen angels speak not in rhyme—nor Eve nor Adam. So Milton willed. But Dante's Purgatory, and Hell, and Heaven, are in rhyme—ay, and in difficult rhyme, too—terza rima. Yet the damned speak it naturally—so do the blessed. How dreadful from Ugolino, how beautiful from Beatrice!
But the drama—the drama—the drama—is your cry—what say we to the drama? Listen, and you shall hear—
The Tragic Drama rose at Athens. The splendid and inexhaustible mythology of gods and heroes, which had supplied the Epic Muse with the materials of her magnificent relations, furnished the matter of a new species of poetry. A palace—or a temple— or a cave by the wild sea-shore, was painted; actors, representing by their attire, and their majestic demeanour, heroes and heroines of the old departed world; nay, upon high occasions, celestial gods and goddesses— trod the Stage and spoke, in measured recitation, before assembled thousands of spectators, seated in wonder and awe-stricken expectation. The change to the poet in the manner of communicating with his hearers, alters the character of the composition, The stage trodden by living feet, the scenery, voices from human tongues varying with all the changes of emotion, impassioned gestures, and events no longer spoken of, but transacted in presence, before the eyes of the andience, are elements full of power, that claim for tragedy and impose upon it a character of its own. The heart is more interested, and the imagination less. Persons who accompany the whole business that is to be done, with speaking—a poem consisting of incessant dialogue—must disclose, with more precise and profounder discovery, the minds represented as engaged. Motives are produced and debated—the sndden turns of thought—the violent fluctuations of the passions—the gentle variations of the feelings, appear. Time is given for this internal display—and a species of poetry arises, distinguished for the fulness and the decision with which the springs of action in the human bosom are shown as breaking forth into, and determining, human action. Meanwhile, the means that are thus afforded to the poet of a more energetic representation, curb in him the flights of imagination. To represent Neptune as at three strides from his seat on a mountain-top descending the slope, that with all its woods quakes under the immortal feet, and as reaching at the fourth step his wave-covered palace—this, which was easy between the epic poet and his hearer, becomes out of place and impossible for tragedy, simply because no actors and no stage can represent a god so stepping and the hills so trembling. We know what the pathetically sublime literature was which the drama gave to Athens; how poets of profound and capacious spirits, who had looked into themselves—and, so
enlightened, had observed human life —were able,by takingfor their subjects the strongly portrayed characters and the stern situations of the old Greek fable, to unite in their lofty and impressive scenes the truth of nature and the tender interests which endear our familiar homes, to the grandeur of heroic recollections, to the awe of religion, and to the pomp, the magnificence, and the beauty of a gorgeous yet intellectual art.
The Greek Tragic drama is from end to end in verse; and unavoidably, because 'tis a part of a splendid religious celebration. It is involved in the solemn pomp of a festival. Therefore it dons its own solemn festival robes. The musical form is our key to the spirit. And in that varying musical form there are three degrees —first, the Iambic, nearest real speech —second, the Lyrical dialogue, farther off—third, the full Chorus— utmost removal. Pray, do not talk to us of the naturalness of the language. You never heard tho like spoken in all your days. Natural it was on that stage—and over the roofless theatre the tutelary deities of Athens leant listening from the sky.
The model, or law, or self of the English drama, is Shakspeare. The character of his drama is, the imaging of nature. A foremost characteristic of nature is infinite and infinitely various production, expressing or intimating an indefatigably and inexhaustibly active spirit. But such a spirit of life, so acting and producing, appears to us as a fountain, ever freshly flowing from the very hand of God. All that Shakspeare's drama images; and thus his art appears to us, as always the highest art appears to us to be, a Divine thing. The musical forms of his language should answer; and they do. They are, first, prose; second, loose blank verse; third, tied blank verse; fourth, rhyme.* This unbounded variety of the musical form really seems to answer to the premised idea; seems ready to clothe infinite and infinitely varied intellectual production. Observe, we beseech you, what varieties of music! The
* The prose even is, in its music, rnde in ordinary folks—or artful, as in Hamlet's admiration of the world.