Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

O, 'tis a nation which from soul I fear,
As one well knowing the much grounded hate
They bear to Asdrubal and Carthage blood!
Therefore, with tears that wash thy feet, with hands
Unus'd to beg, I clasp thy manly knees.

0 save me from their fetters and contempt,
Their proud insults, and, more, their insolence!
Or if it rest not in thy grace of breath

To grant such freedom, give me long wish'd death,
For 'tis not much loath'd life that now we crave—
Only an unshamed death and silent grave
We will now deign to bend for.'

Massinissa promises, but Lelius comes from the Roman general to demand her.

'Lei. Give place to faith and fate.

Mass. 'Tis cross to honour—

Lei. Tis but just to state.

So speaketh Scipio: "do not thou detain
A Roman prisoner due to this great triumph,
As thou shalt answer Rome and him."

Mass. Lelius,

We now are in Rome's power. Lelius,
View Massinissa do a loathed act,
Most sinking from that state his heart did keep:
Look, Lelius, look! see Massinissa weep.
Know I have made a vow more dear to me
Than my soul's endless being. She shall rest,
Free from Rome's bondage.'

Lelius retires, and Massinissa, questioned by Sophonisba, tells her she must ' wreath back her arms, bend down her neck, practise base prayers, make fit herself for bondage.' She resolves upon drinking poison, which swallowed, she dies thus:—

■ 'Dear, do not weep.

And now, with undismay'd resolve, behold,

To save you—you—(for honour and just faith

Are most true gods, which we should much adore—)

With even disdainful rigour I give up

An abhorr'd life. You have been good to me—

And I do thank thee, Heaven !—O, my stars!

1 bless your goodness that, with breast unstain'd,
Faith pure, a virgin wife, tied to my glory,

I die, of female faith the long lived story.'

But the period concluding with Shirley may be called the bright era of our drama; whereas the brilliant epocha of the French had scarcely yet begun. It certainly opened with Corneille, and succeeding poets very much increased its splendour. Still, however, the characteristics of the French stage remained the

same;

[graphic]

same; only the language, the diction, the poetry were improved; and no country can boast of a tragic writer, whose style so far excels all his other scenic merits, as Racine. But wider conceptions of nature were not admitted; and if the passions assumed a truer tone, it was not because they were more extensively studied and known, but because wit, pertness and conceits began to grow out of fashion, and made way for a better taste. Still, however, these continued to be perceptible in Comeille, and now and then a reminiscence of them may be found even in Racine.

Of all the epithets which have been bestowed upon Comeille, that of creator is the most unmerited. Corneille hardly created any thing; and the improvements which he introduced in dramatic diction were not such extraordinary innovations as to merit the praise bestowed upon them. Rotrou alone contained examples sufficient to guide him, and the task which was left to him to perform was rather to avoid than to invent, to select than to add. Neither has Corneille, like Shakspeare, in any part of his works, left a standard for the language of his country; and, at this moment, the turns, and constructions, and mechanism of his style are generally more obsolete than the good poetry of the British bard, though his predecessor by nearly a century. What has become unintelligible in Shakspeare, consists chiefly in local phrases, and in allusions to customs now forgotten; but the style of the fifth act of his ' Merchant of Venice,' for instance, is such as the most modern poetry might own; and no tragic author has succeeded him, between whose language and his own there appears to be so much difference of date, as between those of Corneille and Racine, though contemporaries. In Corneille, too, we are often struck with the extreme negligence and triviality of some expressions in the midst of the most pompous dialogue, and of a dialogue evidently intended to maintain the high tone of tragedy. We will give no less than four examples from a speech of Felix, iu the tragedy of Polyeucte, consisting of twenty lines. Que tu discernes mal le coeur d'avec la wine— J'en connois mieux que lui la plus fine pratique—C'est en vain qu'il tempite, il feint d'&tre en fureur— Et moij'en ai tant vu de toutes lesfaeons.

In a word,Corneille is too much upon stilts, or else too trivial; too dull, or too ingenious; too prosaic, or too grandiloquous. The first acts of Polyeucte are altogether in the style of comedy, and not of the best comedy.

It will readily be admitted that in ' Medee' Corneille has not created much. He found the subject in mythology, and saw it fully treated by Seneca. He had therefore nothing to do but to ,' c 4 copy copy in his coup d'essai. In his second attempt, still more successful, and which brought him an ample meed of renown and envy, he had a wider field to glean from, for Guillen de Castro, who lived about the same time with Lopez de Vega, had treated the subject of the Cid in two successive plays, or rather in two parts of one play. Consequently his merit lay in reducing within the compass of five acts what was originally in more; of bringing into twentyfour hours the events of a much longer period, and of making them all pass in one spot, however distant the scenes of action must necessarily have been in reality. As the mode of proceeding of this' creator of the French stage, the Grand Corneille,' even before it had acquired the degree of severity it has since maintained, is characteristic, we shall bestow some considerations upon the original and the copy.

The Spanish theatre is, perhaps, the richest in Europe; not merely in ephemeral productions, 'bluettes, pieces de circonstances,' or farces, but in good standard plays, of merit enough to outlive their century at least. The works of two dramatic poets of Spain, without reckoning more, Lopez de Vega and Calderone, are ten times more numerous than all the writings of all the dramatic poets of France that are worthy of being remembered. Consequently they offered a rich mine for the poets of other countries, and Corneille, among the number, explored it with advantage. But the genius of the two nations, their poetic impulses are so dissimilar, that a Spanish story could not be introduced upon the French theatrewithout much alteration. The tone of Spanish poetry is far more elevated than that of France, and ventures into a wider range of bold and dignified imagery. The language is more noble and sonorous. 'La nude franchise des Goths/ says Schlegel,' sembloit retentir encore dans les accens de cette langue, lorsqu'une heureuse alliance avec l'orient lui fit prendre un essor plus hardi; et que la poesie Arabe, en l'enrichissant de ses expressions enivrantes, l'61eva au-dessus de la froide circonspection des idiomes occidentaux.' Every thing in the Spanish character is great, and whatever that nation does under the guidance of its feelings and its energies, partakes of the sublime. Native tragedy then was more powerful and impressive there than could be tolerated on the French stage.

Corneille took only the first part of the ' Mocedades del Cid' as his subject, and concluded his tragedy, as Guillem de Castro has concluded his first three acts, with the denouement relating merely to Rodrigue and Chimene. Instead of beginning with an action, as the Spanish poet has done, that of arming Rodrigo as knight, in which even the ladies of the court, the Infanta and

Ximena,

Ximena, concur, he opens with a recital, and a recital which had been made the instant before. Chiméne says to her confidant—

'Elvire, m'as-tu fait un rapport bien sincere,
Ne me déguises-tu rien de ce qu'a dit mon pére:
Apprends-moi de nouveau quel espoir j'en dois prendre.'
The confidant replies—

'Et puisqu'il faut encore vous en faire un récit.' The Spanish play continues in action; and when the ceremony of arming the Cid is ended, the King consults with his confidential ministers upon chusing a preceptor for his son. The rival candidates are El Conde Lozano, father of Ximena, and Diego Lainez, father of Rodrigo, her lover. Lozano reproaches Diego with his age, and thus gives rise to the following spirited defence: 'Que estoy caduco confieso, Que el tiempo enfin puede tanto. Mas caducando, durmiendo, Puedo, puedo enseñar, yo, Lo que muchos ignoraron. Que si es verdad que se muere w

Qual se vive, agonizando
Para vivir, dare exemplo,

Y valor para imitarlos.

Si ya rae faltan las fuerzas,
Para, con pies y con brazos,
Hacer de lanzas, bastillas,

Y desalentar caballos;
De mis hazañas escritas
Dare al principe un traslado;

Y apprendera, en lo que hice,
Sino apprende in lo que hago.'

The result of this discussion, which grows warmer between them, is a blow given by Lozano to the old man, in the presence of the King, whose interposition stops all proceedings for the moment. This entire transaction in the French play takes place behind the scenes, from which Lozano and Diego issue to spar in ■words, in rather a long scene, ending with some smart pushes well parried, and, finally, with the blow on which all the interest of the tragedy turns. Corneille does not venture to let the blow be given in the presence of the sovereign, and thereby alters the manners of the times, and makes them not those of Spain under Ferdinand, the first King of Castile, but of Frenchmen under Lewis XIV., when, to use the words of Burke, you had ' tuns of ancient pomp in a vial of modern luxury.'

The manner in which the original Diego tries the courage of his sons, to whom he would commit the care of avenging the

affront affront he had received, is highly characteristic of a brave old Spaniard of the eleventh century. After choosing, in the armoury of his ancestors, the sword to which he thinks he can the best confide his honour, he calls in the youngest, and, amidst the weapons which had so long defended his house, puts him unexpectedly to bodily pain, from which his son shrinks in a manner which the old warrior deems unbecoming. He then tries the same experiment upon his second son, but, not satisfied with either, he exclaims,' En que columnas estriba, La nobleza de una casa, Que dia luz a tantos reyes.' His eldest son, however, Rodrigo, the Cid, upon being put to the same trial, exclaims, 'Si no fueras mi padre, dieraos una bofetada,' at which the enraptured father, pressing him in his arms, cries out,' Ya no fuera la primera,' and gives him the avenging sword. Then follows the celebrated soliloquy of Rodrigo, in which he bewails the destiny that compels him to revenge the honour of his own father on the father of Ximena, and which Corneille has translated literally. The incident of the armoury not suiting the unities, the French poet omitted it, and thus robbed the soliloquy of the old man of all its picturesque beauty. The trial of courage, too, by bodily pain, not being in unison with the court of Louis XIV., could not be preserved; and Diego meeting Rodrigo, the only son Corneille has given him, in the street, or at home, or any where else, says to him—

'Diego. Rodrigue, as-tu du coeur? .

Rod. Tout autre que mon pure

L'eprouveroit sur l'heure.

Diego. Agreabk colore!'

The answer made by Rodrigue to his father's question,'As-tu du cceur,' a German translator, whether waggishly or not, has— to the universal indignation of the French nation—rendered thus laconically, if not energetically,' Ya, papa.' The much admired Parlons bas, ecoute, said by young Rodrigo to an older man, his intended father-in-law, lest they should be overheard, and thenduel prevented, is in the original, 'Habla baxo, escucha,' and much better placed there than in the copy, because in the former the Infanta and Ximena are seated at an open window, and can see, and might overhear, all that passes. The events which follow, Chimene demanding vengeance against her betrothed lover for the murder of her father, Rodrigo's and Diego's defence, are taken from the Spanish; but many circumstances are omitted. Rodrigo's exploits against the Moors are in the French recited, and recited by himself, to the king; in the Spanish they are part of the action. There is likewise, in the first play of Guillem de Castro on this subject, an apparition of San Lazaro to the Cid,

« AnteriorContinuar »