« AnteriorContinuar »
more to purify the Latin tongue; none, who is read with greater pleasure ;—and there is more good wit in one Terentian play, than in all those of Plautus. Hieronymus gives him a place among the four whom he allows to be the princes of the poets, whom he sets down thus :-Homer, Virgil, Menander, Terence.
His precise notice of human manners, and the pleasingness of his style, are commended by Cicero. Among the distinguishing features in his writings is, the propriety observed in the language and actions represented. It is certain that no equal in his own tongue has succeeded him.
Rollin and modern literary men, for the most part, have confined themselves to the opinions expressed by those who preceded them, without advancing original judgment of their own. Blair, however, insists upon the delicacy of his language, the chasteness of his dialogues, and the picturesque simplicity of his recitals. He comments also on the wisdom of his moral;—the interest excited by the situations which he himself devises, and those which, having been devised by others, he brings to perfection ;—the softness of sentiment expressed, and awakened in the soul of the spectator. These beauties have the greater merit, as there is less diversity in the characters and intrigues. Marmontel, who appears to have been fascinated by the gaiety in the style of Plautus, and by the richness of his imagination, yet grants, that Terence is more refined, more enchanting, and displays more art in reconciling the agreeable and the becoming,—the courteous and the humorous,—the rigid and the condescending.
Few authors have been oftener transcribed within so short a period. The Royal Library at Paris contains upwards of twenty manuscripts of the comedies, complete or otherwise. There is one supposed prior to the year 900; which has furnished the figures published by Mad. Dacier. One of those of the Vatican goes so far back as the age of Charlemagne, according to Fontanini. But still greater value is attached to the Bembine copy. In 1779, editions to the number of 395, worthy of special remark, were counted, of which the Deux-Ponts edition contains a catalogue. REMARKS ON THE DRAMA.
The drama has had its votaries in all countries of the civilized world ; and the degree of devotion paid to it by each people, seems proportionate to their advancement in polished manners. The name drama imports, an imitative representation of actions, and is applicable to any composition which, in its delivery, is accompanied by action; or, in which more is implied by supposed action than by mere description or the language of dialogue. With this view, the Iliad and Odyssee of Homer may be looked upon as the great archetypes of the drama, in tragedy and comedy respectively, inasmuch as, “nation after nation, and century after century, has been able to do little more than transpose his incidents, new-name his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments.” These perhaps, yielded the seeds which, nursed by art, gradually attained the growth of an Æschylus, a Terence, a Machiavelli, and a Shakspeare. The wide sphere, granted to the drama in its career, is due to the genius of imagination. This spirit is inborn to man, is his companion in every clime, is evinced even in the pastimes of his childhood, and is essential to the Art itself. It appears, also, that the religious rites of all nations, in their primitive state, were recommended to the taste of barbarism by being, in a measure, dramatised. Many instances of this survived to the beginning of the middle ages; such as, the rude plays performed at the celebration of the Carnival at Easter, among which were the festa asinaria, the actors being dressed to resemble asses, and appointed to read mass in this habit. These extravagancies, or mysteries, as they were called, prepared the way for the national drama, in Germany, England, and the south of Europe. The origin of the drama, according to Victor, may be traced to the time of Orpheus, who flourished a century before the Trojan war, while Laomedon was reigning in Sparta, and Ægeus at Athens. This - adventurer communicated, to the Thracians, the mysteries of Bacchus, which he transplanted from Egypt ; and to these, he says, every species of fable is referrible. Hence, an altar to Bacchus was always fixed on the right side of the Roman stage. The grand division of Drama is into Tragedy and Comedy
Τραγωδία. . This term was originally applied to a hymn (dithyrambus) in honor of “ TOŨ Taeyou woń, the goat's song," because a goat, the enemy of
the vineyard, was the peace-offering on such occasions; or, because such was the mead awarded to the poet, who supplied the song to the choir. Some derive the first part of this word from spúres, either because the poet was rewarded by a vessel full of lees of wine ; or, because Thespis of Attica, the inventor of tragedy (536. B. C.), had the faces of his actors besmeared with them; the use of the mask being not yet known. The name τραγωδία was not confined to tragedy in the modern acceptation, as distinguished from comedy, but was originally more marked by the comic features, which pervaded it, than by any other. It has been compared to a masquerade, somewhat resembling the performances of the morrice-dancers of England, or the Guisards of Scotland, whose revels are not yet totally extinct.--Æschylus, is said to have substituted a permanent stage for the travelling cart of Thespis ; and he introduced the flowing robe (syrma) and the buskin (cothurnus). But, under Sophocles and Euripides, traywòla attained its highest perfection.
Κωμωδία. . For this word, two derivations are assigned. 1. As if “ xop de Cóv Tan çòg, a song of revellers," in honour of Apollo, the guardian of shepherds and neighbourhood. Kaspeála is of the same root as comus, the god of revelry. 2. From xãšpeces and mon; because comedy, “a song of villagers,” was, in its original state, performed by persons who strolled from village to village, throwing out sarcasms in rude verses against individuals by name, and exposing their vices. Comedy, like tragedy, originated in a simple hymn sung by a choir, accompanied by a flute-player, around the smoking altars. The inventor of it, in its subsequent form, was either Susarion of Athens (560. B. C.), or Epicharmus of Sicily (440. B. C.);-if the Athenian, the latter derivation of the word is the less probable, since, what were xãu di with other Grecian states, were òņuos at Athens ;-—if the Sicilian, the point is reconcileable, for, the Dorian rupeewas the same as the Attic duos. Comedy may be described as, A poem, whose chief aim is, to exhilarate the mind, and excite merriment; whence, Oaneia (festivity) has been set up, by the Greeks as its patroness ; by Virgil, as the goddess of pastoral poetry. The definition supplied by Cicero is, “imitatio vitæ, speculum consuetudinis, imago veritatis :" by Andronicus, “quotidianæ vitæ speculum.”—There were three ages of Grecian Comedy :-the old, in which the names and characters were real ;-the middle, in which the characters were real, the names fictitious; and the new, in which both were fictitious. The old comedy extended from 500. to 380. B. C. The principal writers of it, were Epicharmus, Phormes, Magnes, Pherecrates, Chionides, Crates, Eupolis, Cratinus, Aristophanes, Strattis, and Theopompus.— The MIDDLE comedy extended from the subjugation of Athens by Lysander, to the accession of Philip to the throne of Macedon, from 380. to 340. B. C. In this were distinguished, Eubulus, Anaxandrides, Araros, and Alexis said to have been an
uncle of Menander. - The New comedy commenced from the time of Alexander, and continued till its introduction among the Latins. The chief writers in it were, Diphilus, Philippides, Philemon, Apollodorus, and Menander. The CHORUS of the old comedy consisted of twenty-four men, boys or
Whenever it was composed of men, or boys, with women, the former exceeded one-half; when men and boys were mixed, there were thirteen of the former, and eleven of the latter. The chief province of the chorus was, to amuse the people, during the pause between the acts, by musical interludes and dancing. The chorus of tragedy, according to Æschylus, consisted of but fifteen ; and sometimes even a semichorus of seven or eight was held sufficient. We are told that fifty were at first admissible, but that subsequently the number was restricted by law, from the inconvenience experienced from Æschylus having introduced fifty Eumenidæ together on the stage. The “jus nocendi” of the old comedy was removed, as Victor states, by a decree passed at Athens, in the year of Rome, 347, at the time when military tribunes with consular authority were elected. This decree, together with the suppression of the office of ædile, induced the poets to forego such interludes, and thus, before long, not a vestige of the chorus remained. The time between the acts, which now became very short, was filled up by a single actor, who remained on the stage reciting; or, by several who conversed together.
The license of the old comedy is attributable to the predominating influence of Athenian democracy, whịch, added to the Attic relish for sarcasm, encouraged poets in censure and invective against the chief authorities, their riches, avarice, and iniquities in private life, which they “multa cum libertate notabant.” Hence arose the success of plays of this cast; among which may be observed the Vespæ of Aristophanes, for which the author was presented with an olive crown. However, when the scale of power was turned, rigid restrictions on such license were imposed, and severe penalties threatened ; insomuch that the same poet was fined five talents for attacking Cleon in his Equites," assuming, himself, the character in the play, none of the actors possessing the requisite hardihood. Eupolis, also, was precipitated into the sea for an offence of a similar nature, in his “ Baptæ.” These menacing examples ushered in the middle comedy, which indulged rather in a strain of satire and parody against pieces of tragic and epic composition. In this Cratinus excelled ; he knew the propensity, which all men have, to lend an ear to railery and ridicule. The jealousy, too, excited by the encroaching power of Macedon, stimulated the poets to direct their weapons against the depravities of that nation, especially their gluttony. This was the main spring of the comic satire.
The Grecian drama had a strong tendency to corrupt the ancient records of the country. For, the Athenians were so tenacious of their national glory, that they deemed it an outrage, if any dramatic piece was represented, which derived not its subject matter from Grecian history or fable ; and they would
not permit the use of any tradition, which could cast an unfavourable reflection on the honour of their country. So, when Phrynicus exhibited a tragic drama “ On the overthrow of Miletus by the Persian arms," he incurred infamy and a heavy fine. Consequently, the poets were obliged to have recourse to the annals of fiction, and to call to their aid historical facts, which they more or less blended with fiction, to meet the exigencies of the scenes.
For examples of this corruption, we need go no farther than the two plays of Edipus. The author of the Hippolytus has plainly been guided by popular bias; and the same poet, in his Medea, has allowed truth to fall a sacrifice, by selling Medea to Corinth. Many stories, also, founded on nothing better than fruitful invention, have drawn to them a degree of historical dignity, from even the independent genius of Pindar.
The ancient comedian lay under a disadvantage, from which our modern dramatist is exempt. He was unable to give expression to the features of the face, which so much contribute to enliven the interest, and draw forth the applause, of a spectator of the present day. This disadvantage was caused by the use of the mask, which exhibited no variety. From the absence of this, our stage derives a decided superiority ; our audience, an additional enjoyment;
in that we feel an interest in the actor before us, from knowing who he is, and being able to discern each variation of feature, each minutest action, and contrast him, in these respects, with another known actor in that, or a similar character ;-to compare, for instance, the action of a Kemble with that of a Garrick, in Hamlet.
The mildness of the Grecian climate permitted a succession of plays for several days at a time, under the open air ;-and such was the enthusiasm extended to these scenes, that, on one occasion, when intelligence arrived at Athens, that the army had met a signal defeat before Syracuse, no sensation was created in the populace, so absorbed was their attention in a play of Hegemon, then in performance before them. Such devotion to theatricals gave rise to the warm admonitions of their great patriot and orator, Demosthenes, who expostulated against the practice of filling up their theatrical fund out of the resources set apart for war. They silenced such advice by passing a law, which denounced death to any one, who should henceforth touch upon that topic of reformation.
THE ROMAN DRAMA.
The first dramatic entertainments at Rome, were derived from Etruria, and the actors in them were called histriones, from a Tuscan word. Their introduction was on occasion of a pestilence, in order to appease offended heaven, 391. U. C. These new exhibitions were called ludi scenici, from oxíc or ornuri, because they originally took place under a shade of branches of trees, or within a tent. Hence scena was afterwards applied to the stage in