« AnteriorContinua »
Corneille appears much inferior to our Shakespear in the art of conducting the events, and displaying the characters, he borrows from the historian's page: his tragedy of Otho comprehends that period, in which the courtiers are caballing to make Galba adopt a fucceffor agreeable to their interests. The court of that emperor is finely defcribed by Tacitus, who in a few words fets before us the infolence, the profligacy, and rapaciousness of a fet of ministers, encouraged by the weakness of the prince to attempt whatever they wished, and incited by his age to fnatch by hasty rapine whatever they coveted. Tacitus, with his masterly pencil, has drawn the outlines of their characters so strongly, that a writer of any genius might finish up the portraits to great refemblance and perfection. We have furely a right to expect this from an author, who profeffes to have copied this great hiftorian the moft faithfully that was poffible. One would imagine the infolent Martianus, the bold and fubtle Vinius, the F 2 bafe,
bafe, fcandalous, flothful Laco should all appear in their proper characters, which would be unfolding through the whole progrefs of the play, as their various schemes and interests were expofed. Instead of this, Martianus makes fubmiffive love: Vinius and Laco are two ambitious courtiers, without any quality that diftinguishes them from each other, or from any other intriguing statesmen; nor do they at all contribute to bring about the revolution in the empire: their whole business seems to be matchmaking, and in that too they are so unskilful as not to fucceed. They undertake it indeed, merely as it may influence the adoption. Several fentences from Tacitus are ingrafted into the dialogues, but, from a change of perfons and circumftances, they lofe much of their original force and beauty.
Galba addreffes to his niece, who is in love with Otho, the fine speech which the hiftorian fuppofes him to have made to Pifo when he adopted him. The love-fick lady, tired of an harangue, the purport of which
is unfavourable to her lover, and being befides no politician, anfwers the emperor, that fhe does not understand state affairs: a cruel reply to a speech he could have no motive for making, but to difplay his wisdom and eloquence. The old warrior is more complaifant to her, for he enters into all the delicacies of her paffion, as if he had studied la carte du tendre*. To fteal fo much matter from Tacitus without imbibing one spark of his fpirit; to tranflate whole fpeeches yet preferve no likeness in the characters, is furely betraying a great deficiency of dramatic powers, and of the art of imitation. To represent the gay, luxurious, diffolute, ambitious Otho, the courtier of Nero, and the gallant of Poppea, as a mere Pastor Fido, who would die rather than be inconftant to his mistress, and is indifferent to empire but for her fake, is fuch a violation of hiftorical truth, as is not to be endured. I pass over the abfurd fcene between the jealous ladies, the improbability of their treating the powerful and haughty favorites of the emperor with
*Roman de Clelie.
with indignity, and Otho's thrice repeated attempt to kill himself before his mistress's face, without the least reason why he should put an end to his life, or probability that fhe would fuffer him to do it. To make minute criticisms, where the great parts are fo defective, would be trifling,
Having observed how poorly Corneille has represented characters borrowed from fo great aportrait painter as Tacitus, let us now see what Shakespear has done, from those awkward originals our old chronicles.
T H E