Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

from age

many

and

temper are entirely exempted; and from the second many more, by situation, are excluded.' Among a thousand fpectators, there are not perhaps half á dozen, who ever were, or can be, in the circumstances of the persons represented : they cannot sympathize with them, unless they have some conception of a tender paflion, combated by ambition, or ambition struggling with love. The fable of the French plays is often taken from history, but then a romantic passion is added to it, and to which both events and characters are rendered fubfervient.

Shakespear, in various nature wife, does not confine himself to any particular paffion. When he writes from history, he attributes to the perfons such fentiments as agreed with their actions and characters. There is not a more sure way of judging of the merit of rival geniuses, than to bring them to the test of comparison where they have attempted subjects that have any resemblance. Corneille appears much inferior to our Shake

spear

spear 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 his courtiers are, caballing to make him adopt a succeffor agreeable to their interefts.

The court of that emperor is finely dea scribed by Tacitus, who in a few words sets before us the io folenice, the profligacy; and rapaciousness of a set of ministers, encouraged by the weakness of the prince to attempt whatever they wilhed, and incited by his age to snatch by hafty rapine whatever they coveted. Tacitus, with his masterly pencil, has drawn the outlines of their characters fo ftrongly, that a writer of any genius might finish up the portraits to great resemblance and perfection. One had fürely a right to expect this from an author, who professes to have copied this great historian the most faithfully that was poffible. One would imagine the infolent Martianus, the bold and subtle Vinius, the F 2

base,

base, scandalous, Nothful Laco should all appear in their proper characters, which would be unfolding through the whole progress of the play, as their various schemes and interests were exposed. Instead of this, Martianus makes submissive love : Vinius and Laco are two ambitious courtiers, without any quality that distinguishes 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 succeed. 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 persons and circumstances, they lose much of their original force and beauty.

Galba addresses to his niece, who is in love with Otho, the fine speech which the historian supposes him to have made to Piso when he adopted him. The love-sick lady, tired of an harangue, the purport of which

[blocks in formation]

On the HISTORICAL DRAMA. 85 is unfavorable to her lover, and being besidesno politician, answers the emperor, that she does not understand state-affairs : a cruel reply to a speech he could have no motive for making, but to display his wisdom and eloquence. The old warrior is more complaisant to her, for he enters into all the delicacies of her passion, as if he had studied la . carte du tendre *. To steal so much matter from Tacitus without imbibing one spark of his spirit; to translate whole speeches, yet.preserve no likeness in the characters, is surely 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 inconstant to his mistress, and is indifferent to empire but for her fake, is such a violation of historical truth, as is not to be endured. I pass over the absurd scene between the jealous ladies, the improbability of their treating the

pow. erful and haughty favorites of the emperor

* Roman de Clelie.

F 3

with

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 The would fuffer him to do it. To make minute criticisms where the great parts are so defective would be trifling.

Having observed how poorly Corneille has represented characters borrowed from so great a portrait painter as Tacitus, let us now see what Shakespear has done, from those aukward originals our old chronicles.

Τ Η Ε

« AnteriorContinua »