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press criticism has been marked by especial villany on the occasion. Bribes have been received for censuring, and unblushingly demanded for praise. Never has its venality been more extensively illustrated.
Meantime, as we have said, there was a necessity for creating a public taste; towards which, the efforts of that same corrupted press might have been serviceable. What the Authors' Theatre proposed, was to promote the dramatic rather than the theatric. The vulgar taste, of course, prefers the latter; and Mr. Macready's spectacular revivals have tended to confirm the mischievous prejudice. This course of proceeding on his part, has therefore increased the difficulty of putting the purely dramatic on the boards, to which is to be added the extra difficulty, in the present distribution of acting talent, of obtaining efficient performers for any play that is not almost a monodrama. The lovers of modern dramatic genius, therefore, will have to found a dramatic school for actors, before their plans can be fully realized. They have, in fact, to raise the theatre from utter ruin. To effect this object, they are willing to make uncommon sacrifices, to incur enormous risks; and yet the selfishness of those who ought to enter heart and soul into the cause, opposes every possible impediment to a righteous determination. Shame, oh, burning shame! to the various cliques who are so blinded by stale custom and opinions that are or ought to be obsolete, as not to recognize and cherish the new spirit that is awakening and pervading these modern times. Fools ! they know not that a great cycle is closed, and that another greater still is opening. For our part, we will echo in the Old World, what Emerson is proclaiming in the New, that Genius is no more dead in the modern drama and poetry, than God is in modern religion and inspiration. The spirit yet lives and works in both, animating, informing, supporting the world of forms and the chaos of matter, with ideas and principles which were in the beginning, which are in the middle, and shall be in the end.
It is now long since, that the Quarterly Review attributed the decline of the drama to the usurpation of the actor. The actor, we were there truly told, “had, from being a subordinate part of the general illusion, usurped the principal, and claimed as his own the undivided interest of the audience. With our simple ancestors," continued the critic, “the play was every thing; the actor we conceive, of much less importance." Our readers know that this statement is too true; but now comes an extract from the same article, to which we request particular attention.
“We," (says the critic,) “ will venture to predict, that so long as the dramatic writer is sunk to a subordinate station in the general corps dramatique, second to the inechanist and scene-painter, as well as to the actor-only in somewhat higher relative position than the opera poet to the composer of music-so long as even a really good play, feebly or inadequately performed, would have no chance of success, so long the drama will remain far below the poetic average of the elder period."
It is for us to put an end to the state of things condemned in this sentence, and to project a better. Had Martinuzzi failed, instead of succeeding, its failure would only have fortified the above position. As it is, we are enabled to pronounce it “ a really good
play;" both “strongly and adequately performed” in its higher departments, though wanting in the lower, and, perhaps, the general mise en scene.
Martinuzzi is a “ really good play.”—It is good of its kind ; that is, it is of the highest and purest kind of drama. This position has nothing to do with the degree of its merit : it asserts simply its excellence in kind. Also, it is of the purely dramatic, and not the corrupt theatric sort of play. It is as purely dramatic almost as a tragedy of Æschylus. It is almost as simple. Its five great scenes (and THESE ARE AMONG THE GREATEST IN THE WORLD) are dialogues; they have each two interlocutors, and no more ; and are supported with miraculous power. We are taken at once back to the simplicity of the Grecian drama in its origin;-a fact which points, too, to Martinuzzi as the first of a new series of dramatic productions, and which is further corroborated by the circumstance of the author's having altogether taken the initia. tive in its performance. It is marked by every sign as The Beginning of a new order of things, which having once commenced, will not finish until the purpose of its commencement be accomplished.
It were only expedient were we to consider awhile the small point from which the Æschylean drama commenced. First, the Father of Greek poetry had to make the Nóyoç or theatrical declamation,* the principal part in his tragedy, instead of the choral song. Martinuzzi has been performed for the purpose of winning a theatre from the defunct operatic to the new-born elocutionary. To return to the Greeks: The Greek dramatist hired and paid his own actors. It is probable that the tpilóyla, in its old sense, was originally a podoyos, and two dóyou or phoels instead of one; consequently, an increase of business for the TOKpuths. Æschylus, having added a second actor, each of these λόγοι became a διάλογος, Or δράμα, and ultimately each of these diáloyou expanded into a complete play. Just to this point Mr. Stephens has attained in his progress; he will naturally grow with practice into more extensive stage combinations; we would rather see him at first an Eschylus, than either a Sophocles or Euripides : what there is of him is a sincerity, not a Bulwerish pretension. “ Pretension ! thy name is Bulwer ! Stephens, sincerity and heroism !"
Martinuzzi is a “ really good play.” It is good in its conceptiox. The Cardinal is a character finely conceived. He is a man who reads to us continually the sublime moral lesson of the Gospel :-" Judge not according to appearances, but judge a righteous judgment." All appearances are against the Cardinal-yet is he an innocent man. The sins of others have covered him as with poisoned raiment, and from the beginning he stands before us as a sacrifice devoted on the altar of his country, bearing and to bear the obloquy of others' misdeeds. Ultimately his fame is cleared of all aspersion ; but his life is lost in the purifying process. All this is not only admirably shadowed, but well portrayed. It is a true poetic idea, and places Mr. Stephens at all but the summit of dramatic invention.
* That this is the meaning of nóyos in the passage of Aristotle is sufficiently clear; for noyelov was the stage on which the actor, as distinguished from the chorus, performed. We cannot help referring mystically to the first verse of St. John's Gospel. The connexion of the drama with religion is yet to be traced.
Such a conception as this required a peculiar construction for the tragedy. Some may think its construction defective. It is no such thing. Essentially it is perfect; though in some accidental points, perhaps, improvable. But the fact is, that, with such a conception, the stage technicalities, of which so much ignorant talk has been made, were scarcely at all available. It was needful that the inmost heart and character of Martinuzzi should be thoroughly understood, before his conduct was presented. The play, therefore, opens with soliloquies and occasional conversations, which serve only to show that a suffering honest man in high station, and surrounded with manifold perplexities, stands before us. His interview with Rupert then puts us in possession of the circumstances which cause the hero internal trouble. Had we “ only known the facts,” as Rupert did, like him, we should have suspected the Cardinal's probity ; but we already know the man, and therefore can interpret the facts better. We know that Martinuzzi is incapable of dishonour; we have seen him in his private moments—have overheard his heart-communings, and are ready, therefore, thoroughly to credit his statements. We believe him fully, when he exclaims
“I saw the danger, and I cast
Did doom myself to gnawing cares for ever!" From this point we sympathize with him in every situation. Does he out-maneuvre Ferdinand, and brow-beat Castaldo? We justify him—we are sure that his motives are right, and vindicate by them his actions. That a soul suffering internal travail should so conquer its pain as to triumph over external forces also, and stand the chief among men, is a sublime spectacle, worthy of being classed with the Satan of Milton, the Prometheus of Æschylus, and the Job of the Bible.
In regard to the other characters, they are all of that stately kind which befits them for the adjuncts of a solemn theme. Isabella is a majestic character that finely counterpoises the hero. She is Medea, Clytemnestra, and Lady Macbeth combined in one. Every scene in which she appears is Shakesperian, and is equal to the master's own. Each is sustained at the due tragic elevation, the slightest lapse would be fatal. The passions portrayed in them are full of peril to the dramatist; but he steers safely and triumphantly through. His wing is not wearied, nor his vigour at all impaired: he is equal to the heights and depths of passion-he is in his element, whether he dives or soars-all is genial.
If Isabella may pair off with Lady Macbeth, Castaldo is very nearly equal to Macbeth himself. He is, in fact, just the same kind of character, without, however, his bravery, and is besides engaged with love-passages instead of war-accidents. Castaldo is touched by the poet with exceeding tact and delicacy-if in the other persons of the tragedy he has shown genius, in him he has shown taste. The state of delirium in which Castaldo is exhibited in the second scene of the fifth act, is a marvellous piece both of conception and construction. All the objects Castaldo beholds are coloured by the subjective condition of his mind. Every thing becomes unearthly-Czerina herself is but an apparition-and the sword she places in his hand is a spectral weapon, air-drawn;-in a word, we have here the utmost sublimity of tragedy, requiring an actor of surpassing power to embody.
Czerina is a being who feels an inexplicable contradiction in her nature and destiny. She is throughout “ queen and no queen." Something oracular within her intimates to her that she is in a false position. Her nature corresponds not with her regal destiny, and thus foreshows that she was not born to the state that invests her. The riddle is at last explained when she learns that she is Martinuzzi's daughter-but its solution makes death for her the best expediency. The answer to the enigma is written in her blood. The tableau at the end of the drama is perhaps the most effective picture ever presented on the stage. The latter part of the fourth act is very good. In fact, the whole drama might easily be presented as a ballet d'action, without a word spoken, and be well understood, the previous history of the exchange of the children being premised.
So much then for the conception and construction of the piece. We now come to the execution. First, the style is highly metaphorical. Shall we complain of this ? Not we! So was that of Æschylus. This peculiarity marks and distinguishes the position of the author. He is the Æschylus of a new theatre. The Sophocles and Euripides will come by and bye, and soon enough, for we prefer Æschylus to either. Our Eschylus, like the one of old, speaks trumpet tongued. Let Aristophanes describe both. “ Surely unbearable wrath will rise in the thunderer's bosom, When he perceives his rival in art, that treble-toned babbler, Whetting his teeth: he will then, driven frantic with anger,
Roll his eyeballs fearfully.
Diction high and chivalrous.
Breathing with a Titan's breath.
Doughty labours of the lungs." We make a present of this translation to the ignorant detractors of Mr. Stephens; informing them that the verses belong to a chorus of initiated persons who are speaking of a contest between Æschylus and Euripides, and express in the above lines their expectation; comparing, by the way, Æschylus to a lion, and Euripides to a wild boar. Mr. Stephens, we are sure, will not reluctate at being classed with Æschylus.
To the author of Martinuzzi, then, be great honour rendered. The nitiator of a new era of dramatic literature, he has come forward, with unexampled heroism, to incur the perils of martyrdom; he has put much of his property, and all his reputation, at risk for the sake of a noble cause. He has been met, as might have been expected, with reproach, misapprehension, and ingratitude—but his undaunted heart still dares to anticipate a triumph which shall still surely come to him, living or dead. To have at all partaken the labour shall be our pride till we perish.
ACT II.-SCENE I.