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Hi proprium decus et partum indignantur honorem,
The dreadful subject of this piece has been celebrated by several ancient and modern dramatists. Of seven tragedies of Sophocles, which have reached our times, two are founded on the history of Edipus. The first of these, called “Edipus Tyrannus,” has been extolled by every critic since the days of Aristotle, for the unparalleled art with which the story is managed. The dreadful secret, the existence of which is announced by the pestilence, and by the wrath of the offended deities, seems each moment on the yerge of being explained, yet, till the last act, the reader is still held in horrible suspense. Every circumstance, resorted to for the purpose of evincing the falsehood of the oracle, tends gradually to confirm the guilt of Edipus, and to accelerate the catastrophe; while his own supposed consciousness of innocence, at once interests us in his favour, and precipitates the horrible discovery. Dryden, who arranged the whole plan of the following tragedy, although assisted by Lce in the execution, was fully aware of the merit of the “ Edipus Tyrannus ;” and, with the addition of the under-plot of Adrastus and Eurydice, has traced out the events of the drama, in close imitation of Sophocles. The Grecian bard, however, in concurrence with the history or tradition of Greece, has made Edipus survive the discovery of his ulintentional guilt, and reserved him, in blindness and banishment, for the subject of his second tragedy of “ (Edipus Culoneus.” This may have been well judged, considering that the audience were intimately acquainted with the important scenes which were to follow among the descendants of CĒdipus, with the first and second wars against Thebes, and her final conquest by the ancestors of those Athenians, before whom the play was rehearsed, led on by their demi-god Theseus. They were also prepared to receive, with reverence and faith, the belief on which the whole interest turns, that if Edipus should be restored to Thebes, the vengeance of the gods against the devoted city might be averted ; and to ap+ plaud his determination to remain on Athenian ground, that the predestined curse might descend on his unnatural sons and ungrateful country. But while the modern reader admires the lofty tone of poetry and bigh strain of morality which pervades “Edipus Coloneus,” it must appear more natural to his feelings, that the life of
the hero, stained with unintentional incest and parricide, should be terminated, as in Dryden's play, upon the discovery of his complicated guilt and wretchedness. Yet there is something awful in the idea of the monarch, blind and exiled, innocent in intention, though so horribly criminal in fact, devoted, as it were, to the internal deities, and sacred from húman power and violence by the very excess of his guilt and misery. The account of the death of Edipus Coloneus reaches the highest tone of sublimity. While the lightning flashes around him, he expresses the feeling, that his hour is come; and the reader anticipates, that, like Malefort in the “ Unnatural Combat,” he is to perish by a thunder-bolt. Yet, for the awful catastrophe, which we are artfully led to expect, is substituted a mysterious termination, still more awful. Cdipus arrays himself in splendid apparel, and dismisses his daughters and the attending Athenians. Theseus alone remains with him. The storm subsides, and the attendants return to the place, but Edipus is there no longer-- he had not perished by water, by sword, nor by fireno one but Theseus knew the manner of his death. With an impressive hint, that it was as strange and wonderful as his life had been dismally eventful, the poet drops a curtain over the fate of his hero. This last sublime scene Dryden has not ventured to imitate; and the rants of Lee are a poor substitute for the calm and determined despair of the “ (Edipus Coloneus.”
Seneca, perhaps to check the seeds of vice in Nero, his pupil, to whom incest and blood were afterwards so familiar *, composed the Latin tragedy on the subject of Edipus, which is alluded to by Dryden in the following preface. The cold declamatory rhetorical stile of that philosopher was adapted precisely to counteract the effect, which a tale of terror produces on the feelings and imagination. His taste exerted itself in filling up and garnishing the more trifling passages, which Sophocles had passed over as unworthy of notice, and in adjusting incidents laid in the heroic age of Grecian simplicity, according to the taste and customs of the court of Nerot. Yet though devoid of dramatic effect, of fancy, and of genius, the @dipus of Seneca displays the masculine eloquence and high moral sentiment of its author; and if it does not interest us in the scene of fiction, it often compels us to turn our thoughts inward, and to study our own hearts.
* Nero is said to have represented the character of Edipus, amongst others of the same horrible cast. Suetonius, Lib. VI. Cap. 21.
+ Thus Seneca is justly ridiculed by Dacier, for sending Lains forth with a numerous party of guards, to avoid the indecorum of a king going abroad 100 slenderly attended. The guards lose their way within a league of their master's capital; and, by this awkward contrivance, their absence is accounted for, when he is met by (Edipus.
The Edipe of Corneille is in all respects unworthy of its great author. The poet considering, as he states in his introduction, that the subject of Cdipus tearing out his eyes was too horrible to be presented before ladies, qualifies its terrors by the introduction of a love intrigue betwixt Theseus and Dircé. The unhappy propensity of the French poets to introduce long discussions upon la belle passion, addressed merely to the understanding, without respect to feeling or propriety, is nowhere more ridiculously displayed than in "Edipe.” The play opens with the following polite speech of Theseus to Dirce:
N'ecoutez plus, madame, une pitie cruelle,
Act premiere, Scene premiere. It is hardly possible more prettily to jingle upon the peril douteux, and the mal certain ; but this is rather an awkward way of introducing the account of the pestilence, with which all the other dramatists have opened their scene. Edipus, however, is at once sensible of the cause which detained Theseus at his melancholy court, amidst the horrors of the plague :
Je l'avais bien juge qu'un interet d'amour
Fermait ici vos yeux aux perils de ma cour. Edipo conjectere opus est—it would have been difficult for any other person to have divined such a motive. The conduct of the drama is exactly suitable to its commencement; the fate of Edipus and of Thebes, the ravages of the pestilence, and the avenging of the death of Laius, are all secondary and subordinate considerations to the loves of Theseus and Dirce, as fat and uninteresting a pair as ever spoke platitudes in French hexameters. So much is this the engrossing subject of the drama, that Edipus, at the very moment when Tiresias is supposed to be engaged in raising the ghost of Laius, occupies himself in a long scene of scolding about love and duty with Dirce; and it is not till he is almost bullied by her off the stage, that he suddenly recollects, as an apology for his retreat,
Mais il faut aller voir ce qu'a fait Tiresias. Considering, however, the declamatory nature of the French dialogue, and the peremptory rule of their drama, that love, or rather gallantry, must be the moving principle of every performance,