« السابقةمتابعة »
But prose never is poetry, or is so only for a moment; nor is speech song. Schiller learned to see this, and we find him writing to Goethe, I have never before been so palpably convinced as in my present occupation how closely in poetry Substance and Form are connected. Since I have begun to transform my prosaic language into a poetic rhythmical one, I find myself under a totally different jurisdiction ; even many motives which in the prosaic execution seemed to me to be perfectly in place, I can no longer use : they were merely good for the common domestic understanding, whose organ prose seems to be ; but verse absolutely demands reference to the imagination, and thus I was obliged to become poetical in many
my motives.' That Goethe should have fallen into the sophism which asserted prose to be more natural than verse, is the more surprising from the spontaneous melody of his thoughts. His mind was a song. To the last he retained the faculty of singing melodiously, when his prose had degenerated into comparative feebleness. And this prose Iphigenia is saturated with verses. He meant to write prose, but his thoughts instinctively expressed themselves in verse. The critical reader will do well to compare the prose with the poetic version.* He will not only see how frequent the verses are, but how few were the alterations necessary to be made to transform the prose drama into a poem. They are just the sort of touches which elevate poetry above prose. Thus, to give an example, in the prose he says: unnütz seyn, ist todt seyn (to be useless is to be dead), which thus
into a verse
* See vol. xxxiv. of the edition of 1840.
Again in the speech of Orestes (Act ii. sc. i.), there is a fine and terrible allusion to Clytemnestra, · Better die here before the altar than in an obscure nook where the nets of murderous near relatives are placed. In the prose this allusion is not clear — Orestes simply says, the “nets of assassins.' *
The alterations do not touch the substance of this drama ; we must therefore consider it a product of the period now under review ; and as such we may examine it at once.
* Neither Taylor nor Miss Swanwick appears to have seized the allusion. One translates it, by the knives of avenging kindred ; the other, 'where near hands have spread assassination's wily net.'
It was very characteristic in Schlegel to call Iphigenia 'an echo of Greek song;' he delighted in such rhetorical prettinesses; but that Germany, a land of scholars, should have so unanimously repeated the phrase, and should have so often without misgiving declared Iphigenia to be the finest modern specimen of Greek tragedy, is truly surpris. ing, until we reflect on the mass of flagrant traditional errors afloat about the Greek drama. For a long while the Three Unities were held to be inseparable from that drama ; in spite of the fact that in several plays Unity of Time is obviously disregarded, and in two or three the Unity of Place is equally so. Then there was the notion that Comedy and Tragedy were not suffered to mingle in the same play ; in spite of the palpable fact of Æschylus and Euripides having mingled them. Then came the absurdity of Destiny as the tragic-pivot, in spite of the fact, as I have elsewhere shown, that in the majority of these plays Destiny has no place, beyond what the relig. ious conceptions of the poets must of necessity have given to it, just as Christianity must of necessity underlie the tragic conceptions of Christian poets.
The very phrase with which critics characterize Iphigenia is sufficient to condemn them. They tell us it has all the repose of Greek tragedy. Consider for a mo.
ment Repose in a tragedy! that is to say, calmness in the terrific upheaving of volcanic passions. Tragedy, we are told by Aristotle, acts through Terror and Pity, awakening in our bosoms sympathy with suffering; and to suppose this is to be accomplished by the meditative repose which breathes from every verse,' is tantamount to supposing a battle-song will most vigorously stir the blood of combatants if it borrow the accents of a lullaby.
Insensibly our notions of Greek Art are formed from Sculpture ; and hence, perhaps, this notion of repose. But acquaintance with the Drama ought to have prevented such an error, and taught men not to confound calmness of evolution with calmness of life. The unagitated simplicity of Greek scenic representation lay in the nature of the scenic necessities; but we do not call the volcano cold, because the snow rests on its top. Had the Greek Drama been exhibited on stages like those of modern Europe, and performed by actors without cothurnus and mask, its deep agitations of passion would have welled up to the surface, communicating responsive agitations to the form. But there were reasons why this could not be. In the Grecian Drama, everything was on a scale of vastness commensurate with the needs of an audience of many thousands, and consequently everything was disposed in masses rather than in details ; it thus necessarily assumed something of the sculpturesque form, threw itself into magnificent groupings, and, with a view to its effect, adapted a peculiar eurhythmic construction. It thus assumed slowness of movement, because it could not be rapid with effect. If the critic doubts this, let him mount on stilts, and, bawling through a speaking-trumpet, try what he can make of Shakespeare ; he will then have an approximative idea of the restraints laid upon the Grecian actor, who, clothed so as to aggrandize his person, and speaking
through a resonant Mask, which had a fixed expression, could not act, in our modern sense of the word, but only declaim; he had no means of representing the fluctuations of passion, and the poet, therefore, was forced to make him represent passion in broad, fixed masses. Hence the movement of the Greek Drama was necessarily large, slow and simple.
But if we pierce beneath scenic necessities, and attend solely to the dramatic life which pulses through the Gre. cian tragedies, what sort of calmness meets us there? Calmness is a relative word. Polyphemus hurling rocks as school-boys throw cherry-stones, would doubtless smile at our riots, as we smile at buzzing flies; and Moloch howling through the unfathomable wilderness in passion. ate repentance of his fall, would envy us the wildest of our despair, and call it calmness. But measured by human standards, I know not whose sorrow can bear such emphasis' as to pronounce those pulses calm which throb in the Edipus, the Agamemnon or the Ajax. The Labdacidan Tale is one of the sombrest threads woven by the Parcæ.
The subjects selected by the Greek dramatists are almost uniformly such as call into play the deepest and darkest passions ; madness, adultery and murder in Agamemnon; revenge, murder and matricide in the Choëphore; incest in Edipus; jealousy and infanticide in Medea ; incestuous adultery in Hippolytus ; madness in Ajax ; and so on throughout the series. The currents of these passions are forever kept in agitation, and the alternations of pity and terror close only with the closing of the scene.
In other words, in spite of the slowness of its evolution, the drama is distinguished by the very absence of the repose which is pronounced its characteristic.
Here it is we meet with the first profound difference