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the sufferings, duties and temptations, which are incident to the condition of the majority of mankind. But to this it was replied that these were wanting in the interest and power, necessary to tragedy-that they did not appeal, with sufficient force, to those emotions of terror and pity, the excitation of which is its object. It is plain, therefore, that the aim of tragedy is to astonish, to agitate, not to instruct or reform the spectators.
Another proof of this is drawn from the characters in which tragedy delights. It is not the firm, consistent, well balanced man of virtue; but those whose passions are stung to madness by suffering or remorse. It is the aspiring, baffled, tortured and crushed Prometheus,-the maniac Orestes, the ferocious and vindictive Medea, burning with a demon's passions and wielding a demon's powers of mischief and revenge.
Λέαιναν, οὐ γυναῖκα, τῆς Τυρσηνίδος
Σκύλλης ἔχουσαν ἀγριωτέραν φύσιν.
Let it not be supposed that we would measure all the productions of the human mind by the standard of their direct utility. That wondrous faculty which sheds such a sunlike brightness and beauty over all the objects of intellection, making them not only visible but refulgent, and bathing them in hues as fancied and beautiful as those of a summer's evening-this wondrous faculty is the gift and inspiration of God, all whose creatures are good and all their spontaneous and unperverted developments lawful and beautiful. The works of the Creator himself are characterized by splendor and vastness, no less than utility. But all this splendor and vastness have an ultimate relation to utility; and to require as much of the inventions. and works of the human mind is only to demand that its glorious endowments of intelligence and imagination be not given up to waste and prostitution.
The actual moral influence of the ancient drama may, however, be estimated with precision and certainty from the accounts we possess of its immediate effects on the population of Athens, where the art flourished in its highest perfection,—and from the statements and opinions of the wisest and best of the ancients themselves, on the subject. History has preserved both of these in a sufficient degree, to afford us ample satisfaction; and both tend to confirm us in the belief that its influence was, to the last degree, pernicious. We have seen that the theatre at Athens would contain thirty thousand spectators,
and was often attended by that number. The citizens, in the most flourishing period, did not exceed twenty-one or twentytwo thousand.* As every citizen of Athens was entitled by a law introduced by Pericles, to free admission to the theatre and to an obolus besides, for the purchase of refreshments, we may fairly infer that the whole body of citizens was included in the theatrical assemblies. While the exhibitions continued, they are said to have diffused a delirious excitement throughout the city. The inhabitants neglected all business, denied themselves sleep, and spent whole days at the theatre, without ever being satiated by the variety of exhibitions. There were many circumstances, however, which tended to check the disorders arising from these powerful excitements. The first and principal. check was the unfrequency of dramatic exhibitions. They were only permitted during the three annual festivals of Bacchus. The principal dramatic contests were, in fact, confined to the greater Dionysia, the principal anniversary of Bacchus. They were, also, under the direct inspection and control of the government. They formed, in fact, a part of the administration of state. The government not only bore the entire expense, as we have seen above, but, by officers appointed expressly for the purpose, superintended every part of the preparation and exhibition. Females were not permitted to appear on the stage; they were, in all cases, personated by actors of the other sex. The whole number of actors in each tragedy was limited to three; and the few who were professional actors were not looked upon as a degraded class; they were admitted to the most honorable offices of the state. Nay, the great tragedians themselves, Eschylus, Sophocles and Euripides thought it no degradation to act a part in their own tragedies.
Yet, with all these restrictions, the stage was from the earliest times, an object of alarm and disapprobation to good men. Solon earnestly opposed the innovations of Thespis, as tending not only to improve and elevate the drama, but to increase its fascinations. "If," said the sage, "we applaud falsehood in our public exhibitions, we shall soon find it in our contracts and agreements." The disapprobation of Socrates was expressed
These however bore a very small proportion to the entire popu. lation, including natives who were not citizens, foreigners, and above all slaves, who, through almost all Greece, bore an infinite disproportion to the citizens,
+ Plutarch's Solon.
by absenting himself from the theatre, except when the moral dramas of his friend Euripides were represented.* We find that the same views of the stage were entertained by reflecting Romans. Tacitus ascribes the virtue of the German women to the absence of theatrical excitements: Ergo, septa pudicitia agunt, nullis spectaculorum illecebris corruptae ; "They are characterized by inviolable chastity, being uncorrupted by the seductive influence of public spectacles." Seneca is still more pointed and emphatic in his reprobation of these amusements: Nibil, vero, est tam damnosum bonis moribus, quam in ullo spectaculo desidere. Tunc, enim, per voluptatem, facilius vitia surrepunt. Quid me existimas dicere? Avarior redeo, ambitiosior, luxuriosior; "Nothing is so pernicious to good morals as to be present at any of these spectacles. Vice easily finds its way into the heart, through the pleasurable emotions which they excite. From such scenes I depart more avaricious, more ambitious, more luxurious than before."
Were such the undisputed effects of theatrical exhibitions on the ancient Greeks, and such the sentiments with which they were regarded by the best and wisest who had an opportunity of observing their influence? The lesson taught by this fact is a very distinct and impressive one ;-and it is the more so, when we reflect on the wide difference between the Greek theatre and that of modern times. There, these entertainments were only permitted during a few days of the year; they were arranged and superintended by the magistrates; the actors did not form a large and distinct and, we may add, degraded class;
Plato quoted by Rousseau: Lettre à d' Alembert sur son article Genève. This treatise contains some admirable views on the subject of the theatre, and exposes with great eloquence, its pernicious influence: "Des spectacles et des moeurs! Voila qui formeroit vraiment un spectacle à voir; d'autant plus, que ce seroit la première fois! etc. † De Mor. Ger. c. 19.
Sen. Ep. 7.-To these testimonies may be added one from an enlightened and patriotic American citizen, one whose eloquent writings, contributed not a little to the revolution which gave birth to our liberties: As a citizen and friend to the morals and happiness of society, I should strive hard against the admission and much more the establishment of a theatre in any state of which I was a member.... I am satisfied that the stage is the nursery of vice, and disseminates the seeds of it far and wide with an amazing and baneful success.”Memoirs of Josiah Quincy, jun., Diary.
above all, females were, in no case, permitted to appear on the stage, and, at the representation of comedy, do not appear even to have been present at the theatre. Yet even when thus restricted and qualified, this amusement was condemned and avoided by good men. What are we, then, to think of its tendency in our own times, when these checks are removed,― when these compensating circumstances no longer exist,-when it is given up to the license of daily exhibition, dependent on popular patronage, and, of course, graduated to popular taste? The result is, as might have been anticipated. The stage has become, not only the school, but we might even say, the empire of vice. Vice presides over its decorations and animates too often its most admired performances; and no man, who has a just value of moral purity, and a just fear of the power of temptation, will venture himself, (much less expose the tender and unguarded heart of youth,) in a region so thoroughly imbued with all the influences most hostile to virtue.
The merits of the drama, however, as a subject of solitary study, present quite a different question. And while we maintain that scenic representation has, in all ages, been an engine of moral evil, and will never be otherwise, we yet feel that there is no hazard, but on the contrary, great advantage from directing the attention of youth to the study of the ancient draEach branch is attended with its peculiar advantages. Ancient comedy is a picture of ancient life;-the only picture, of its kind, which we now possess. History presents only an outline of its form;-epic and lyric poetry a selection of its more beautiful and commanding features. But comedy presents it as it lived and moved. After the lapse of ages and of centuries, it stands an imperishable transcript of the intrigues, the passions, the follies, and, in some instances, of the purer and nobler qualities of those who have long since vanished from the earth. It is, therefore, nearly the only means we now possess of attaining a minute and familiar knowledge of the domestic and social habits of the ancients. And those who love to study human nature in all attitudes and under all circumstances will not be disposed to undervalue this quality. In fact, it must be impossible to appreciate or even understand the works of the ancients, much less to form a just estimate of their moral condition, without this kind of knowledge.
As a means of attaining a thorough mastery of ancient languages, the study of comedy will be found no less important. 60
SECOND SERIES, VOL. I. NO. II.
The genius of every language is to be sought in its colloquial idioms. Without a familiarity with these, its graver and more elaborate authors can never be read with facility and pleasure. The colloquial idioms of a dead language are principally preserved in its comedy. For this plain reason, no course of classic instruction can be considered as complete which does not include portions, at least, of the comic writers. We hazard little in affirming that no student ever found himself at home either in Latin or Greek, without an acquaintance with them.
This study has also, all the sanction which can be derived from the authority of the highest names in classic learning and education. Melancthon exacted from the instructors of youth "a conscientious diligence"* in the exposition of certain characters of Terence. Luther did not disapprove even the exhibition of the comedies of Terence in schools, (though we confess ourselves far from prepared to go the same length,) and thought that many benefits might be derived from the study of comedy.† Jerome was in the habit of finding relief and exhilaration from severer studies and exercises in the comedies of Plautus, and Chrysostom is said to have kept under his pillow a copy of Aristophanes.
We would not, however, place ancient comedy, either Greek or Latin, in the hands of youth without first rigidly subjecting it to the process of selection and expurgation. We know of only a single comedy in which even the latter would be unnecessary, -the Captives of Plautus.
Tragedy may be read with still less danger and still higher and more important advantages. The old tragedy of Greece is a lofty and stately thing. It is the vehicle of their early history, their philosophy and morality, it is the development of their intellectual, and to a certain extent, of their social and domestic system. The tragedies of Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, though written by pagans, and, of course, containing much that is defective and erroneous, yet have by no means, in themselves
+ Memoires de Luther par Michelet, B. IV. ch. 4.
Post noctium crebras vigilias, post lacrymas, Plautus sumebatur in manus.
§ "Aristotle has followed in philosophy, the threads of thought spun from the heads of the tragic poets.”—Brumoy, Theatre des Grecs, Int.