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that dignity and sweetness which in an ideal composition, such as the French tragedy pretends to be, ought never to be lost sight of, even in the wildest whirlwind of passion.
I found occasionally, even in the action of the very best players of the present day, sudden leaps from the measured solemnity in recitation and gesticulation which the general tone of the composition required, to a boisterousness of passion absolutely convulsive, without any due preparation or softening by intervening gradations. They are led to this by a sort of obscure feeling, that the conventional forms of poetry generally impede the movements of nature; when the poet any where leaves them at liberty they then indemnify themselves for the former constraint, and load, as it were, this rare moment of abandonment with the whole amount of life and animation which had been kept back, and which ought to have been equally diffused over the whole.
Hence their convulsive and obstreperous violence. In bravura they take care not to be deficient; but they frequently lose sight of the true spirit of the composition. In general, they consider
their parts as a sort of mosaic work of brilliant passages (with the single exception of the powerful Talma,) and they rather endeavour to make the most of each separate passage, independently of the rest, than to go back to the invisible central point of the character, and to consider the whole of the expressions as so many emanations from that point. They are always afraid of under
doing their parts; and hence they are worst qualified for reserved action, for eloquent silence, where, under an appearance of outward tranquillity, the most hidden emotions of the mind are betrayed. However, this is a part which is seldom imposed on them by their poets; and if the cause of the above excessive violence in the expression of passion is not to be found in their works, they at all events occasion the actor to lay greater stress on superficial brilliancy than on a profound knowledge of character.*
* See a treatise of M. Von Humboldt the elder, in Goethe's Propyläen on the French acting, equally distinguished for a refined and solid spirit of observation.
Comparison of the English and Spanish theatres.-Spirit of the romantic drama.-Shakspeare.-His age and the circumstances of his life.-How far costume is necessary, or may be dispensed with.--Shakspeare the greatest drawer of characters.-Vindication of the genuineness of his pathos.-Play on words.Moral delicacy.-Irony.--Mixture of the tragic and comic.The part of the fool or clown.-Shakspeare's language and versification.-Account of his several works: comedies, tragedies, and historical dramas.--Appendix on the pieces of Shakspeare said to be spurious.
IN conformity with the plan which we at first laid down, we shall now proceed to treat of the English and Spanish theatres. We were compelled in passing to allude cursorily, on various occasions, sometimes to the one and sometimes to the other, partly for the sake of placing, by means of contrast, many ideas in a clearer light, and partly on account of the influence which these stages have had on the theatres of other countries. Both the English and Spaniards possess a very rich dramatic literature; both have had a number of fruitful dramatic poets of great talents, among whom even the least admired and celebrated, considered as a whole, display uncommon aptitude for dramatic animation and insight into the essence of theatrical effect. The history
of their theatre has no connection with that of the Italians and French; for it developed itself wholly from the fulness of its own strength without any foreign influence the attempts to bring it back to an imitation of the ancients, or even of the French, have either been attended with no success, or not been made till a late period in the decay of the drama. The formation of these two stages is equally independent of each other; the Spanish poets were altogether unacquainted with the English; and in the older and most important period of the English theatre I could discover no trace of any knowledge of Spanish plays, (though their novels and romances were certainly known); and it was not till the time of Charles II. that translations from Calderon made their appearance.
So many things among men have been handed down from century to century and from nation to nation, and the human mind has in general displayed such tardiness of invention, that originality in any department of mental exertion is every where a rare phenomenon. We are desirous of seeing the result of the efforts of enterprising heads when they proceed straight forward in invention, without concerning themselves with what has elsewhere been carried to a high degree of perfection; when they lay the foundation of the new edifice on uncovered ground, and derive all the preparations, all the building materials, from their own means. We participate, in some measure, in the joy of success, when we see them advance rapidly from their first helpless
ness and necessity to a finished mastery in their art. The history of the Grecian theatre wonld afford us this cheering prospect could we witness its rudest beginnings, which were not preserved, for they were not even committed to writing; but it is easy, when we compare together Eschylus and Sophocles, to form some idea of the preceding period. The Greeks neither inherited nor borrowed their dramatic art from any other people; it was original and native, and for that very reason it could produce a living and powerful effect. But it ended with the period when Greeks i mitated Greeks; namely, when the Alexandrian poets began learnedly and critically to compose dramas after the model of the great tragic writers. The reverse of this was the case with the Romans: they received the form and substance of their dramas from the Greeks; they never attempted to act according to their own discretion, and to express their own way of thinking; and hence they occupy so insignificant a place in the history of dramatic art. Among the nations of modern Europe, the English and Spaniards alone, as yet (for the German stage is but forming), possess a theatre entirely original and national, which, in its own peculiar shape, has arrived at maturity.
Those critics who consider the authority of the ancients as models to be such, that in poetry, as in all the other arts, there can be no salvation beyond the pale of imitation, affirm, that as the nations in question have not followed this course, they have