« AnteriorContinuar »
mother Clytemnestra will soon arrive. The time is night, the "brave o'erhanging firmament" is studded with stars. The only sounds audible are the tramp of sentinels, and the challenge of the watch: the camp is wrapt in deep slumber :—
"Not the sound
"The king of men" is much agitated by some secret grief. By the bight of a "blazing lamp" he is writing a letter:— k
"The writing he does blot; then seal,
The cause for the perturbation of his spirit is this: the Grecian fleet has been detained at Aulis by thwarting winds, and Calchas, the seer, has declared that Agamemnon's daughter must be sacrificed to Diana, irate with him because he has shot, while hunting, one of her sacred deer. Unwittingly the Grecian commander has, in order to conciliate her, vowed that he will offer to her the most beautiful creature that the year of his child's birth has produced. He has been persuaded by his brother Menelaus to summon Iphigenia to Aulis, on the pretext of giving her in marriage to Achilles. He has sent a letter to Argos, directing Clytemnestra to bring the maiden to the camp without delay. Soon, however, the father recoils from this deceit, and he prepares a second letter, annulling the former one, and enjoining his wife to remain at home. This he commits to the hands of an old servant of Clytemnestra's, with injunctions to make all speed with it to Argos; but just as the messenger is passing the borders of the camp, he is seized by Menelaus, who breaks the seal, reads the missive, and hurries to upbraid his brother with treachery to himself and the general cause of Hellas. A sharp debate ensues between the brothers—one twitting the other with bad faith; the other taxing the husband of Helen with want of proper feeling for his niece and himself, and chiding him for taking such pains to get back that worthless runaway, his wife. "If I," he says,
"Before ill judging, have with sobered thought
My nights, my days, would pass away in tears,
The brothers part in high dudgeon, Agamemnon remaining on the stage; and to him a messenger enters, bearing the unwelcome tidings that Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, and the infant Orestes, will soon make glad his eyes, after their long separation. They are close to the camp, though they have not yet entered it, for—
"Wearied with this length of way, beside
"Thou hast my thanks—go in," says the now utterly wretched father to the messenger, and then tells in soliloquy his woes to the audience. He is caught in inextricable toils. Shall he cause the assembled host to rise and mutiny, or shall he keep his rash vow, and sacrifice his darling to the irate goddess—" what ruin hath the son of Priam brought on me and my house!"
It is now early morning, and the camp is astir, and a murmur, gradually getting louder, is heard. The chieftains and the soldiers are greeting the queen of Argos and Mycenae, her fair daughter, and her infant son. But before they enter, Menelaus has hurried back, and is reconciled to his royal brother. The younger king tells his liege lord that speedy repentance has followed on the heels of his late hasty passion. He has been moved by the tears of the distracted father: he yields to the arguments used by him:—
"When from thine eye I saw thee drop the tear,
A second choral song follows this reconciliation scene; and then the chariot that has brought Clyteranestra and her young children appears on the right hand of the royal tent. She is welcomed by the Chorus, and assisted by them to alight. In Clytemnestra, Euripides shows how delicately he can delineate female characters, and how happily he has seized the opportunity for exhibiting the Lady Macbeth or Lucrezia Borgia of the Greek stage as a loving wife and mother. The seeds of evil passions were dormant in her nature, but until ehe was deeply wronged they bore not fruit. Clytemnestra in this play is a fond mother, a trusting wife, a very woman, even shy, unpretending, unversed in courts or camps. To the Chorus, after acknowledging their "courtesy and gentleness of speech," she says:—
"I hope that I am come
She enters without pomp or circumstance, with only an attendant or two. Knowing his name, she displays no further curiosity about the supposed bridegroom: whatever her husband has designed must, she thinks, be good. She, a half-divine princess of the race of Tantalus, the sister of Helen and of the great Twin-Brethren, the consort of "the king of men," is nevertheless an uninstructed Grecian housewife. She knows nothing of the genealogy of Achilles, at least on the father's side. She has never heard of the Myrmidons: she knows not where Pthia may be: she asks what mortal or what goddess became the wife of Peleus; and when told that she is the sea-nymph Thetis, who but for a warning oracle would have been the spouse of Jupiter, she wonders where the rites of Hymen were celebrated, on firm land or in some ocean cave. The childlike amazement and delight of Iphigenia also are drawn by a master's hand. Not Thecla, when first entering Wallenstein's palace and seeing the royal state by which her father was surrounded; not Miranda, gazing for the first time upon "the brave new world,"* are more delicate creations of poetic fancy than Iphigenia.
- Bearing in mind what the representation of strong
emotions can be on the modern stage, where the face
and limbs of the actors are free to exhibit the varying
moods of a tragic character, it is most difficult, or
* "Oh wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! ... How beauteous mankind is! Ohj brave new world -1"- That has such people in it\" 1
—" Tempest," act v. sc. 1.