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SHAKSPEARE AND CALDERON COMPARED.
It is only in the first and lowest scale of the drama, that I can place those pieces in which we are presented with the visible surface of life alone, the fleeting appearance of the rich picture of the world. It is thus that I view them, even although they display the highest sway of passion in tragedy, or the perfection of all social refinements and absurdities in comedy, so long as the whole business of the play is limited to external appearances, and these things are brought before us merely in perspective, and as pictures for the purposes of drawing our attention, and awakening the sympathy of our passions. The second order of the art is that, where in dramatic representations, together with passion and the pictoric appearance of things, à spirit of more profound sense and thought is predominant over the scene, wherein there is displayed a deep knowledge, not of individuals and their affairs alone, but of our whole species, of the world and of life, in all their manifold shapes, contradictions, and catastrophes, of man and of his being. Were this profound knowledge of us and our nature the only end of dramatic poetry, Shakspeare would not merely deserve
to be called the first in his art, but there could scarcely be found a single poet, either among the ancients or the moderns, worthy for a moment to be compared with him. But in my opinion the art of the dramatic poet has, besides all this, yet another and a higher end. The enigma of life should not barely be expressed but solved; the perplexities of the present should indeed be represented, but from them our view should be led to the last developement and the final issue. The poet should entwine the future with the present, and lay before our eyes the mysteries of the internal man.
ii The three worlds of Dante represent to us three great classes of human beings, some in the abyss of despair, some in the region of hope and purification, some in the enjoyment of perfect blessedness. Corresponding to these dénouements of human destiny, there are also three modes of that high, serious, dramatic representation, which sets forth not merely the appearances of life, but also its deeper purpose and spirit, which gives us 'not only the knot but the solution of our existence. In one of these we lose sight of the hero in the darkness of a perfect destruction; in another, the conclusion, although mingled with a certain dawn of pleasure, is yet half sorrowful in its impression ; and there is a third, wherein out of misery and death we see a new life arisen, and behold the illus mination of the internal man. To show what I mean by dramas, whose termination is the total ruin of their heroes, I may mention among the tragedies of the moderns, Wallenstein, Macbeth, and the Faustus of the people. The dramatic art of the ancients had a peculiar fondness for this altogether tragical catastrophe, which accorded well with their belief in a terrible and predestinating fate. Yet a tragedy of this kind is perhaps the more perfect in proportion as the destruction is represented not as any thing external, capricious, or predestinated, but as a darkness into which the hero has sunk step by step, descending not without free will, and in consequence of his own guilt.Such is the case in those three great modern tragedies which I have cited.
This is, upon the whole, the favourite species among the ancients, yet their theatre is not without some beautiful specimens of the second and milder termination ; examples of it occur in both of the two greatest of the Greek tragedians. It is thus that Æschylus, after he has opened before us the darkest abyss of sorrow and guilt, in the death of Agamemnon, and the vengeance of Orestes, closes his mighty picture in the Eumenides with a pleasing feeling, and the final quelling of the spirit of evil by the intervention of a milder and propitious deity. Sophocles in like manner, after representing the blindness and the fate of Edipus, the miserable fate and mutual fratricide of his sons, the long sorrows of the sightless old man and his faithful daughter, is careful to throw a ray of cheering light upon the death of his hero, and to depict in such colours his departure into the protection of pitying and expecting deities, as to leave upon our minds an impression rather of soothing and gentle melancholy than of tragical distress. There are many instances of the same kind both in the ancient theatre and the modern; but few wherein the working of the passions is adorned with so much beauty of poetry as in these.
The third method of dramatic conclusion, which by its representation makes a spiritual purification to be the result of external sorrows, is the one most adapted for a Christian poet, and in this the first and greatest of all masters is Calderon. Among the great variety of his pieces, I need only refer you to the Devotion to the Cross, and the Stedfast Prince, plays which have been very frequently translated, and the remarkable excellence of which has been, upon the whole, pretty generally recognised. The Christianity of this poet, however, does not consist so much in the external circumstances which he has selected, as in his
peculiar feeling, and the method of treating his subject which is most common with him. Even where his materials furnish him with no opportunity of drawing the perfect developement of a new life out of death and suffering, yet every thing is conceived in the spirit of this Christian love, and every thing seen in its light, and clothed in the splendour of its heavenly colouring.
I am very far, however, from wishing to see the Spanish dramą or Calderon adopted as a perfect
and exclusive model for our theatre ; but I am so sensible of the high perfection to which the Chris. tian tragedy and drama attained in the hands of that great and divine master, that I think he cannot be too much studied as a distant and inimitable specimen of excellence, by any one who would make the bold attempt to rescue the modern stage, either in Germany or elsewhere, from the feeble and ineffectual state into which it has fallen.
The chief fault of Calderon is, that he carries us too quickly to the great dénouement of which I have spoken above; for the effect which this produces on us would have been very much increased by cur being kept longer in doubt, had he more frequently characterised the riddle of human life with the profundity of Shakspeare,—had he been less sparing in affording us, at the commencement, glimpses of that light which should be preserved and concentrated upon the conclusion of the drama. Shakspeare has exactly the opposite fault, of too often placing before our eyes, in all its mystery and perplexity, the riddle of life, like a sceptical poet, without giving us any hint of the solution. Even when he does bring his drama to a last and a proper dénouement, it is much more frequently to one of utter destruction after the manner of the old tragedians, or at least to one of an intermediate and half satisfactory nature, than to that termination of perfect purification which is predominant in Calderon.-In short in every situation and circumstance, Calderon is, of all dramatic poets, the most