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sung at the feasts of Dionysos, and the singers were dressed in goat-skins: hence (probably) tragedy (="goatsong," from tragos, a goat). To such a chorus was added some one who chanted epic poems; this person acted more or less, and addressed his chant to the leader of the chorus, who answered singly or with the whole chorus : so, little by little, the tragedy (or drama) was developed. Æschylus and Sophocles added more actors. The modern tragedy is far more complex than the ancient; and there is also a charming trait in Shakspere's tragedies which was unknown to the sterner drama of Greece, – the gleam of hope, of a new dawn, following on the night of ruin and despair. Thus in Hamlet, as a German critic has pointed out, we have young Fortinbras, who will doubtless "set right” the times that Hamlet found so "out of joint.” So with Richmond in Richard III., with Malcolm in Macbeth; in Romeo and Juliet it is the reconciliation of the rival houses. And yet the Greeks, too, recognized in their way that a true tragedy always ends in the triumph of the good over the evil. The hero may perish, but his death brings about good in the end. The tragedy purifies emotion, chastens the impulses, teaches men to accept the order of things and to believe that all is for the best :
“ Men must endure Their going hence, even as their coming hither : Ripeness is all.”
Lowell ably sums up the difference between classical and modern tragedy : “the motive of ancient drama is generally outside of it, while in the modern ... it is within.”
§ 8. IMITATIONS OF THE GREEK TRAGEDY. The noblest English example of these is Milton's Samson Agonistes. The time is limited to twenty-four hours; there is a Chorus; the catastrophe is announced by a messenger. In our day, Swinburne has closely followed a Greek model in his Atalanta in Calydon, and in his Erechtheus -- the latter a splendid piece of work, with elaborate arrangement of the chorus (in Strophe, Antistrophe, and Epode), and a pure and lofty diction.
§ 9. COMEDY. Tragedy sets forth the triumph of the general over the particular, of law over individuals. In Comedy, it is the individual who triumphs over the complications of life. — But the term “Comedy” needs definition ; the above will not explain all the uses of the word.
Dante called his great work a comedy, and simply meant that it was not a tragedy, that it had no unhappy ending. Cf. Chaucer's use of the word "tragedy.” The name Comedy is not absolutely clear as to its origin. Probably it was derived from the songs sung by bands of men who thus celebrated the Dionysian feasts. In these songs, people and customs were held up to ridicule. From the Greek word for such a festal procession or band, we have the name Comedy. A chorus was joined to these single songs, and thus the Greek Comedy was begun. English Comedy, on the other hand, sprang from the Moral Plays, passing first into the Interludes, and also aided by the models of classical as well as modern Italian Comedy, — but especially by Plautus and Terence. These, in their turn, had imitated the later Grecian Comedy.
Comedy takes a cheerful view of things. The sense of perplexity, so common in our lives, is rendered sorrowful by tragedy, mirthful by comedy. In one case, tears ; in another, laughter, is what "purges” the mind. — In tragedy we hold as doomed and guilty even those who innocently mistake. In comedy we are tender toward human frailty. Falstaff is a coward : as Dowden says, he is “a gross-bodied, self-indulgent old sinner, devoid of moral sense and of self-respect, and yet we cannot part with him.”
Comedy lies either in the characters, or in the situation, or in both. The best is where both are blended in a mellow atmosphere that has no kindred with sorrow, nor yet with uproarious laughter. Such a comedy is found in As You Like It or in Twelfth Night. — The comedy that relies entirely on situation is called a Farce.
English comedy since Shakspere has been handled with great success by Congreve, by Goldsmith, and by Sheridan ; but at present seems utterly dead. Most of our modern plays are adapted from the French.
Under Comedy are often included plays which really are not comic, and yet are not tragic, for the ending is happy. A threatened danger is at last averted, but not until near the end of the play. This sort is sometimes called Tragi-Comedy, which is an absurd name. Shakspere and Fletcher's Two Noble Kinsmen has an ending at once sorrowful and happy : one hero is killed, the other is finally married to the heroine. The Germans call the drama which is neither tragedy nor comedy Versöhnungsdrama, the reconciling drama; this we consider below. Comic scenes are often woven into tragedy ; and, vice versa, though rarely, tragedy is
found in some one scene of a comedy. But we shall find that such a mixture is successful only when some particular end of the plot is to be served.
Comedy is the grand field for “poetical justice.” The miser is tricked, caught in his own snare; the proud is brought low; honest merit is crowned ; true love though it never runs smoothly - comes to a happy union; and even the fool is made happy. In fact, Shakspere's clowns often teach us the lesson that a fool's wisdom is about as near the mark as the world's wisdom. In Lear, this is a tragic and bitter lesson ; but in As You Like It, we acknowledge the truth of it in a laugh. — The comedy is the tragedy with all elements of danger removed. We feel this from the beginning; we do not weep, but laugh. Like the tragedy, therefore, comedy has its exposition, development, climax, and conclusion. Instead of death and ruin which close the tragedy, we have in the comedy, as the curtain falls, the group of characters all united and happy. Even the villain, after he has been soundly punished for his wickedness, often turns over a new leaf, and announces resolutions of prodigious virtue.
As to the form, tragedy is fond of verse ;- comedy inclines to prose. The tragedy is full of resounding lines, is further removed from the ways of real life, uses more elaborate diction, figures and general construction. The comedy — notably in Congreve, Goldsmith and Sheridan — tends to be brilliant, especially in the direction of rapid and sparkling dialogue. There is also much of this word-fencing in Shakspere.
§ 10. RECONCILING-DRAMA. The name Tragi-Comedy is, as we said, absurd. No play can be at once tragedy and comedy. To be sure, life is made up of the two elements, and the drama is a copy of life; but, as Lessing pointed out, only Infinity could be spectator of this infinite variety, and man is bound to take a definite point of view - either the comic or the tragic. Dryden (Essay on Dramatic Poetry) says sharply but truthfully: “There is no theatre in the world has anything so absurd as the English Tragicomedy. . . here a course of mirth, there another of sadness and passion, and a third of honor and a duel : thus in two hours and a half we run through all the fits of Bedlam.” And he goes on to say that mirth, the result of comedy, is incompatible with compassion, the end of tragedy: the two results destroy each other. Dryden, in principle, is perfectly right. And we shall find, in spite of a superficial mingling of comic and tragic in some of Shakspere's plays, that each play has a uniform spirit and tendency running through every scene. Thus in Hamlet, the clown's joking by the grave awakens no real mirth: it deepens the sense of tragedy.
But there is nevertheless a third sort of drama. It is not made up of tragic and comic elements, but it is a harmony, a reconciling of the two. The tragic conflict is softened to a triumph of earnest will over heavy obstacles; the wantonness and wilfulness of comedy are dignified into serious purpose. So Henry V. is made by Shakspere to represent a serious and lofty purpose that gains its object; but the cheerfulness of life is also admitted. Another example is Goethe's