The Antigone Of Sophocles, As Represented On The Edinburgh Stage by Thomas De Quincey

Story type: Essay

Every thing in our days is new. Roads, for instance, which, being formerly ‘of the earth earthy,’ and therefore perishable, are now iron, and next door to being immortal; tragedies, which are so entirely new, that neither we nor our fathers, through eighteen hundred and ninety odd years, gone by, since Caesar did our little island the honor to sit upon its skirts, have ever seen the like to this ‘Antigone;’ and, finally, even more new are readers, who, being once an obedient race of men, most humble and deferential in the presence of a Greek scholar, are now become intractably mutinous; keep their hats on whilst he is addressing them; and listen to him or not, as he seems to talk sense or nonsense. Some there are, however, who look upon all these new things as being intensely old. Yet, surely the railroads are new? No; not at all. Talus, the iron man in Spenser, who continually ran round the island of Crete, administering gentle warning and correction to offenders, by flooring them with an iron flail, was a very ancient personage in Greek fable; and the received opinion is, that he must have been a Cretan railroad, called The Great Circular Coast-Line, that carried my lords the judges on their circuits of jail-delivery. The ‘Antigone,’ again, that wears the freshness of morning dew, and is so fresh and dewy in the beautiful person of Miss Faucit, had really begun to look faded on the Athenian stage, and even ‘of a certain age,’ about the death of Pericles, whose meridian year was the year 444 before Christ. Lastly, these modern readers, that are so obstinately rebellious to the once Papal authority of Greek, they–No; on consideration, they are new. Antiquity produced many monsters, but none like them.

The truth is, that this vast multiplication of readers, within the last twenty-five years, has changed the prevailing character of readers. The minority has become the overwhelming majority: the quantity has disturbed the quality. Formerly, out of every five readers, at least four were, in some degree, classical scholars: or, if that would be saying too much, if two of the four had ‘small Latin and less Greek,’ they were generally connected with those who had more, or at the worst, who had much reverence for Latin, and more reverence for Greek. If they did not all share in the services of the temple, all, at least, shared in the superstition. But, now-a-days, the readers come chiefly from a class of busy people who care very little for ancestral crazes. Latin they have heard of, and some of them know it as a good sort of industrious language, that even, in modern times, has turned out many useful books, astronomical, medical, philosophical, and (as Mrs. Malaprop observes) diabolical; but, as to Greek, they think of it as of an ancient mummy: you spend an infinity of time in unswathing it from its old dusty wrappers, and, when you have come to the end, what do you find for your pains? A woman’s face, or a baby’s, that certainly is not the better for being three thousand years old; and perhaps a few ears of wheat, stolen from Pharaoh’s granary; which wheat, when sown [1] in Norfolk or Mid-Lothian, reaped, thrashed, ground, baked, and hunted through all sorts of tortures, yields a breakfast roll that (as a Scottish baker observed to me) is ‘not just that bad.’ Certainly not: not exactly ‘that bad;’ not worse than the worst of our own; but still, much fitter for Pharaoh’s breakfast-table than for ours.

I, for my own part, stand upon an isthmus, connecting me, at one terminus, with the rebels against Greek, and, at the other, with those against whom they are in rebellion. On the one hand, it seems shocking to me, who am steeped to the lips in antique prejudices, that Greek, in unlimited quantities, should not secure a limited privilege of talking nonsense. Is all reverence extinct for old, and ivy-mantled, and worm-eaten things? Surely, if your own grandmother lectures on morals, which perhaps now and then she does, she will command that reverence from you, by means of her grandmotherhood, which by means of her ethics she might not. To be a good Grecian, is now to be a faded potentate; a sort of phantom Mogul, sitting at Delhi, with an English sepoy bestriding his shoulders. Matched against the master of ologies, in our days, the most accomplished of Grecians is becoming what the ‘master of sentences’ had become long since, in competition with the political economist. Yet, be assured, reader, that all the ‘ologies’ hitherto christened oology, ichthyology, ornithology, conchology, palaeodontology, etc., do not furnish such mines of labor as does the Greek language when thoroughly searched. The ‘Mithridates’ of Adelung, improved by the commentaries of Vater and of subsequent authors, numbers up about four thousand languages and jargons on our polyglot earth; not including the chuckling of poultry, nor caterwauling, nor barking, howling, braying, lowing, nor other respectable and ancient dialects, that perhaps have their elegant and their vulgar varieties, as well as prouder forms of communication. But my impression is, that the Greek, taken by itself, this one exquisite language, considered as a quarry of intellectual labor, has more work in it, is more truly a piece de resistance, than all the remaining three thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine, with caterwauling thrown into the bargain. So far I side with the Grecian, and think that he ought to be honored with a little genuflexion. Yet, on the other hand, the finest sound on this earth, and which rises like an orchestra above all the uproars of earth, and the Babels of earthly languages, is truth–absolute truth; and the hatefulest is conscious falsehood. Now, there is falsehood, nay (which seems strange), even sycophancy, in the old undistinguishing homage to all that is called classical. Yet why should men be sycophants in cases where they must be disinterested? Sycophancy grows out of fear, or out of mercenary self-interest. But what can there exist of either pointing to an old Greek poet? Cannot a man give his free opinion upon Homer, without fearing to be waylaid by his ghost? But it is not that which startles him from publishing the secret demur which his heart prompts, upon hearing false praises of a Greek poet, or praises which, if not false, are extravagant. What he fears, is the scorn of his contemporaries. Let once a party have formed itself considerable enough to protect a man from the charge of presumption in throwing off the yoke of servile allegiance to all that is called classical,–let it be a party ever so small numerically, and the rebels will soon be many. What a man fears is, to affront the whole storm of indignation, real and affected, in his own solitary person. ‘Goth!’ ‘Vandal!’ he hears from every side. Break that storm by dividing it, and he will face its anger. ‘Let me be a Goth,’ he mutters to himself, ‘but let me not dishonor myself by affecting an enthusiasm which my heart rejects!’

Ever since the restoration of letters there has been a cabal, an academic interest, a factious league amongst universities, and learned bodies, and individual scholars, for exalting as something superterrestrial, and quite unapproachable by moderns, the monuments of Greek literature. France, in the time of Louis XIV., England, in the latter part of that time; in fact, each country as it grew polished at some cost of strength, carried this craze to a dangerous excess–dangerous as all things false are dangerous, and depressing to the aspirations of genius. Boileau, for instance, and Addison, though neither [2] of them accomplished in scholarship, nor either of them extensively read in any department of the classic literature, speak every where of the classics as having notoriously, and by the general confession of polished nations, carried the functions of poetry and eloquence to that sort of faultless beauty which probably does really exist in the Greek sculpture. There are few things perfect in this world of frailty. Even lightning is sometimes a failure: Niagara has horrible faults; and Mont Blanc might be improved by a century of chiselling from judicious artists. Such are the works of blind elements, which (poor things!) cannot improve by experience. As to man who does, the sculpture of the Greeks in their marbles and sometimes in their gems, seems the only act of his workmanship which has hit the bull’s eye in the target at which we are all aiming. Not so, with permission from Messrs. Boileau and Addison, the Greek literature. The faults in this are often conspicuous; nor are they likely to be hidden for the coming century, as they have been for the three last. The idolatry will be shaken: as idols, some of the classic models are destined to totter: and I foresee, without gifts of prophecy, that many laborers will soon be in this field–many idoloclasts, who will expose the signs of disease, which zealots had interpreted as power; and of weakness, which is not the less real because scholars had fancied it health, nor the less injurious to the total effect because it was inevitable under the accidents of the Grecian position.

Meantime, I repeat, that to disparage any thing whatever, or to turn the eye upon blemishes, is no part of my present purpose. Nor could it be: since the one sole section of the Greek literature, as to which I profess myself an enthusiast, happens to be the tragic drama; and here, only, I myself am liable to be challenged as an idolater. As regards the Antigone in particular, so profoundly do I feel the impassioned beauty of her situation in connection with her character, that long ago, in a work of my own (yet unpublished), having occasion (by way of overture introducing one of the sections) to cite before the reader’s eye the chief pomps of the Grecian theatre, after invoking ‘the magnificent witch’ Medea, I call up Antigone to this shadowy stage by the apostrophe, Holy heathen, daughter of God, before God was known, [3] flower from Paradise after Paradise was closed; that quitting all things for which flesh languishes, safety and honor, a palace and a home, didst make thyself a houseless pariah, lest the poor pariah king, thy outcast father, should want a hand to lead him in his darkness, or a voice to whisper comfort in his misery; angel, that badst depart for ever the glories of thy own bridal day, lest he that had shared thy nursery in childhood, should want the honors of a funeral; idolatrous, yet Christian Lady, that in the spirit of martyrdom trodst alone the yawning billows of the grave, flying from earthly hopes, lest everlasting despair should settle upon the grave of thy brother,’ etc. In fact, though all the groupings, and what I would call permanent attitudes of the Grecian stage, are majestic, there is none that, to my mind, towers into such affecting grandeur, as this final revelation, through Antigone herself, and through her own dreadful death, of the tremendous wo that destiny had suspended over her house. If therefore my business had been chiefly with the individual drama, I should have found little room for any sentiment but that of profound admiration. But my present business is different: it concerns the Greek drama generally, and the attempt to revive it; and its object is to elucidate, rather than to praise or to blame. To explain this better, I will describe two things:–1st, The sort of audience that I suppose myself to be addressing; and, 2dly, As growing out of that, the particular quality of the explanations which I wish to make.

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1st, As to the audience: in order to excuse the tone (which occasionally I may be obliged to assume) of one speaking as from a station of knowledge, to others having no knowledge, I beg it to be understood, that I take that station deliberately, on no conceit of superiority to my readers, but as a companion adapting my services to the wants of those who need them. I am not addressing those already familiar with the Greek drama, but those who frankly confess, and (according to their conjectural appreciation of it) who regret their non-familiarity with that drama. It is a thing well known to publishers, through remarkable results, and is now showing itself on a scale continually widening, that a new literary public has arisen, very different from any which existed at the beginning of this century. The aristocracy of the land have always been, in a moderate degree, literary; less, however, in connection with the current literature, than with literature generally–past as well as present. And this is a tendency naturally favored and strengthened in them, by the fine collections of books, carried forward through successive generations, which are so often found as a sort of hereditary foundation in the country mansions of our nobility. But a class of readers, prodigiously more extensive, has formed itself within the commercial orders of our great cities and manufacturing districts. These orders range through a large scale. The highest classes amongst them were always literary. But the interest of literature has now swept downwards through a vast compass of descents: and this large body, though the busiest in the nation, yet, by having under their undisturbed command such leisure time as they have at all under their command, are eventually able to read more than those even who seem to have nothing else but leisure. In justice, however, to the nobility of our land, it should be remembered, that their stations in society, and their wealth, their territorial duties, and their various public duties in London, as at court, at public meetings, in parliament, etc., bring crowded claims upon their time; whilst even sacrifices of time to the graceful courtesies of life, are in reference to their stations, a sort of secondary duties. These allowances made, it still remains true that the busier classes are the main reading classes; whilst from their immense numbers, they are becoming effectually the body that will more and more impress upon the moving literature its main impulse and direction. One other feature of difference there is amongst this commercial class of readers: amongst the aristocracy all are thoroughly educated, excepting those who go at an early age into the army; of the commercial body, none receive an elaborate, and what is meant by a liberal education, except those standing by their connections in the richest classes. Thus it happens that, amongst those who have not inherited but achieved their stations, many men of fine and powerful understandings, accomplished in manners, and admirably informed, not having had the benefits when young of a regular classical education, find (upon any accident bringing up such subjects) a deficiency which they do not find on other subjects. They are too honorable to undervalue advantages, which they feel to be considerable, simply because they were denied to themselves. They regret their loss. And yet it seems hardly worth while, on a simple prospect of contingencies that may never be realized, to undertake an entirely new course of study for redressing this loss. But they would be glad to avail themselves of any useful information not exacting study. These are the persons, this is the class, to which I address my remarks on the ‘Antigone;’ and out of their particular situation, suggesting upon all elevated subjects a corresponding tone of liberal curiosity, will arise the particular nature and direction of these remarks.

Accordingly, I presume, secondly, that this curiosity will take the following course:–these persons will naturally wish to know, at starting, what there is differentially interesting in a Grecian tragedy, as contrasted with one of Shakspeare’s or of Schiller’s: in what respect, and by what agencies, a Greek tragedy affects us, or is meant to affect us, otherwise than as they do; and how far the Antigone of Sophocles was judiciously chosen as the particular medium for conveying to British minds a first impression, and a representative impression, of Greek tragedy. So far, in relation to the ends proposed, and the means selected. Finally, these persons will be curious to know the issue of such an experiment. Let the purposes and the means have been bad or good, what was the actual success? And not merely success, in the sense of the momentary acceptance by half a dozen audiences, whom the mere decencies of justice must have compelled to acknowledge the manager’s trouble and expense on their behalf; but what was the degree of satisfaction felt by students of the Athenian [4] tragedy, in relation to their long-cherished ideal? Did the representation succeed in realizing, for a moment, the awful pageant of the Athenian stage? Did Tragedy, in Milton’s immortal expression,

——come sweeping by
In sceptred pall?

Or was the whole, though successful in relation to the thing attempted, a failure in relation to what ought to have been attempted? Such are the questions to be answered.

* * * * *

The first elementary idea of a Greek tragedy, is to be sought in a serious Italian opera. The Greek dialogue is represented by the recitative, and the tumultuous lyrical parts assigned chiefly, though not exclusively, to the chorus on the Greek stage, are represented by the impassioned airs, duos, trios, choruses, etc. on the Italian. And there, at the very outset, occurs a question which lies at the threshold of a Fine Art,–that is of any Fine Art: for had the views of Addison upon the Italian opera had the least foundation in truth, there could have been no room or opening for any mode of imitation except such as belongs to a mechanic art.

The reason for at all connecting Addison with this case is, that he chiefly was the person occupied in assailing the Italian opera; and this hostility arose, probably, in his want of sensibility to good (that is, to Italian) music. But whatever might be his motive for the hostility, the single argument by which he supported it was this,–that a hero ought not to sing upon the stage, because no hero known to history ever summoned a garrison in a song, or changed a battery in a semichorus. In this argument lies an ignorance of the very first principle concern in every Fine Art. In all alike, more or less directly, the object is to reproduce in mind some great effect, through the agency of idem in alio. The idem, the same impression, is to be restored; but in alio, in a different material,–by means of some different instrument. For instance, on the Roman stage there was an art, now entirely lost, of narrating, and, in part of dramatically representing an impassioned tale, by means of dancing, of musical accompaniment in the orchestra, and of elaborate pantomime in the performer. Saltavit Hypermnestram, he danced (that is, he represented by dancing and pantomime the story of) Hypermnestra. Now, suppose a man to object, that young ladies, when saving their youthful husbands at midnight from assassination, could not be capable of waltzing or quadrilling, how wide is this of the whole problem! This is still seeking for the mechanic imitation, some imitation founded in the very fact; whereas the object is to seek the imitation in the sameness of the impression drawn from a different, or even from an impossible fact. If a man, taking a hint from the Roman ‘Saltatio’ (saltavit Andromachen), should say that he would ‘whistle Waterloo,’ that is, by whistling connected with pantomime, would express the passion and the changes of Waterloo, it would be monstrous to refuse him his postulate on the pretence that ‘people did not whistle at Waterloo.’ Precisely so: neither are most people made of marble, but of a material as different as can well be imagined, viz. of elastic flesh, with warm blood coursing along its tubes; and yet, for all that, a sculptor will draw tears from you, by exhibiting, in pure statuary marble, on a sepulchral monument, two young children with their little heads on a pillow, sleeping in each other’s arms; whereas, if he had presented them in wax-work, which yet is far more like to flesh, you would have felt little more pathos in the scene than if they had been shown baked in gilt gingerbread. He has expressed the idem, the identical thing expressed in the real children; the sleep that masks death, the rest, the peace, the purity, the innocence; but in alio, in a substance the most different; rigid, non-elastic, and as unlike to flesh, if tried by touch, or eye, or by experience of life, as can well be imagined. So of the whistling. It is the very worst objection in the world to say, that the strife of Waterloo did not reveal itself through whistling: undoubtedly it did not; but that is the very ground of the man’s art. He will reproduce the fury and the movement as to the only point which concerns you, viz. the effect, upon your own sympathies, through a language that seems without any relation to it: he will set before you what was at Waterloo through that which was not at Waterloo. Whereas any direct factual imitation, resting upon painted figures drest up in regimentals, and worked by watchwork through the whole movements of the battle, would have been no art whatsoever in the sense of a Fine Art, but a base mechanic mimicry.

This principle of the idem in alio, so widely diffused through all the higher revelations of art, it is peculiarly requisite to bear in mind when looking at Grecian tragedy, because no form of human composition employs it in so much complexity. How confounding it would have been to Addison, if somebody had told him, that, substantially, he had himself committed the offence (as he fancied it) which he charged so bitterly upon the Italian opera; and that, if the opera had gone farther upon that road than himself, the Greek tragedy, which he presumed to be so prodigiously exalted beyond modern approaches, had gone farther even than the opera. Addison himself, when writing a tragedy, made this violation (as he would have said) of nature, made this concession (as I should say) to a higher nature, that he compelled his characters to talk in metre. It is true this metre was the common iambic, which (as Aristotle remarks) is the most natural and spontaneous of all metres; and, for a sufficient reason, in all languages. Certainly; but Aristotle never meant to say that it was natural for a gentleman in a passion to talk threescore and ten iambics consecutively: a chance line might escape him once and away; as we know that Tacitus opened one of his works by a regular dactylic hexameter in full curl, without ever discovering it to his dying day (a fact which is clear from his never having corrected it); and this being a very artificial metre, a fortiori Tacitus might have slipped into a simple iambic. But that was an accident, whilst Addison had deliberately and uniformly made his characters talk in verse. According to the common and false meaning [which was his own meaning] of the word nature, he had as undeniably violated the principle of the natural, by this metrical dialogue, as the Italian opera by musical dialogue. If it is hard and trying for men to sing their emotions, not less so it must be to deliver them in verse.

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But, if this were shocking, how much more shocking would it have seemed to Addison, had he been introduced to parts which really exist in the Grecian drama? Even Sophocles, who, of the three tragic poets surviving from the wrecks of the Athenian stage, is reputed the supreme artist [5] if not the most impassioned poet, with what horror he would have overwhelmed Addison, when read by the light of those principles which he had himself so scornfully applied to the opera! In the very monsoon of his raving misery, from calamities as sudden as they were irredeemable, a king is introduced, not only conversing, but conversing in metre; not only in metre, but in the most elaborate of choral metres; not only under the torture of these lyric difficulties, but also chanting; not only chanting, but also in all probability dancing. What do you think of that, Mr. Addison?

There is, in fact, a scale of graduated ascents in these artifices for unrealizing the effects of dramatic situations:

1. We may see, even in novels and prose comedies, a keen attention paid to the inspiriting and dressing of the dialogue: it is meant to be life- like, but still it is a little raised, pointed, colored, and idealized.

2. In comedy of a higher and more poetic cast, we find the dialogue metrical.

3. In comedy or in tragedy alike, which is meant to be still further removed from ordinary life, we find the dialogue fettered not only by metre, but by rhyme. We need not go to Dryden, and others, of our own middle stage, or to the French stage for this: even in Shakspeare, as for example, in parts of Romeo and Juliet (and for no capricious purpose), we may see effects sought from the use of rhyme. There is another illustration of the idealizing effect to be obtained from a particular treatment of the dialogue, seen in the Hamlet of Shakspeare. In that drama there arises a necessity for exhibiting a play within a play. This interior drama is to be further removed from the spectator than the principal drama; it is a deep below a deep; and, to produce that effect, the poet relies chiefly upon the stiffening the dialogue, and removing it still farther, than the general dialogue of the including or outside drama, from the standard of ordinary life.

4. We find, superadded to these artifices for idealizing the situations, even music of an intermitting character, sometimes less, sometimes more impassioned–recitatives, airs, choruses. Here we have reached the Italian opera.

5. And, finally, besides all these resources of art, we find dancing introduced; but dancing of a solemn, mystical, and symbolic character. Here, at last, we have reached the Greek tragedy. Probably the best exemplification of a Grecian tragedy that ever will be given to a modern reader is found in the Samson Agonistes of Milton. Now, in the choral or lyric parts of this fine drama, Samson not only talks, 1st, metrically ( as he does every where, and in the most level parts of the scenic business), but, 2d, in very intricate metres, and, 3d, occasionally in rhymed metres (though the rhymes are too sparingly and too capriciously scattered by Milton), and, 4th, singing or chanting these metres (for, as the chorus sang, it was impossible that he could be allowed to talk in his ordinary voice, else he would have put them out, and ruined the music). Finally, 5th, I am satisfied that Milton meant him to dance. The office of the chorus was imperfectly defined upon the Greek stage. They are generally understood to be the moralizers of the scene. But this is liable to exceptions. Some of them have been known to do very bad things on the stage, and to come within a trifle of felony: as to misprision of felony, if there is such a crime, a Greek chorus thinks nothing of it. But that is no business of mine. What I was going to say is, that, as the chorus sometimes intermingles too much in the action, so the actors sometimes intermingle in the business of the chorus. Now, when you are at Rome, you must do as they do at Rome. And that the actor, who mixed with the chorus, was compelled to sing, is a clear case; for his part in the choral ode is always in the nature of an echo, or answer, or like an antiphony in cathedral services. But nothing could be more absurd than that one of these antiphonies should be sung, and another said. That he was also compelled to dance, I am satisfied. The chorus only sometimes moralized, but it always danced: and any actor, mingling with the chorus, must dance also. A little incident occurs to my remembrance, from the Moscow expedition of 1812, which may here be used as an illustration: One day King Murat, flourishing his plumage as usual, made a gesture of invitation to some squadrons of cavalry that they should charge the enemy: upon which the cavalry advanced, but maliciously contrived to envelope the king of dandies, before he had time to execute his ordinary manoeuvre of riding off to the left and becoming a spectator of their prowess. The cavalry resolved that his majesty should for once ride down at their head to the melee, and taste what fighting was like; and he, finding that the thing must be, though horribly vexed, made a merit of his necessity, and afterwards pretended that he liked it very much. Sometimes, in the darkness, in default of other misanthropic visions, the wickedness of this cavalry, their mechancete, causes me to laugh immoderately. Now I conceive that any interloper into the Greek chorus must have danced when they danced, or he would have been swept away by their impetus: nolens volens, he must have rode along with the orchestral charge, he must have rode on the crest of the choral billows, or he would have been rode down by their impassioned sweep. Samson, and Oedipus, and others, must have danced, if they sang; and they certainly did sing, by notoriously intermingling in the choral business.[6]

‘But now,’ says the plain English reader, ‘what was the object of all these elaborate devices? And how came it that the English tragedy, which surely is as good as the Greek,’ (and at this point a devil of defiance whispers to him, like the quarrelsome servant of the Capulets or the Montagus, ‘say better,’) ‘that the English tragedy contented itself with fewer of these artful resources than the Athenian?’ I reply, that the object of all these things was–to unrealize the scene. The English drama, by its metrical dress, and by other arts more disguised, unrealized itself, liberated itself from the oppression of life in its ordinary standards, up to a certain height. Why it did not rise still higher, and why the Grecian did, I will endeavor to explain. It was not that the English tragedy was less impassioned; on the contrary, it was far more so; the Greek being awful rather than impassioned; but the passion of each is in a different key. It is not again that the Greek drama sought a lower object than the English: it sought a different object. It is not imparity, but disparity, that divides the two magnificent theatres.

Suffer me, reader, at this point, to borrow from my-self, and do not betray me to the authorities that rule in this journal, if you happen to know [which is not likely] that I am taking an idea from a paper which years ago I wrote for an eminent literary journal. As I have no copy of that paper before me, it is impossible that I should save myself any labor of writing. The words at any rate I must invent afresh: and, as to the idea, you never can be such a churlish man as, by insisting on a new one, in effect to insist upon my writing a false one. In the following paragraph, therefore, I give the substance of a thought suggested by myself some years ago.

That kind of feeling, which broods over the Grecian tragedy, and to court which feeling the tragic poets of Greece naturally spread all their canvas, was more nearly allied to the atmosphere of death than that of life. This expresses rudely the character of awe and religious horror investing the Greek theatre. But to my own feeling the different principle of passion which governs the Grecian conception of tragedy, as compared with the English, is best conveyed by saying that the Grecian is a breathing from the world of sculpture, the English a breathing from the world of painting. What we read in sculpture is not absolutely death, but still less is it the fulness of life. We read there the abstraction of a life that reposes, the sublimity of a life that aspires, the solemnity of a life that is thrown to an infinite distance. This last is the feature of sculpture which seems most characteristic: the form which presides in the most commanding groups, ‘is not dead but sleepeth:’ true, but it is the sleep of a life sequestrated, solemn, liberated from the bonds of space and time, and (as to both alike) thrown (I repeat the words) to a distance which is infinite. It affects us profoundly, but not by agitation. Now, on the other hand, the breathing life–life kindling, trembling, palpitating–that life which speaks to us in painting, this is also the life that speaks to us in English tragedy. Into an English tragedy even festivals of joy may enter; marriages, and baptisms, or commemorations of national trophies: which, or any thing like which, is incompatible with the very being of the Greek. In that tragedy what uniformity of gloom; in the English what light alternating with depths of darkness! The Greek, how mournful; the English, how tumultuous! Even the catastrophes how different! In the Greek we see a breathless waiting for a doom that cannot be evaded; a waiting, as it were, for the last shock of an earthquake, or the inexorable rising of a deluge: in the English it is like a midnight of shipwreck, from which up to the last and till the final ruin comes, there still survives the sort of hope that clings to human energies.

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Connected with this original awfulness of the Greek tragedy, and possibly in part its cause, or at least lending strength to its cause, we may next remark the grand dimensions of the ancient theatres. Every citizen had a right to accommodation. There at once was a pledge of grandeur. Out of this original standard grew the magnificence of many a future amphitheatre, circus, hippodrome. Had the original theatre been merely a speculation of private interest, then, exactly as demand arose, a corresponding supply would have provided for it through its ordinary vulgar channels; and this supply would have taken place through rival theatres. But the crushing exaction of ‘room for every citizen,’ put an end to that process of subdivision. Drury Lane, as I read (or think that I read) thirty years ago, allowed sitting room for three thousand eight hundred people. Multiply that by ten; imagine thirty-eight thousand instead of thirty-eight hundred, and then you have an idea of the Athenian theatre. [7]

Next, out of that grandeur in the architectural proportions arose, as by necessity, other grandeurs. You are aware of the cothurnus, or buskin, which raised the actor’s heel by two and a half inches; and you think that this must have caused a deformity in the general figure as incommensurate to this height. Not at all. The flowing dress of Greece healed all that.

But, besides the cothurnus, you have heard of the mask. So far as it was fitted to swell the intonations of the voice, you are of opinion that this mask would be a happy contrivance; for what, you say, could a common human voice avail against the vast radiation from the actor’s centre of more than three myriads? If, indeed (like the Homeric Stentor), an actor spoke in point of loudness, (Greek Text), as much as other fifty, then he might become audible to the assembled Athenians without aid. But this being impossible, art must be invoked; and well if the mask, together with contrivances of another class, could correct it. Yet if it could, still you think that this mask would bring along with it an overbalancing evil. For the expression, the fluctuating expression, of the features, the play of the muscles, the music of the eye and of the lips,–aids to acting that, in our times, have given immortality to scores, whither would those have vanished? Reader, it mortifies me that all which I said to you upon the peculiar and separate grandeur investing the Greek theatre is forgotten. For, you must consider, that where a theatre is built for receiving upwards of thirty thousand spectators, the curve described by what in modern times you would call the tiers of boxes, must be so vast as to make the ordinary scale of human features almost ridiculous by disproportion. Seat yourself at this day in the amphitheatre at Verona, and judge for yourself. In an amphitheatre, the stage, or properly the arena, occupying, in fact, the place of our modern pit, was much nearer than in a scenic theatre to the surrounding spectators. Allow for this, and placing some adult in a station expressing the distance of the Athenian stage, then judge by his appearance if the delicate pencilling of Grecian features could have told at the Grecian distance. But even if it could, then I say that this circumstantiality would have been hostile to the general tendencies (as already indicated) of the Grecian drama. The sweeping movement of the Attic tragedy ought not to admit of interruption from distinct human features; the expression of an eye, the loveliness of a smile, ought to be lost amongst effects so colossal. The mask aggrandized the features: even so far it acted favorably. Then figure to yourself this mask presenting an idealized face of the noblest Grecian outline, moulded by some skilful artist Phidiaca manu, so as to have the effect of a marble bust; this accorded with the aspiring cothurnus; and the motionless character impressed upon the features, the marble tranquillity, would (I contend) suit the solemn processional character of Athenian tragedy, far better than the most expressive and flexible countenance on its natural scale. ‘Yes,’ you say, on considering the character of the Greek drama, ‘generally it might; in forty-nine cases suppose out of fifty: but what shall be done in the fiftieth, where some dreadful discovery or anagnorisis (i.e. recognition of identity) takes place within the compass of a single line or two; as, for instance, in the Oedipus Tyrannus, at the moment when Oedipus by a final question of his own, extorts his first fatal discovery, viz. that he had been himself unconsciously the murderer of Laius?’ True, he has no reason as yet to suspect that Laius was his own father; which discovery, when made further on, will draw with it another still more dreadful, viz. that by this parricide he had opened his road to a throne, and to a marriage with his father’s widow, who was also his own natural mother. He does not yet know the worst: and to have killed an arrogant prince, would not in those days have seemed a very deep offence: but then he believes that the pestilence had been sent as a secret vengeance for this assassination, which is thus invested with a mysterious character of horror. Just at this point, Jocasta, his mother and his wife, says, [8] on witnessing the sudden revulsion of feeling in his face, ‘I shudder, oh king, when looking on thy countenance.’ Now, in what way could this passing spasm of horror be reconciled with the unchanging expression in the marble-looking mask? This, and similar cases to this, must surely be felt to argue a defect in the scenic apparatus. But I say, no: first, Because the general indistinctiveness from distance is a benefit that applies equally to the fugitive changes of the features and to their permanent expression. You need not regret the loss through absence, of an appearance that would equally, though present, have been lost through distance. Secondly, The Greek actor had always the resource, under such difficulties, of averting his face a resource sanctioned in similar cases by the greatest of the Greek painters. Thirdly, The voluminous draperies of the scenic dresses, and generally of the Greek costume, made it an easy thing to muffle the features altogether by a gesture most natural to sudden horror. Fourthly, We must consider that there were no stage lights: but, on the contrary that the general light of day was specially mitigated for that particular part of the theatre; just as various architectural devices were employed to swell the volume of sound. Finally. I repeat my sincere opinion, that the general indistinctness of the expression was, on principles of taste, an advantage, as harmonizing with the stately and sullen monotony of the Greek tragedy. Grandeur in the attitudes, in the gestures, in the groups, in the processions–all this was indispensable: but, on so vast a scale as the mighty cartoons of the Greek stage, an Attic artist as little regarded the details of physiognomy, as a great architect would regard, on the frontispiece of a temple, the miniature enrichments that might be suitable in a drawing-room.

With these views upon the Grecian theatre, and other views that it might oppress the reader to dwell upon in this place, suddenly in December last an opportunity dawned–a golden opportunity, gleaming for a moment amongst thick clouds of impossibility that had gathered through three-and-twenty centuries–for seeing a Grecian tragedy presented on a British stage, and with the nearest approach possible to the beauty of those Athenian pomps which Sophocles, which Phidias, which Pericles created, beautified, promoted. I protest, when seeing the Edinburgh theatre’s programme, that a note dated from the Vatican would not have startled me more, though sealed with the seal of the fisherman, and requesting the favor of my company to take coffee with the Pope. Nay, less: for channels there were through which I might have compassed a presentation to his Holiness; but the daughter of Oedipus, the holy Antigone, could I have hoped to see her ‘in the flesh?’ This tragedy in an English version, [9] and with German music, had first been placed before the eyes and ears of our countrymen at Convent Garden during the winter of 1844–5. It was said to have succeeded. And soon after a report sprang up, from nobody knew where, that Mr. Murray meant to reproduce it in Edinburgh.

What more natural? Connected so nearly with the noblest house of scenic artists that ever shook the hearts of nations, nobler than ever raised undying echoes amidst the mighty walls of Athens, of Rome, of Paris, of London,–himself a man of talents almost unparalleled for versatility,– why should not Mr. Murray, always so liberal in an age so ungrateful to his profession, have sacrificed something to this occasion? He, that sacrifices so much, why not sacrifice to the grandeur of the Antique? I was then in Edinburgh, or in its neighborhood; and one morning, at a casual assembly of some literary friends, present Professor Wilson, Messrs. J. F., C. N., L. C., and others, advocates, scholars, lovers of classical literature, we proposed two resolutions, of which the first was, that the news was too good to be true. That passed nem. con.; and the second resolution was nearly passing, viz. that a judgment would certainly fall upon Mr. Murray, had a second report proved true, viz. that not the Antigone, but a burlesque on the Antigone, was what he meditated to introduce. This turned out false; [l0] the original report was suddenly revived eight or ten months after. Immediately on the heels of the promise the execution followed; and on the last (which I believe was the seventh) representation of the Antigone, I prepared myself to attend.

It had been generally reported as characteristic of myself, that in respect to all coaches, steamboats, railroads, wedding-parties, baptisms, and so forth, there was a fatal necessity of my being a trifle too late. Some malicious fairy, not invited to my own baptism, was supposed to have endowed me with this infirmity. It occurred to me that for once in my life I would show the scandalousness of such a belief by being a trifle too soon, say, three minutes. And no name more lovely for inaugurating such a change, no memory with which I could more willingly connect any reformation, than thine, dear, noble Antigone! Accordingly, because a certain man (whose name is down in my pocket-book for no good) had told me that the doors of the theatre opened at half-past six, whereas, in fact, they opened at seven, there was I, if you please, freezing in the little colonnade of the theatre precisely as it wanted six-and-a-half minutes to seven,–six-and-a-half minutes observe too soon. Upon which this son of absurdity coolly remarked, that, if he had not set me half-an-hour forward, by my own showing, I should have been twenty-three-and-a-half minutes too late. What sophistry! But thus it happened (namely, through the wickedness of this man), that, upon entering the theatre, I found myself like Alexander Selkirk, in a frightful solitude, or like a single family of Arabs gathering at sunset about a solitary coffee-pot in the boundless desert. Was there an echo raised? it was from my own steps. Did any body cough? it was too evidently myself. I was the audience; I was the public. And, if any accident happened to the theatre, such as being burned down, Mr. Murray would certainly lay the blame upon me. My business meantime, as a critic, was–to find out the most malicious seat, i.e. the seat from which all things would take the most unfavorable aspect. I could not suit myself in this respect; however bad a situation might seem, I still fancied some other as promising to be worse. And I was not sorry when an audience, by mustering in strength through all parts of the house, began to divide my responsibility as to burning down the building, and, at the same time, to limit the caprices of my distracted choice. At last, and precisely at half-past seven, the curtain drew up; a thing not strictly correct on a Grecian stage. But in theatres, as in other places, one must forget and forgive. Then the music began, of which in a moment. The overture slipped out at one ear, as it entered the other, which, with submission to Mr. Mendelssohn, is a proof that it must be horribly bad; for, if ever there lived a man that in music can neither forget nor forgive, that man is myself. Whatever is very good never perishes from my remembrance,–that is, sounds in my ears by intervals for ever,–and for whatever is bad, I consign the author, in my wrath, to his own conscience, and to the tortures of his own discords. The most villanous things, however, have one merit; they are transitory as the best things; and that was true of the overture: it perished. Then, suddenly, –oh, heavens! what a revelation of beauty!–forth stepped, walking in brightness, the most faultless of Grecian marbles, Miss Helen Faucit as Antigone. What perfection of Athenian sculpture! the noble figure, the lovely arms, the fluent drapery! What an unveiling of the ideal statuesque! Is it Hebe? is it Aurora? is it a goddess that moves before us? Perfect she is in form; perfect in attitude;

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‘Beautiful exceedingly,
Like a ladie from a far countrie.’

Here was the redeeming jewel of the performance. It flattered one’s patriotic feelings, to see this noble young countrywoman realizing so exquisitely, and restoring to our imaginations, the noblest of Grecian girls. We critics, dispersed through the house, in the very teeth of duty and conscience, all at one moment unanimously fell in love with Miss Faucit. We felt in our remorse, and did not pretend to deny, that our duty was–to be savage. But when was the voice of duty listened to in the first uproars of passion? One thing I regretted, viz. that from the indistinctness of my sight for distant faces, I could not accurately discriminate Miss Faucit’s features; but I was told by my next neighbor that they were as true to the antique as her figure. Miss Faucit’s voice is fine and impassioned, being deep for a female voice; but in this organ lay also the only blemish of her personation. In her last scene, which is injudiciously managed by the Greek poet,–too long by much, and perhaps misconceived in the modern way of understanding it,–her voice grew too husky to execute the cadences of the intonations: yet, even in this scene, her fall to the ground, under the burden of her farewell anguish, was in a high degree sculpturesque through the whole succession of its stages.

Antigone in the written drama, and still more in the personated drama, draws all thoughts so entirely to herself, as to leave little leisure for examining the other parts; and, under such circumstances, the first impulse of a critic’s mind is, that he ought to massacre all the rest indiscriminately; it being clearly his duty to presume every thing bad which he is not unwillingly forced to confess good, or concerning which he retains no distinct recollection. But I, after the first glory of Antigone’s avatar had subsided, applied myself to consider the general ‘setting’ of this Theban jewel. Creon, whom the Greek tragic poets take delight in describing as a villain, has very little more to do (until his own turn comes for grieving), than to tell Antigone, by minute-guns, that die she must. ‘Well, uncle, don’t say that so often,’ is the answer which, secretly, the audience whispers to Antigone. Our uncle grows tedious; and one wishes at last that he himself could be ‘put up the spout.’ Mr. Glover, from the sepulchral depth of his voice, gave effect to the odious Creontic menaces; and, in the final lamentations over the dead body of Haemon, being a man of considerable intellectual power, Mr. Glover drew the part into a prominence which it is the fault of Sophocles to have authorized in that situation; for the closing sympathies of the spectator ought not to be diverted, for a moment, from Antigone.

But the chorus, how did they play their part? Mainly their part must have always depended on the character of the music: even at Athens, that must have been very much the case, and at Edinburgh altogether, because dancing on the Edinburgh stage there was none. How came that about? For the very word, ‘orchestral,’ suggests to a Greek ear dancing, as the leading element in the choral functions. Was it because dancing with us is never used mystically and symbolically never used in our religious services? Still it would have been possible to invent solemn and intricate dances, that might have appeared abundantly significant, if expounded by impassioned music. But that music of Mendelssohn!–like it I cannot. Say not that Mendelssohn is a great composer. He is so. But here he was voluntarily abandoning the resources of his own genius, and the support of his divine art, in quest of a chimera: that is, in quest of a thing called Greek music, which for us seems far more irrecoverable than the ‘Greek fire.’ I myself, from an early date, was a student of this subject. I read book after book upon it; and each successive book sank me lower into darkness, until I had so vastly improved in ignorance, that I could myself have written a quarto upon it, which all the world should not have found it possible to understand. It should have taken three men to construe one sentence. I confess, however, to not having yet seen the writings upon this impracticable theme of Colonel Perronet Thompson. To write experimental music for choruses that are to support the else meagre outline of a Greek tragedy, will not do. Let experiments be tried upon worthless subjects; and if this of Mendelssohn’s be Greek music, the sooner it takes itself off the better. Sophocles will be delivered from an incubus, and we from an affliction of the auditory nerves.

It strikes me that I see the source of this music. We, that were learning German some thirty years ago, must remember the noise made at that time about Mendelssohn, the Platonic philosopher. And why? Was there any thing particular in ‘Der Phaedon,’ on the immortality of the soul? Not at all; it left us quite as mortal as it found us; and it has long since been found mortal itself. Its venerable remains are still to be met with in many worm-eaten trunks, pasted on the lids of which I have myself perused a matter of thirty pages, except for a part that had been too closely perused by worms. But the key to all the popularity of the Platonic Mendelssohn, is to be sought in the whimsical nature of German liberality, which, in those days, forced Jews into paying toll at the gates of cities, under the title of ‘swine,’ but caressed their infidel philosophers. Now, in this category of Jew and infidel, stood the author of ‘Phaedon.’ He was certainly liable to toll as a hog; but, on the other hand, he was much admired as one who despised the Pentateuch. Now that Mendelssohn, whose learned labors lined our trunks, was the father of this Mendelssohn, whose Greek music afflicts our ears. Naturally, then, it strikes me, that as ‘papa’ Mendelssohn attended the synagogue to save appearances, the filial Mendelssohn would also attend it. I likewise attended the synagogue now and then at Liverpool, and elsewhere. We all three have been cruising in the same latitudes; and, trusting to my own remembrances, I should pronounce that Mendelssohn has stolen his Greek music from the synagogue. There was, in the first chorus of the ‘Antigone,’ one sublime ascent (and once repeated) that rang to heaven: it might have entered into the music of Jubal’s lyre, or have glorified the timbrel of Miriam. All the rest, tried by the deep standard of my own feeling, that clamors for the impassioned in music, even as the daughter of the horse-leech says, ‘Give, give,’ is as much without meaning as most of the Hebrew chanting that I heard at the Liverpool synagogue. I advise Mr. Murray, in the event of his ever reviving the ‘Antigone,’ to make the chorus sing the Hundredth Psalm, rather than Mendelssohn’s music; or, which would be better still, to import from Lancashire the Handel chorus- singers.

But then, again, whatever change in the music were made, so as to ‘better the condition’ of the poor audience, something should really be done to ‘better the condition’ of the poor chorus. Think of these worthy men, in their white and skyblue liveries, kept standing the whole evening; no seats allowed, no dancing; no tobacco; nothing to console them but Antigone’s beauty; and all this in our climate, latitude fifty-five degrees, 30th of December, and Fahrenheit groping about, I don’t pretend to know where, but clearly on his road down to the wine cellar. Mr. Murray, I am perfectly sure, is too liberal to have grudged the expense, if he could have found any classic precedent for treating the chorus to a barrel of ale. Ale, he may object, is an unclassical tipple; but perhaps not. Xenophon, the most Attic of prose writers, mentions pointedly in his Anabasis, that the Ten Thousand, when retreating through snowy mountains, and in circumstances very like our General Elphinstone’s retreat from Cabul, came upon a considerable stock of bottled ale. To be sure, the poor ignorant man calls it barley wine, [Greek: oitos chrithinos:] but the flavor was found so perfectly classical that not one man of the ten thousand, not even the Attic bee himself, is reported to have left any protest against it, or indeed to have left much of the ale.

But stop: perhaps I am intruding upon other men’s space. Speaking, therefore, now finally to the principal question, How far did this memorable experiment succeed? I reply, that, in the sense of realizing all that the joint revivers proposed to realize, it succeeded; and failed only where these revivers had themselves failed to comprehend the magnificent tendencies of Greek tragedy, or where the limitations of our theatres, arising out of our habits and social differences, had made it impossible to succeed. In London, I believe that there are nearly thirty theatres, and many more, if every place of amusement (not bearing the technical name of theatre) were included. All these must be united to compose a building such as that which received the vast audiences, and consequently the vast spectacles, of some ancient cities. And yet, from a great mistake in our London and Edinburgh attempts to imitate the stage of the Greek theatres, little use was made of such advantages as really were at our disposal. The possible depth of the Edinburgh stage was not laid open. Instead of a regal hall in Thebes, I protest I took it for the boudoir of Antigone. It was painted in light colors, an error which was abominable, though possibly meant by the artist (but quite unnecessarily) as a proper ground for relieving the sumptuous dresses of the leading performers. The doors of entrance and exit were most unhappily managed. As to the dresses, those of Creon, of his queen, and of the two loyal sisters, were good: chaste, and yet princely. The dress of the chorus was as bad as bad as could be: a few surplices borrowed from Episcopal chapels, or rather the ornamented albes, etc. from any rich Roman Catholic establishment, would have been more effective. The Coryphaeus himself seemed, to my eyes, no better than a railway laborer, fresh from tunnelling or boring, and wearing a blouse to hide his working dress. These ill- used men ought to ‘strike’ for better clothes, in case Antigone should again revisit the glimpses of an Edinburgh moon; and at the same time they might mutter a hint about the ale. But the great hindrances to a perfect restoration of a Greek tragedy, lie in peculiarities of our theatres that cannot be removed, because bound up with their purposes. I suppose that Salisbury Plain would seem too vast a theatre: but at least a cathedral would be required in dimensions, York Minster or Cologne. Lamp-light gives to us some advantages which the ancients had not. But much art would be required to train and organize the lights and the masses of superincumbent gloom, that should be such as to allow no calculation of the dimensions overhead. Aboriginal night should brood over the scene, and the sweeping movements of the scenic groups: bodily expression should be given to the obscure feeling of that dark power which moved in ancient tragedy: and we should be made to know why it is that, with the one exception of the Persae, founded on the second Persian invasion, [11] in which Aeschylus, the author, was personally a combatant, and therefore a contemporary, not one of the thirty-four Greek tragedies surviving, but recedes into the dusky shades of the heroic, or even fabulous times.

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A failure, therefore, I think the ‘Antigone,’ in relation to an object that for us is unattainable; but a failure worth more than many ordinary successes. We are all deeply indebted to Mr. Murray’s liberality, in two senses; to his liberal interest in the noblest section of ancient literature, and to his liberal disregard of expense. To have seen a Grecian play is a great remembrance. To have seen Miss Helen Faucit’s Antigone, were that all, with her bust, [Greek: os agalmatos] [12] and her uplifted arm ‘pleading against unjust tribunals,’ is worth–what is it worth? Worth the money? How mean a thought! To see Helen, to see Helen of Greece, was the chief prayer of Marlow’s Dr. Faustus; the chief gift which he exacted from the fiend. To see Helen of Greece? Dr. Faustus, we have seen her: Mr. Murray is the Mephistopheles that showed her to us. It was cheap at the price of a journey to Siberia, and is the next best thing to having seen Waterloo at sunset on the 18th of June, 1815. [13]


[1] ‘When sown;’ as it has been repeatedly; a fact which some readers may not be aware of.

[2] Boileau, it is true, translated Longinus. But there goes little Greek to that. It is in dealing with Attic Greek, and Attic poets, that a man can manifest his Grecian skill.

[3] ‘Before God was known;’–i.e. known in Greece.

[4] At times, I say pointedly, the Athenian rather than the Grecian tragedy, in order to keep the reader’s attention awake to a remark made by Paterculus,–viz. That although Greece coquettishly welcomed homage to herself, as generally concerned in the Greek literature, in reality Athens only had any original share in the drama, or in the oratory of Greece.

[5] ‘The supreme artist:’–It is chiefly by comparison with Euripides, that Sophocles is usually crowned with the laurels of art. But there is some danger of doing wrong to the truth in too blindly adhering to these old rulings of critical courts. The judgments would sometimes be reversed, if the pleadings were before us. There were blockheads in those days. Undoubtedly it is past denying that Euripides at times betrays marks of carelessness in the structure of his plots, as if writing too much in a hurry: the original cast of the fable is sometimes not happy, and the evolution or disentangling is too precipitate. It is easy to see that he would have remoulded them in a revised edition, or diaskeue [Greek.] On the other hand, I remember nothing in the Greek drama more worthy of a great artist than parts in his Phoenissae. Neither is he the effeminately tender, or merely pathetic poet that some people imagine. He was able to sweep all the chords of the impassioned spirit. But the whole of this subject is in arrear: it is in fact res integra, almost unbroken ground.

[6] I see a possible screw loose at this point: if you see it, reader, have the goodness to hold your tongue.

[7] ‘Athenian Theatre:’–Many corrections remain to be made. Athens, in her bloom, was about as big as Calcutta, which contained, forty years ago, more than half a million of people; or as Naples, which (being long rated at three hundred thousand), is now known to contain at least two hundred thousand more. The well known census of Demetrius Phalereus gave twenty- one thousand citizens. Multiply this by 5, or 4-3/4, and you have their families. Add ten thousand, multiplied by 4-1/2, for the Inquilini. Then add four hundred thousand for the slaves: total, about five hundred and fifty thousand. But upon the fluctuations of the Athenian population there is much room for speculation. And, quaere, was not the population of Athens greater two centuries before Demetrius, in the days of Pericles?

[8] Having no Sophocles at hand, I quote from memory, not pretending therefore to exactness: but the sense is what I state.

[9] Whose version, I do not know. But one unaccountable error was forced on one’s notice. Thebes, which, by Milton and by every scholar is made a monosyllable, is here made a dissyllable. But Thebez, the dissyllable, is a Syrian city. It is true that Causabon deduces from a Syriac word meaning a case or enclosure (a theca), the name of Thebes, whether Boeotian or Egyptian. It is probable, therefore, that Thebes the hundred-gated of Upper Egypt, Thebes the seven-gated of Greece, and Thebes of Syria, had all one origin as regards the name. But this matters not; it is the English name that we are concerned with.

[10] ‘False:’ or rather inaccurate. The burlesque was not on the Antigone, but on the Medea of Euripides; and very amusing.

[11] But in this instance, perhaps, distance of space, combined with the unrivalled grandeur of the war, was felt to equiponderate the distance of time, Susa, the Persian capital, being fourteen hundred miles from Athens.

[12] [Greek: Sterna th’os agalmatos], her bosom as the bosom of a statue; an expression of Euripides, and applied, I think, to Polyxena at the moment of her sacrifice on the tomb of Achilles, as the bride that was being married to him at the moment of his death.

[13] Amongst the questions which occurred to me as requiring an answer, in connection with this revival, was one with regard to the comparative fitness of the Antigone for giving a representative idea of the Greek stage. I am of opinion that it was the worst choice which could have been made; and for the very reason which no doubt governed that choice, viz.– because the austerity of the tragic passion is disfigured by a love episode. Rousseau in his letter to D’Alembert upon his article Geneve, in the French Encyclopedie, asks,–‘Qui est-ce qui doute que, sur nos theatres, la meilleure piece de Sophocle ne tombat tout-a-plat?‘ And his reason (as collected from other passages) is–because an interest derived from the passion of sexual love can rarely be found on the Greek stage, and yet cannot be dispensed with on that of Paris. But why was it so rare on the Greek stage? Not from accident, but because it did not harmonize with the principle of that stage, and its vast overhanging gloom. It is the great infirmity of the French, and connected constitutionally with the gayety of their temperament, that they cannot sympathize with this terrific mode of grandeur. We can. And for us the choice should have been more purely and severely Grecian; whilst the slenderness of the plot in any Greek tragedy, would require a far more effective support from tumultuous movement in the chorus. Even the French are not uniformly insensible to this Grecian grandeur. I remember that Voltaire, amongst many just remarks on the Electra of Sophocles, mixed with others that are not just, bitterly condemns this demand for a love fable on the French stage, and illustrates its extravagance by the French tragedy on the same subject, of Crebillon. He (in default of any more suitable resource) has actually made Electra, whose character on the Greek stage is painfully vindictive, in love with an imaginary son of Aegisthus, her father’s murderer. Something should also have been said of Mrs. Leigh Murray’s Ismene, which was very effective in supporting and in relieving the magnificent impression of Antigone. I ought also to have added a note on the scenic mask, and the common notion (not authorized, I am satisfied, by the practice in the supreme era of Pericles), that it exhibited a Janus face, the windward side expressing grief or horror, the leeward expressing tranquillity. Believe it not, reader. But on this and other points, it will be better to speak circumstantially, in a separate paper on the Greek drama, as a majestic but very exclusive and almost, if one may say so, bigoted form of the scenic art.

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