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Lectures on Dramatic Art by August Wilhelm Schlegel trans John Black

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"Were I to pray for a taste which should stand me in stead under every
variety of circumstances, and be a source of happiness and cheerfulness to
me during life, and a shield against its ills, however things might go
amiss and the world frown upon me, it would he a taste for reading....
Give a man this taste, and the means of gratifying it, and you can hardly
fail of making him a happy man; unless, indeed, you put into his hands a
most perverse selection of Books. You place him in contact with the best
society in every period of history,--with the wisest, the wittiest, the
tenderest, the bravest, and the purest characters who have adorned
humanity. You make him a denizen of all nations, a contemporary of all
ages. The world has been created for him."--SIR JOHN HERSCHEL. _Address
on the opening of the Eton Library_, 1833.




Preface of the Translator.

Author's Preface.

Memoir of the Life of Augustus William Schlegel.


Introduction--Spirit of True Criticism--Difference of Taste between the
Ancients and Moderns--Classical and Romantic Poetry and Art--Division of
Dramatic Literature; the Ancients, their Imitators, and the Romantic Poets.


Definition of the Drama--View of the Theatres of all Nations--Theatrical
Effect--Importance of the Stage--Principal Species of the Drama.


Essence of Tragedy and Comedy--Earnestness and Sport--How far it is
possible to become acquainted with the Ancients without knowing Original


Structure of the Stage among the Greeks--Their Acting--Use of Masks--False
comparison of Ancient Tragedy to the Opera--Tragical Lyric Poetry.


Essence of the Greek Tragedies--Ideality of the Representation--Idea of
Fate--Source of the Pleasure derived from Tragical Representations--Import
of the Chorus--The materials of Greek Tragedy derived from Mythology--
Comparison with the Plastic Arts.


Progress of the Tragic Art among the Greeks--Various styles of Tragic Art
--Aeschylus--Connexion in a Trilogy of Aeschylus--His remaining Works.


Life and Political Character of Sophocles--Character of his different


Euripides--His Merits and Defects--Decline of Tragic Poetry through him.


Comparison between the _Choephorae_ of Aeschylus, the _Electra_ of
Sophocles, and that of Euripides.


Character of the remaining Works of Euripides--The Satirical Drama--
Alexandrian Tragic Poets.


The Old Comedy proved to be completely a contrast to Tragedy--Parody--
Ideality of Comedy the reverse of that of Tragedy--Mirthful Caprice--
Allegoric and Political Signification--The Chorus and its Parabases.


Aristophanes--His Character as an Artist--Description and Character of his
remaining Works--A Scene, translated from the _Acharnae_, by way of


Whether the Middle Comedy was a distinct species--Origin of the New
Comedy--A mixed species--Its prosaic character--Whether versification is
essential to Comedy--Subordinate kinds--Pieces of Character, and of
Intrigue--The Comic of observation, of self-consciousness, and arbitrary
Comic--Morality of Comedy.


Plautus and Terence as Imitators of the Greeks, here examined and
characterized in the absence of the Originals they copied--Motives of the
Athenian Comedy from Manners and Society--Portrait-Statues of two


Roman Theatre--Native kinds: Atellane Fables, Mimes, Comoedia Togata--
Greek Tragedy transplanted to Rome--Tragic Authors of a former Epoch, and
of the Augustan Age--Idea of a National Roman Tragedy--Causes of the want
of success of the Romans in Tragedy--Seneca.


The Italians--Pastoral Dramas of Tasso and Guarini--Small progress in
Tragedy--Metastasio and Alfieri--Character of both--Comedies of Ariosto,
Aretin, Porta--Improvisatore Masks--Goldoni--Gozzi--Latest state.


Antiquities of the French Stage--Influence of Aristotle and the Imitation
of the Ancients--Investigation of the Three Unities--What is Unity of
Action?--Unity of Time--Was it observed by the Greeks?--Unity of Place as
connected with it.


Mischief resulting to the French Stage from too narrow Interpretation of
the Rules of Unity--Influence of these rules on French Tragedy--Manner of
treating Mythological and Historical Materials--Idea of Tragical Dignity--
Observation of Conventional Rules--False System of Expositions.


Use at first made of the Spanish Theatre by the French--General Character
of Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire--Review of the principal Works of
Corneille and of Racine--Thomas Corneille and Crebillon.


Voltaire--Tragedies on Greek Subjects: _Oedipe_, _Merope_, _Oreste_--
Tragedies on Roman Subjects: _Brute_, _Mort de César_, _Catiline_, _Le
Triumvirat_--Earlier Pieces: _Zaire_, _Alzire_, _Mahomet_, _Semiramis_,
And _Tancred_.


French Comedy--Molière--Criticism of his Works--Scarron, Boursault,
Regnard; Comedies in the Time of the Regency; Marivaux and Destouches;
Piron and Gresset--Later Attempts--The Heroic Opera: Quinault--Operettes
and Vaudevilles--Diderot's attempted Change of the Theatre--The Weeping
Drama--Beaumarchais--Melo-Dramas--Merits and Defects of the Histrionic Art.


Comparison of the English and Spanish Theatres--Spirit of the Romantic
Drama--Shakspeare--His Age and the Circumstances of his Life.


Ignorance or Learning of Shakspeare--Costume as observed by Shakspeare,
and how far necessary, or may be dispensed with, in the Drama--Shakspeare
the greatest drawer of Character--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


Criticisms on Shakspeare's Comedies.


Criticisms on Shakspeare's Tragedies.


Criticisms on Shakspeare's Historical Dramas.


Two Periods of the English Theatre: the first the most important--The
first Conformation of the Stage, and its Advantages--State of the
Histrionic Art in Shakspeare's Time--Antiquities of Dramatic Literature--
Lilly, Marlow, Heywood--Ben Jonson; Criticism of his Works--Masques--
Beaumont and Fletcher--General Characterization of these Poets, and
Remarks on some of their Pieces--Massinger and other Contemporaries of
Charles I.


Closing of the Stage by the Puritans--Revival of the Stage under Charles
II.--Depravity of Taste and Morals--Dryden, Otway, and others--
Characterization of the Comic Poets from Wycherley and Congreve to the
Middle of the Eighteenth Century--Tragedies of the same Period--Rowe--
Addison's _Cato_--Later Pieces--Familiar Tragedy: Lillo--Garrick--
Latest State.


Spanish Theatre--Its three Periods: Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderon--
Spirit of the Spanish Poetry in general--Influence of the National History
on it--Form, and various Species of the Spanish Drama--Decline since the
beginning of the Eighteenth Century.


Origin of the German Theatre--Hans Sachs--Gryphius--The Age of Gottsched--
Wretched Imitation of the French--Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller--Review of
their Works--Their Influence on Chivalrous Dramas, Affecting Dramas, and
Family Pictures--Prospect for Futurity.


The Lectures of A. W. SCHLEGEL on Dramatic Poetry have obtained high
celebrity on the Continent, and been much alluded to of late in several
publications in this country. The boldness of his attacks on rules which
are considered as sacred by the French critics, and on works of which the
French nation in general have long been proud, called forth a more than
ordinary degree of indignation against his work in France. It was amusing
enough to observe the hostility carried on against him in the Parisian
Journals. The writers in these Journals found it much easier to condemn M.
SCHLEGEL than to refute him: they allowed that what he said was very
ingenious, and had a great appearance of truth; but still they said it was
not truth. They never, however, as far as I could observe, thought proper
to grapple with him, to point out anything unfounded in his premises, or
illogical in the conclusions which he drew from them; they generally
confined themselves to mere assertions, or to minute and unimportant
observations by which the real question was in no manner affected.

In this country the work will no doubt meet with a very different
reception. Here we have no want of scholars to appreciate the value of his
views of the ancient drama; and it will be no disadvantage to him, in our
eyes, that he has been unsparing in his attack on the literature of our
enemies. It will hardly fail to astonish us, however, to find a stranger
better acquainted with the brightest poetical ornament of this country
than any of ourselves; and that the admiration of the English nation for
Shakspeare should first obtain a truly enlightened interpreter in a critic
of Germany.

It is not for me, however, to enlarge on the merits of a work which has
already obtained so high a reputation. I shall better consult my own
advantage in giving a short extract from the animated account of M.
SCHLEGEL'S Lectures in the late work on Germany by Madame de Staël:--

"W. SCHLEGEL has given a course of Dramatic Literature at Vienna, which
comprises every thing remarkable that has been composed for the theatre,
from the time of the Grecians to our own days. It is not a barren
nomenclature of the works of the various authors: he seizes the spirit of
their different sorts of literature with all the imagination of a poet. We
are sensible that to produce such consequences extraordinary studies are
required: but learning is not perceived in this work, except by his
perfect knowledge of the _chefs-d'oeuvre_ of composition. In a few
pages we reap the fruit of the labour of a whole life; every opinion
formed by the author, every epithet given to the writers of whom he
speaks, is beautiful and just, concise and animated. He has found the art
of treating the finest pieces of poetry as so many wonders of nature, and
of painting them in lively colours, which do not injure the justness of
the outline; for we cannot repeat too often, that imagination, far from
being an enemy to truth, brings it forward more than any other faculty of
the mind; and all those who depend upon it as an excuse for indefinite
terms or exaggerated expressions, are at least as destitute of poetry as
of good sense.

"An analysis of the principles on which both Tragedy and Comedy are
founded, is treated in this course with much depth of philosophy. This
kind of merit is often found among the German writers; but SCHLEGEL has no
equal in the art of inspiring his own admiration; in general, be shows
himself attached to a simple taste, sometimes bordering on rusticity; but
he deviates from his usual opinions in favour of the inhabitants of the
South. Their play on words is not the object of his censure; he detests
the affectation which owes its existence to the spirit of society: but
that which is excited by the luxury of imagination pleases him, in poetry,
as the profusion of colours and perfumes would do in nature. SCHLEGEL,
after having acquired a great reputation by his translation of Shakspeare,
became also enamoured of Calderon, but with a very different sort of
attachment from that with which Shakspeare had inspired him; for while the
English author is deep and gloomy in his knowledge of the human heart, the
Spanish poet gives himself up with pleasure and delight to the beauty of
life, to the sincerity of faith, and to all the brilliancy of those
virtues which derive their colouring from the sunshine of the soul.

"I was at Vienna when W. SCHLEGEL gave his public course of Lectures. I
expected only good sense and instruction, where the object was merely to
convey information: I was astonished to hear a critic as eloquent as an
orator, and who, far from falling upon defects, which are the eternal food
of mean and little jealousy, sought only the means of reviving a creative

Thus far Madame de Staël. In taking upon me to become the interpreter of a
work of this description to my countrymen, I am aware that I have incurred
no slight degree of responsibility. How I have executed my task it is not
for me to speak, but for the reader to judge. This much, however, I will
say,--that I have always endeavoured to discover the true meaning of the
author, and that I believe I have seldom mistaken it. Those who are best
acquainted with the psychological riches of the German language, will be
the most disposed to look on my labour with an eye of indulgence.


From the size of the present work, it will not be expected that it should
contain either a course of Dramatic Literature bibliographically complete,
or a history of the theatre compiled with antiquarian accuracy. Of books
containing dry accounts and lists of names there are already enough. My
purpose was to give a general view, and to develope those ideas which
ought to guide us in our estimate of the value of the dramatic productions
of various ages and nations.

The greatest part of the following Lectures, with the exception of a few
observations of a secondary nature, the suggestion of the moment, were
delivered orally as they now appear in print. The only alteration consists
in a more commodious distribution, and here and there in additions, where
the limits of the time prevented me from handling many matters with
uniform minuteness. This may afford a compensation for the animation of
oral delivery which sometimes throws a veil over deficiencies of
expression, and always excites a certain degree of expectation.

I delivered these Lectures, in the spring of 1808, at Vienna, to a
brilliant audience of nearly three hundred individuals of both sexes. The
inhabitants of Vienna have long been in the habit of refuting the
injurious descriptions which many writers of the North of Germany have
given of that capital, by the kindest reception of all learned men and
artists belonging to these regions, and by the most disinterested zeal for
the credit of our national literature, a zeal which a just sensibility has
not been able to cool. I found here the cordiality of better times united
with that amiable animation of the South, which is often denied to our
German seriousness, and the universal diffusion of a keen taste for
intellectual amusement. To this circumstance alone I must attribute it
that not a few of the men who hold the most important places at court, in
the state, and in the army, artists and literary men of merit, women of
the choicest social cultivation, paid me not merely an occasional visit,
but devoted to me an uninterrupted attention.

With joy I seize this fresh opportunity of laying my gratitude at the feet
of the benignant monarch who, in the permission to deliver these Lectures
communicated to me by way of distinction immediately from his own hand,
gave me an honourable testimony of his gracious confidence, which I as a
foreigner who had not the happiness to be born under his sceptre, and
merely felt myself bound as a German and a citizen of the world to wish
him every blessing and prosperity, could not possibly have merited.

Many enlightened patrons and zealous promoters of everything good and
becoming have merited my gratitude for the assistance which they gave to
my undertaking, and the encouragement which they afforded me during its

The whole of my auditors rendered my labour extremely agreeable by their
indulgence, their attentive participation, and their readiness to
distinguish, in a feeling manner, every passage which seemed worthy of
their applause.

It was a flattering moment, which I shall never forget, when, in the last
hour, after I had called up recollections of the old German renown sacred
to every one possessed of true patriotic sentiment, and when the minds of
my auditors were thus more solemnly attuned, I was at last obliged to take
my leave powerfully agitated by the reflection that our recent relation,
founded on a common love for a nobler mental cultivation, would be so soon
dissolved, and that I should never again see those together who were then
assembled around me. A general emotion was perceptible, excited by so much
that I could not say, but respecting which our hearts understood each
other. In the mental dominion of thought and poetry, inaccessible to
worldly power, the Germans, who are separated in so many ways from each
other, still feel their unity: and in this feeling, whose interpreter the
writer and orator must be, amidst our clouded prospects we may still
cherish the elevating presage of the great and immortal calling of our
people, who from time immemorial have remained unmixed in their present

GENEVA, _February_, 1809.


The declaration in the Preface that these Lectures were, with some
additions, printed as they were delivered, is in so far to be corrected,
that the additions in the second part are much more considerable than in
the first. The restriction, in point of time in the oral delivery,
compelled me to leave more gaps in the last half than in the first. The
part respecting Shakspeare and the English theatre, in particular, has
been, almost altogether re-written. I have been prevented, partly by the
want of leisure and partly by the limits of the work, from treating of the
Spanish theatre with that fulness which its importance deserves.


AUGUSTUS WILLIAM VON SCHLEGEL, the author of the following Lectures, was,
with his no-less distinguished brother, Frederick, the son of John Adolph
Schlegel, a native of Saxony, and descended from a noble family. Holding a
high appointment in the Lutheran church, Adolph Schlegel distinguished
himself as a religious poet, and was the friend and associate of Rabener,
Gellert, and Klopstock. Celebrated for his eloquence in the pulpit, and
strictly diligent in the performance of his religious duties, he died in
1792, leaving an example to his children which no doubt had a happy
influence on them.

Of these, the seventh, Augustus William, was born in Hanover, September
5th, 1767. In his early childhood, he evinced a genuine susceptibility for
all that was good and noble; and this early promise of a generous and
virtuous disposition was carefully nurtured by the religious instruction
of his mother, an amiable and highly-gifted woman. Of this parent's pious
and judicious teaching, Augustus William had to the end of his days a
grateful remembrance, and he cherished for her throughout life a sincere
and affectionate esteem, whose ardour neither time nor distance could
diminish. The filial affection of her favourite son soothed the declining
years of his mother, and lightened the anxieties with which the critical
and troubled state of the times alarmed her old age. His further education
was carried on by a private tutor, who prepared him for the grammar-school
at Hanover, where he was distinguished both for his unremitting
application, to which he often sacrificed the hours of leisure and
recreation, and for the early display of a natural gift for language,
which enabled him immediately on the close of his academic career to
accept a tutorial appointment, which demanded of its holder a knowledge
not only of the classics but also of English and French. He also displayed
at a very early age a talent for poetry, and some of his juvenile
extempore effusions were remarkable for their easy versification and
rhythmical flow. In his eighteenth year he was called upon to deliver in
the Lyceum of his native city, the anniversary oration in honour of a
royal birthday. His address on this occasion excited an extraordinary
sensation both by the graceful elegance of the style and the interest of
the matter, written in hexameters. It embraced a short history of poetry
in Germany, and was relieved and animated with many judicious and striking
illustrations from the earliest Teutonic poets.

He now proceeded to the University of Göttingen as a student of theology,
which science, however, he shortly abandoned for the more congenial one of
philology. The propriety of this charge he amply attested by his Essay on
the Geography of Homer, which displayed both an intelligent and
comprehensive study of this difficult branch of classical archaeology.

At Göttingen he lived in the closest intimacy with Heyne, for whose
_Virgil_, in 1788 he completed an index; he also became acquainted
with the celebrated Michaelis. It was here too that he formed the
friendship of Bürger, to whose _Academie der Schönen Redekünste_, he
contributed his _Ariadne_, and an essay on _Dante_. The kindred genius of
Bürger favourably influenced his own mind and tastes, and moved him to
make the first known attempt to naturalize the Italian sonnet in Germany.

Towards the end of his university career he combined his own studies with
the private instruction of a rich young Englishman, born in the East
Indies, and at the close of it accepted the post of tutor to the only son
of Herr Muilmann, the celebrated Banker of Amsterdam. In this situation he
gained universal respect and esteem, but after three years he quitted it
to enter upon a wider sphere of literary activity. On his return to his
native country he was elected Professor in the University of Jena.
Schlegel's residence in this place, which may truly be called the classic
soil of German literature, as it gained him the acquaintance of his
eminent contemporaries Schiller and Goethe, marks a decisive epoch in the
formation of his intellectual character. At this date he contributed
largely to the _Horen_, and also to Schiller's _Musen-Almanach_, and
down to 1799 was one of the most fertile writers in the _Allgemeinen
Literatur-Zeitung_ of Jena. It was here, also, that he commenced his
translations of Shakspeare, (9 vols., Berlin, 1797-1810,) which produced a
salutary effect on the taste and judgment of his countrymen, and also on
Dramatic Art and theatrical representation in Germany. Notwithstanding the
favourable reception of this work he subsequently abandoned it, and on the
publication of a new edition, in 1825, he cheerfully consigned to Tieck
the revision of his own labours, and the completion of the yet
untranslated pieces.

Continuing attached to the University of Jena, where the dignity of
Professorship was associated with that of Member of the Council, he now
commenced a course of lectures on Aesthetics, and joined his brother
Frederick in the editorship of the _Athenaeum_, (3 vols., Berlin,
1796-1800,) an Aesthetico-critical journal, intended, while observing a
rigorous but an impartial spirit of criticism, to discover and foster
every grain of a truly vital development of mind. It was also during his
residence at Jena that he published the first edition of his Poems, among
which the religious pieces and the Sonnets on Art were greatly admired and
had many imitators. To the latter years of his residence at Jena, which
may be called the political portion of Schlegel's literary career, belongs
the _Gate of Honour for the Stage-President Von-Kotzebue_, (_Ehrenpforte
fur den Theater Präsidenten von Kotzebue_, 1800,) an ill-natured and much-
censured satire in reply to Kotzebue's attack, entitled the _Hyperborean
Ass_ (_Hyperboreischen Esee_). At this time he also collected several of
his own and brother Frederick's earlier and occasional contributions to
various periodicals, and these, together with the hitherto unpublished
dissertations on Bürger's works, make up the _Characteristiken u Kritiken_
(2 vols., Koenigsberg, 1801). Shortly afterwards he undertook with Tieck
the editorship of _Musen-Almanack_ for 1802. The two brothers were now
leading a truly scientific and poetic life, associating and co-operating
with many minds of a kindred spirit, who gathered round Tieck and Novalis
as their centre.

His marriage with the daughter of Michaelis was not a happy one, and was
quickly followed by a separation, upon which Schlegel proceeded to Berlin.
In this city, towards the end of 1802, he delivered his _Lectures on the
Present State of Literature and the Fine Arts_, which were afterwards
printed in the _Europa_, under his brother's editorship. The publication
in 1803 of his _Ion_, a drama in imitation of the ancients, but as a
composition unmarked by any peculiar display of vigour, led to an
interesting argument between himself, Bernhardi, and Schilling. This
discussion, which extended from its original subject to Euripides and
Dramatic Representation in general, was carried on in the _Journal for
the Polite World_ (_Zeitung fur die elegante Welt_,) which Schlegel
supported by his advice and contributions. In this periodical he also
entered the lists in opposition to Kotzebue and Merkel in the
_Freimüthige_ (_The Liberal_), and the merits of the so-called modern
school and its leaders, was the subject of a paper war, waged with the
bitterest acrimony of controversy, which did not scruple to employ the
sharpest weapons of personal abuse and ridicule.

At this date Schlegel was engaged upon his _Spanish Theatre_, (2
vols., Berlin, 1803-1809). In the execution of this work, much was
naturally demanded of the translator of Shakspeare, nor did he disappoint
the general expectator, although he had here far greater difficulties to
contend with. Not content with merely giving a faithful interpretation of
his author's meaning, he laid down and strictly observed the law of
adhering rigorously to all the measures, rhythms, and assonances of the
original. These two excellent translations, in each of which he has
brought to bear both the great command of his own, and a wonderful
quickness in catching the spirit of a foreign language, have earned for
Schlegel the foremost place among successful and able translators, while
his _Flowers of Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese Poetry_ (_Blumensträusse
d. Ital. Span. u. Portug. Poesie_, Berlin, 1804), furnish another proof
both of his skill in this pursuit and of the extent of his acquaintance
with European literature. Moreover, the merit of having by these
translations made Shakspeare and Calderon more widely known and better
appreciated in Germany would, in default of any other claim, alone entitle
him to take high rank in the annals of modern literature.

But a new and more important career was now open to him by his
introduction to Madame de Staël. Making a tour in Germany, this
distinguished woman arrived at Berlin in 1805, and desirous of acquainting
herself more thoroughly with German literature she selected Schlegel to
direct her studies of it, and at the same time confided to his charge the
completion of her children's education. Quitting Berlin he accompanied
this lady on her travels through Italy and France, and afterwards repaired
with her to her paternal seat at Coppet, on the Lake of Geneva, which now
became for some time his fixed abode. It was here that in 1807 he wrote in
French his _Parallel between the Phaedra of Euripides and the Phèdre of
Racine_, which produced a lively sensation in the literary circles of
Paris. This city had peculiar attractions for Schlegel, both in its
invaluable literary stores and its re-union of men of letters, among whom
his own views and opinions found many enthusiastic admirers and partisans,
notwithstanding that in his critical analysis of Racine's _Phèdre_ he
had presumed to attack what Frenchmen deemed the chiefest glory of their
literature, and had mortified their national vanity in its most sensitive

In the spring of 1808 he visited Vienna, and there read to a brilliant
audience his _Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature_, which, on their
publication, were hailed throughout Europe with marked approbation, and
which will, unquestionably, transmit his name to the latest posterity.
His object in these Lectures is both to take a rapid survey of dramatic
productions of different ages and nations, and to develope and determine
the general ideas by which their true artistic value must be judged. In
his travels with Madame de Staël he was introduced to the present King,
then the Crown Prince, of Bavaria, who bestowed on him many marks of his
respect and esteem, and about this time he took a part in the _German
Museum_ (_Deutsche Museum_), of his brother Frederick, contributing some
learned and profound dissertations on the _Lay of the Nibelungen_. In
1812, when the subjugated South no longer afforded an asylum to the
liberal-minded De Staël, with whose personal fortunes he felt himself
inseparably linked by that deep feeling of esteem and friendship which
speaks so touchingly and pathetically in some of his later poems, he
accompanied that lady on a visit to Stockholm, where he formed the
acquaintance of the Crown Prince.

The great political events of this period were not without their effect on
Schlegel's mind, and in 1813 he came forward as a political writer, when
his powerful pen was not without its effect in rousing the German mind
from the torpor into which it had sunk beneath the victorious military
despotism of France. But he was called upon to take a more active part in
the measures of these stirring times, and in this year entered the service
of the Crown Prince of Sweden, as secretary and counsellor at head
quarters. For this Prince he had a great personal regard, and estimated
highly both his virtues as a man and his talents as a general. The
services he rendered the Swedish Prince were duly appreciated and
rewarded, among other marks of distinction by a patent of nobility, in
virtue of which he prefixed the "Von" to his paternal name of Schlegel.
The Emperor Alexander, of whose religious elevation of character he always
spoke with admiration, also honoured him with his intimacy and many tokens
of esteem.

Upon the fall of Napoleon he returned to Coppet with Madame de Staël, and
in 1815 published a second volume of his _Poetical Works_, (Heildelberg,
1811-1815, 2nd edit., 2 vols., 1820). These are characterized not merely
by the brilliancy and purity of the language, but also by the variety and
richness of the imagery. Among these the _Arion_, _Pygmalion_, and _Der
Heilige Lucas_ (St. Luke,) the Sonnets, and the sublime elegy, _Rhine_,
dedicated to Madame de Staël, deserve especial mention, and give him a
just claim to a poet's crown.

On the death of his friend and patroness in 1819, he accepted the offer of
a professor's chair in Bonn, where he married a daughter of Professor
Paulus. This union, as short-lived as the first, was followed by a
separation in 1820. In his new position of academic tutor, while he
diligently promoted the study of the fine arts and sciences, both of the
Ancient and the Moderns, he applied himself with peculiar ardour to
Oriental literature, and particularly to the Sanscrit. As a fruit of these
studies, he published his _Indian Library_, (2 vols., Bonn, 1820-26);
he also set up a press for printing the great Sanscrit work, the
_Râmâjana_ (Bonn, 1825). He also edited the Sanscrit text, with a
Latin translation, of the Bhagavad-Gita, an episode of the great Indian
Epos, the _Mahâbhârata_ (Bonn, 1829). About this period his Oriental
studies took, him to France, and afterwards to England, where, in London
and in the college libraries of Oxford and Cambridge, and the East India
College at Hailesbury, he carefully examined the various collections of
Oriental MSS. On his return he was appointed Superintendent of the Museum
of Antiquities, and in 1827 delivered at Berlin a course of Lectures on
the _Theory and History of the Fine Arts_, (Berlin, 1827). These were
followed by his _Criticisms_, (Berlin, 1828), and his _Réflexion sur
l'Etude des Langues Asiatiques_, addressed to Sir James Mackintosh. Being
accused of a secret leaning to Roman Catholicism, (Kryptocatholicisme,) he
ably defended himself in a reply entitled _Explication de quelques
Malentendus_, (Berlin, 1828.)

A. W. Von Schlegel, besides being a Member of the Legion of Honour, was
invested with the decorations of several other Orders. He wrote French
with as much facility as his native language, and many French journals
were proud to number him among their contributors. He also assisted Madame
de Staël in her celebrated work _De l'Allemagne_, and superintended
the publication of her posthumous _Considérations sur la Révolution

After this long career of successful literary activity, A. W. Von Schlegel
died at Bonn, 12 May, 1845. His death was thus noticed in the

"This illustrious writer was, in conjunction with his brother Frederick,
as most European readers well know, the founder of the modern romantic
school of German literature, and as a critic fought many a hard battle for
his faith. The clearness of his insight into poetical and dramatic truth,
Englishmen will always be apt to estimate by the fact that it procured for
himself and for his countrymen the freedom of Shakspeare's enchanted
world, and the taste of all the marvellous things that, like the treasures
of Aladdin's garden, are fruit and gem at once upon its immortal boughs:--
Frenchmen will not readily forget that he disparaged Molière. The merit of
Schlegel's dramatic criticism ought not, however, to be thus limited.
Englishmen themselves are deeply indebted to him. His Lectures, translated
by Black, excited great interest here when first published, some thirty
years since, and have worthily taken a permanent place in our libraries."

His collection of books, which was rather extensive, and rich in Oriental,
especially Sanscrit literature, was sold by auction in Bonn, December,
1845. It appears by a chronological list prefixed to the catalogue, that
reckoning both his separate publications and those contributed to
periodicals, his printed works number no fewer than 126. Besides these he
left many unpublished manuscripts, which, says the _Athenaeum_, "he
bequeathed to the celebrated archaeologist, Welcker, professor at the
Royal University of Bonn, with a request that he would cause them to be



Introduction--Spirit of True Criticism--Difference of Taste between the
Ancients and Moderns--Classical and Romantic Poetry and Art--Division of
Dramatic Literature; the Ancients, their Imitators, and the Romantic

The object of the present series of Lectures will be to combine the theory
of Dramatic Art with its history, and to bring before my auditors at once
its principles and its models.

It belongs to the general philosophical theory of poetry, and the other
fine arts, to establish the fundamental laws of the beautiful. Every art,
on the other hand, has its own special theory, designed to teach the
limits, the difficulties, and the means by which it must be regulated in
its attempt to realize those laws. For this purpose, certain scientific
investigations are indispensable to the artist, although they have but
little attraction for those whose admiration of art is confined to the
enjoyment of the actual productions of distinguished minds. The general
theory, on the other hand, seeks to analyze that essential faculty of
human nature--the sense of the beautiful, which at once calls the fine
arts into existence, and accounts for the satisfaction which arises from
the contemplation of them; and also points out the relation which subsists
between this and all other sentient and cognizant faculties of man. To the
man of thought and speculation, therefore, it is of the highest
importance, but by itself alone it is quite inadequate to guide and direct
the essays and practice of art.

Now, the history of the fine arts informs us what has been, and the theory
teaches what ought to be accomplished by them. But without some
intermediate and connecting link, both would remain independent and
separate from one and other, and each by itself, inadequate and defective.
This connecting link is furnished by criticism, which both elucidates the
history of the arts, and makes the theory fruitful. The comparing
together, and judging of the existing productions of the human mind,
necessarily throws light upon the conditions which are indispensable to
the creation of original and masterly works of art.

Ordinarily, indeed, men entertain a very erroneous notion of criticism,
and understand by it nothing more than a certain shrewdness in detecting
and exposing the faults of a work of art. As I have devoted the greater
part of my life to this pursuit, I may be excused if, by way of preface, I
seek to lay before my auditors my own ideas of the true genius of

We see numbers of men, and even whole nations, so fettered by the
conventions of education and habits of life, that, even in the
appreciation of the fine arts, they cannot shake them off. Nothing to them
appears natural, appropriate, or beautiful, which is alien to their own
language, manners, and social relations. With this exclusive mode of
seeing and feeling, it is no doubt possible to attain, by means of
cultivation, to great nicety of discrimination within the narrow circle to
which it limits and circumscribes them. But no man can be a true critic or
connoisseur without universality of mind, without that flexibility which
enables him, by renouncing all personal predilections and blind habits, to
adapt himself to the peculiarities of other ages and nations--to feel
them, as it were, from their proper central point, and, what ennobles
human nature, to recognise and duly appreciate whatever is beautiful and
grand under the external accessories which were necessary to its
embodying, even though occasionally they may seem to disguise and distort
it. There is no monopoly of poetry for particular ages and nations; and
consequently that despotism in taste, which would seek to invest with
universal authority the rules which at first, perhaps, were but
arbitrarily advanced, is but a vain and empty pretension. Poetry, taken in
its widest acceptation, as the power of creating what is beautiful, and
representing it to the eye or the ear, is a universal gift of Heaven,
being shared to a certain extent even by those whom we call barbarians and
savages. Internal excellence is alone decisive, and where this exists, we
must not allow ourselves to be repelled by the external appearance.
Everything must be traced up to the root of human nature: if it has sprung
from thence, it has an undoubted worth of its own; but if, without
possessing a living germ, it is merely externally attached thereto, it
will never thrive nor acquire a proper growth. Many productions which
appear at first sight dazzling phenomena in the province of the fine arts,
and which as a whole have been honoured with the appellation of works of a
golden age, resemble the mimic gardens of children: impatient to witness
the work of their hands, they break off here and there branches and
flowers, and plant them in the earth; everything at first assumes a noble
appearance: the childish gardener struts proudly up and down among his
showy beds, till the rootless plants begin to droop, and hang their
withered leaves and blossoms, and nothing soon remains but the bare twigs,
while the dark forest, on which no art or care was ever bestowed, and
which towered up towards heaven long before human remembrance, bears every
blast unshaken, and fills the solitary beholder with religious awe.

Let us now apply the idea which we have been developing, of the
universality of true criticism, to the history of poetry and the fine
arts. This, like the so-called universal history, we generally limit (even
though beyond this range there may be much that is both remarkable and
worth knowing) to whatever has had a nearer or more remote influence on
the present civilisation of Europe: consequently, to the works of the
Greeks and Romans, and of those of the modern European nations, who first
and chiefly distinguished themselves in art and literature. It is well
known that, three centuries and a-half ago, the study of ancient
literature received a new life, by the diffusion of the Grecian language
(for the Latin never became extinct); the classical authors were brought
to light, and rendered universally accessible by means of the press; and
the monuments of ancient art were diligently disinterred and preserved.
All this powerfully excited the human mind, and formed a decided epoch in
the history of human civilisation; its manifold effects have extended to
our times, and will yet extend to an incalculable series of ages. But the
study of the ancients was forthwith most fatally perverted. The learned,
who were chiefly in the possession of this knowledge, and who were
incapable of distinguishing themselves by works of their own, claimed for
the ancients an unlimited authority, and with great appearance of reason,
since they are models in their kind. Maintaining that nothing could be
hoped for the human mind but from an imitation of antiquity, in the works
of the moderns they only valued what resembled, or seemed to bear a
resemblance to, those of the ancients. Everything else they rejected as
barbarous and unnatural. With the great poets and artists it was quite
otherwise. However strong their enthusiasm for the ancients, and however
determined their purpose of entering into competition with them, they were
compelled by their independence and originality of mind, to strike out a
path of their own, and to impress upon their productions the stamp of
their own genius. Such was the case with Dante among the Italians, the
father of modern poetry; acknowledging Virgil for his master, he has
produced a work which, of all others, most differs from the Aeneid, and in
our opinion far excels its pretended model in power, truth, compass, and
profundity. It was the same afterwards with Ariosto, who has most
unaccountably been compared to Homer, for nothing can be more unlike. So
in art with Michael Angelo and Raphael, who had no doubt deeply studied
the antique. When we ground our judgment of modern painters merely on
their greater or less resemblance to the ancients, we must necessarily be
unjust towards them, as Winkelmann undoubtedly has in the case of Raphael.
As the poets for the most part had their share of scholarship, it gave
rise to a curious struggle between their natural inclination and their
imaginary duty. When they sacrificed to the latter, they were praised by
the learned; but by yielding to the former, they became the favourites of
the people. What preserves the heroic poems of a Tasso and a Camoëns to
this day alive in the hearts and on the lips of their countrymen, is by no
means their imperfect resemblance to Virgil, or even to Homer, but in
Tasso the tender feeling of chivalrous love and honour, and in Camoëns the
glowing inspiration of heroic patriotism.

Those very ages, nations, and ranks, who felt least the want of a poetry
of their own, were the most assiduous in their imitation of the ancients;
accordingly, its results are but dull school exercises, which at best
excite a frigid admiration. But in the fine arts, mere imitation is always
fruitless; even what we borrow from others, to assume a true poetical
shape, must, as it were, be born again within us. Of what avail is all
foreign imitation? Art cannot exist without nature, and man can give
nothing to his fellow-men but himself.

Genuine successors and true rivals of the ancients, who, by virtue of
congenial talents and cultivation have walked in their path and worked in
their spirit, have ever been as rare as their mechanical spiritless
copyists are common. Seduced by the form, the great body of critics have
been but too indulgent to these servile imitators. These were held up as
correct modern classics, while the great truly living and popular poets,
whose reputation was a part of their nations' glory, and to whose
sublimity it was impossible to be altogether blind, were at best but
tolerated as rude and wild natural geniuses. But the unqualified
separation of genius and taste on which such a judgment proceeds, is
altogether untenable. Genius is the almost unconscious choice of the
highest degree of excellence, and, consequently, it is taste in its
highest activity.

In this state, nearly, matters continued till a period not far back, when
several inquiring minds, chiefly Germans, endeavoured to clear up the
misconception, and to give the ancients their due, without being
insensible to the merits of the moderns, although of a totally different
kind. The apparent contradiction did not intimidate them. The groundwork
of human nature is no doubt everywhere the same; but in all our
investigations, we may observe that, throughout the whole range of nature,
there is no elementary power so simple, but that it is capable of dividing
and diverging into opposite directions. The whole play of vital motion
hinges on harmony and contrast. Why, then, should not this phenomenon
recur on a grander scale in the history of man? In this idea we have
perhaps discovered the true key to the ancient and modern history of
poetry and the fine arts. Those who adopted it, gave to the peculiar
spirit of _modern_ art, as contrasted with the _antique_ or _classical_,
the name of _romantic_. The term is certainly not inappropriate; the word
is derived from _romance_--the name originally given to the languages
which were formed from the mixture of the Latin and the old Teutonic
dialects, in the same manner as modern civilisation is the fruit of the
heterogeneous union of the peculiarities of the northern nations and the
fragments of antiquity; whereas the civilisation of the ancients was much
more of a piece.

The distinction which we have just stated can hardly fail to appear well
founded, if it can be shown, so far as our knowledge of antiquity extends,
that the same contrast in the labours of the ancients and moderns runs
symmetrically, I might almost say systematically, throughout every branch
of art--that it is as evident in music and the plastic arts as in poetry.
This is a problem which, in its full extent, still remains to be
demonstrated, though, on particular portions of it, many excellent
observations have been advanced already.

Among the foreign authors who wrote before this school can be said to have
been formed in Germany, we may mention Rousseau, who acknowledged the
contrast in music, and showed that rhythm and melody were the prevailing
principles of ancient, as harmony is that of modern music. In his
prejudices against harmony, however, we cannot at all concur. On the
subject of the arts of design an ingenious observation was made by
Hemsterhuys, that the ancient painters were perhaps too much of sculptors,
and the modern sculptors too much of painters. This is the exact point of
difference; for, as I shall distinctly show in the sequel, the spirit of
ancient art and poetry is _plastic_, but that of the moderns

By an example taken from another art, that of architecture, I shall
endeavour to illustrate what I mean by this contrast. Throughout the
Middle Ages there prevailed, and in the latter centuries of that aera was
carried to perfection, a style of architecture, which has been called
Gothic, but ought really to have been termed old German. When, on the
general revival of classical antiquity, the imitation of Grecian
architecture became prevalent, and but too frequently without a due regard
to the difference of climate and manners or to the purpose of the
building, the zealots of this new taste, passing a sweeping sentence of
condemnation on the Gothic, reprobated it as tasteless, gloomy, and
barbarous. This was in some degree pardonable in the Italians, among whom
a love for ancient architecture, cherished by hereditary remains of
classical edifices, and the similarity of their climate to that of the
Greeks and Romans, might, in some sort, be said to be innate. But we
Northerns are not so easily to be talked out of the powerful, solemn
impressions which seize upon the mind at entering a Gothic cathedral. We
feel, on the contrary, a strong desire to investigate and to justify the
source of this impression. A very slight attention will convince us, that
the Gothic architecture displays not only an extraordinary degree of
mechanical skill, but also a marvellous power of invention; and, on a
closer examination, we recognize its profound significance, and perceive
that as well as the Grecian it constitutes in itself a complete and
finished system.

To the application!--The Pantheon is not more different from Westminster
Abbey or the church of St. Stephen at Vienna, than the structure of a
tragedy of Sophocles from a drama of Shakspeare. The comparison between
these wonderful productions of poetry and architecture might be carried
still farther. But does our admiration of the one compel us to depreciate
the other? May we not admit that each is great and admirable in its kind,
although the one is, and is meant to be, different from the other? The
experiment is worth attempting. We will quarrel with no man for his
predilection either for the Grecian or the Gothic. The world is wide, and
affords room for a great diversity of objects. Narrow and blindly adopted
prepossessions will never constitute a genuine critic or connoisseur, who
ought, on the contrary, to possess the power of dwelling with liberal
impartiality on the most discrepant views, renouncing the while all
personal inclinations.

For our present object, the justification, namely, of the grand division
which we lay down in the history of art, and according to which we
conceive ourselves equally warranted in establishing the same division in
dramatic literature, it might be sufficient merely to have stated this
contrast between the ancient, or classical, and the romantic. But as there
are exclusive admirers of the ancients, who never cease asserting that all
deviation from them is merely the whim of a new school of critics, who,
expressing themselves in language full of mystery, cautiously avoid
conveying their sentiments in a tangible shape, I shall endeavour to
explain the origin and spirit of the _romantic_, and then leave the
world to judge if the use of the word, and of the idea which it is
intended to convey, be thereby justified.

The mental culture of the Greeks was a finished education in the school of
Nature. Of a beautiful and noble race, endowed with susceptible senses and
a cheerful spirit under a mild sky, they lived and bloomed in the full
health of existence; and, favoured by a rare combination of circumstances,
accomplished all that the finite nature of man is capable of. The whole of
their art and poetry is the expression of a consciousness of this harmony
of all their faculties. They invented the poetry of joy.

Their religion was the deification of the powers of nature and of the
earthly life: but this worship, which, among other nations, clouded the
imagination with hideous shapes, and hardened the heart to cruelty,
assumed, among the Greeks, a mild, a grand, and a dignified form.
Superstition, too often the tyrant of the human faculties, seemed to have
here contributed to their freest development. It cherished the arts by
which it was adorned, and its idols became the models of ideal beauty.

But however highly the Greeks may have succeeded in the Beautiful, and
even in the Moral, we cannot concede any higher character to their
civilisation than that of a refined and ennobled sensuality. Of course
this must be understood generally. The conjectures of a few philosophers,
and the irradiations of poetical inspiration, constitute an occasional
exception. Man can never altogether turn aside his thoughts from infinity,
and some obscure recollections will always remind him of the home he has
lost; but we are now speaking of the predominant tendency of his

Religion is the root of human existence. Were it possible for man to
renounce all religion, including that which is unconscious, independent of
the will, he would become a mere surface without any internal substance.
When this centre is disturbed, the whole system of the mental faculties
and feelings takes a new shape.

And this is what has actually taken place in modern Europe through the
introduction of Christianity. This sublime and beneficent religion has
regenerated the ancient world from its state of exhaustion and debasement;
it is the guiding principle in the history of modern nations, and even at
this day, when many suppose they have shaken off its authority, they still
find themselves much more influenced by it in their views of human affairs
than they themselves are aware.

After Christianity, the character of Europe has, since the commencement of
the Middle Ages, been chiefly influenced by the Germanic race of northern
conquerors, who infused new life and vigour into a degenerated people. The
stern nature of the North drives man back within himself; and what is lost
in the free sportive development of the senses, must, in noble
dispositions, be compensated by earnestness of mind. Hence the honest
cordiality with which Christianity was welcomed by all the Teutonic
tribes, so that among no other race of men has it penetrated more deeply
into the inner man, displayed more powerful effects, or become more
interwoven with all human feelings and sensibilities.

The rough, but honest heroism of the northern conquerors, by its admixture
with the sentiments of Christianity, gave rise to chivalry, of which the
object was, by vows which should be looked upon as sacred, to guard the
practice of arms from every rude and ungenerous abuse of force into which
it was so likely to sink.

With the virtues of chivalry was associated a new and purer spirit of
love, an inspired homage for genuine female worth, which was now revered
as the acmè of human excellence, and, maintained by religion itself under
the image of a virgin mother, infused into all hearts a mysterious sense
of the purity of love.

As Christianity did not, like the heathen worship, rest satisfied with
certain external acts, but claimed an authority over the whole inward man
and the most hidden movement of the heart; the feeling of moral
independence took refuge in the domain of honour, a worldly morality, as
it were, which subsisting alongside of, was often at variance with that of
religion, but yet in so far resembling it that it never calculated
consequences, but consecrated unconditionally certain principles of
action, which like the articles of faith, were elevated far beyond the
investigation of a casuistical reasoning.

Chivalry, love, and honour, together with religion itself, are the
subjects of that poetry of nature which poured itself out in the Middle
Ages with incredible fulness, and preceded the more artistic cultivation
of the romantic spirit. This age had also its mythology, consisting of
chivalrous tales and legends; but its wonders and its heroism were the
very reverse of those of the ancient mythology.

Several inquirers who, in other respects, entertain the same conception of
the peculiarities of the moderns, and trace them to the same source that
we do, have placed the essence of the northern poetry in melancholy; and
to this, when properly understood, we have nothing to object.

Among the Greeks human nature was in itself all-sufficient; it was
conscious of no defects, and aspired to no higher perfection than that
which it could actually attain by the exercise of its own energies. We,
however, are taught by superior wisdom that man, through a grievous
transgression, forfeited the place for which he was originally destined;
and that the sole destination of his earthly existence is to struggle to
regain his lost position, which, if left to his own strength, he can never
accomplish. The old religion of the senses sought no higher possession
than outward and perishable blessings; and immortality, so far as it was
believed, stood shadow-like in the obscure distance, a faint dream of this
sunny waking life. The very reverse of all this is the case with the
Christian view: every thing finite and mortal is lost in the contemplation
of infinity; life has become shadow and darkness, and the first day of our
real existence dawns in the world beyond the grave. Such a religion must
waken the vague foreboding, which slumbers in every feeling heart, into a
distinct consciousness that the happiness after which we are here striving
is unattainable; that no external object can ever entirely fill our souls;
and that all earthly enjoyment is but a fleeting and momentary illusion.
When the soul, resting as it were under the willows of exile, [Footnote:
_Trauerweiden der verbannung_, literally _the weeping willows of
banishment_, an allusion, as every reader must know, to the 137th
Psalm. Linnaeus, from this Psalm, calls the weeping willow _Salix
Babylonica_.--TRANS.] breathes out its longing for its distant home,
what else but melancholy can be the key-note of its songs? Hence the
poetry of the ancients was the poetry of enjoyment, and ours is that of
desire: the former has its foundation in the scene which is present, while
the latter hovers betwixt recollection and hope. Let me not be understood
as affirming that everything flows in one unvarying strain of wailing and
complaint, and that the voice of melancholy is always loudly heard. As the
austerity of tragedy was not incompatible with the joyous views of the
Greeks, so that romantic poetry whose origin I have been describing, can
assume every tone, even that of the liveliest joy; but still it will
always, in some indescribable way, bear traces of the source from which it
originated. The feeling of the moderns is, upon the whole, more inward,
their fancy more incorporeal, and their thoughts more contemplative. In
nature, it is true, the boundaries of objects run more into one another,
and things are not so distinctly separated as we must exhibit them in
order to convey distinct notions of them.

The Grecian ideal of human nature was perfect unison and proportion
between all the powers,--a natural harmony. The moderns, on the contrary,
have arrived at the consciousness of an internal discord which renders
such an ideal impossible; and hence the endeavour of their poetry is to
reconcile these two worlds between which we find ourselves divided, and to
blend them indissolubly together. The impressions of the senses are to be
hallowed, as it were, by a mysterious connexion with higher feelings; and
the soul, on the other hand, embodies its forebodings, or indescribable
intuitions of infinity, in types and symbols borrowed from the visible

In Grecian art and poetry we find an original and unconscious unity of
form and matter; in the modern, so far as it has remained true to its own
spirit, we observe a keen struggle to unite the two, as being naturally in
opposition to each other. The Grecian executed what it proposed in the
utmost perfection; but the modern can only do justice to its endeavours
after what is infinite by approximation; and, from a certain appearance of
imperfection, is in greater danger of not being duly appreciated.

It would lead us too far, if in the separate arts of architecture, music,
and painting (for the moderns have never had a sculpture of their own), we
should endeavour to point out the distinctions which we have here
announced, to show the contrast observable in the character of the same
arts among the ancients and moderns, and at the same time to demonstrate
the kindred aim of both.

Neither can we here enter into a more particular consideration of the
different kinds and forms of romantic poetry in general, but must return
to our more immediate subject, which is dramatic art and literature. The
division of this, as of the other departments of art, into the antique and
the romantic, at once points out to us the course which we have to pursue.

We shall begin with the ancients; then proceed to their imitators, their
genuine or supposed successors among the moderns; and lastly, we shall
consider those poets of later times, who, either disregarding the
classical models, or purposely deviating from them, have struck out a path
for themselves.

Of the ancient dramatists, the Greeks alone are of any importance. In this
branch of art the Romans were at first mere translators of the Greeks, and
afterwards imitators, and not always very successful ones. Besides, of
their dramatic labours very little has been preserved. Among modern
nations an endeavour to restore the ancient stage, and, where possible, to
improve it, has been shown in a very lively manner by the Italians and the
French. In other nations, also, attempts of the same kind, more or less
earnest, have at times, especially of late, been made in tragedy; for in
comedy, the form under which it appears in Plautus and Terence has
certainly been more generally prevalent. Of all studied imitations of the
ancient tragedy the French is the most brilliant essay, has acquired the
greatest renown, and consequently deserves the most attentive
consideration. After the French come the modern Italians; viz., Metastasio
and Alfieri. The romantic drama, which, strictly speaking, can neither be
called tragedy nor comedy in the sense of the ancients, is indigenous only
to England and Spain. In both it began to flourish at the same time,
somewhat more than two hundred years ago, being brought to perfection by
Shakspeare in the former country, and in the latter by Lope de Vega.

The German stage is the last of all, and has been influenced in the
greatest variety of ways by all those which preceded it. It will be most
appropriate, therefore, to enter upon its consideration last of all. By
this course we shall be better enabled to judge of the directions which it
has hitherto taken, and to point out the prospects which are still open to

When I promise to go through the history of the Greek and Roman, of the
Italian and French, and of the English and Spanish theatres, in the few
hours which are dedicated to these Lectures, I wish it to be understood
that I can only enter into such an account of them as will comprehend
their most essential peculiarities under general points of view. Although
I confine myself to a single domain of poetry, still the mass of materials
comprehended within it is too extensive to be taken in by the eye at once,
and this would be the case were I even to limit myself to one of its
subordinate departments. We might read ourselves to death with farces. In
the ordinary histories of literature the poets of one language, and one
description, are enumerated in succession, without any further
discrimination, like the Assyrian and Egyptian kings in the old universal
histories. There are persons who have an unconquerable passion for the
titles of books, and we willingly concede to them the privilege of
increasing their number by books on the titles of books. It is much the
same thing, however, as in the history of a war to give the name of every
soldier who fought in the ranks of the hostile armies. It is usual,
however, to speak only of the generals, and those who may have performed
actions of distinction. In like manner the battles of the human mind, if I
may use the expression, have been won by a few intellectual heroes. The
history of the development of art and its various forms may be therefore
exhibited in the characters of a number, by no means considerable, of
elevated and creative minds.


Definition of the Drama--View of the Theatres of all Nations--Theatrical
Effect--Importance of the Stage--Principal Species of the Drama.

Before, however, entering upon such a history as we have now described, it
will be necessary to examine what is meant by _dramatic_, _theatrical_,
_tragic_, and _comic_.

What is dramatic? To many the answer will seem very easy: where various
persons are introduced conversing together, and the poet does not speak in
his own person. This is, however, merely the first external foundation of
the form; and that is dialogue. But the characters may express thoughts
and sentiments without operating any change on each other, and so leave
the minds of both in exactly the same state in which they were at the
commencement; in such a case, however interesting the conversation may be,
it cannot be said to possess a dramatic interest. I shall make this clear
by alluding to a more tranquil species of dialogue, not adapted for the
stage, the philosophic. When, in Plato, Socrates asks the conceited
sophist Hippias, what is the meaning of the beautiful, the latter is at
once ready with a superficial answer, but is afterwards compelled by the
ironical objections of Socrates to give up his former definition, and to
grope about him for other ideas, till, ashamed at last and irritated at
the superiority of the sage who has convicted him of his ignorance, he is
forced to quit the field: this dialogue is not merely philosophically
instructive, but arrests the attention like a drama in miniature. And
justly, therefore, has this lively movement in the thoughts, this stretch
of expectation for the issue, in a word, the dramatic cast of the
dialogues of Plato, been always celebrated.

From this we may conceive wherein consists the great charm of dramatic
poetry. Action is the true enjoyment of life, nay, life itself. Mere
passive enjoyments may lull us into a state of listless complacency, but
even then, if possessed of the least internal activity, we cannot avoid
being soon wearied. The great bulk of mankind merely from their situation
in life, or from their incapacity for extraordinary exertions, are
confined within a narrow circle of insignificant operations. Their days
flow on in succession under the sleepy rule of custom, their life advances
by an insensible progress, and the bursting torrent of the first passions
of youth soon settles into a stagnant marsh. From the discontent which
this occasions they are compelled to have recourse to all sorts of
diversions, which uniformly consist in a species of occupation that may be
renounced at pleasure, and though a struggle with difficulties, yet with
difficulties that are easily surmounted. But of all diversions the theatre
is undoubtedly the most entertaining. Here we may see others act even when
we cannot act to any great purpose ourselves. The highest object of human
activity is man, and in the drama we see men, measuring their powers with
each other, as intellectual and moral beings, either as friends or foes,
influencing each other by their opinions, sentiments, and passions, and
decisively determining their reciprocal relations and circumstances. The
art of the poet accordingly consists in separating from the fable whatever
does not essentially belong to it, whatever, in the daily necessities of
real life, and the petty occupations to which they give rise, interrupts
the progress of important actions, and concentrating within a narrow space
a number of events calculated to attract the minds of the hearers and to
fill them with attention and expectation. In this manner he gives us a
renovated picture of life; a compendium of whatever is moving and
progressive in human existence.

But this is not all. Even in a lively oral narration, it is not unusual to
introduce persons in conversation with each other, and to give a
corresponding variety to the tone and the expression. But the gaps, which
these conversations leave in the story, the narrator fills up in his own
name with a description of the accompanying circumstances, and other
particulars. The dramatic poet must renounce all such expedients; but for
this he is richly recompensed in the following invention. He requires each
of the characters in his story to be personated by a living individual;
that this individual should, in sex, age, and figure, meet as near as may
be the prevalent conceptions of his fictitious original, nay, assume his
entire personality; that every speech should be delivered in a suitable
tone of voice, and accompanied by appropriate action and gesture; and that
those external circumstances should be added which are necessary to give
the hearers a clear idea of what is going forward. Moreover, these
representatives of the creatures of his imagination must appear in the
costume belonging to their assumed rank, and to their age and country;
partly for the sake of greater resemblance, and partly because, even in
dress, there is something characteristic. Lastly, he must see them placed
in a locality, which, in some degree, resembles that where, according to
his fable, the action took place, because this also contributes to the
resemblance: he places them, _i.e._, on a scene. All this brings us to the
idea of the _theatre_. It is evident that the very form of dramatic
poetry, that is, the exhibition of an action by dialogue without the aid
of narrative, implies the theatre as its necessary complement. We allow
that there are dramatic works which were not originally designed for
the stage, and not calculated to produce any great effect there, which
nevertheless afford great pleasure in the perusal. I am, however, very
much inclined to doubt whether they would produce the same strong
impression, with which they affect us, upon a person who had never seen or
heard a description of a theatre. In reading dramatic works, we are
accustomed ourselves to supply the representation.

The invention of dramatic art, and of the theatre, seems a very obvious
and natural one. Man has a great disposition to mimicry; when he enters
vividly into the situation, sentiments, and passions of others, he
involuntarily puts on a resemblance to them in his gestures. Children are
perpetually going out of themselves; it is one of their chief amusements
to represent those grown people whom they have had an opportunity of
observing, or whatever strikes their fancy; and with the happy pliancy of
their imagination, they can exhibit all the characteristics of any dignity
they may choose to assume, be it that of a father, a schoolmaster, or a
king. But one step more was requisite for the invention of the drama,
namely, to separate and extract the mimetic elements from the separate
parts of social life, and to present them to itself again collectively in
one mass; yet in many nations it has not been taken. In the very minute
description of ancient Egypt given by Herodotus and other writers, I do
not recollect observing the smallest trace of it. The Etruscans, on the
contrary, who in many respects resembled the Egyptians, had theatrical
representations; and what is singular enough, the Etruscan name for an
actor _histrio_, is preserved in living languages even to the present
day. The Arabians and Persians, though possessed of a rich poetical
literature, are unacquainted with the drama. It was the same with Europe
in the Middle Ages. On the introduction of Christianity, the plays handed
down from the Greeks and Romans were set aside, partly because they had
reference to heathen ideas, and partly because they had degenerated into
the most shameless immorality; nor were they again revived till after the
lapse of nearly a thousand years. Even in the fourteenth century, in that
complete picture which Boccacio gives us of the existing frame of society,
we do not find the smallest trace of plays. In place of them they had
simply their _conteurs_, _menestriers_, _jongleurs_. On the other hand we
are by no means entitled to assume that the invention of the drama was
made once for all in the world, to be afterwards borrowed by one people
from another. The English circumnavigators tell us, that among the
islanders of the South Seas, who in every mental qualification and
acquirement are at the lowest grade of civilization, they yet observed a
rude drama in which a common incident in life was imitated for the sake of
diversion. And to pass to the other extremity of the world, among the
Indians, whose social institutions and mental cultivation descend
unquestionably from a remote antiquity, plays were known long before they
could have experienced any foreign influence. It has lately been made
known to Europe that they possess a rich dramatic literature, which goes
backward through nearly two thousand years. The only specimen of their
plays (nataks) hitherto known to us in the delightful Sakontala, which,
notwithstanding the foreign colouring of its native climate, bears in its
general structure such a striking resemblance to our own romantic drama,
that we might be inclined to suspect we owe this resemblance to the
predilection for Shakspeare entertained by the English translator (Sir
William Jones), if his fidelity were not attested by other learned
orientalists. The drama, indeed, seems to have been a favourite amusement
of the Native Princes; and to owe to this circumstance that tone of
refined society which prevails in it. Uggargini (Oude?) is specially named
as a seat of this art. Under the Mahommedan rulers it naturally fell into
decay: the national tongue was strange to them, Persian being the language
of the court; and moreover, the mythology which was so intimately
interwoven with poetry was irreconcilable with their religious notions.
Generally, indeed, we know of no Mahommedan nation that has accomplished
any thing in dramatic poetry, or even had any notion of it. The Chinese
again have their standing national theatre, standing perhaps in every
sense of the word; and I do not doubt, that in the establishment of
arbitrary rules, and the delicate observance of insignificant
conventionalities, they leave the most correct Europeans very far behind
them. When the new European stage sprung up in the fifteenth century, with
its allegorical and religious pieces called Moralities and Mysteries, its
rise was uninfluenced by the ancient dramatists, who did not come into
circulation till some time afterwards. In those rude beginnings lay the
germ of the romantic drama as a peculiar invention.

In this wide diffusion of theatrical entertainments, the great difference
in dramatic talent which subsists between nations equally distinguished
for intellect, is something remarkable; so that theatrical talent would
seem to be a peculiar quality, essentially distinct from the poetical gift
in general. We do not wonder at the contrast in this respect between the
Greeks and the Romans, for the Greeks were altogether a nation of artists,
and the Romans a practical people. Among the latter the fine arts were
introduced as a corrupting article of luxury, both betokening and
accelerating the degeneracy of the times. They carried this luxury so far
with respect to the theatre itself, that the perfection in essentials was
sacrificed to the accessories of embellishment. Even among the Greeks
dramatic talent was far from universal. The theatre was invented in
Athens, and in Athens alone was it brought to perfection. The Doric dramas
of Epicharmus form only a slight exception to the truth of this remark.
All the great creative dramatists of the Greeks were born in Attica, and
formed their style in Athens. Widely as the Grecian race was spread,
successfully as everywhere almost it cultivated the fine arts, yet beyond
the bounds of Attica it was content to admire, without venturing to rival,
the productions of the Athenian stage.

Equally remarkable is the difference in this respect between the Spaniards
and their neighbours the Portuguese, though related to them both by
descent and by language. The Spaniards possess a dramatic literature of
inexhaustible wealth; in fertility their dramatists resemble the Greeks,
among whom more than a hundred pieces can frequently be assigned by name
to a single author. Whatever judgment may be pronounced on them in other
respects, the praise of invention has never yet been denied to them; their
claim to this has in fact been but too well established, since Italian,
French, and English writers have all availed themselves of the ingenious
inventions of the Spaniards, and often without acknowledging the source
from which they derived them. The Portuguese, on the other hand, while in
the other branches of poetry they rival the Spaniards, have in this
department accomplished hardly anything, and have never even possessed a
national theatre; visited from time to time by strolling players from
Spain, they chose rather to listen to a foreign dialect, which, without
previous study, they could not perfectly understand, than to invent, or
even to translate and imitate, for themselves.

Of the many talents for art and literature displayed by the Italians, the
dramatic is by no means pre-eminent, and this defect they seem to have
inherited from the Romans, in the same manner as their great talent for
mimicry and buffoonery goes back to the most ancient times. The
extemporary compositions called _Fabulae Atellanae_, the only original and
national form of the Roman drama, in respect of plan, were not perhaps
more perfect than the so-called _Commedia dell' Arte_, in which, the parts
being fixed and invariable, the dialogue is extemporised by masked actors.
In the ancient Saturnalia we have probably the germ of the present
carnival, which is entirely an Italian invention. The Opera and the Ballet
were also the invention of the Italians: two species of theatrical
amusement, in which the dramatic interest is entirely subordinate to music
and dancing.

If the German mind has not developed itself in the drama with the same
fulness and ease as in other departments of literature, this defect is
perhaps to be accounted for by the peculiar character of the nation. The
Germans are a speculative people; in other words, they wish to discover by
reflection and meditation, the principle of whatever they engage in. On
that very account they are not sufficiently practical; for if we wish to
act with skill and determination, we must make up our minds that we have
somehow or other become masters of our subject, and not be perpetually
recurring to an examination of the theory on which it rests; we must, as
it were, have settled down and contented ourselves with a certain partial
apprehension of the idea. But now in the invention and conduct of a drama
the practical spirit must prevail: the dramatic poet is not allowed to
dream away under his inspiration, he must take the straightest road to his
end; but the Germans are only too apt to lose sight of the object in the
course of their way to it. Besides, in the drama the nationality does
usually, nay, must show itself in the most marked manner, and the national
character of the Germans is modest and retiring: it loves not to make a
noisy display of itself; and the noble endeavour to become acquainted
with, and to appropriate to itself whatever is excellent in others, is not
seldom accompanied with an undervaluing of its own worth. For these
reasons the German stage has often, in form and matter, been more than
duly affected by foreign influence. Not indeed that the Germans propose to
themselves no higher object than the mere passive repetition of the
Grecian, the French, the Spanish, or the English theatre; but, as it
appears to me, they are in search of a more perfect form, which, excluding
all that is merely local or temporary, may combine whatever is truly
poetical in all these theatres. In the matter, however, the German
national features ought certainly to predominate.

After this rapid sketch of what may be called the map of dramatic
literature, we return to the examination of its fundamental ideas. Since,
as we have already shown, visible representation is essential to the very
form of the drama; a dramatic work may always be regarded from a double
point of view,--how far it is _poetical_, and how far it is _theatrical_.
The two are by no means inseparable. Let not, however, the expression
_poetical_ be misunderstood: I am not now speaking of the versification
and the ornaments of language; these, when not animated by some higher
excellence, are the least effective on the stage; but I speak of the
poetry in the spirit and design of a piece; and this may exist in as high
a degree when the drama is written in prose as in verse. What is it, then,
that makes a drama poetical? The very same, assuredly, that makes other
works so. It must in the first place be a connected whole, complete and
satisfactory within itself. But this is merely the negative definition of
a work of art, by which it is distinguished from the phenomena of nature,
which run into each other, and do not possess in themselves a complete and
independent existence. To be poetical it is necessary that a composition
should be a mirror of ideas, that is, thoughts and feelings which in their
character are necessary and eternally true, and soar above this earthly
life, and also that it should exhibit them embodied before us. What the
ideas are, which in this view are essential to the different departments
of the drama, will hereafter be the subject of our investigation. We shall
also, on the other hand, show that without them a drama becomes altogether
prosaic and empirical, that is to say, patched together by the
understanding out of the observations it has gathered from literal

But how does a dramatic work become theatrical, or fitted to appear with
advantage on the stage? In single instances it is often difficult to
determine whether a work possesses such a property or not. It is indeed
frequently the subject of great controversy, especially when the self-love
of authors and actors comes into collision; each shifts the blame of
failure on the other, and those who advocate the cause of the author
appeal to an imaginary perfection of the histrionic art, and complain of
the insufficiency of the existing means for its realization. But in
general the answer to this question is by no means so difficult. The
object proposed is to produce an impression on an assembled multitude, to
rivet their attention, and to excite their interest and sympathy. In this
respect the poet's occupation coincides with that of the orator. How then
does the latter attain his end? By perspicuity, rapidity, and energy.
Whatever exceeds the ordinary measure of patience or comprehension he must
diligently avoid. Moreover, when a number of men are assembled together,
they mutually distract each other's attention whenever their eyes and ears
are not drawn to a common object without and beyond themselves.

Hence the dramatic poet, as well as the orator, must from the very
commencement, by strong impressions, transport his hearers out of
themselves, and, as it were, take bodily possession of their attention.
There is a species of poetry which gently stirs a mind attuned to solitary
contemplation, as soft breezes elicit melody from the Aeolian harp.
However excellent this poetry may be in itself, without some other
accompaniments its tones would be lost on the stage. The melting
_harmonica_ is not calculated to regulate the march of an army, and
kindle its military enthusiasm. For this we must have piercing
instruments, but above all a strongly-marked rhythm, to quicken the
pulsation and give a more rapid movement to the animal spirits. The grand
requisite in a drama is to make this rhythm perceptible in the onward
progress of the action. When this has once been effected, the poet may all
the sooner halt in his rapid career, and indulge the bent of his own
genius. There are points, when the most elaborate and polished style, the
most enthusiastic lyrics, the most profound thoughts and remote allusions,
the smartest coruscations of wit, and the most dazzling flights of a
sportive or ethereal fancy, are all in their place, and when the willing
audience, even those who cannot entirely comprehend them, follow the whole
with a greedy ear, like music in unison with their feelings. Here the
poet's great art lies in availing himself of the effect of contrasts,
which enable him at one time to produce calm repose, profound
contemplation, and even the self-abandoned indifference of exhaustion, or
at another, the most tumultuous emotions, the most violent storm of the
passions. With respect to theatrical fitness, however, it must not be
forgotten that much must always depend on the capacities and humours of
the audience, and, consequently, on the national character in general, and
the particular degree of mental culture. Of all kinds of poetry the
dramatic is, in a certain sense, the most secular; for, issuing from the
stillness of an inspired mind, it yet fears not to exhibit itself in the
midst of the noise and tumult of social life. The dramatic poet is, more
than any other, obliged to court external favour and loud applause. But of
course it is only in appearance that he thus lowers himself to his
hearers; while, in reality, he is elevating them to himself.

In thus producing an impression on an assembled multitude the following
circumstance deserves to be weighed, in order to ascertain the whole
amount of its importance. In ordinary intercourse men exhibit only the
outward man to each other. They are withheld by mistrust or indifference
from allowing others to look into what passes within them; and to speak
with any thing like emotion or agitation of that which is nearest our
heart is considered unsuitable to the tone of polished society. The orator
and the dramatist find means to break through these barriers of
conventional reserve. While they transport their hearers into such lively
emotions that the outward signs thereof break forth involuntarily, every
man perceives those around him to be affected in the same manner and
degree, and those who before were strangers to one another, become in a
moment intimately acquainted. The tears which the dramatist or the orator
compels them to shed for calumniated innocence or dying heroism, make
friends and brothers of them all. Almost inconceivable is the power of a
visible communion of numbers to give intensity to those feelings of the
heart which usually retire into privacy, or only open themselves to the
confidence of friendship. The faith in the validity of such emotions
becomes irrefragable from its diffusion; we feel ourselves strong among so
many associates, and all hearts and minds flow together in one great and
irresistible stream. On this very account the privilege of influencing an
assembled crowd is exposed to most dangerous abuses. As one may
disinterestedly animate them, for the noblest and best of purposes, so
another may entangle them in the deceitful meshes of sophistry, and dazzle
them by the glare of a false magnanimity, whose vainglorious crimes may be
painted as virtues and even as sacrifices. Beneath the delightful charms
of oratory and poetry, the poison steals imperceptibly into ear and heart.
Above all others must the comic poet (seeing that his very occupation
keeps him always on the slippery brink of this precipice,) take heed, lest
he afford an opportunity for the lower and baser parts of human nature to
display themselves without restraint. When the sense of shame which
ordinarily keeps these baser propensities within the bounds of decency, is
once weakened by the sight of others' participation in them, our inherent
sympathy with what is vile will soon break out into the most unbridled

The powerful nature of such an engine for either good or bad purposes has
in all times justly drawn the attention of the legislature to the drama.
Many regulations have been devised by different governments, to render it
subservient to their views and to guard against its abuse. The great
difficulty is to combine such a degree of freedom as is necessary for the
production of works of excellence, with the precautions demanded by the
customs and institutions of the different states. In Athens the theatre
enjoyed up to its maturity, under the patronage of religion, almost
unlimited freedom, and the public morality preserved it for a time from
degeneracy. The comedies of Aristophanes, which with our views and habits
appear to us so intolerably licentious, and in which the senate and the
people itself are unmercifully turned to ridicule, were the seal of
Athenian freedom. To meet this abuse, Plato, who lived in the very same
Athens, and either witnessed or foresaw the decline of art, proposed the
entire banishment of dramatic poets from his ideal republic. Few states,
however, have conceived it necessary to subscribe to this severe sentence
of condemnation; but few also have thought proper to leave the theatre to
itself without any superintendence. In many Christian countries the
dramatic art has been honoured by being made subservient to religion, in
the popular treatment and exhibition of religious subjects; and in Spain
more especially competition in this department has given birth to many
works which, neither devotion nor poetry will disown. In other states and
under other circumstances this has been thought both objectionable and
inexpedient. Wherever, however, the subsequent responsibility of the poet
and actor has been thought insufficient, and it has been deemed advisable
to submit every piece before its appearance on the stage to a previous
censorship, it has been generally found to fail in the very point which is
of the greatest importance: namely, the spirit and general impression of a
play. From the nature of the dramatic art, the poet must put into the
mouths of his characters much of which he does not himself approve, while
with respect to his own sentiments he claims to be judged by the spirit
and connexion of the whole. It may again happen that a piece is perfectly
inoffensive in its single speeches, and defies all censorship, while as a
whole it is calculated to produce the most pernicious effect. We have in
our own times seen but too many plays favourably received throughout
Europe, over-flowing with ebullitions of good-heartedness and traits of
magnanimity, and in which, notwithstanding, a keener eye cannot fail to
detect the hidden purpose of the writer to sap the foundations of moral
principle, and the veneration for whatever ought to be held sacred by man;
while all this sentimentality is only to bribe to his purpose the
effeminate soft-heartedness of his contemporaries [Footnote: The author it
is supposed alludes to Kotzebue.--TRANS.]. On the other hand, if any
person were to undertake the moral vindication of poor Aristophanes, who
has such a bad name, and whose licentiousness in particular passages, is
to our ideas quite intolerable, he will find good grounds for his defence
in the general object of his pieces, in which he at least displays the
sentiments of a patriotic citizen.

The purport of these observations is to evince the importance of the
subject we are considering. The theatre, where many arts are combined to
produce a magical effect; where the most lofty and profound poetry has for
its interpreter the most finished action, which is at once eloquence and
an animated picture; while architecture contributes her splendid
decorations, and painting her perspective illusions, and the aid of music
is called in to attune the mind, or to heighten by its strains the
emotions which already agitate it; the theatre, in short, where the whole
of the social and artistic enlightenment, which a nation possesses, the
fruit of many centuries of continued exertion, are brought into play
within the representation of a few short hours, has an extraordinary charm
for every age, sex, and rank, and has ever been the favourite amusement of
every cultivated people. Here, princes, statesmen, and generals, behold
the great events of past times, similar to those in which they themselves
are called upon to act, laid open in their inmost springs and motives;
here, too, the philosopher finds subject for profoundest reflection on the
nature and constitution of man; with curious eye the artist follows the
groups which pass rapidly before him, and from them impresses on his fancy
the germ of many a future picture; the susceptible youth opens his heart
to every elevating feeling; age becomes young again in recollection; even
childhood sits with anxious expectation before the gaudy curtain, which is
soon to be drawn up with its rustling sound, and to display to it so many
unknown wonders: all alike are diverted, all exhilarated, and all feel
themselves for a time raised above the daily cares, the troubles, and the
sorrows of life. As the drama, with the arts which are subservient to it,
may, from neglect and the mutual contempt of artists and the public, so
far degenerate, as to become nothing better than a trivial and stupid
amusement, and even a downright waste of time, we conceive that we are
attempting something more than a passing entertainment, if we propose to
enter on a consideration of the works produced by the most distinguished
nations in their most brilliant periods, and to institute an inquiry into
the means of ennobling and perfecting so important an art.


Essence of Tragedy and Comedy--Earnestness and Sport--How far it is
possible to become acquainted with the Ancients without knowing Original

The importance of our subject is, I think, fully proved. Let us now enter
upon a brief consideration of the two kinds into which all dramatic poetry
is divided, the _tragic_ and _comic_, and examine the meaning and import
of each.

The three principal kinds of poetry in general are the epic, the lyric,
and the dramatic. All the other subordinate species are either derived
from these, or formed by combination from them. If we would consider these
three leading kinds in their purity, we must go back to the forms in which
they appeared among the Greeks. For the theory of poetical art is most
conveniently illustrated by the history of Grecian poetry; for the latter
is well entitled to the appellation of systematical, since it furnishes
for every independent idea derived from experience the most distinct and
precise manifestation.

It is singular that epic and lyric poetry admit not of any such precise
division into two opposite species, as the dramatic does. The ludicrous
epopee has, it is true, been styled a peculiar species, but it is only an
accidental variety, a mere parody of the epos, and consists in applying
its solemn staidness of development, which seems only suitable to great
objects, to trifling and insignificant events. In lyric poetry there are
only intervals and gradations between the song, the ode, and the elegy,
but no proper contrast.

The spirit of epic poetry, as we recognise it in its father, Homer, is
clear self-possession. The epos is the calm quiet representation of an
action in progress. The poet relates joyful as well as mournful events,
but he relates them with equanimity, and considers them as already past,
and at a certain remoteness from our minds.

The lyric poem is the musical expression of mental emotions by language.
The essence of musical feeling consists in this, that we endeavour with
complacency to dwell on, and even to perpetuate in our souls, a joyful or
painful emotion. The feeling must consequently be already so far mitigated
as not to impel us by the desire of its pleasure or the dread of its pain,
to tear ourselves from it, but such as to allow us, unconcerned at the
fluctuations of feeling which time produces, to dwell upon and be absorbed
in a single moment of existence.

The dramatic poet, as well as the epic, represents external events, but he
represents them as real and present. In common with the lyric poet he also
claims our mental participation, but not in the same calm composedness;
the feeling of joy and sorrow which the dramatist excites is more
immediate and vehement. He calls forth all the emotions which the sight of
similar deeds and fortunes of living men would elicit, and it is only by
the total sum of the impression which he produces that he ultimately
resolves these conflicting emotions into a harmonious tone of feeling. As
he stands in such close proximity to real life, and endeavours to endue
his own imaginary creations with vitality, the equanimity of the epic poet
would in him be indifference; he must decidedly take part with one or
other of the leading views of human life, and constrain his audience also
to participate in the same feeling.

To employ simpler and more intelligible language: the _tragic_ and
_comic_ bear the same relation to one another as _earnest_ and _sport_.
Every man, from his own experience, is acquainted with both these states
of mind; but to determine their essence and their source would demand deep
philosophical investigation. Both, indeed, bear the stamp of our common
nature; but earnestness belongs more to its moral, and mirth to its animal
part. The creatures destitute of reason are incapable either of earnest or
of sport. Animals seem indeed at times to labour as if they were earnestly
intent upon some aim, and as if they made the present moment subordinate
to the future; at other times they seem to sport, that is, they give
themselves up without object or purpose to the pleasure of existence: but
they do not possess consciousness, which alone can entitle these two
conditions to the names of earnest and sport. Man alone, of all the
animals with which we are acquainted, is capable of looking back towards
the past, and forward into futurity; and he has to purchase the enjoyment
of this noble privilege at a dear rate. Earnestness, in the most extensive
signification, is the direction of our mental powers to some aim. But as
soon as we begin to call ourselves to account for our actions, reason
compels us to fix this aim higher and higher, till we come at last to the
highest end of our existence: and here that longing for the infinite which
is inherent in our being, is baffled by the limits of our finite
existence. All that we do, all that we effect, is vain and perishable;
death stands everywhere in the back ground, and to it every well or ill-
spent moment brings us nearer and closer; and even when a man has been so
singularly fortunate as to reach the utmost term of life without any
grievous calamity, the inevitable doom still awaits him to leave or to be
left by all that is most dear to him on earth. There is no bond of love
without a separation, no enjoyment without the grief of losing it. When,
however, we contemplate the relations of our existence to the extreme
limit of possibilities: when we reflect on its entire dependence on a
chain of causes and effects, stretching beyond our ken: when we consider
how weak and helpless, and doomed to struggle against the enormous powers
of nature, and conflicting appetites, we are cast on the shores of an
unknown world, as it were, shipwrecked at our very birth; how we are
subject to all kinds of errors and deceptions, any one of which may
be our ruin; that in our passions we cherish an enemy in our bosoms; how
every moment demands from us, in the name of the most sacred duties, the
sacrifice of our dearest inclinations, and how at one blow we may be
robbed of all that we have acquired with much toil and difficulty; that
with every accession to our stores, the risk of loss is proportionately
increased, and we are only the more exposed to the malice of hostile
fortune: when we think upon all this, every heart which is not dead to
feeling must be overpowered by an inexpressible melancholy, for which
there is no other counter-poise than the consciousness of a vocation
transcending the limits of this earthly life. This is the tragic tone of
mind; and when the thought of the possible issues out of the mind as a
living reality, when this tone pervades and animates a visible
representation of the most striking instances of violent revolutions in a
man's fortunes, either prostrating his mental energies or calling forth
the most heroic endurance--then the result is _Tragic Poetry_. We thus see
how this kind of poetry has its foundation in our nature, while to a
certain extent we have also answered the question, why we are fond of
such mournful representations, and even find something consoling and
elevating in them? This tone of mind we have described is inseparable from
strong feeling; and although poetry cannot remove these internal
dissonances, she must at least endeavour to effect an ideal reconciliation
of them.

As earnestness, in the highest degree, is the essence of tragic
representation; so is sport of the comic. The disposition to mirth is a
forgetfulness of all gloomy considerations in the pleasant feeling of
present happiness. We are then inclined to view every thing in a sportive
light, and to allow nothing to disturb or ruffle our minds. The
imperfections and the irregularities of men are no longer an object of
dislike and compassion, but serve, by their strange inconsistencies, to
entertain the understanding and to amuse the fancy. The comic poet must
therefore carefully abstain from whatever is calculated to excite moral
indignation at the conduct, or sympathy with the situations of his
personages, because this would inevitably bring us back again into
earnestness. He must paint their irregularities as springing out of the
predominance of the animal part of their nature, and the incidents which
befal them as merely ludicrous distresses, which will be attended with no
fatal consequences. This is uniformly what takes place in what we call
Comedy, in which, however, there is still a mixture of seriousness, as I
shall show in the sequel. The oldest comedy of the Greeks was, however,
entirely sportive, and in that respect formed the most complete contrast
to their tragedy. Not only were the characters and situations of
individuals worked up into a comic picture of real life, but the whole
frame of society, the constitution, nature, and the gods, were all
fantastically painted in the most ridiculous and laughable colours.

When we have formed in this manner a pure idea of the tragic and comic, as
exhibited to us in Grecian examples, we shall then be enabled to analyze
the various corruptions of both, which the moderns have invented, to
discriminate their incongruous additions, and to separate their several

In the history of poetry and the fine arts among the Greeks, their
development was subject to an invariable law. Everything heterogeneous was
first excluded, and then all homogeneous elements were combined, and each
being perfected in itself, at last elevated into an independent and
harmonious unity. Hence with them each species is confined within its
natural boundaries, and the different styles distinctly marked. In
beginning, therefore, with the history of the Grecian art and poetry, we
are not merely observing the order of time, but also the order of ideas.

In the case of the majority of my hearers, I can hardly presume upon a
direct acquaintance with the Greeks, derived from the study of their
poetical works in the original language. Translations in prose, or even in
verse, in which they are but dressed up again in the modern taste, can
afford no true idea of the Grecian drama. True and faithful translations,
which endeavour in expression and versification to rise to the height of
the original, have as yet been attempted only in Germany. But although our
language is extremely flexible, and in many respects resembling the Greek,
it is after all a battle with unequal weapons; and stiffness and harshness
not unfrequently take the place of the easy sweetness of the Greek. But we
are even far from having yet done all that can perhaps be accomplished: I
know of no translation of a Greek tragedian deserving of unqualified
praise. But even supposing the translation as perfect as possible, and
deviating very slightly from the original, the reader who is unacquainted
with the other works of the Greeks, will be perpetually disturbed by the
foreign nature of the subject, by national peculiarities and numerous
allusions (which cannot be understood without some scholarship), and thus
unable to comprehend particular parts, he will be prevented from forming a
clear idea of the whole. So long as we have to struggle with difficulties
it is impossible to have any true enjoyment of a work of art. To feel the
ancients as we ought, we must have become in some degree one of
themselves, and breathed as it were the Grecian air.

What is the best means of becoming imbued with the spirit of the Greeks,
without a knowledge of their language? I answer without hesitation,--the
study of the antique; and if this is not always possible through the
originals, yet, by means of casts, it is to a certain extent within the
power of every man. These models of the human form require no
interpretation; their elevated character is imperishable, and will always
be recognized through all vicissitudes of time, and in every region under
heaven, wherever there exists a noble race of men akin to the Grecian (as
the European undoubtedly is), and wherever the unkindness of nature has
not degraded the human features too much below the pure standard, and, by
habituating them to their own deformity, rendered them insensible to
genuine corporeal beauty. Respecting the inimitable perfection of the
antique in its few remains of a first-rate character, there is but one
voice throughout the whole of civilized Europe; and if ever their merit
was called in question, it was in times when the modern arts of design had
sunk to the lowest depths of mannerism. Not only all intelligent artists,
but all men of any degree of taste, bow with enthusiastic adoration before
the masterly productions of ancient sculpture.

The best guide to conduct us to this sanctuary of the beautiful, with deep
and thoughtful contemplation, is the History of Art by our immortal
Winkelmann. In the description of particular works it no doubt leaves much
to be desired; nay, it even abounds in grave errors, but no man has so
deeply penetrated into the innermost spirit of Grecian art. Winkelmann
transformed himself completely into an ancient, and seemingly lived in his
own century, unmoved by its spirit and influences.

The immediate subject of his work is the plastic arts, but it contains
also many important hints concerning other branches of Grecian
civilisation, and is very useful as a preparation for the understanding of
their poetry, and especially their dramatic poetry. As the latter was
designed for visible representation before spectators, whose eye must have
been as difficult to please on the stage as elsewhere, we have no better
means of feeling the whole dignity of their tragic exhibitions, and of
giving it a sort of theatrical animation, than to keep these forms of gods
and heroes ever present to our fancy. The assertion may appear somewhat
strange at present, but I hope in the sequel to demonstrate its justice:
it is only before the groups of Niobe or Laocoön that we first enter into
the spirit of the tragedies of Sophocles.

We are yet in want of a work in which the entire poetic, artistic,
scientific, and social culture of the Greeks should be painted as one
grand and harmonious whole, as a true work of nature, prevaded by the most
wondrous symmetry and proportion of the parts, and traced through its
connected development in the same spirit which Winkelmann has executed in
the part which he attempted. An attempt has indeed been made in a popular
work, which is in everybody's hands, I mean the _Travels of the Younger
Anacharsis_. This book is valuable for its learning, and may be very
useful in diffusing a knowledge of antiquities; but, without censuring the
error of the dress in which it is exhibited, it betrays more good-will to
do justice to the Greeks, than ability to enter deeply into their spirit.
In this respect the work is in many points superficial, and even
disfigured with modern views. It is not the travels of a young Scythian,
but of an old Parisian.

The superior excellence of the Greeks in the fine arts, as I have already
said, is the most universally acknowledged. An enthusiasm for their
literature is in a great measure confined to the English and Germans,
among whom also the study of the Grecian language is the most zealously
prosecuted. It is singular that the French critics of all others, they who
so zealously acknowledge the remains of the theoretical writings of the
ancients on literature, Aristotle, Horace, Quinctilian, &c., as infallible
standards of taste, should yet distinguish themselves by the contemptuous
and irreverent manner in which they speak of their poetical compositions,
and especially of their dramatic literature. Look, for instance, into a
book very much read,--La Harpe's _Cours de Littérature_. It contains
many acute remarks on the French Theatre; but whoever should think to
learn the Greeks from it must be very ill advised: the author was as
deficient in a solid knowledge of their literature as in a sense for
appreciating it. Voltaire, also, often speaks most unwarrantably on this
subject: he elevates or lowers them at the suggestions of his caprice, or
according to the purpose of the moment to produce such or such an effect
on the mind of the public. I remember too to have read a cursory critique
of Metastasio's on the Greek tragedians, in which he treats them like so
many school-boys. Racine is much more modest, and cannot be in any manner
charged with this sort of presumption: even because he was the best
acquainted of all of them with the Greeks. It is easy to see into the
motives of these hostile critics. Their national and personal vanity has
much to do with the matter; conceiting themselves that they have far
surpassed the ancients, they venture to commit such observations to the
public, knowing that the works of the ancient poets have come down to us
in a dead language, accessible only to the learned, without the animating
accompaniment of recitation, music, ideal and truly plastic impersonation,
and scenic pomp; all which, in every respect worthy of the poetry, was on
the Athenian stage combined in such wonderful harmony, that if only it
could be represented to our eye and ear, it would at once strike dumb the
whole herd of these noisy and interested critics. The ancient statues
require no commentary; they speak for themselves, and everything like
competition on the part of a modern artist would be regarded as ridiculous
pretension. In respect of the theatre, they lay great stress on the
infancy of the art; and because these poets lived two thousand years
before us, they conclude that we must have made great progress since. In
this way poor Aeschylus especially is got rid of. But in sober truth, if
this was the infancy of dramatic art, it was the infancy of a Hercules,
who strangled serpents in his cradle.

I have already expressed my opinion on that blind partiality for the
ancients, which regards their excellence as a frigid faultlessness, and
which exhibits them as models, in such a way as to put a stop to
everything like improvement, and reduce us to abandon the exercise of art
as altogether fruitless. I, for my part, am disposed to believe that
poetry, as the fervid expression of our whole being, must assume new and
peculiar forms in different ages. Nevertheless, I cherish an enthusiastic
veneration for the Greeks, as a people endowed, by the peculiar favour of
Nature, with the most perfect genius for art; in the consciousness of
which, they gave to all the nations with which they were acquainted,
compared with themselves, the appellation of barbarians,--an appellation
in the use of which they were in some degree justified. I would not wish
to imitate certain travellers, who, on returning from a country which
their readers cannot easily visit, give such exaggerated accounts of it,
and relate so many marvels, as to hazard their own character for veracity.
I shall rather endeavour to characterize them as they appear to me after
sedulous and repeated study, without concealing their defects, and to
bring a living picture of the Grecian stage before the eyes of my hearers.

We shall treat first of the Tragedy of the Greeks, then of their
_Old_ Comedy, and lastly of the _New_ Comedy which arose out of it.

The same theatrical accompaniments were common to all the three kinds. We
must, therefore, give a short preliminary view of the theatre, its
architecture and decorations, that we may have a distinct idea of their

The histrionic art of the ancients had also many peculiarities: the use of
masks, for example, although these were quite different in tragedy and
comedy; in the former, _ideal_, and in the latter, at least in the Old
Comedy, somewhat caricatured.

In tragedy, we shall first consider what constituted its most distinctive
peculiarity among the ancients: the ideality of the representation, the
prevailing idea of destiny, and the chorus; and we shall lastly treat of
their mythology, as the materials of tragic poetry. We shall then proceed
to characterize, in the three tragedians of whom alone entire works still
remain, the different styles--that is, the necessary epochs in the history
of the tragic art.


Structure of the Stage among the Greeks--Their Acting--Use of Masks--False
comparison of Ancient Tragedy to the Opera--Tragical Lyric Poetry.

When we hear the word "theatre," we naturally think of what with us bears
the same name; and yet nothing can be more different from our theatre, in
its entire structure, than that of the Greeks. If in reading the Grecian
pieces we associate our own stage with them, the light in which we shall
view them must be false in every respect.

The leading authority on this subject, and one, too, whose statements are
mathematically accurate, is Vitruvius, who also distinctly points out the
great difference between the Greek and Roman theatres. But these and
similar passages of the ancient writers have been most incorrectly
interpreted by architects unacquainted with the ancient dramatists
[Footnote: We have a remarkable instance of this in the pretended ancient
theatre of Palladio, at Vicenza. Herculaneum, it is true, had not then
been discovered; and it is difficult to understand the ruins of the
ancient theatre without having seen a complete one.]; and philologists, in
their turn, from ignorance of architecture, have also egregiously erred.
The ancient dramatists are still, therefore, greatly in want of that
illustration which a right understanding of their scenic arrangements is
calculated to throw upon them. In many tragedies I think that I have a
tolerably clear notion of the matter; but others, again, present
difficulties which are not easily solved. But it is in figuring the
representation of Aristophanes' comedies that I find myself most at a
loss: the ingenious poet must have brought his wonderful inventions before
the eyes of his audience in a manner equally bold and astonishing. Even
Barthélemy's description of the Grecian stage is not a little confused,
and his subjoined plan extremely incorrect; where he attempts to describe
the acting of a play, the _Antigone_ or the _Ajax_, for instance, he goes
altogether wrong. For this reason the following explanation will appear
the less superfluous [Footnote: I am partly indebted for them to the
elucidations of a learned architect, M. Genelli, of Berlin, author of the
ingenious _Letters on Vitruvius_. We have compared several Greek tragedies
with our interpretation of Vitruvius's description, and endeavoured to
figure to ourselves the manner in which they were represented; and I
afterwards found our ideas confirmed by an examination of the theatre of
Herculaneum, and the two very small ones at Pompeii.].

The theatres of the Greeks were quite open above, and their dramas were
always acted in day, and beneath the canopy of heaven. The Romans, indeed,
at an after period, may have screened the audience, by an awning, from the
sun; but luxury was scarcely ever carried so far by the Greeks. Such a
state of things appears very uncomfortable to us; but the Greeks had
nothing of effeminacy about them; and we must not forget, too, the
mildness of their climate. When a storm or a shower came on, the play was
of course interrupted, and the spectators sought shelter in the lofty
colonnade which ran behind their seats; but they were willing rather to
put up with such occasional inconveniences, than, by shutting themselves
up in a close and crowded house, entirely to forfeit the sunny brightness
of a religious solemnity--for such, in fact, their plays were [Footnote:
They carefully made choice of a beautiful situation. The theatre at
Tauromenium, at present Taormino, in Sicily, of which the ruins are still
visible, was, according to Hunter's description, situated in such a manner
that the audience had a view of Etna over the back-ground of the
theatre.]. To have covered in the scene itself, and imprisoned gods and
heroes in a dark and gloomy apartment, artificially lighted up, would have
appeared still more ridiculous to them. An action which so gloriously
attested their affinity with heaven, could fitly be exhibited only beneath
the free heaven, and, as it were, under the very eyes of the gods, for
whom, according to Seneca, the sight of a brave man struggling with
adversity is a suitable spectacle. With respect to the supposed
inconvenience, which, according to the assertion of many modern critics,
hence accrued, compelling the poets always to lay the scene of their
pieces out of doors, and consequently often forcing them to violate
probability, it was very little felt by Tragedy and the Older Comedy. The
Greeks, like many southern nations of the present day, lived much more in
the open air than we do, and transacted many things in public places which
with us usually take place within doors. Besides, the theatre did not
represent the street, but a front area belonging to the house, where the
altar stood on which sacrifices were offered to the household gods. Here,
therefore, the women, notwithstanding the retired life they led among the
Greeks, even those who were unmarried, might appear without any
impropriety. Neither was it impossible for them, if necessary, to give a
view of the interior of the house; and this was effected, as we shall
presently see; by means of the _Encyclema_.

But the principal ground of this practice was that publicity which,
according to the republican notion of the Greeks, was essential to all
grave and important transactions. This was signified by the presence of
the chorus, whose presence during many secret transactions has been judged
of according to rules of propriety inapplicable to the country, and so
most undeservedly censured.

The theatres of the ancients were, in comparison with the small scale of
ours, of colossal magnitude, partly for the sake of containing the whole
of the people, with the concourse of strangers who flocked to the
festivals, and partly to correspond with the majesty of the dramas
represented in them, which required to be seen at a respectful distance.
The seats of the spectators were formed by ascending steps which rose
round the semicircle of the orchestra, (called by us the pit,) so that all
could see with equal convenience. The diminution of effect by distance was
counteracted to the eye and ear by artificial contrivances consisting in
the employment of masks, and of an apparatus for increasing the loudness
of the voice, and of the cothurnus to give additional stature. Vitruvius
speaks also of vehicles of sound, distributed throughout the building; but

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