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ANECDOTES OF THE STAGE.
“If the Theatre were to be shut up, the Stage wholly silenced and suppressed, I believe the world, bad as it is now, would be ten times inore wicked.”
ORIGIN OF THE DRAMA. GREECE, the nursery of the arts and sciences, was the parent of the drama; at least there is no record of its having been known among more ancient nations. The different states of Greece have contested the honour of its birth, but it is generally attributed to the Athenians, who derived its origin from the hymns which were sung in the festivals of Bacchus in honour of that deity. While these resounded in the ears of the multitude, choruses of Bacchants and Fauns ranged round certain images, which they carried in triumphant procession, chaunting indecent songs, and sometimes sacrificing individuals to public ridicule.
While this was the practice in the cities, a still greater licentiousness reigned in the worship paid to the same divinity by the inhabitants of the country, and especially at the season when they gathered the fruits of his supposed beneficence. Vintagers, besmeared with wine lees, and intoxicated with joy and the juice of the grape, rode forth in their carts, and attacked each other on the road with gross sarcasms, rerenging themselves on their neighbours with ridicule, and on the rich by publishing their acts of injustice.
The hymns in honour of Bacchus, while they described his rapid progress and splendid conquests, became imitative; and in the contests of the Pythian games, the players on the flute, who entered into conpetition, were enjoined by an express law to represent guccessively the circumstances that had preceded, accompanied, and followed the victory of Apollo over Python.
SUSARION AND THESPIS. To Susarion and Thespis the Greek drama was in its infancy largely indebted; indeed the latter has almost been considered as the parent of the stage, dramatic performers being to this day called the children of Thespis. Susarion and Thespis were both born at Icaria in Attica; each appeared at the head of a company of actors, the one on a kind of stage, the other in a cart. Susarion, who attacked the vices and follies of the age, represented his first pieces about 580 years before Christ. Thespis, who treated more noble subjects, which he took from history, made his first attempts in tragedy some years after Susarion, and acted his Alcestis 536 before Christ.
The comedies of Susarion were in the same taste with those indecent and satirical farces which were afterwards performed in some of the cities of Greece, and were long the favourite entertainment of the country people.
Thespis had noticed in the festivals in which, as yet, hymns only were sung, that one of the singers, mounted on a table, formed a kind of dialogue with the chorus. From this bint he conceived the idea of introduciug into the tragedies, an actor who, by simple recitals introduced at intervals, should give relief to the chorus, divide the action, and render it more interesting. This happy innovation, together with some other liberties in which Thespis indulged, gave alarm to the great Athenian legislator, who was supposed to be better able than any other to discern the value or danger of the novelty. Solon condemned a species of composition in which the ancient traditions were disguised by fictions.“ If,” said he to Thespis,
we applaud falsehood in our public exhibitions, we shall soon find that it will insinuate itself into our most sacred engagements.”
The pieces of Thespis and Susarion were, however, received with an approbation and delight, both in the city and country, that rendered useless the suspicious foresight of Solon. The poets, who till then had only exercised their genius in dithyrambics and licentious satire, struck with the elegant forms which this species of composition began to assume, dedicated their talents to tragedy and comedy. Comedy soon admitted a greater variety of subjects; and although those who judge of their pleasures only from habit, exclaimed that these subjects were foreign to the