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the sources which they explore and draw from, and widely in their artistic mode of presentment.
The Greek tragedy is much nearer narrative poetry than the English; the dramatic element is less completely developed. It deals for the most part with a single incident, which it dilates upon and impresses. It is the fact which is of importance to the Greek tragedians,-that these things happened whereof they speak; that the adultress thus slew her husband returning in the splendour of his triumph; that the son imbrued his avenging sword in the blood of the mother that bore him; that the king, noble in nature and fixed in power, found suddenly that by strange and terrible fatality he had unwittingly, yet most horribly, defiled the sanctities of nature, and in a brief revolution of the scene, from reputation and safety and a throne, was cast down into the dust, and thrust forth murderous and incestuous; his frame yet convulsed with the agony of his discovery, his sightless eyeballs yet bleeding, to grope his way with trembling hands an exile from the land his presence desecrated. It is in these and such-like special dread events that the Greek artist mirrored or illustrated human life. He showed them on a large scale, and with abundant comment; so much so, that six or eight persons at most, besides the chorus, and one or two actions, sufficed for the exposition of the small section of event which was undertaken in a single play. The Greek believed in an overruling necessity, part gods, part fate, mainly unmoral, whose control men were powerless to withstand. Hence bare facts in the life of man had a significance for him they have not for us. The Englishman gives a far wider causative effect to the will and nature of each individual human being: hence he studies the life of man in the lives of men; and the naked aspects of fact, however momentous and appalling, have little interest for him unless he can connect them with the character of men. The catastrophe of an English tragedy is developed out of the characters and actions of the personages introduced, mingled, as they are mingled in life, with sudden accident. The poet has no external powers, no gods to whom he can refer as an unfailing reservoir of forces, using men as half-passive instruments. Hence there is a unity in his work, arising out of its nature, to which the Greek play can make no pretension. The only unity of action the latter claims is that of selecting a single incident which in its nature shall be sufficiently severable from the story of which it is a part to have a commencement, and a sufficient resting-place at which to stop. There is none of that final silence and rest which falls over the conclusion of an English tragedy, and leaves the spectator in sad or trembling repose. The end of a Greek play is arbitrarily selected: the end of an English tragedy is determi
nately evolved; and death, which gives the completest ending, is necessary to this, while it is only incidental to the former. Nay, a tragic event which shall move all hearts may be represented without it, as when Orestes' cause is pleaded against the Eumenides; and in other plays, such as The Suppliants and The Persians, in which it is seen how easily the Greek drama melts into narration. But death is the unavoidable conclusion of an English tragedy; for this represents human life, as we have before said, not in isolated events, but in the whole lives and characters of single men; and without death, which rounds the course of fate, and is the crowning incident and full completion of the dispensations of life, no man's career could be fully depicted. Without it the life would be unended, and the character uncertain. For as no man is to be esteemed happy before his death, so no man is known before his death. Hence it is that death, and death only, is the consummation of English tragedy. It comes in various shapes, and wakens various moods. Its deepening shadow perfects the sadness of the story of Desdemona; it descends like judgment, and we tremble and exult as it hangs heavy over the head of the usurping Macbeth, or menaces Richard in his dreams; or it comes like pity, longed for with tears, and gives rest to the overtasked spirit of Hamlet, or loosens the cracked heartstrings of Lear. There are no such terminations to the Greek plays. Their fragmentary character is always apparent; there is always a piece over, something undisposed of, which draws the mind beyond them into the future. Compare the Agamemnon and the Choephora with Hamlet: both the latter end with death. In the first the hero comes home in his pride and his glory, and the adultress smites him in his first hour of confidence and rest; but the scene closes with the guilty wife and her paramour exulting in their guilt. In the second the son, the god-impelled avenger, reddens his hands in the blood of his guilty mother, and when all our interest culminates on his head he vanishes. He sees the furies glare, they thicken around him with their hideous eyes, and he flies the scene in horror. Both are but parts of one story, links in the chain of dread retributions which hang over the fated house and its bloody repast of slaughtered children: in both the action is complete, and the ancient requisites satisfied; but have they in their nature the entireness of Shakespeare's play, embracing the full development of so many men's characters, drawing so many threads of action into one knot, and wrapping all in rest with the potent poison which quite o'ercrows the spirit of Hamlet? The most curious mind cannot ask more; no distracting glances are cast into the future; "Passionless calm and silence unreproved"
fall like consolation on the heart. Completeness is a thing of
degree; but the desire for it-one of the deepest of our nature in connection with art-is in the English tragedy perhaps more fully gratified than in any other form employed by the poet. Within the boundaries of the play, the Athenian drama, however, possesses a greater and more obvious beauty of proportioned parts, more delicacy of execution as to form, finer clearer lines of grace; and mingles in its choruses an airy calm and sweetness that must have relieved with an inexpressible sense of repose the intervening tragic action. The very inferiority of the form, as a whole, made all this more possible; there was more room for it. A short event was displayed on a large scale. An English play, which must show lives and characters of men in a short space through the medium of action, must crowd in many actions and varied circumstances; it must be at once terse and detailed. In the Greek, on the other hand, the matter is spread out and enlarged upon; there is place for anticipation and comment, not only often occupying much of the speeches, but having provided for it the whole lyric element in the play, with its infinite capacities for beauty. All these things are drawn into an exquisite harmony, more easily appreciable, yet perhaps more easily attainable, and in its nature not so high as that complete fusion of all subordinate elements into the whole conception of the poet of which the English tragedy is, by its nature at least, capable.
We have said that the limitations of Mr. Arnold's genius drew him towards Greek art; and it is so in this particular. We have given him full credit for his love of finish and proportion; but his poems have every where shown that he is deficient in the higher power of conception, which requires unity. He balances strophe against antistrophe; but he gives us a play with two distracting interests. He is pure in language and clear in verse; but instead of a tragedy, he writes a melodrama with a separate tragical end to it. The story of Merope is as follows. We take it, simply for convenience, partly from each of two accounts which Mr. Arnold quotes in his preface:
"Cresphontes had not reigned long in Messenia when he was murdered together with two of his sons. And Polyphontes reigned in his stead, he too being of the family of Hercules; and he had for his wife, against her will, Merope, the widow of the murdered king. . . .
Merope sent away and concealed her infant son. Polyphontes sought for him every where, and promised gold to whoever should slay him. He, when he grew up, laid a plan to avenge the murder of his father and brothers. In pursuance of this plan, he came to King Polyphontes, and asked for the promised gold, saying he had slain the son of Cresphontes and Merope. The king ordered him to be hospitably entertained, intending to inquire further of him. He, being very tired, went to sleep; and an old man, who was the channel through
whom the mother and son used to communicate, arrives at this moment in tears, bringing word to Merope that her son had disappeared from his protector's house. Merope, believing that the sleeping stranger is the murderer of her son, comes into the guest-chamber with an axe, not knowing that he whom she would slay was her son: the old man recognised him, and withheld Merope from slaying him. After the recognition had taken place, Merope, to prepare the way for her vengeance, affected to be reconciled with Polyphontes. The king, overjoyed, celebrated a sacrifice; his guest, pretending to strike the sacrificial victim, slew the king, and so got back his father's kingdom."
Such is the story of Merope. Mr. Arnold does not represent her as the wife of Polyphontes; otherwise, except perhaps to some extent in the character of the usurper, he has adhered to the tradition. We venture to say it is not well chosen for the purposes of a tragic dramatist. Its main interest-the anxiety of Merope for her son, her agony of grief for his supposed loss, and her narrow escape of killing him, followed by the joyful recognition between them-lies wide of tragedy. We do not say there are no models for such a drama in Greek literature-the Electra of Sophocles is very much in point; but we say there were far higher models, such as either play of Edipus or the Antigone, and that there is an essential difference between melodrama and tragedy, and that the latter is of a nobler class in art. In saying this, we use 'melodramatic' for want of a better word, and as superior at least to 'tragi-comic' to express, not the exaggerated display of terrors, but the characteristic of plays in which terror is relieved and supplanted by joy; and we use 'tragedy' not in the general sense in which it is applied to the whole serious drama of the Greeks, but in the narrower and more determinate sense in which it is used in romantic literature. Escape has no place in true tragedy. The existence of it entirely changes the whole attitude of the mind. If it be said, that until the dénouement comes the attitude of the mind is the same in the melodrama, we say that it is not tragedy to the end, and that consummation is of the essence of tragedy; moreover, that even this temporary feeling can only be excited on a first reading or representation; and that a drama is not like a rocket to be expended in the first using, but must be little worthy the name unless it affords matter that will more or less repay a close familiarity and repeated perusal. Practically, it is not one in ten thousand who comes to a play or novel ignorant of whether it ends, as we say, well or ill. The details of a surprise may be concealed, and give pleasure; but rarely indeed can a work of art depend for its interest on a concealment of the direction of its conclusion; and where it does so, it is no very worthy source of interest. We may assume, then, that in the melo
drama the reader or spectator knows the safety that is in store; and this affects all his feelings. His heart leans upon the future he sympathises, indeed, with present sorrows; but he is sustained by the knowledge that they are not to be lasting. Within the narrow limits of a play there is a sort of distraction between the emotion in the scene and the superior knowledge and different resources the spectator possesses within his own mind. It prevents entireness of sympathy. There is less simplicity, less reality, than in tragedy; and this is perhaps one of the main grounds of the superiority of the latter. Both are legitimate expressions of art, but tragedy the higher. Perhaps the reverse is the case in the novel. The passions are not moved in the same way. The interests are not so simple, exclusive, and swiftly accumulated. They are spread out and varied; the tragic element is intermittent, relieved, and softened, and a thousand minor sources of occupation to the mind and feelings are woven in with it. Tragedy rises like a cloud that spreads quickly over the heavens, and goes down with storm and night into the sea: a prose fiction dawns and shines and sets like a whole day of mingled weather, whether it be April, or August, or December. In the minuter detail and greater length of the novel, we require the repose we derive from our confidence in a happy termination. We cannot bear to be harrowed through three volumes, and find no relief at the end of them. The universal feeling is undoubtedly true. A novel that ends well is as much more perfect a work of prose fiction than one which ends tragically, as a tragic play is superior to a melodramatic
Merope, then, is not a subject that affords scope for the highest kind of dramatic art. Our interest in her story is one not tragical in its nature, but of transient grief and terror. Moreover, it ceases when, long before the conclusion of the play, the mother clasps her uninjured and recognised child in her arms. Henceforth for them the tale is told, and the play played out. All the passion and life of the poem are here concentrated: the author has carefully and skilfully used all the materials of the play to develop this crisis with simplicity and dramatic effect, and has employed the utmost vigour and pathos of which he is master to heighten the effect and to stir the emotions. We can give no extract which will do fuller justice to the genius that shines in the play than a part of this scene:
"Merope. From the altar, the unaveng'd tomb, Fetch me the sacrifice-axe!
[The CHORUS goes towards the tomb of CRESPHONTES, and their leader brings back the axe.
O Husband, O cloth'd