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Unluckily, Seneca ranked first in the appreciation of the critics, partly because he was easier to read, but chiefly because he was easier to imitate. Even Milton, both in his practice as the author of 'Samson Agonistes' and in his judgment of the Attic stage, shows that he was infected with the same original misapprehension of Greek art. The following verses from Paradise Regained,' sublime and beautiful as they may be, betray a want of insight into the essence of the drama as a fable put in action :
Thence what the lofty grave tragedians taught,
The qualities on which Milton here insists gave weight and dignity indeed to the Attic drama. They may be even singled out for admiration also in the monologues of Seneca. But the romantic, as opposed to the classical, school of dramatists, were right in their perception that not ethical wisdom and not description, but action, was the one thing needful to their art. They saw that the Drama, as it differs from didactic poetry, must present human life in all possible fullness, vigour, and variety; must portray and develop character; must delineate the conflict of personalities and passions, the collision of human wills with circumstance; must combine events into a single movement with a climax and catastrophe. Finally, they knew well that in a drama the doing is the whole matter. Reflection upon action is extraneous to the essence of a play. It forms, no
doubt, an ornament of meditated art. But the object of tragedy is not to teach by precept. If he teaches, the tragic playwright teaches by example. With this just instinct the romantic poets applied all their energies to action, allowing the conclusions, moral and sententious, to be drawn by the spectators of that action. Working thus upon a sound method, in spite of formal differences, due for the most part to the altered conditions of the theatre itself in modern times, they shared the spirit of the Greeks more fully than the pseudoclassics. Of 'brief sententious precepts,' capable of isolation from the dramatic context, Æschylus has hardly any, Sophocles but few. Euripides, the least to be commended of the Attic tragedians, abounds in them. Seneca's plays are made up of such passages.
It might almost be laid down that in proportion as a dramatist lends himself to the compilation of ethical anthologies, in that very measure is he an inferior master of his craft.
These remarks have led by a circuitous and discursive path to the two English tragedies which, emanating from the school of Seneca in England, still deserve particular attention. They are 'Ferrex and Porrex,' or, as the play is also called, 'Gorboduc,' and · The Misfortunes of Arthur. Though intended to be strictly classical, and written by Senecasters of the purest water, both are founded upon ancient English fables. This fact is not without significance. It indicates that even in the limbo of pseudo-classic imitation, the national spirit was alive and stirring.
The tragedies in question are therefore connected by no unimportant link with the more vital art of the romantic Drama.
‘Gorboduc' has long been famous as the first tragedy written in our tongue. Sir Philip Sidney in his · Defence of Poesy' hailed it as the dawn-star of a brighter day for English literature. After blaming the playwrights of his time as bastards of the Muses, “paper-blurrers,' churls with servile wits, who think it enough if they can be rewarded of the printer,' he passes a sweeping censure on their dramatic compositions, charging them with neglect of rule and precedent, and showing how they violate the laws of 'honest civility and skilful poetry.' The one exception he makes, is in favour of *Gorboduc.' 'It is full,' he says, 'of stately speeches and well-sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style. The only grave blot he detects in it, is non-observance of the unity of time. In this criticism, delivered by so excellent a wit as Sidney, by Sidney whom the ballad of Chevy Chase' stirred like the sound of the trumpet, we learn how the best intellects lay under bondage to that false ideal which I have attempted to describe. What Sidney demands of the tragic drama, is solemn diction, sonorous declamation, conformity to the unities. He knows of no model superior to Seneca. Judged by these standards, 'Gorboduc' is almost perfect. Unruffled calm, sententious maxims, lengthy speeches, ceremonious style, the action dealt with by narration : all these qualities it possesses in as full a measure as a play by Trissino himself. Alas, adds Sidney, that the unity of time was not observed! Only that was lacking to a work of absolute art in English.
NORTON AND SACKVILLE.
'Gorboduc' was written by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville. Norton was a strict reformer of the bitterest sect, a polemical pamphleteer, and persecutor of the Roman Catholics. Though a barrister by profession, his inclination led him to theology. He translated Calvin's • Institutions of the Christian Religion,' and versified the Psalms in wretched doggrel. Sackville's career belongs to English history. Son of Elizabeth's kinsman, Sir Richard Sackville, the Privy Councillor and Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, he grew up in close intimacy with the Queen. As his will informs us, he was 'in his
younger years, by her particular choice and liking, selected to a continual private attendance upon her own person. His youth was wild and extravagant ; and at one period, between the years 1563 and 1566, he lost the favour of his royal cousin. Elizabeth declared that she would not know him till he knew himself.' Sackville returned to a knowledge of himself in time, however, to secure a brilliant future. On his father's death in 1566, he entered into the enjoyment of a vast estate. He was created Knight of the Garter, Privy Councillor, Baron Buckhurst, Earl of Dorset, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and Lord High Treasurer of England.
In his early manhood, and while his extravagance was moving Elizabeth's indignation, Sackville played no mean part in English literature. To him we owe the finest portions of The Mirror for Magistrates,' that great collection of poems which has been justly said to connect the work of Lydgate with the work of Spenser. Sackville's part in it has certainly more of Spenser's than of Lydgate's spirit ; and the Induction, though sombre enough to justify Campbell in calling it'a landscape on which the sun never shines,' forms a worthy exordium to the graver poetry of the Elizabethan age. With the publication of that work in 1565, his literary activity ceased. Gorboduc'had already been played in 1561, when Sackville was but twenty-five years of age, and had not yet deserved the Queen's displeasure. Norton, his collaborator in the tragedy, was four years his senior. Upon the title
page of the first and pirated edition (1565), the first three acts are ascribed to Norton, the fourth and fifth to Sackville. Nor does there seem to be sufficient reason for disputing this assignment, which was not contradicted by the authors when the play was reprinted (with their sanction apparently) under the title of ‘Ferrex and Porrex'in 1570. It is difficult to trace any important difference of style, although the only pathetic passage in the drama, and some descriptions not wholly unworthy of Sackville's contribution to “The Mirror for Magistrates,' occur in the fourth act.
Framed upon the model of Seneca, ‘Gorboduc' is made up of dissertations, reflective diatribes, and lengthy choruses. The action, of which there is plenty behind the scenes, is reported by Messengers. The dialogue does not spring spontaneously from the occasion ; nor is it used to bring the characters into relief by natural collision. Each personage delivers a set oration, framed to suit his part, and then gives way to the next comer. The second scene of the first act might be used to illustrate this method. Gorboduc, having decided to divide the realm of Britain