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important news. If needful, the clumsiest artifices should be devised in order to prevent the audience from actually beholding a battle or a murder. Lastly, the unities of time and place are to be observed with scrupulous exactitude, in spite of every inconvenience to the author and of any damage to the subject.
These canons the Italians had already compiled from passages of Aristotle and of Horace, without verifying them by appeal to the Greek dramatic authors. They were destined to determine the practice of the great French writers of the seventeenth century, and to be accepted as incontrovertible by every European nation, until Victor Hugo with Hernani raised the standard of belligerent Romanticism on the stage of Paris.
Not a single one of the above-mentioned rules was obeyed in our Romantic Drama. In a dialogue between G., H., and T., quoted from Florio's · First Fruits' by Mr. Collier, one of the interlocutors says :
G. After dinner we will go see a play. His friend answers :
H. The plays that they play in England are not right comedies. A third joins in the conversation :
T. Yet they do nothing else but play every day! The second sticks to his opinion :
H. Yea, but they are neither right comedies nor right tragedies. The first inquires :
G. How would you name them then ?
ESSENCE OF ROMANTIC DRAMA.
The critic scornfully replies :
H. Representations of histories without any decorum.
Without the decorum of deliberate obedience to classic rules, without the decorum of accomplished art, without the decorum of social distinctions properly observed, they dramatised a tale or history in scenes. Nothing in the shape of a story came amiss to the romantic playwright; and perhaps we cannot penetrate deeper into the definition of the Romantic Drama than by saying that its characteristic was to be a represented story. In this it differed from the Classic or Athenian Drama ; for there. although there lay a myth or fable behind each tragedy, the play itself was written on some point or climax in the fable.1
A Florentine, if at this epoch he had been asked, • How do you name them then ?' might possibly have answered, · Farsa!' For it is not a little curious that in these very years, when the romantic type of art was taking shape in England, a distinguished Florentine playwright attempted to popularise a very similar species in Tuscany. The endeavour was foredoomed to failure. Italian dramatic literature had moved too long already upon different lines; and the life which remained in it, was destined to survive in the fixed
I do not mean to assert that no plays of the Romantic species are written, like the Classical, upon the point or climax of a story rather than upon the story itself. What I do mean, is that the Romantic method accepted the dramatic evolution of a story-setting forth, for instance, the whole of a man's life, or the whole of a king's reign, or the whole of a complicated fable. It is only necessary to mention King Lear, Pericles, Henry IV., Cymbeline. And even where the plot is far more strictly narrowed to a single point, as in Othello, the dramatic movement remains narrative.
personages and the improvisatory action of the Commedia dell'Arte. Yet Giovanmaria Cecchi's description of the Farsa in his prologue to 'La Romanesca' (a play of this species composed in 1585) would serve better than the most elaborate description to explain the nature of the English Romantic Drama to men who never read a line of Marlowe. I have, therefore, translated it from the Florentine reprint of 1880.
The Farce is a third species, newly framed
CECCHI ON THE FARSA.
Of Those that Know wrote nothing in her favour,
It would hardly be possible, I think, to plead the cause of the Romantic Drama against the supposed canons of Aristotle and the rules of Horace more pleasantly than thus, or to set forth with more genial intelligence the claims of the new style on popular acceptance. Curiously enough, the prediction uttered by Cecchi in the last lines of his prologue has been amply verified. We condemn the stilted tragedies of his contemporaries, and tax their comedies with imitative affectation. We regard the Italian playwrights, with two or perhaps three luminous exceptions, as obsolete antiquities; while Shakspere's masterpieces in the mingled or romantic manner are still new; a perennial Fount of Juvenescence for all dramatists who seek fresh inspiration, and for all the audiences of Europe who desire a draught of nature quickened with poetic passion.
The very faults of youthfulness which Sidney made so manifest, were now to build the fortune of this sweetest, prettiest country lass, for whom no name as yet was found in England. Precisely because she, the un
taught girl, the latest born of all the Muses, pronounced herself no Muse of Tragedy or Comedy, because she knew no rules distilled from foreign, obsolete, and scholar-disciplined tradition, it was her mission to become the Muse of Modern Drama. The Italian playwright called her Farsa. This title reminds us of French Farce, with which she can indeed afford to recognise some slight relationship. But she travelled so far wider, climbed so far higher, penetrated so far deeper, that to name her Farce at any time in English, would be out of question. The destinies of all dramatic art were in her hands. She held the keys of Tragedy and Comedy; bid classic myth and legend suit her turn ; stretched her rod over fairyland and history; led lyric poetry, like a tamed leopard-whelp, at chariotwheels of her fantastic progress. Critics now recognise this village-maiden Muse, as Muse of the Romantic Drama, Shakspere's Drama. Under those high-sounding titles she now enjoys a fame equal to that of her grave sisters, Attic Tragedy and Comedy. It was her fortune to give to the modern world a theatre commensurate with that of ancient Greece, adapted to the spirit of the new-born age, differing indeed in type from the antique, but not less perfect nor less potent in its bearing on the minds of men.
What a future lay before this country lass—the bride-elect of Shakspere's genius! For her there was preparing empire over the whole world of man over the height and breadth and depth of heaven and earth and hell; over facts of nature and fables of romance ; over histories of nations and of households; over heroes of past and present times, and