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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/357

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Otway
Otway
351


points by grafting on it Belvidera, a deeply interesting female character ; and, while he accepted the historical names of the conspirators, he subordinated the true leader of the conspiracy, the Spanish envoy in Venice, the Marques de Bedamar, to Jaffier and Pierre, who were historically insignificant. He is thus solely responsible for the dramatic interest imported into the tale. According to his version of it, Priuli, a senator of Venice, has renounced his daughter, Belvidera, because she has married Jafner, a man poor and undistinguished. Pierre, a close friend of Jaffier, persuades him, when smarting under Priuli's taunts, to join a conspiracy which aims at the lives of all the senators. Jaffier is led to confide the secret of the plot to his wife, and her frenzied appeals to him to save her father goad him into betraying the conspiracy to the senate, and sacrificing his dearest friend. The irrelevant scenes, in which Antonio, a caricature of Shaftesbury, is mercilessly ridiculed by Aquilina the courtesan, are a serious blot on what is otherwise a great work of art. M. Taine, alone among critics, detected some humour in these foolish episodes. In the rest of the piece Hazlitt has justly drawn attention to ' the awful suspense of the situations; the conflict of duties and passions; the intimate bonds that unite the characters together and that are violently rent asunder like the parting of soul and body; the solemn march of the tragical events to the fatal catastrophe that winds up and closes over all.' Throughout, the language is as simple and natural as the sentiments depicted. 'I will not defend everything in is "Venice Preserved,"' wrote Dryden in his preface to Fresnoy's 'Art of Painting,' 1695, 'but I must bear this testimony to his memory, that the passions are truly tricked in it, though perhaps there is somewhat to be desired, both in the grounds of them and in the height and elegance of expression ; but nature is there, which is the greatest beauty.' Pope's verdict on Otway, that he 'failed to polish or refine,' is deprived of its sting by the fact that he passes the same censure on Shakespeare. Byron, although professing great admiration for Otway '8 work, declared Belvidera to be utterly detestable (Byron, Works, ed. Moore, iii. 371).

The play was translated into almost every modern language. In France it was imitated by De la Fosse in his tragedy of 'Manlius' (1698). Voltaire preferred the French adaptation to Otway's original, because De la Fosse followed St. Réal's historical narrative less closely than Otway, and gave his dramatis personæ fictitious Roman names instead of the historical names drawn by Otway from St. Réal (Voltaire, Le Brutus, avec un Discours sur la Tragedie, Paris, 1731, p. ix). A more literal French translation appeared at Paris in 1746 in 'Le Theatre Anglois' (tom. v.), and on 5 Dec. 1746 a third version, prepared by M. de la Place, was performed at the Comeclie Française. A prologue, spoken by 'le sieur Roseli,' dwelt on the refinement attaching to the stage traditions of France as compared with those of England. De la Place's acting edition was published as 'La Venise sauvée,' in 1747. The performance seems to have met with a qualified success. 'Venice Preserved,' like 'Don Carlos' and 'The Orphan,' was introduced in French translations into 'Chefs d'Œuvre des Theatres Etrangers,' Paris, 1822 (tomes ii. and iv.) Subsequently Balzac represents the heroine, in his 'Melmoth Reeoncilié,' as drawing her 'nom de guerre' of Aquilina from the courtesan in 'Venise sauvee.' A Dutch version of 'Venice Preserved ' — 'Het Gered Venetie, Treurspel ' — was made through the French by G. Muyser at Utrecht in 1755 ; and a German translation was published about the same date. In its German dress the piece reached St. Petersburg, where a Russian version, rendered from the German by Ya. Kozelsky, under the title of 'Vozmushchenie,' was published in 1764. A second German and a first Italian translation are each dated 1817.

'The Orphan,' the only other piece by Otway which reached a high level of art, contains numerous passages of great tenderness and beauty. The sufferings of the heroine, Monimia, excite all the pity inseparable from great tragedy, and justify William Collins's well-known reference, in his 'Ode to Pity,' to 'gentlest Otway,' who 'sung the female heart.' Mrs. Barry, who originally filled the heroine's part, is said to have invariably burst into genuine tears in the course of the performance, and critics are unanimous in the opinion that no person of ordinary sensibility can read it without weeping as copiously as 'Arabian trees' drop 'their medicinal gums' (Hazlitt). Sir Walter Scott wrote : 'The canons of Otway in his scenes of passionate affection rival at least, and sometimes excel, those of Shakespeare. More tears have been shed, probably, for the sorrows of Belvidera and Monimia than for those of Juliet and Desdemona' (Miscellaneous Prose Works, vi. 356). But the catastrophe of 'The Orphan' turns on Monimia's mistaking Polydore for his brother Castelio on the night of her secret marriage to the latter. The improbabilities which characterise the incident diminish the reader's sympathy, and Voltaire's condemnation of 'le tendre et élegant Otway' for his