Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/80

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arm, is so far from receiving such notice from those who are compelled to speak only the language of Euripides, that until she is actually put forward by Heracles (and he is in no hurry to do it) they do not seem to see her. She stands to all appearance unremarked, like the slave she is said to be, among the unnamed attendants by whom Heracles, as a traveller, was presumably accompanied. If in his aspect the hero showed, as Balaustion informs us, the signs of his appalling contest, Euripides has been curiously negligent of impressing any such marks upon his speech. Here we find, to quote once more Balaustion's true conclusion, 'all Heracles back again', that is to say, if we keep to the veritable lines of the dramatist, a hearty fellow, generous in his way but coarse, the high-born athlete-bravo, who combines the pride of a prince with the grossness of a man-at-arms.

We may question whether in itself, however it had been treated in detail, the common theatrical trick, by which the recognition of Alcestis is deferred, could have been made acceptable to such feelings as the supposed situation would naturally excite in a serious mind. A certain value it has, as Browning points out. It enables Heracles to extract from Admetus, for the benefit of his wife before she is restored to him, assurance of the genuine impression which has been made upon him, at least for the time, by the lesson which he has received. Nevertheless I cannot believe that Aeschylus, for example, or Sophocles, or Shakespeare, or Browning himself, would have thought it tolerable in the ostensible circumstances; and certainly one of these four, the only man perhaps who could have dramatized a resurrection with success, would have done his utmost, if he had allowed the prank to be played at all, to lift it by every art of solemnity in the treatment above the nature of such a thing and into something near the level of the stupendous theme. It is worth while just to imagine for a moment the finale of an Alcestis as it might have been presented by the author of the Choephori, if only to remind ourselves that the Athenian audience were not without the means of estimating by comparison what it was that Euripides had done. For if the trick was perilous in itself, what is it when Euripides, availing himself of the traits with which he has