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Page:Notes and Queries - Series 12 - Volume 10.djvu/373

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i2S.x.APKiL22,i922.] NOTES AND QUERIES. 303 neither rules nor Greek models have any power to make them produce an effect they naturally do not possess. It is useless to say that taste is corrupt, that men have changed. The Theatre, which is, first and foremost, a place for the repre- sentation of plays, has been built precisely for the ignorant ; and the opinion of ladies, youths and the common people is more valuable, as Aristotle himself admits, than that of experts. In public representations the only thing of moment is the emotional response, and the fact that the people are unprepared for such emotional effects, allows nature and the heart to do what they will, so that representations thus conceived will excite more emotion than nature herself. The passions, at the sight of a play, take a certain direc- tion in us ; no necessity for sciences or philosophies ; it is only necessary to be men. The outcry against drama and certain French and Italian tragedies, because they do not come up to the perfection of some imaginary art of tragedy, is simply futile. A . single touch is sufficient to move an audience, and an entire play is suffered by many for the sake of a single scene, (i. 159.) The unities are examined in turn. Carli speaks of the unities of time and place, within which our Legislators of dramatic poetry have pretended, with incredible tyranny, to confine our sensibilities. They put an iron bridle on imagination and on that illusion which can hold in thrall the most insensible, as well as the most delicate and most responsive spirits, (ii. 105.) How many fantastic things critics have written about the unity, or unchangeable nature, of place ! They assert that it would be against nature to find oneself in a room, pass then into a garden, or into another room, and yet remain fixed in one place. But is it not beyond possibility, and almost against nature, that an action should begin, develop, and finish in the same place ? That the king, the Iddy, the servant, and all the other characters, which are timed to enter into the action at various intervals, should all come to the one spot and there carry out the play ? That public and private affairs should be transacted there ? That, to the very place where life was in danger, the characters should return, without suspecting anything, and complete the action ? (ii. 176.) I know that, reading a story, I have no difficulty in transporting myself in thought, now to Rome, now to Paris, now to the field of battle and now to the cabinet ; and that, if the actions are vividly narrated, I forget I am at a table, and see with the eye of imagination the battlefield, the armies, the movements so clearly that I feel myself to be present at the moment and some effort is needed to make me know it is only illusion. ... If such passages are natural in a story in which past actions are described, how much more so will they be in a Theatre, in which living actions are seen. (ii. 178.) The moderns have greater facilities, stage apparatus and equipment : We, changing easily the place of action help wonderfully the imagination of the spectator to transport itself to the exact place where the varied action is represented. The ancients, speaking and acting in the proscenium, i.e., in an open place before the stage, considered it indefinite and susceptible of every application, like our wandering actors who represent every action on a raised platform before a painted screen, (ii. 179.) The unity of time is understood in a broad sense. Carli quotes the ' Trachiniae ' of Sophocles, and the ' Andromache ' of Euripides as tragedies where the unity of time is not observed : It is certainly true that, as the action should be one, closely knit, so that it develops con- tinuously and perfectly and the imagination, as in a picture, can gather and have always present objects, which otherwise would be lost in confusion, the time employed in the action should not be too long. But the belief, that a mortal sin is committed in extending the time given in a play to one, two, three and even ten, hours more, appears to me an unreasonable scruple, (ii. 183.) . . . But what difficulty have I in covering the adventures of a century in two hours' reading of a short history ? 1 am absolutely certain that the same effect could be pro- duced in the Theatre. In fact, several Italians and Spaniards have attempted long tragedies containing the birth, adolescence, old age and death of one character with his life's adventures ; and they have divided those into fifteen and even twenty-four acts to allow the play to extend over several evenings, (ii. 184.) The unities of time and place are inventions of the commentators of Aristotle and were not observed by the Greeks, (ii. 185.) II. The criticism of Greek drama is based on comparison with modern conditions, and Carli shows how impossible it is to re- produce the conditions which made Greek drama so successful in Greece. I must say that those things which gave the ancient dramatist material for his tragedies would be adapted with very great difficulty by a modern Italian. It would be impossible to build on the Aristotelian rules a tragedy which would perfectly convince the heart of the audience. Those rules do not explain the artifice by which those minute elements which, hidden in the nature of the thing itself, give beauty to the play, can be brought together. . . . The ancient Greek plays reflected so closely the nature and circum- stances of those times that they made an infinite impression on the spirit of those living then. The lack of those circumstances with us has deprived us of a strong emotional motive : we have nothing but humanity itself and this is not enough. We must aid it and strengthen it with those vital details which give life ta the action, and those do not come from the Aristotelian rules, (i. 161-163.) I may deduce one conclusion from all those reflections as man does not change in that which pertains to humanity, i.e., in the sources of the passions, so, on the other hand, he does change in that which pertains to social forms and con- ditions. Since the nature of man, i.e., the objects