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by [?]

Dramatic parodies in modern literature were introduced by our vivacious neighbours, and may be said to constitute a class of literary satires peculiar to the French nation. What had occurred in Greece a similar gaiety of national genius unconsciously reproduced. The dramatic parodies in our own literature, as in The Rehearsal, Tom Thumb,[4] and The Critic, however exquisite, are confined to particular passages, and are not grafted on a whole original; we have neither naturalised the dramatic parody into a species, nor dedicated to it the honours of a separate theatre.

This peculiar dramatic satire, a burlesque of an entire tragedy, the volatile genius of the Parisians accomplished. Whenever a new tragedy, which still continues the favourite species of drama with the French, attracted the notice of the town, shortly after uprose its parody at the Italian theatre, so that both pieces may have been performed in immediate succession in the same evening. A French tragedy is most susceptible of this sort of ridicule, by applying its declamatory style, its exaggerated sentiments, and its romantic out-of-the-way nature to the commonplace incidents and persons of domestic life; out of the stuff of which they made their emperors, their heroes, and their princesses, they cut out a pompous country justice, a hectoring tailor, or an impudent mantua-maker; but it was not merely this travesty of great personages, nor the lofty effusions of one in a lowly station, which terminated the object of parody. It was designed for a higher object, that of more obviously exposing the original for any absurdity in its scenes, or in its catastrophe, and dissecting its faulty characters; in a word, weighing in the critical scales the nonsense of the poet. Parody sometimes became a refined instructor for the public, whose discernment is often blinded by party or prejudice. But it was, too, a severe touchstone for genius: Racine, some say, smiled, others say he did not, when he witnessed Harlequin, in the language of Titus to Berenice, declaiming on some ludicrous affair to Columbine; La Motte was very sore, and Voltaire, and others, shrunk away with a cry–from a parody! Voltaire was angry when he witnessed his Mariamne parodied by Le mauvais Menage; or “Bad Housekeeping.” The aged, jealous Herod was turned into an old cross country justice; Varus, bewitched by Mariamne, strutted a dragoon; and the whole establishment showed it was under very bad management. Fuzelier collected some of these parodies,[5] and not unskilfully defends their nature and their object against the protest of La Motte, whose tragedies had severely suffered from these burlesques. His celebrated domestic tragedy of Inez de Castro, the fable of which turns on a concealed and clandestine marriage, produced one of the happiest parodies in Agnes de Chaillot. In the parody, the cause of the mysterious obstinacy of Pierrot the son, in persisting to refuse the hand of the daughter of his mother-in-law, Madame la Baillive, is thus discovered by her to Monsieur le Baillif:–

Mon mari, pour le coup j’ai decouvert l’affaire,
Ne vous etonnez plus qu’a nos desirs contraire,
Pour ma fille Pierrot ne montre que mepris:
Voila l’unique objet dont son coeur est epris.
[Pointing to Agnes de Chaillot.

The Baillif exclaims,

Ma servante!

This single word was the most lively and fatal criticism of the tragic action of Inez de Castro, which, according to the conventional decorum and fastidious code of French criticism, grossly violated the majesty of Melpomene, by giving a motive and an object so totally undignified to the tragic tale. In the parody there was something ludicrous when the secret came out which explained poor Pierrot’s long-concealed perplexities, in the maid-servant bringing forward a whole legitimate family of her own! La Motte was also galled by a projected parody of his “Machabees”–where the hasty marriage of the young Machabeus, and the sudden conversion of the amorous Antigone, who, for her first penitential act, persuades a youth to marry her, without first deigning to consult her respectable mother, would have produced an excellent scene for the parody. But La Motte prefixed an angry preface to his Inez de Castro; he inveighs against all parodies, which he asserts to be merely a French fashion (we have seen, however, that it was once Grecian), the offspring of a dangerous spirit of ridicule, and the malicious amusement of superficial minds.–“Were this true,” retorts Fuzelier, “we ought to detest parodies; but we maintain, that far from converting virtue into a paradox, and degrading truth by ridicule, PARODY will only strike at what is chimerical and false; it is not a piece of buffoonery so much as a critical exposition. What do we parody but the absurdities of dramatic writers, who frequently make their heroes act against nature, common sense, and truth? After all,” he ingeniously adds, “it is the public, not we, who are the authors of these? PARODIES; for they are usually but the echoes of the pit, and we parodists have only to give a dramatic form to the opinions and observations we hear. Many tragedies,” Fuzelier, with admirable truth, observes, “disguise vices into virtues, and PARODIES unmask them.” We have had tragedies recently which very much required parodies to expose them, and to shame our inconsiderate audiences, who patronised these monsters of false passions. The rants and bombast of some of these might have produced, with little or no alteration of the inflated originals, A Modern Rehearsal, or a new Tragedy for Warm Weather.[6]