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The Antigone Of Sophocles, As Represented On The Edinburgh Stage
by [?]

This principle of the idem in alio, so widely diffused through all the higher revelations of art, it is peculiarly requisite to bear in mind when looking at Grecian tragedy, because no form of human composition employs it in so much complexity. How confounding it would have been to Addison, if somebody had told him, that, substantially, he had himself committed the offence (as he fancied it) which he charged so bitterly upon the Italian opera; and that, if the opera had gone farther upon that road than himself, the Greek tragedy, which he presumed to be so prodigiously exalted beyond modern approaches, had gone farther even than the opera. Addison himself, when writing a tragedy, made this violation (as he would have said) of nature, made this concession (as I should say) to a higher nature, that he compelled his characters to talk in metre. It is true this metre was the common iambic, which (as Aristotle remarks) is the most natural and spontaneous of all metres; and, for a sufficient reason, in all languages. Certainly; but Aristotle never meant to say that it was natural for a gentleman in a passion to talk threescore and ten iambics consecutively: a chance line might escape him once and away; as we know that Tacitus opened one of his works by a regular dactylic hexameter in full curl, without ever discovering it to his dying day (a fact which is clear from his never having corrected it); and this being a very artificial metre, a fortiori Tacitus might have slipped into a simple iambic. But that was an accident, whilst Addison had deliberately and uniformly made his characters talk in verse. According to the common and false meaning [which was his own meaning] of the word nature, he had as undeniably violated the principle of the natural, by this metrical dialogue, as the Italian opera by musical dialogue. If it is hard and trying for men to sing their emotions, not less so it must be to deliver them in verse.

But, if this were shocking, how much more shocking would it have seemed to Addison, had he been introduced to parts which really exist in the Grecian drama? Even Sophocles, who, of the three tragic poets surviving from the wrecks of the Athenian stage, is reputed the supreme artist [5] if not the most impassioned poet, with what horror he would have overwhelmed Addison, when read by the light of those principles which he had himself so scornfully applied to the opera! In the very monsoon of his raving misery, from calamities as sudden as they were irredeemable, a king is introduced, not only conversing, but conversing in metre; not only in metre, but in the most elaborate of choral metres; not only under the torture of these lyric difficulties, but also chanting; not only chanting, but also in all probability dancing. What do you think of that, Mr. Addison?

There is, in fact, a scale of graduated ascents in these artifices for unrealizing the effects of dramatic situations:

1. We may see, even in novels and prose comedies, a keen attention paid to the inspiriting and dressing of the dialogue: it is meant to be life- like, but still it is a little raised, pointed, colored, and idealized.

2. In comedy of a higher and more poetic cast, we find the dialogue metrical.

3. In comedy or in tragedy alike, which is meant to be still further removed from ordinary life, we find the dialogue fettered not only by metre, but by rhyme. We need not go to Dryden, and others, of our own middle stage, or to the French stage for this: even in Shakspeare, as for example, in parts of Romeo and Juliet (and for no capricious purpose), we may see effects sought from the use of rhyme. There is another illustration of the idealizing effect to be obtained from a particular treatment of the dialogue, seen in the Hamlet of Shakspeare. In that drama there arises a necessity for exhibiting a play within a play. This interior drama is to be further removed from the spectator than the principal drama; it is a deep below a deep; and, to produce that effect, the poet relies chiefly upon the stiffening the dialogue, and removing it still farther, than the general dialogue of the including or outside drama, from the standard of ordinary life.