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

4. We find, superadded to these artifices for idealizing the situations, even music of an intermitting character, sometimes less, sometimes more impassioned–recitatives, airs, choruses. Here we have reached the Italian opera.

5. And, finally, besides all these resources of art, we find dancing introduced; but dancing of a solemn, mystical, and symbolic character. Here, at last, we have reached the Greek tragedy. Probably the best exemplification of a Grecian tragedy that ever will be given to a modern reader is found in the Samson Agonistes of Milton. Now, in the choral or lyric parts of this fine drama, Samson not only talks, 1st, metrically ( as he does every where, and in the most level parts of the scenic business), but, 2d, in very intricate metres, and, 3d, occasionally in rhymed metres (though the rhymes are too sparingly and too capriciously scattered by Milton), and, 4th, singing or chanting these metres (for, as the chorus sang, it was impossible that he could be allowed to talk in his ordinary voice, else he would have put them out, and ruined the music). Finally, 5th, I am satisfied that Milton meant him to dance. The office of the chorus was imperfectly defined upon the Greek stage. They are generally understood to be the moralizers of the scene. But this is liable to exceptions. Some of them have been known to do very bad things on the stage, and to come within a trifle of felony: as to misprision of felony, if there is such a crime, a Greek chorus thinks nothing of it. But that is no business of mine. What I was going to say is, that, as the chorus sometimes intermingles too much in the action, so the actors sometimes intermingle in the business of the chorus. Now, when you are at Rome, you must do as they do at Rome. And that the actor, who mixed with the chorus, was compelled to sing, is a clear case; for his part in the choral ode is always in the nature of an echo, or answer, or like an antiphony in cathedral services. But nothing could be more absurd than that one of these antiphonies should be sung, and another said. That he was also compelled to dance, I am satisfied. The chorus only sometimes moralized, but it always danced: and any actor, mingling with the chorus, must dance also. A little incident occurs to my remembrance, from the Moscow expedition of 1812, which may here be used as an illustration: One day King Murat, flourishing his plumage as usual, made a gesture of invitation to some squadrons of cavalry that they should charge the enemy: upon which the cavalry advanced, but maliciously contrived to envelope the king of dandies, before he had time to execute his ordinary manoeuvre of riding off to the left and becoming a spectator of their prowess. The cavalry resolved that his majesty should for once ride down at their head to the melee, and taste what fighting was like; and he, finding that the thing must be, though horribly vexed, made a merit of his necessity, and afterwards pretended that he liked it very much. Sometimes, in the darkness, in default of other misanthropic visions, the wickedness of this cavalry, their mechancete, causes me to laugh immoderately. Now I conceive that any interloper into the Greek chorus must have danced when they danced, or he would have been swept away by their impetus: nolens volens, he must have rode along with the orchestral charge, he must have rode on the crest of the choral billows, or he would have been rode down by their impassioned sweep. Samson, and Oedipus, and others, must have danced, if they sang; and they certainly did sing, by notoriously intermingling in the choral business.[6]

‘But now,’ says the plain English reader, ‘what was the object of all these elaborate devices? And how came it that the English tragedy, which surely is as good as the Greek,’ (and at this point a devil of defiance whispers to him, like the quarrelsome servant of the Capulets or the Montagus, ‘say better,’) ‘that the English tragedy contented itself with fewer of these artful resources than the Athenian?’ I reply, that the object of all these things was–to unrealize the scene. The English drama, by its metrical dress, and by other arts more disguised, unrealized itself, liberated itself from the oppression of life in its ordinary standards, up to a certain height. Why it did not rise still higher, and why the Grecian did, I will endeavor to explain. It was not that the English tragedy was less impassioned; on the contrary, it was far more so; the Greek being awful rather than impassioned; but the passion of each is in a different key. It is not again that the Greek drama sought a lower object than the English: it sought a different object. It is not imparity, but disparity, that divides the two magnificent theatres.