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Maffio. I don't know why my blood chills in my veins
(The penitents singing with a loud voice.
Conquassabit capita in terrâ multorum ! Jeppo. What a terrible snare ! Our swords, our swords! Ah! gentlemen, we are with the devil here.
ACT III. SCENE II. The same. Dona Lucrece (appearing of a sudden,
robed in black, on the threshold of the door). You are my guests! 'All (except Gennaro, who observes everything from the recess of a window,
where he is not seen by Dona Lucrèce) exclaim, Lucrèce Borgia!
Dona Lucrèce. It's some days ago, since all of you whom I see here repeated that name in triumph. To-day you repeat it in dread. Yes, you may look at me with your eyes glassed by terror. It's I, gentlemen! I come to announce to you a piece of news--you are poisoned, all of you, my lords; here is not one of you who has an hour to live. Don't stir! The room adjoining is filled with pikes. It's my turn now to speak high, and to crush your head beneath my heel. Jeppo Liveretto, go join thy uncle Vitelli whom I had poniarded in the cellars of the Vatican! Ascanio Petrucci, go rejoin your cousin Pandolfo, whom I had assassinated in order to rob him of his town! Oloferno Vitellozzo, thy uncle expects thee-thou knowest that Jago d'Appiani-whom I had poisoned at a fête. Maffio Orsini, go talk of me in another world to thy brother Gravina, whom I had strangled in his sleep. Apostolo Gazella, I had thy father Francisco Gazella beheaded. I had thy cousin Alphonso of Aragon slain, say'st thou :-go and join them! On my soul, I think the supper 1 gave you at Ferrara is worth the ball you gave me at Venice. Fête for fête, my lords ! Jeppo. This is a rude waking, Maffio ! Maffio. Let us think of God!
Dona Lucrèce. Ah! my young friends of last carnival, you did not quite expect this ! Par Dieu—it seems to me that I can revenge myself. What think you, gentlemen ? Who is the most skilled in the art of vengeance here? This is not bad, I think-hem! What say you ? for a woman !-(To the Monks.) -My fathers, carry these gentlemen into the adjoining room which is prepared for their reception. Confess them! and profit by the few instants which remain to them to save what can be saved of their souls. Gentlemen, I advise those amongst you who have souls, to look after them. Rest satisfied ! they are in good hands. These worthy fathers are the regular monks of St. Sixtus, permitted by our holy father the Pope to assist me on occasions such as this --and if I have been careful of your souls, I have not been careless of your bodies.—Judge !—To the monks who are before the door at the end.)-Stand on one side a little, my fathers, so that these gentlemen may see.
(The monks withdraw, and leave visible five coffins, covered each with
a black cloth, and ranged before the door.) The number is there there are five !-Ah! young men ! you tear out the bowels of a poor woman, and you think she'll not avenge herself. Here, Jeppo, is your coffin-Maffio, here is yours. Oloferno, Apostolo, Ascanio, here are yours !
Gennaro (whom she had not seen till then, steps forth). There must be a sixth, madam.
Dona Lucrèce. Heavens, Gennaro!
Lucrèce. Let every body leave the room-let us be left alone. Gubetta, whatever happens, whatever you may hear without, let no one enter here. Gubetta. You shall be obeyed. (The Monks go out in procession, taking with them in their ranks the
five seigneurs, tottering with wine.)
Lucrèce now presses Gennaro to save himself by taking what remains of the antidote she had formerly given him. He asks,
Is there enough to save all ?
No; barely enough for one.
Gennaro then, furious at the death of his friends, seizes a knife from the table.
Lucrèce. Oh! Gennaro, if thou didst but know if thou didst but know the relationship between us! Thou knowest not how near and dear thou art to me—thou knowest not how we are connected. The same blood runs in our veins.-Thy father was Jean Borgia.
Gennaro. Your brother ;-then you are my aunt.
“His aunt,” says Lucrèce falteringly; and before her is death on one side, and an acknowledgement to her own son of incest with his father on the other ... She hesitates--and Gennaro, who looks upon her as his
— aunt, and the persecutrix of his mother, is only more resolved in his plans of vengeance.
“Commit not this crime," she says, but she hesitates to add more, and upon Gennaro's brow gather yet more fixedly the thoughts of vengeance.
“A crime,” he exclaims: “ and supposing it be a crime, am I not a Borgia?”
At this instant the dying voice of Maffio d'Orsini comes to him from the adjoining chamber.
Je n'écoute plus rien. Vous l'entendez, madame, il faut mourir!
The merits of M. V. Hugo.-His theory.-M. V. Hugo aims at unattainable
things.-M. Dumas at attainable things.—Translation from Antony.
I HAVE preferred thus copiously translating from Lucrèce Borgia to writing a more formal description, with short and imperfect extracts, of M. V. Hugo's different dramatic productions. In the first place, I thus give a tolerable idea of one of this writer's principal dramas. In the next place, by selecting a popular performance, I obtain the right to judge the audience which applauded that performance; and, lastly, by selecting for criticism a work which was written on a particular plan, and which, written on that plan, has succeeded, it cannot be said that I have taken an unfair opportunity of judging and condemning this plan itself.
As far as the talent of the author is concerned in Lucrèce Borgia, I own that I admire the dark, and terrible, and magnificent,—though coarse and furious energy that he has here brought upon the stage. The last act—the act in which you see the wine-cup and the bier, in which you hear the bacchanal and the dirge, in which, mingled with the voluptuaries garlanded with roses stalk forth the cowled instruments of assassination and religion ;-the last act, in the wild mixture of death and luxury, of murder and superstition, exhibits one of the most striking, the most terrific, the most tremendous, pageants that has yet been brought upon the modern stage.
The author of Hernani and Lucrèce Borgia is not only a writer of extraordinary powers, but a writer of extraordinary powers in that very branch of composition wherein he has generally been deemed the least successful. M. Victor Hugo might aspire to the place (under a total change of the circumstances of life, and therefore under a total change in the rules of art) which Corneille or Racine once held upon the stage of his country, and, I had almost said, to a place near that which
Sbakspeare once held upon our own. But why then-why is it that some of his attempts have been such signal failures ? -why is it that, in some of his dramas, without ever soaring to the sublime, he has groveiled amidst the ridiculous, while even in the last piece I have quoted, in one of those where there is the most to admire, I confess that there appears to me at least as much to forgive.
It is not that M. Victor Hugo is incapable of being a great dramatist, but that he has laid down a set of rules which almost render it impossible that he should be one. The system which spoils the romance of Notre Dame," * has been carried out to the most extravagant extent, where it is still less calculated to succeed; and, what is most extraordinary, M. Hugo lays it down with all the solemnity of profound wisdom, that the great art of exciting interest and propagating morality is to take for your heroes and your heroines the most atrocious characters, and to inspire them with some one most excessive virtue. It is hardly to be believed that such a doctrine should be gravely stated: but let us hear M. Victor Hugo himself !
“ What is the secret thought of " Le Roi s'amuse ?” This. -Take the most monstrous physical deformity-place it in the meanest and most degraded social position. + Well; give this creature a soul, and breathe into this soul the sentiment of paternity. The degraded creature will become sublime, the little creature will become great, the depraved creature will become beautiful.
“This is Le Roi s'amuse. And what is Lucrèce Borgia ? Now take the moral deformity, the most hideous, the most disgusting, the most complete ; put it, where it is most remarkable, in the breast of a woman, and plant in this breast the purest sentiment a woman can possess—the sentiment of maternity--and the monster will interest you, and the monster
* A beautiful romance-in which the most interesting person, however, is described as the likeness of a grotesque figure in a gothic church-—and one of the most delicate females ever drawn by the pen of romance, trembles like a galvanized frog !
+ Triboulet, the well-known buffoon of Francis the First. The play turns on the grief of this wretch, painted by M. V. Hugo himself as the vilest of mankind, at his daughter's being seduced by the king, a misfortune which, according to his character and the character of his times, he would have been too happy to undergo.
will make you weep, and that soul so deformed will be replete with grace and loveliness The author will not bring Marion Delorme * on the stage without ennobling her with a pure affection, nor Triboulet without making him an excellent father; nor Lucrèce Borgia without making her a devoted mother." True, if there were any law to oblige a dramatist to choose the characters of Marion Delorme, and Triboulet, and Lucrèce Borgia, and awake in the mind of his audience an affectionate interest for such characters—if there were such a barbarous law as this—it might then be very well, and perhaps very right for the author to say—“ I'll soften the characters I am obliged to use in this manner, and since 1 must make them as interesting, I will make them as virtuous, as I can.”— It is very true, moreover, that a vicious buffoon may possibly love his daughter, that a depraved woman of the town may have a chaste and noble passion, that a murderess and assassin may adore her son. But when an author can choose any personage he thinks proper, and can give to that personage any part he things proper—if he wish to interest us with a tale of extraordinary filial affection, he should not take a villainous buffoon for his hero, any more than, if he wish to interest us in a tale of pure and romantic love, he should take a harlot for his heroine.
In allying things hideous with things beauteous, things vicious with things virtuous, instead of ennobling ugliness by the beauty, vice by the virtue, you connect with it, you too frequently make that ridiculous and ignoble which should be kept sacred, venerated, and religious.
“ Affix God to the gibbet,” says M. Victor Hugo," and you have the cross." We know that punishment does not constitute crime, that God does not cease to be God for his crucifixion : but, to prove the value of M. Victor Hugo's theory, it would be necessary to show-not that Christ remained Christ after he was crucfied—but that he actually became Christ by the very act of his crucifixion.
Nothing can be so absurd as to attempt to arrive at a particular effect in opposition the natural sympathies that produce
* The famous prostitute of the time of Louis XIII. The force of the drama consists in the pure and passionate attachment of this lady for a youth, to save whom from prison she sacrifices once more her oft-sacrificed honour.