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it. It is very true that a young man may be attached to an ugly old woman. We have all known instances of this; yet, if Romeo had killed himself for Juliet's aunt, or Juliet's duenda, or Juliet's grandmother, it is very doubtful whether the audience would not have been quite as much inclined to laugh at him for a consummate fool as to weep for him as a romantic lover. It is the grace, the beauty, the tender years of Juliet it is this which makes us feel all the passion, and comprehend all the despair, of the Italian youtha The wonderful art of Shakspeare is that, without distorting a character into a caricature, he always takes care that it produces in us a right
We view Richard III. with horror, and yet he is a great captain--a wise and provident monarch-valiant-intelligent. The deformities of the usurper are not exaggerated, his merits are allowed; but still, in spite of the admiration we feel for his gallantry as a soldier, for his sagacity as a prince, we despise him as a hypocrite, and hate him as an assassin.
M. V. Hugo would have made us love him in spite of his bump, in spite of his murders, in spite of his dissembling, in spite of all these defects and a hundred others, if he had them; nay, on account of these very defects themselves, he would have selected him just as the person that we should love, that we must love, and this for some peculiar virtue, the very last we should have suspected him of.
If M. V. Hugo were to wish to inspire you with terror, reader, he would try to frighten you with a sheep; if he were to wish to give you an idea of swiftness, he would prefer doing it by a tortoise.
Lucrèce Borgia met with very deserved success, but this was in spite of the principle it was written upon, and not on account of it; it was on account of the vivid colouring, the
passionate energy, the quick succession of action, the force and the magnificence of two or three dramatic situations, and in spite of the sentimental whining of an Italian mercenary after an unknown mother who had abandoned him, and the ridicuous and puling affection of such a woman as Lucrèce Borgia for her incestuous offspring, that this piece succeeded.
I remember a story, told in some learned nursery book, of a contest between the archers of King Richard and those of Robin Hood. The archers of King Richard, rather too confident perhaps in their skill, preferred showing it by shooting at the moon, while the shrewder archers of Robin Hood shot at the turget. It is hardly necessary to say that the arehers of Robin Hood carried off all the prizes. This is just the difference between M. Victor Hugo and M. Dumas. The one aims at attainable, the other at unattainable objects. The one looks to the success he is to obtain, the other at the theory through which he is determined to obtain it. For strength and poesy of language, for force and magnificence of conception, there can be no comparison between M. V. Hugo and M. Dumas. The first bas nobler and loftier elements for the composition of a dramatic poet, the second produces a more perfect effect from inferior materials. M. V. Hugo never steps out of the sublime without falling at once into the absurd — however triumphant the piece you are listening to may be in a particular passage, you never feel sure that it will succeed as a wholesome word, some phrase surprises and shocks you when least expect it. From the moment that the curtain is raised until the moment it falls, the author is in a perpetual struggle with his audience—now you are inclined to smile, and he suddenly forces you to admire,—now you are inclined to admire, and again you are involuntarily compelled to laugh.
In nothing is M. V. Hugo consistent-careless of applause, as you would suppose, and might really believe, from the plan he pursues—at times he testifies the most vulgar desire for a cheer-and a Lady declares to the pit at the Porte St. Martin, that there is something finer than being the Countess of Shrewsbury, viz. being the wife of a cutler's apprentice!!
Recondite in his research after costume and scenery, this writer despises and confounds, in the most painful manner, historical facts. In Marie Tudor, * Mary of England, whose
* It is very difficult to make the plan of Marie Tudor intelligible, more especially since the author has not succeeded in doing so. Marie Tudor, just before her marriage with Philip, has for paramour an Italian adventurer Fabiani. . This Italian adventurer seduces a young woman betrothed to a cutler's apprentice,who appears to be in the lowest state of life, but who is in reality a Talbot, a Countess of Shrewsbury, and the Lord knows what besides, The queen, discovering this intrigue, is determined to be avenged, and, in order to be so, she asks the apprentice, as the reward for her recognizing the rights of the new Countess of Shrewsbury, to pretend to stab her (the queen), and accuse Fabiani of having bribed him to do it, in which case he and Fa
chastity, poor woman, was her only virtue, is brought on the state with an Italian musician for her lover, in the character of Mary Queen of Scots, with whom it is impossible to believe that M. Hugo really confounded her.*
Monsieur Dumas is not quite so prodigal of these defects. The drama of Henry III. is almost perfect in its keeping with the times of that Prince's court. The gallantry, the frivolity, the consusion, the superstition of that epoch, all find a place there. The character of Henry III., crafty, courageous, weak, enervated, effeminate, sunk in vice, pleasure, and devotionthe character of Catherine de Medicis, reading, perchance believing, the stars—but not trusting to them-man in her ambition-woman in her ways-daring everything and daring nothing openly-meeting the rebellious plans of the Duc de
ise by a counterplot against his marriage bed-advising son to put down the League-by declaring himself its head these two characters of Henry and his mother are as perfect historical portraits—as the melancholy, interesting, and high and stern-minded St. Mégrin is a perfect imaginative picture.
Set Henry III, by the side of Lucrèce Borgia—there is no
biani will both be disposed of by the executioner. Gilbert, the apprentice, consents in a most natural manner to this, and he and the Italian are accordingly condemned to death with the most pompous display of ignora nce as to all the laws and customs of Great Britain.
Two great changes at this time take place in the two ladies' feelings : Marie is all agony to save Fabiani, whom she has taken such pains to have beheaded; and the Countess of Shrewsbury discovers that she never liked Fabiani, who had seduced her, but the apprentice, whom she had always before regretted she could not like. The interest of the play now turns on one of the prisoners having escaped—and each lady believing that it is her lover; and there is a fine scene, where London is shown joyful and illuminated on account of the execution, which the two ladies are both watching with intense anxiety from the Tower. Fabiani is beheaded, and Gilbert saved.
The follies of this play—the queen's solemn interview with Jack Ketch, the mysterious promenadings of a Spanish ambassador, the luxurious loves of poor chaste Marie Tudor herself—all these it is impossible to say anything of here, and it would be difficult in volumes to say enough of their grotesque and original absurdity.
* Rien n'y contredit l'histoire, bien que beaucoup de choses y soient ajoutées; rien n'y est violenté par les incommodités de la représentation, ni par l'unité de jour, ni par celle de lieu.” In what Corneille said of Cinna, M. V. llugo may find a lesson.
one part in Henry III.* to be compared with the last act—the supper in the Negroni Palace, in Lucrèce Borgia. There is no one part in Henry III. in which such splendid and
and dark images are so massed together—where such terror and such luxury, such gaiety and such horror are thrust in vivid contrast at once upon you. But the play of M. Dumas, though it does not strike you as the product of so powerful a talent as that of M. Hugo, satisfies you better as the work of a more natural talent. Its action seems to you more easily animated, more unaffectedly developed. It does not startle you so much at different passages, but it keeps your attention more continually alive : it does not agitate you at times so terribly during the performance, but it leaves a more full and complete impression upon your mind when the curtain drops.
Between Henry III. and the other pieces of M. A. Dumas there appears to me, however, no comparison. There is in that piece a grace, a dignity, a truth, which one seeks in vain, as it appears to me, in the subsequent productions which crowded audiences have declared equally successful.
Antony is the play, perhaps, in which the public have seen most to admire. The plot is simple, the action rapid, the divisions decided-each act contains an event, and each event develops the character, and tends to the catastrophe of the piece. Antony is an illegitimate child, brought up by charity, and who never knew his parents. He is rich, however, and in love with Adèle
. (a young lady of good fortune and family) to whom he does not venture to propose on account of the mystery of his birth
Henry III. has been so well translated, and is so well known in Catherine of Cleves, that I only refer to it. The plot consists in the fact I have alluded to. Catherine de Medicis, in order to occupy the Duc de Guise, foments a passion between the Duchesse and one of Henry's favourites, St. Mégrin. The Duc discovers the intrigue, intraps St. Mégrin, and has him slain. The whole play turns, as I have said in an early part of this work, on the Duchesse's lost pocket-handkerchief-which occasioned the lines I then quoted :
“ Messieurs et Mesdames— cette pièce est morale;
On peut oublier tout-excepté son mouchoir.” + One of the absurdities of this play, as a picture of French manners, is the extra nary disgrace which the author has attached to illegitimacy in a capital where more than one illegitimate child is born to every two legitimate ones.
a mystery with which the young lady, and Antony's acquaintance in general, it would seem, are strangely unacquainted. Adèle, attached to Antony, but piqued and offended at his conduct, for he had left her suddenly, at the moment when she supposed him likely to claim her hand, marries a Col. d'Hervey. It is three years after this marriage, I think, that the play begins.
Antony then returns, and requests, as a friend, an interview with Adèle, which she determines to avoid, and, getting into her carriage, leaves her sister to receive the visiter. The horses, however, run away with her, and, by one of those old and convenient accidents, which authors have not yet dispensed with, Antony stops them, saves her life, gets injured in the chivalrous enterprise, and is carried by the physician's order to Madame d'Hervey's house. Here he soon finds an opportunity to tell his misfortune, his despair, the passion he feels,* and the reasons why he did not declare it sooner--and Adèle, after hearing all this, thinks it safer to make the best of her way after her husband, who is at Frankfort.
She starts, her journey is nearly over, when she arrives at a little inn, where she is obliged to stop, on account of another convenient accident—a want of post-horses. Here the folloy
-a ing scene will explain what takes place.
Hostess (from without). "Coming! coming!-entering.–Was it Madame who calied ?
Adèle. I wish to go. Are the horses returned ?
Hostess. They were hardly gone when Madame arrived, and I don't expect them before two or three hours. Would Madame repose herself ?
Adèle. This is silly.-(Hostess goes out of the cabinet.)-Come, for Heaven's sake, and tell me as soon as the horses are returned.
This is the second Act.