Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

calculated to please the crowd. They are infinitely more simple in their construction, and are mingled with a theology which the people would find it difficult to comprehend. In the one which represents original sin, we first see Man, Sin, and the Devil disputing together. The Earth and Time join the conversation. We next behold heavenly Justice and Mercy seated under a canopy before a table, with every thing requisite for writing. Man is interrogated before this tribunal. God the prince, or Jesus, advances; Remorse kneeling presents to him a petition; Man is again interrogated by Jesus, and receives his pardon, but the Devil interferes and protests against this favour being shewn to him. Man has again to encounter vanity and folly. Christ appears apart, crowned with thorns, and re-ascends to heaven amidst sacred music, and the piece concludes when he is seated on his celestial throne.

The greater part of these allegorical pieces are formed of long theological dialogues, dissertations, and scholastic subtleties too tedious for perusal. It is true that before the representation of an auto sacramentale, and as if to indemnify the audience for the more serious attention about to be required for them, a loa or prologue equally allegorical, and at the same time mingled with comedy, was first performed. After the auto, or between the acts, appeared an intermediate

[ocr errors]

piece called the Saynete, entirely burlesque, and taken from common life; so that a religious feast never terminated without gross pleasantries, and a humorous performance; as if a higher degree of devotion in the principal drama required, by way of compensation, a greater degree of licentiousness in the lesser pieces.

All the pieces of Lope which we have reviewed are connected with public or domestic history, and sacred or profane subjects; but are always founded on real incidents, which require a certain study and a certain attention to tradition. Where the incidents happen to be drawn from the history of Spain, they are treated with great truth of manners and fidelity of facts. But as a great part of the Spanish comedies are of an heroic cast, and as combats, dangers, and political revolutions are there mingled with domestic events, the poet could not assign them at his pleasure to a particular time or place, feeling himself constrained by the familiarity of the circumstances. The Spaniards, therefore, gave themselves full licence to create imaginary kingdoms and countries, and to a great portion of Europe they were such entire strangers that they founded principalities and subverted empires at will. Hungary, Poland, and Macedonia, as well as the regions of the North, are countries always at their disposal, for the purpose of introducing brilliant catastrophes on the stage. Neither the

poet nor the spectators having any knowledge of the rulers of such countries, it was an easy matter at a time of so little historical accuracy to give birth to kings and heroes never noticed in history. It was there that Francisco de Roxas placed his Father, who could not be king, from which Rotrou has formed his Venceslas. It was there that Lope de Vega gave full reins to his imagination, when he represents a female fugitive, charitably entertained in the house of a poor gentleman of the Carpathian mountains, bringing him as her portion the crown of Hungary, in La Ventura sin buscalla: The Unlooked-for Good-fortune. In another, the supposed son of a gardener, changed into a hero by the love of a princess, merits and obtains by his exploits the throne of Macedon. This piece is intitled El Hombre por su palabra: The Man of his Word.

If these pieces do not unite instruction with entertainment, they are still deserving of preservation as containing a rich fund of invention and incident. Lope, though inexhaustible in intrigues and interesting situations, can never be esteemed a perfect dramatist; but no poet whatever has brought together richer materials, for the use of those who may be capable of employing them. In his comedies of pure invention, he possesses an advantage which he frequently loses in his historical pieces. While the characters are better drawn and better supported, there is greater pro

[ocr errors]

bability in the events, more unity in the action, and also in the time and place; for, drawing all from himself, he has only taken what was useful to him, instead of thinking himself obliged to introduce into his composition all that history presented him with. The early French dramatists borrowed largely from Lope and his school; but the mine is yet far from being exhausted, and a great number of subjects are still to be found there susceptible of being brought within the rules of the French drama. P. Corneille took his heroic play, Don Sancho of Aragon, from a piece of Lope de Vega, intitled El Palacio Confuso: and this single piece might still furnish another theatrical subject entirely different, that of the Twins upon the Throne. The mutual resemblance of these two princes, Don Carlos and Don Henry, one of whom, assuming the name of the other, repairs the faults his brother had committed, gives rise to a very entertaining plot. It is thus that many of the pieces of this fertile writer are sufficient to form two or three French plays. How surprising to us is the richness of the imagination of this man, whose labours seem so far to surpass the powers and extent of human life. Of a life of seventy-two years duration, fifty were devoted incessantly to literary labours; and he was moreover a soldier, twice married, a priest, and a familiar of the Inquisition. In order to have written 2200

theatrical pieces, he must every eight days, from the beginning to the end of his life, have given to the public a new play of about 3000 verses ; and in these eight days he must not only have found the time necessary for invention and unity, but also for making the historical researches into customs and manners on which his play is founded; to consult Tacitus for example, in order to compose his Nero; while the fruits of his spare time were twenty-one volumes in quarto of poetry, amongst which are five epic

poems.

These last mentioned works do not merit any examination beyond a brief notice. They consist of the Jerusalem Conquistada, in octave verse, and in twenty cantos; a continuation of the Orlando Furioso under the name of La Hermosura de Angelica: The Beauty of Angelica, also in twenty cantos; thus, as if to emulate Tasso and Ariosto, writing these two epics on the same subjects which they had respectively chosen. To these may be added an epic entitled Corona Tragica, of which Mary of Scotland is the heroine; another epic poem on Circe, and another on Admiral Drake, entitled Dragontea. Drake, rendered odious to the Spaniards by his victories, is represented by Lope de Vega as the minister and instrument of the devil. But none of these voluminous poems have, even in the eyes of the Spaniards, been placed on an equality with the

« VorigeDoorgaan »