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names which sound to us as peculiar and set apart for the use of poetry, may to the natives be but as 'household words,' too familiar for the dignity which our southern neighbours have always considered as essential to tragedy.
That we may not, however, be supposed to have formed our opinion rashly, we propose giving a slight sketch of the Italian tragic drama, previously to entering upon the merits of the poems which stand at the head of our article. For this purpose we shall make use of Maffei's collection, and the Teatro Antico,' published at Milan in the years 1808-9, with the laudable design of disproving the barrenness of the Italian drama, anterior to Alfieri, though we conceive without success equal to the praiseworthiness of the object. We are induced to this by reverting to the only book in our language which professedly treats on this subject, that of Mr. Walker, a critic so profuse and indiscriminate in his eulogy, as to render him a very uncertain and treacherous guide. Many notices, however, of scarce dramas may be gleaned from his work, as he seems to have laboured with great and exemplary diligence in the illustration of his subject.
Trissino, the author of the Italia Liberata de i Goti, the most unpoetical poem (and it is a hardy assertion) with which we are acquainted, in which the imitation of the ancients is carried to the most injudicious and indeed ludicrous pitch of servility, has derived a considerable portion of celebrity from having first attempted to revive, what is called, the classical drama. His tragedy is certainly far superior to his epic; and there are a few touches of tenderness, which in some degree enliven this regular, but tame production. There is something very moving in the fondness of Sophonisba for her child, apparently increasing as the life within her grows more feeble; and the melancholy exclamation of the chorus struck us forcibly from its simple feeling; while the beautiful Queen is expiring, they look on her, and say of her death,
Ahi me, che questa e pur troppo per tempo,
Still, with due deference to Pope's critical decision,
With arts arising, Sophonisba rose,
The tragic muse returning, wept her woes.
With her th' Italian scene first learn'd to glow,
we cannot but think that little warmth could be excited, and few tears taught to flow, by the poetry of Trissino. In fact it never seemed to enter into his conceptions to cast that ideal and vivid colouring over his subject, by which poetry is distinguished from prose; it was at best but history in its cold and sober truth,
broken into scenes, and arranged in verse. The Rosmunda of Rucellai followed rapidly the Sophonisba. This too is an inartificial and naked versification of that tremendous story familiar to every reader of Gibbon. The bride on her nuptial day is forced to drink out of the skull of her father, and revenges herself on her barbarous husband by means of a former lover. The atrocity is not so skilfully prepared as to excite terror, and of course there is no character to which we can attach any feeling but that of perfect abhorrence. The Oreste of the same author is better, because in fact it is little more than a free imitation of the Iphigenia in Tauris of Euripides. Mr. Walker quotes from this piece a passage of very pleasing description, and indeed the exquisite interest of the story is in general well preserved. The example thus set, the Italian theatre overflowed with imitations from the great Grecian Triumvirate, but none of the writers appear worthy of being rescued from the obscurity to which they have long been consigned. Ludovico Dolce and Luigi Alamanni were writers of forgotten epics as well as of forgotten tragedies; Sperone Speroni lives rather in the hatred of posterity as the enemy of Tasso, than in their gratitude as author of the Canace.' We should have formed higher expectations of Giraldi Cinthio; but tragedy is far more indebted to him for the assistance which he gave to Shakspeare in some of his novels, than for his own original composi
Occasionally the Muse of Italian tragedy forsook the track of her predecessor in Greece, that she might fill her bowl to the brim with blood; and in truth the drama of most modern nations appears to have experienced one access or more of this blood-thirsty fever. He becomes the favourite poet who can conceive the blackest crimes, and contrive to immolate the greatest number of human victims. We ourselves have had two periodical returns of this disorder, one in the days of King Cambyses' and Titus Andronicus, another in those of Dryden and the rhyming school of tragedy; and Mr. Shelly seems inclined to force us into a third. Our neighbours, the Germans, have it however full upon them; every monthly magazine teems with some new and delectable tale of incest and murder, formed most rigidly upon Mr. Schlegel's principle of fatality-a principle carried infinitely too far by that original critic himself in his view of the Grecian theatre, and most exquisitely burlesqued by his prolific countrymen. It will perhaps cause some surprise if, after all, we put in a claim for the palm of unmitigated horror, and of predominant fatalism, in favour of the forgotten poets of whom we write. It would indeed be difficult to find any works in which ' on horror's head horrors accumulate' in such abundance as in the Orbecche, the Canace, the
Solimano, and we wish we could have excepted the Torrismondo of Tasso. The early interest in this play arises from the infidelity of Torrismondo to his friend, in whose behalf he had promised to win the fair Alvida, by the beauty of whom he is inveigled into wedding her himself; and this alone would have been quite sufficient to carry the reader through the drama. It is nevertheless perplexed and overlaid by a second and more revolting source of terror. We must add to this that Tasso followed his predecessors in the interminable length of his speeches, and in the general heaviness with which his plot is framed. The Acripanda of Decio della Horte, the friend of Tasso, is however by far the most striking of these tragedies, with higher poetical beauties, but at the same time with greater extravagance, than any other. The play is opened by the Ghost of Orsilia, the murdered wife of Ussimano, King of Egypt. She appears invoking and prophesying vengeance against her murderer and all his house, in language of considerable power. In the second scene Ussimano determines, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his Counsellor, to go out to battle against the King of Arabia, who is come up to besiege him in Memphis. The third scene introduces us to Acripanda, the second wife of Ussimano, who enters with her faithful nurse, an indispensable personage and the constant confidante in these plays. Acripanda is in such an agony of terror as not to know how she came without the palace. Pressed to relate the cause of her fears, she describes with great prolixity a dream from which she has just awakened, and in which she had seen a wolf preying on two beautiful lambs, and an eagle pursuing the young of a nightingale. But the more fearful part of the vision followed.
Anon I heard, while yet I lay confounded
For her wild fierceness quench'd not all her beauty.
Pursuing her discourse, she said-" Oh, once
After the rest of the scene, which is very heavy, the queen departs to implore the protection of Heaven upon her husband and her children; the nurse remains to soliloquize upon the crimes of Ussimano, and upon the miseries impending over her beloved child, on whose character she dwells with excessive and not unpleasing fondness. Acripanda appears again in the second act; her sacrifice had been interrupted by dreadful prodigies; the victim had disappeared; wild noises had been heard; the image of Jove had averted its face, and tears and gore had stood on that of Isis, while the very ghost which she had seen in her vision burst from a sepulchre and followed her, crying 'blood! blood!" A messenger then enters, who gives a long and partly lyrical account of the battle and the defeat of Ussimano; Acripanda's la
mentations have considerable beauty, but there is a most chilling transition to Ussimano's moralizing counsellor, who occupies two pages with ancient and modern examples of the crimes and fall of kings; and even when Ussimano enters, the inexorable counsellor plies him with Hannibal, Pompey and Darius. The third act opens with a scene in which the nurse takes the opportunity of the dreadful danger and distress to give Acripanda a long and indecent account of what she knew tolerably well before, but which, as Mr. Puff says, the audience could not be expected to know— the beginning of Ussimano's attachment to her. She proceeds, finding the occasion favourable, and Acripanda (we answer not for the reader) unwearied, to detail what the unhappy queen did not know, the murder of his former wife, Orsilia, by Ussimano; she enters into the minutest circumstances, some of which might be affecting if not so egregiously misplaced. We also have the dying words of Orsilia, which are very long, and the account of one of the children having been exposed on the banks of the Nile, like 'Cyrus and Moses and Romulus and Remus,' as Acripanda subjoins. This child is the very King of Arabia (and we are informed at length how he became so) who is besieging Memphis, and has already defeated Ussimano-thus justifying Acripanda's exclamation on the whole story' Istoria in vero degna di tragico coturno!' Acripanda then beseeches the offended spirit of Orsilia, whom she now recognizes to be that by whose presence she has so long been haunted, to spare at least her children. A messenger arrives from the King of Arabia to demand a conference with Ussimano; terms of peace are agreed on, and the children of Acripanda sent as hostages. Her forebodings were too true, and the fourth act opens with one of the most extraordinary and striking scenes we are acquainted with, between the mother and the spirits of her murdered children. We can conceive, with beautiful music and splendid acting, a great effect produced by it ou the stage.
Spirits. Mother, oh beloved mother,
To thy children ever dear,
Turn thine eyes and see us here.
Acripanda. I know not if I hear or seem to hear
A voice. Heard ye it, damsels ?
Chorus. We did hear it.
Acripanda. Still, oh still, I gaze around,
Spirits. Turn thee, mother, turn and see!
Acripanda. Alas! I know you now I see-