Obrázky na stránke

by the Chorus standing in its proper place in the orchestra Ll. 326-651 are the second Epeisodion, of which 11. 326-331 announce, according to the custom of Greek tragedy, the approach of a personage on to the scene. Ll. 652-709 are the second Stasimon. Ll. 710-1009, the third Epeisodion, of which ll. 710-731 announce a personage. Ll. 1010-1060, third Stasimon. Ll. 1061-1267, fourth Epeisodion (11. 1061-1075 announcing a personage). Ll. 1268-1300, fourth Stasimon. Ll. 1301-1426, fifth Epeisodion (1l. 1301-1307 announcing a personage). Ll. 1427-1440, fifth Stasimon. Ll. 1441 to the end constitute the Exodus, or “that part which has no Choral Ode after it," and which includes the Kommos, 11. 1660-1707, or "General Lamentation of the Chorus and the actors together.” Milton therefore in concluding the Exodus with a Choral Ode (ll. 1745 sq.), and confining the dirge to the Chorus, follows the example of Greek tragedy, rather than the rule laid down by Aristotle. The modern division into Acts can be laid down from the above, thus :--Act I., II. 1-331. Act II., ll. 332-731. Act III., 11. 732-1075. Act IV., Scene ii, Il. 1076-1307; Scene ii., 1308-1444. Act V., 11. 1445 to the end.

Aristotle's brief sentence that the Chorus should be The Chorus. "a sharer in the action” (Poet. ii. 21) has been interpreted by Horace to mean that the Chorus should help on the action" by uttering words of encouragement and friendly counsel to the good, by rebuking the passionate, by loving the virtuous, by praising justice and peace, and obedience to the law, by recommending moderation in the appetites, and by praying to the gods to comfort the miserable, and humble the proud” (De Art. Poet. 193 sq.).

[ocr errors]

be seen

This has been summed up by Schlegel when he says that the Chorus is “the Spectator idealized,” i.e. “is the universal voice of moral sympathy, instruction, and warning" (Lecture v.); and aptly figured by Schiller in his comparison of the lyric element in a drama with the rich and flowing drapery that softens the rigid outline of action and character (Introd. to Bride of Messina). How Milton's Chorus has fulfilled these functions may by a short review of the motive ideas that successively prompt the odes :- In the Parodos the Chorus imparts to the audience the previous history of Samson, and expresses, with one skilful touch, all it feels at the contrast between what he is and what he once was. On eliciting from Samson the true object of his Philistine marriages, and the cause that led to its failure, it sees, in the one, an instance of the justice of God's ways, and, in the other, an instance of the blindness of the Jews; but in both cases it exonerates Samson from the charges that public opinion had been but too ready to bring against him. When Samson, in the bitterness of his self-accusations, refuses proposals of ransom made by Manoah, the Chorus seeks to cheer him, and, while seeming to assent to his despairing cry that God has cast him off, turns its assent into a source of consolation by pointing out that the hand of God has often rested heavily upon the chosen instruments of His glory. Passing over the ode in the scene with Delilah, where the Chorus distinctly deserts its functions, we find it again true to its character, when it endeavours to calm the indignation of Samson after the stormy scene with Harapha, by first drawing a picture of the triumphant deliverer of the oppressed, and then deliberately saying

that patience effects nobler triumphs, and that Samson is one of those whom patience finally must crown. After the scene with the Officer, the Chorus tries to persuade Samson to obey the civil power, and when, at length, he departs, its fervent prayer for his safety accompanies him. When the catastrophe is announced, the Chorus points out that Samson at his death has fulfilled the work to which his life had been consecrated, and, in one of the grandest similes to be found anywhere in literature, shows how unexpectedly this fulfilment has been brought about. The concluding recitative (if the last ode may be so called, to avoid clashing with Aristotle's rule, quoted above) draws the moral—"All is best ... what the unsearchable dispose of Highest Wisdom brings about"--and fulfils the end of tragedy by dismissing the Chorus with “calm of mind, all passion spent.” In the ode passed over (11. 1010-1060), the Chorus utter a series of invectives against women, which Landor calls “hot and corrosive," and compared with which the venom of the “woman-hater,” Euripides, whom Milton here resembles, is "as cold as hemlock." The latter further errs in putting these sentiments of misogyny, not in the mouth of the injured Samson, where they would be less unjust, but in that of the Chorus, whose utterances are expected to be the expression of dispassionate judgment -a fault which not even Euripides commits.

Johnson based his depreciation of this drama chiefly The Action. upon what he considered to be its defective action, inasmuch as it had a beginning and an end, but wanted a middle ; "since nothing passes between the first act and the last, that either hastens or delays the death of Samson" (Rambler, iii. 139). The reply to this criticism

was furnished by Cumberland, who pointed out three passages (ll. 434-37, 468-71, 1250-52) that supply the requisite "middle"—the first by announcing the festival in honour of Dagon, the second by prophesying the impending overthrow of this idol, and the confusion of his worshippers, and the third by supplying an immediate motive for the catastrophe in Harapha’s malice (Observer, iv. 111). Thus the drama is not a mere string of scenes as Johnson's remarks imply it to be, but develops an "entire action" (Aristotle, Poet. ii. 4), having a beginning -Samson overthrown, blind and in captivity,-an end -Samson triumphant in death over his enemies, and a middlethe circumstances, namely, that lead from this beginning to this end.

Is this transition effected without a surprise, or can the reader all along foresee what is going to happen next? The answer to this question will decide whether the action of Samson Agonistes is simpleor “complesc(Aristotle, Poet. ii. 8). The action of a tragedy is meant to excite pity and terror, and these feelings are most powerfully excited by events that happen unexpectedly. The successive scenes in this drama are so arranged that they bring expectation nearer and nearer to some catastrophe,—but not the one that actually happens:-Manoah tells Samson of his purpose to ransom him, but though Samson, weary of life and longing for his last rest, cares little for his father's proposal, still Manoah's parting words inspire us with some hope of Samson's deliverance : Delilah offers to intercede for his release, but he repulses her with savage scorn, and the indifference of her parting words chills that hope, and makes us fear that Samson is indeed “left to his lot.” Harapha's insolence, over

matched by Samson's truculent aggressiveness, turns to malice, which threatens to make his lot worse than it is, by basely informing against him: and, lastly, the lords of the Philistines at whose mercy Samson entirely lies, are insulted by him through their officer.—Who would expect after all this that Samson would ever triumph over his foes? Who would not rather expect that these foes would heap still greater indignities and miseries on him ? Yet this triumph is brought about; and 11. 1381-89 mark the point where our expectation is taken by surprise and turned back; and we begin now to look out for some great-some unexpected-event. These lines constitute the revolution (peripeteia), that makes the action or fable of Samson Agonistes, complex (peplegmenon). All that portion of the action that precedes the revolution, together with all that portion after it till the final catastrophe, is called the desis (binding'), corresponding to the French noeud (tying of the knot'). During the first of these portions the conviction of the spectator has been, “surely all this can end in only one way-more calamity to Samson, greater triumph to his enemies": during the second, the conviction has been replaced by a wondering doubt, “how will all this end ?" Then comes the catastrophe, when that doubt is solved, and the answer given in Samson's triumph over his enemies. This catastrophe, then, is the lusis (“solution ') (Aristotle, Poet. ii. 18), corresponding to the French dénoûment ("untying of the knot). Throughout the latter portion of the desis there is an undertone of presage, becoming clearer as the action advances, and foreshadowing the catastrophe (see l. 1252 n. for the particular passages).

The remarkable symmetry of the plot is observable in

[ocr errors]
« PredošláPokračovať »