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Greek tragedy and comedy unite; in every thing else they were exactly opposed to each other. (3)
Tragedy is poetry in its deepest earnest; comedy is poetry in unlimited. jest. Earnestness consists in the direction and convergence of all the powers of the soul to one aim, and in the voluntary restraint of its activity in consequence; the opposite, therefore, lies in the apparent_abandonment of all definite aim or end, and in the removal of all bounds in the exercise of the mind,-attaining its real end, as an eutire contrast, most perfectly, the greater the display is of intellectual wealth squandered in the wantonness of sport without an object, and the more abundant the life and vivacity in the creations of the arbitrary will.
The later comedy, even where it was really comic, was doubtless likewise more comic, the more free it appeared from any fixed aim. Misunderstandings of intention, fruitless struggles of absurd passion, contradictions of temper, and laughable situations there were; but still the form of the representation itself was serious; it proc.eded as much according to settled laws, and used as much the same means of art, though to a different purpose, as the regular tragedy itself. But in the old comedy the very form itself is whimsical; the whole work is one great jest, comprehending a world of jests within it, among which each maintains its own place without seeming to concern itself as to the relation in which it may stand to its
fellows. In short, in Sophocles, the constitution of tragedy is monarchical, but such as it existed in elder Greece, limited by laws, and therefore the more venerable,-all the parts adapting and submitting themselves to the majesty of the heroic sceptre :-in Aristophanes, comedy, on the contrary, is poetry in its most democratic form, and it is a fundamental principle with it, rather to risk all the confusion of anarchy, than to destroy the independence and privileges of its individual constituents, place, verse, characters, even single
thoughts, conceits, and allusions, each turning on totoong Ithe pivot of its own free will.
The tragic poet idealizes his characters by giving to the spiritual part of our nature a more decided preponderance over the animal cravings and impulses, than is met with in real life : the comic poet idealizes his characters by making the animal the governing power, and the intellectual the mere instrument. But as tragedy is not a collection of virtues and perfections, but takes care only that the vices and imperfections shall spring from the passions, errors, and prejudices which arise out of the soul;—so neither is comedy a mere crowd of vices and follies, but whatever qualities it represents, even though they are in a certain sense amiable, it still displays them as having their origin in some dependence on our lower nature, accompanied with a defect in true freedom of spirit and self-subsistence, and subject to that unconnection
duced the power of chance; even in the few fragments of Menander and Philemon now remaining to us, we find many exclamations and reflections concerning chance and fortune, as in the tragic poets concerning destiny. In tragedy, the moral law, either as obeyed or violated, above all consequences -its own maintenance or violation constituting the most important of all consequences — forms the ground; the new comedy, and our modern comedy in general, (Shakspeare excepted as before) lies in prudence or imprudence, enlightened or misled selflove. The whole moral system of the entertainment exactly like that of fable, consists in rules of prudence, with an exquisite conciseness, and at the same time an exhaustive fulness of sense. An old critic said that tragedy was the flight or clevation of life, comedy (that of Menander) its arrangement or ordonnance. (5)
Add to these features a portrait-like truth of character, — not so far indeed as that a bona fide individual should be described or imagined, but yet so that the features which give interest and permanence to the class should be individualized. The NS old tragedy moved in an ideal world, — the old comedy in a fantastic world. As the entertainment, or new comedy, restrained the creative activity both of the fancy and the imagination, it indemnified the understanding in appealing to the judgment for the probability of the scenes represented. The ancients themselves acknowledged the new comedy as an
exact copy of real life. The grammarian, Aristophanes, somewhat affectedly exclaimed:-“ O Life and Menander! which of you two imitated the other?”, In short the form of this species of drama was poetry, the stuff or matter was prose. It was prose rendered delightful by the blandishments and measured motions of the muse. Yet even this was not universal. The mimes of Sophron, so passionately admired by Plato, were written in prose, and were scenes out of real life conducted in dialogue. The exquisite Feast of Adonis (ypakovalai ’Acwriálovoai) in Theocritus, we are told, with some others of his eclogues, were close imitations of certain mimes of Sophron-free translations of the prose into hexameters. (6)
It will not be improper, in this place, to make a few remarks on the remarkable character and functions of the chorus in the Greek tragic drama.
The chorus entered from below, close by the orchestra, and there, pacing to and fro during the choral odes, performed their solemn measured dance. In the centre of the orchestra, directly over against the middle of the scene, there stood an elevation with steps in the shape of a large altar, as high as the boards of the logeion or moveable stage. This elevation was named the thymele, (Ovuean) and served to recall the origin and original purpose of the chorus, as an altar-song in honour of the presiding deity. Here, and on these steps the persons of the chorus sate collectively, when they were
not singing; attending to the dialogue as spectators, and acting as (what in truth they were) the ideal representatives of the real audience, and of the poet himself in his own character, assuming the supposed impressions made by the drama, in order to direct and rule them. But when the chorus itself formed part of the dialogue, then the leader of the band, the foreman or corypheus, ascended, as some think, the level summit of the thymele in order to command the stage, or, perhaps, the whole chorus advanced to the front of the orchestra, and thus put themselves in ideal connection, as it were, with the dramatis persone there acting. This thymele was in the centre of the whole edifice, all the measurements were calculated, and the semicircle of the amphitheatre was drawn, from this point. It had a double use, a twofold purpose; it constantly reminded the spectators of the origin of tragedy as a religious service, and declared itself as the ideal representative of the audience by having its place exactly in the point, to which all the radii from the different seats or benches converged. (7)
In this double character, as constituent parts, and yet at the same time as spectators, of the drama, the chorus could not but tend to enforce the unity of place;—not on the score of any supposed improbability, which the understanding or common sense might detect in a change of place;- but because the senses themselves put it out of the power of any imagination to conceive a place coming to, and go