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WALTER DE CLIFFord.
Alas! no less
Dark is the glory of my outraged name;
Kneel'st thou not, haughty vassal, to thy king,
WALTER DE CLIFFord.
Dost thou then render justice to thy vassal?
Who'rt thou? I know thee not
WALTER DE CLIFFord.
The fault is thine.
So bold in thine old age!
WALTER DE CLIFFORD.
With closing life,
True liberty draws nigh.
The whole play is written after these views, and, as it is, we cannot help expressing our wish that Niccolini should betake himself to his Greek and Roman subjects, or lay his scene in ancient Egypt, Bactria or Babylon, at the court of some imaginary king, and crowd his stage with pattern heroes with soft sounding names, after the fashion of Metastasio, for such are hitherto the result to which the classicists have been led; either to dress the heroes of heroic Greece in court garb of the times of Louis XIV., as Racine has done, or to clothe Christian knights and ladies of modern times in the Roman mantle, according to the models of Alfieri.
But, as we have said, Alfieri ought to bave been the last of clas
sics in Italy, and none of his successors who dares not or knows not how to open a new way for himself can have any chance of sending his name down to a remote posterity. Among the poets who, like Niccolini, write after this false "medio tutissimus" principle, the most distinguished is Carlo Marenco da Ceva, whose "Buondelmonte" and "Corso Donati" have several years been in possession of the stage. He is said to have lately obtained universal applause by his two recent tragedies: "Berengario Augusto" and "Cecilia di Baone." But the cheers of an excited audience are by no means the test by which dramatic productions can secure the more calm and unimpassioned approbation of criticism; Niccolini at Florence has been often carried home in triumph, after the performance of that very "Rosmonda" which has since fallen into the most complete insignificance.
The first of Marenco's tragedies, "Berengarius I.," is an eminently Italian, eminently dramatic subject. The name of that first of Italian kings, of him who after the demolition of the edifice of Charlemagne, was by the unanimous acclamations of the Italian nation raised to a throne which had hitherto been only occupied by foreigners, and the rest of whose life was wasted in long manly struggles against rebellious feudalism, stands alone in that age of darkest barbarism, the tenth century, as that of a virtuous and magnanimous monarch. But the Berengarius of Signor Marenco appears as a weak, irresolute ruler; gifted indeed with all the inexhaustible clemency and bonhommie of Metastasio's Titus, but without being actuated by the same tender and generous feelings, he is represented as beset by traitors and assassins as closely as Louis Philippe in our days, pardoning them with a forbearance equal to their perseverance, till at last he falls by their hand, a victim of his improvidence and imbecility.
Another no less noble and interesting subject has been marred by Signor Briano at Turin, in his "Pier delle Vigne." This able and accomplished chancellor of Frederic II., the ornament and pride of the most refined court of Europe, the Mecenas of the Swabian Augustus, himself a poet and the warmest patron of Italian poetry in its infancy, had his name registered in that great book of records for the middle ages, the poem of Dante. Out of that touching episode, by taking advantage of the awful mystery that hangs on the fate of the fallen favourite, and giving us a portrait of that just and generous, though irascible and impetuous monarch, on whose memory the death of his chancellor stands as the sole indelible stain, the poet had the materials for a drama of unequalled interest. But he must needs give the Swabian all the dark tints of a tiranno; he neglects all the sources of accessory interest, which he might have derived from the great na
tional contests of Guelphs and Ghibelines, from the Emperor's quarrels with Rome, and causes his hero to fall a victim to a paltry court intrigue in the Mazarin or Alberoni style.
Another tragedy after the pattern of Alfieri has been lately performed at Genoa, on a Genoese subject, entitled "La Famiglia Lercari." The doge Giovambattista Lercari, after having rendered signal services to the republic, is deposed by a faction of his adversaries, who, bent on his utter destruction, are deliberating how to condemn him to an ignominious death. Stefano, his son, one of the senators, moved by just indignation, draws his sword in the council hall and strikes one of his father's accusers, and is accordingly involved in his fate. To this main catastrophe a love story has been rather awkwardly added by the poet, but not perhaps with the best judgment, nor, we are afraid, notwithstanding the suffrage of his townsmen, with the happiest success.
Still there are especially at Milan, Turin and Naples, not a few young dramatists who would fain abandon a superannuated school and venture on a new arena, and are endeavouring by different attempts to rebuild the national drama upon new principles.
In the first place they have generally abolished the name of tragedy and call their productions drammi, as if afraid of entering into competition with the great tyrant Alfieri, to whom the socalled tragedia seems exclusively to belong. Then the greatest number of these dramas are in prose, by which their authors seem to despair of bending the lofty, heroic Italian blank verse to the multifarious purposes of a language of life. In fine they are all called historical, though several of them are far from being strictly so, and this is in consequence of a want universally felt throughout the country, and which is manifested in every other branch of literature, that of illustrating the national history. We have already seen that those tragedies which we have already mentioned as belonging to the old classical school, are, in compliance with this new national spirit, by their titles at least, essentially Italian. One of the most successful productions in the new style is "Lorenzino dei Medici" by Giuseppe Revere, which has acquired a much wider popularity than the "Duca Alessandro dei Medici" by A. Ghiglioni, a contemporaneous performance. All that could contribute to represent Florence and Tuscany in that first stage of enthralment, all that could depict that active, reckless, sinful Italian life of the sixteenth century from the court to the lowest populace, has been very cleverly compressed within the narrow compass of five acts, and though we have met now and then some rather objectionable sallies of juvenile extravagance, we believe that more original talent is displayed, and a more successful specimen of true historical representation is to be had, in this than in
any of the works we have mentioned. The author was not perhaps very fortunate in the choice of his subject, and even after all the efforts of Alfieri in his poem "L'Etruria Vendicata," the vile and profligate Lorenzino will make but a poor figure by the side of Brutus or William Tell, notwithstanding the plenary indulgence he won by his meritorious tyrannicide. Another drama on a similar subject has been published at Milan by Felice Turotti-" Il Coute Anguissola," or the death of Pier Luigi Farnese, the son of Pope Paul III., whose long career of crime and ignominy was finally put an end to by a conspiracy of the nobility of Placentia, headed by Anguissola, the protagonist of the drama. We have another and a more recent performance by the same author, “La Beatrice Tenda," which is however very far from superseding a tragedy on the same subject published in 1827 by Carlo Tedaldi Tores.
We have been interested in the work of Giacinto Battaglia, "Luisa Strozzi," printed towards the end of last year, far more than in either of the two crude productions of this young candidate for public suffrage. The author, who by a few very able articles in the "Rivista Europea," has given the analysis of the best dramas of the German and English stages, and together with some of the most eminent Milanese writers, has ever been endeavouring to fix the attention of his countrymen on the beauties of Shakspeare, seems now finally determined to give by his own example the practice of what he had hitherto exposed as his theory of the drama.
He made choice of a highly patriotic subject, and seems to have derived from it a better advantage than professor Rosini in his historical drama. The character of the fair and unfortunate protagonist is drawn with truth and spirit, and the action proceeds with sufficient animation and warmth, though the naturally calm and sober mind of the author, and his eager desire of clinging fast to historical truth, seems to have kept his fancy under a painful constraint. We know that this will perhaps be attributed to the subject itself, as it is said to be always the case in every drama in which the subject is chosen from the annals of modern ages; where the poet's fancy is supposed to be necessarily cramped and the work of imagination considerably injured by the contrast of glaring historical truth.
This is however one of the many points of controversy between the classics and the romantics on which we shall not venture to pronounce-whether indeed poetry essentially delights in mystery and obscurity-whether subjects drawn from the formless materials of a cloud-hidden antiquity are always preferable to such as have received through the diligence of modern annalists a full daylight matter-of-fact notoriety-whether nature is only to be sur
prised within the inmost recesses of fabulous tradition, or whether by being laid bare before the artist it may not offer better grounds for a faithful and spirited imitation-whether a drama is to be a grand tableau of ideal heads, or rather a set of well-drawn portraits-whether, in short, truth in itself can be poetically beautiful, when history has necessarily been stripped of all the prestige of fiction?
We find in some of the Italian periodicals the titles of several other historical dramas in the same style, which, through the remissness of our booksellers, have not yet reached our hands.
Enough however, we hope, has been said, to prove that the Italian stage, although far from being in a flourishing state, is not yet absolutely dead.
But it is not in Italy alone that the drama can be said to have reached a period of languor and decline. We know not of any living dramatist of renown who may be thought worthy of occupying the German stage since it has been vacated by Schiller and Goethe. England has indeed every month a fresh supply of tragedies written in every style and on every subject. Every month the Examiner, the Athenæum and the monthly magazines labour to raise to the stars some of Bulwer's or Leigh Hunt's or Sheridan Knowles's new dramas. But a little while, and the great, astonishing performance is no more heard of than the withered leaves of the last season. The advantages of our social arrangements, which have made a lucrous business of the works of genius, have produced a mart of poetry. The sacred fire of inspiration, the fatidical enthusiasm of poetical rapture, now comes at the poet's bidding, and the Muse waits upon him at every moment's notice with the punctuality of a faithful handmaid. He who can write a poem, can print a set of poems; he who begins with one drama is sure to go on for a score; every new volume comes out with the regularity of a newspaper, made to match the others in size, in order and frame. It is a literature of cast and mould, each book resembling its fellows, even as a penny is like all other pence. If an author is to have no higher object in view than what he can receive from the manager or the publisher, nothing certainly is more desirable than such a state of things; but if he is to look at all to the real advantage of the dramatic art, to the improvement of public taste, and is to lay his hopes for a worthy reward in the gratitude and admiration of his age and the lasting favour of posterity, we think that there has scarcely appeared a tragedy in Europe during the last twenty years that has any chance of outliving the timid and frail and yet the heart-moving and soul-subduing "Francesca da Rimini,"