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The sympathy which man feels for man is the source of the pleasure which the arts give which proceed from the imitation of human nature. It is especially on the stage that this sympathy is excited and developed, because it is there that the imitation is more faithfully represented. On the stage we see not only the form and countenance of the individual, but we also see the emotions of his heart. We find pleasure in gratifying the moral curiosity which we possess in observing our like, in seeing how they live and act; in pitying their misfortunes if they are unhappy, and in laughing at their faults if they are ridiculous. The Theatre satisfies this sentiment by the exhibitions of Comedy, which gratify our malignity, and those of Tragedy, which excite our pity ; not that we love the misfortunes of others, but we love the pity which we feel in witnessing them on the stage, where the sufferings of the actors are only fictitious. The soul experiences pleasure in the agitation which the sight of human passions gives it, a pleasure the more agreeable, since it knows that these passions are only an image and an illusion which it creates.
The violent emotions which urge tragic heroes to the commission of crime, the loves which make their joy and their torment, affect and move us to pity without rendering us uneasy. Our fears are removed, because we well know that we are not then ourselves exposed to dangers of this kind, and we enjoy, without scruple, the sight and proximity of those passions, which, as Nicole* well says, are turned into pleasures. There is, nevertheless, in this enjoyment something dangerous; and what makes the Theatre a subject of censure to such preachers and moralists as Bossuet, Nicole, and J. J. Rousseau, is the fact of our believing that in making the soul more tender it does not corrupt it, and that in stirring up the leaven of the passions it does not cause them to ferment.
The exhibition of human life, and the imitation of our sentiments and characters, is the principal source of dramatic pleasure. We will endeavor to show what are the means of producing it.
The first requisite of dramatic emotion is that the passion which it excites should be genuine. On the stage, nothing is true but what is general, and what every body feels. Of all the dramatic passions, love is the most affecting, because it is the most universal.f The heart is only moved by things which are common to all men: idiosyncracies, oddnesses, and exceptions, do not interest it. This constitutes the principal difference between the ancient and modern drama. The ancient drama takes for its subject the most universal passions of the human heart, such as love, maternal tenderness, jeal. ousy, anger, and those passions which are simple. The modern drama, on the contrary, seeks for exceptions and bizar. reries of character with as much care as the ancient drama avoided them.
In the Cid and Zaire, for example, love is simple and natural. It is not astonishing that Chimene should love Rod. rigo. His love would only have to struggle against honor, which requires her to avenge upon Rodrigo the death of her father. The subject of the drama is singular and extraordinary, but the passions are, on the contrary, simple and na
* Essais de Morale.
Boileau. Art poetique,
tural. In Zaire, the love which she has for Orasmene is ordinary and natural. The extraordinary is in the events, and in the struggle which they introduce between the love of Zaire and her respect for her father and his religion.
When the drama has exhausted the emotions which arise from simple love, it throws itself into those which are enthusiastic and eccentric. Then the singularity passes from events to sentiments; then commence the exceptions and caprices. Upon this road the declivity is slippery and the fall rapid. Racine, in Phedra, dared to represent an adulterous and incestuous love. Phedra blushes at her love for Hippolytus, and yet she is only his stepmother ; she believes that her husband is dead, and yields to the power of Venus, fatal to her family. Campistron, going further than Racine, represents, in his Tiridate, the love of a brother for his sister. Ducis imitated without equalling him, in his Abufar; and Chateaubriand has caused the punishment of René to proceed from this criminal love. René has the restless and dreamy character which Lord Byron, after Chateaubriand, has given to his heroes, and which constitutes a school in literature, because he has permitted a strange and criminal passion to insinuate itself into their soul. It is this which throws them into that capricious and gloomy melancholy, for which Chateaubriand has made atonement, and which his imitators have made a sign of nobleness and grandeur. Indeed we may remark generally, that in ancient literature, Phedra, Tiridate, Abufar, René, and characters of this description, blush at their error, and that the rule is re-established by the remorse of the criminals; while, in our days, passion rebels against duty, and the exception is substituted for the rule.
The exceptions, such as Abufar and René, are the first attempts to represent strange and singular passions, instead of simple and natural ones. There is another refinement, which consists in putting love in a soul incapable of feeling it: as, for example, pure love in the bosom of a courtezan such as Marion de Lorme.* Not that such women are always incapable of feeling a pure and chaste love, but their habits do not generally admit of it. It is an accident, a contrast, and for this reason pleases curious and critical minds.
* See the play of Victor Hugo, the episode of Laura in the Nouvelle Heloise of J. J. Rousseau, and especially La Courtisane Amoureuse of La Fontaine