The extravagance of the present French Tragedy is a fruitful source of criticism in England as well as on the continent. Like the bourgeoisie of France who passed from the civil servitude of the ancien regime to the licenciousness of the revolution, the new dramatic school seems to be rioting madly in horrors and eccentricities, as if rebounding from the long pressure of the tyranny maintained in French poetry by the stately practice of Racine and the stiff rules of Boileau. Victor Hugo, a man of strong powers and brilliant genius, is the head of the new school, whose spirit may be in a degree inferred from the following outline of his latest production, just brought out at Paris, and of which we find a detailed account and criticism in the Courrier des Elats Unis.
Angelo, a tyrant of Padua, has a lovely wife, Catarina, whom he hates, while he loves a celebrated actress, Thysbe. Catarina has been for seven years "devoured by an ardent passion" for one Rudolfo, who loves her in turn, and is passionately beloved by Thysbe. — All this love, with correspondent proportion of hatred, is fully stirred by one Omodei, an unredeemed villain whose pleasure is mischief, and who of course is in the end stabbed. The play ends rather inconclusively, Catarina being presented in the last scene, just revived from a trance, produced by a potion, given her by her husband for poison, and hand in hand with her lover, who had just killed Thysbe, thinking her the poisoner, while of the husband, albeit Chief of Padua, no further account is given.
That the viciousness of a school whose practice leads to the production of such literary monsters, is fully recognized by the French themselves, the following fine passage which we translate from the criticism on Angelo, evinces.
"Angelo is a fresh example of the unavoidable contradiction constantly exhibited between the theories and the works of our dramatic innovators. It is another proof that this system, invented to bring us back to the natural, only removes us further than ever from it. Neither at Padua, Venice, nor any where else, were there such atrocities depicted to us were ever met with elsewhere than in the poet's imagination, they would constitute one of those exceptions which should be excluded from the domain of art. These are not passions of the soul: they are diseases of the brain, the contemplation of which dulls the imagination, shocks sensibility, and transforms the delightful sensations of the stage into a stifling nightmare. They are not beings of our species whose pains and joys are given over to our sympathies they are creatures of another world, who think and act differently from us, and in whom we cannot become interested, because we cannot apply to them that thought, at once so simple and so profound, of the Latin Poet, a thought which contains the whole secret of the dramatic art, and of all the creative arts: — Homo rum."
[This review was first attributed to Poe by Thomas Ollive Mabbott in "A Few Notes on Poe," Modern Language Notes, XXXV, June 1920, pp. 373-374.]
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[S:0 - ACA, 1835]