Shakespeare and Voltaire

By Thomas R. Lounsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
MACBETH AND MAHOMET, HAMLET AND SÉMIRAMIS

IT was in his play dealing with the death of Cæsar that Voltaire attempted to introduce upon the French stage some of the actual characteristics of the romantic drama, as well as some which he fancied to belong to it. It was a venturesome undertaking; he speedily saw that it was so. He therefore did not commit himself too fully and too far. Two kinds of assertion he was in the habit of making about the experiment, according as he sought to disarm the hostility of critics, or to arouse the enthusiasm of partisans. If the work were attacked, he maintained that it was an honest aim on his part to enlarge the circle of knowledge by making his countrymen familiar with the taste of another people. If it were approved, he said that it was designed to extend the boundaries of the French drama by contributing to it certain features which the experience of another race had shown to be desirable and effective. These varying reasons for his action he gave as he found it expedient to apologize for his course, or to assume credit for it.

In the case of this particular play he was accordingly willing -- at least at the outset -- to acknowledge his indebtedness to Shakespeare. Two of the scenes he professed to have taken directly from 'Julius Cæsar.'

-118-

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