Early English Classical Tragedies

Early English Classical Tragedies

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Early English Classical Tragedies

Early English Classical Tragedies

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Excerpt

This is not the place to recount the glories of classical tragedy in its original home at Athens—so ethereally brilliant, and so soon over—

Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say ' Behold ! '

The jaws of darkness do devour it up. So quick bright things come to confusion.

Between the last great tragedy of Euripides and the advent of Marlowe and Shakespeare to the Elizabethan stage, there seems to be the dismal ' reign of Chaos and old Night'. But the darkness is not really so black as it appears at first sight, and the burst of splendour in Periclean Athens is not completely separated from the renewed glories of Elizabethan England. Between the two we may discern a line of dimly-glowing sparks, never entirely disconnected from the original source of light and heat. Seneca, who pillaged all the great masters of Greek tragedy, may be compared to a damp and crackling torch which gave off more smoke and sputter than warmth and brightness, but he still served as a conveyer of the sacred fire. Born in Cordova about 4 B. c., the son of a famous orator, he was himself rather a rhetorician than a dramatist, and the age in which he lived was in no way favourable to dramatic production. One does not see how the ten tragedies which pass under his name could have been acted, for they are singularly ill-suited to stage representation ; but their hard metallic verse, brilliant antithetical dialogue, sententious commonplaces, and highly polished lyrics no doubt commended them to the decadent literary circles to which they were originally recited, no less than their sensa-

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