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a mistake to say that the unities are always disregarded by the great English tragedian. In many of his most popular pieces, they are maintained nearly as strictly as they were by Sophocles; and we are aware of not one of his dramas which is still represented with undiminished effect on the stage, in which the principle of the unities may not distinctly be recognised, and the long-continued success is not to be traced to their observation.
The Greeks, as every scholar knows, took great latitude with time in their representations. The interval between one act and another, often even the time occupied by the chanting of the chorus, frequently was made to cover a very considerable time, during which battles were fought, a duel or a conspiracy broke forth, an execution took place, and the most momentous events of the piece off the stage occurred. In place, it is true, they were strictly limited ; the scene never changed, and all the incidents were introduced by bringing successive persons upon it. In this respect, it may be admitted, they carried their strictness too far. Probably it arose from the pieces being represented, for the most part, in the open air, under circumstances when the illusion produced by a change of scene, such as we witness at our theatres, was difficult, if not impossible, from the audience being, for the most part, above the actors, and the stage having no top. But to whatever cause it may have been owing, we hold the adherence to unity of place an unnecessary and prejudicial strictness in the Greek theatre. But a very slight deviation from it alone seems admissible ; and the unity of action or emotion seems to be the very essence of this species of composition.
The true principle appears to be, that the place should not change to a greater extent than the spectators can conceive the actors to have gone over without inconvenience within the time embraced in the representation. This time often extended with the Greeks to a half, or even a whole day, and there seems nothing adverse to principle in such extension. Changes of scene, therefore, from one room in a palace to another ; from one part of a town to another; or even from a town to a chateau, garden, forest, or other place in its near vicinity, appear to be perfectly admissible, without any violation of true dramatic principle. The
popular opera of the “ Black Domino,” to which the charming singing and acting of Madame Thillon has recently given such celebrity at the Haymarket, may be considered in this respect as a model of the unities taken in a reasonable sense. The time which elapses in the piece is a single night ; the subject is the adventures which befell the heroine during that period; the scene changes, but only to the places in the same town to which she went during its continuance. There seems nothing inconsistent with the production of unity of interest in such a latitude. And with this inconsiderable expansion of the old Greek unities, it will be found that Shakspeare's greatest plays, and those which experience has found to be best adapted for the stage, have been constructed on the true principles.
Take for example Romeo and Juliet, and As you Like itperhaps the tragedy and comedy of his composition which have most completely kept their hold of the stage. The unities are nearly as closely observed in both as in any drama of Sophocles. Excepting only a slight alteration of place and scene, everything is concentrated. The interest and emotion, which is the great point, is maintained one and indivisible. With the exception of Romeo's banishment to Mantua, and the scene with the druggist there, which, after all, is but an episode, and took the hero only two hours' drive from Verona, the place is confined to different scenes in that town. The festive hall where the lovers first meet—the exquisite meeting on the balcony, Father Ambrose's cell—the room where Juliet coaxes the nurse—the garden where she parts from Romeo when
“Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain's top-” the terrible scene where Juliet contemplates wakening in the tomb amidst her ancestors' bones!—the mausoleum itself, where the catastrophe occurs, are all in the same town. The time supposed to elapse does not exceed twenty-four hours ; not more than in the Electra or Iphigenia in Aulis of Euripides. The interest, dependant entirely on the ardent love of Juliet, is as much undivided as in the Antigone of Sophocles. And yet we are told Shakspeare succeeded by disregarding the unities.
Again, in As you like it, the same observation holds true. Whoever recollects the scenes of that delightful drama-to which modern genius, in our first tragic actress, Miss Helen Faucit, has recently added such additional charms-must be sensible that it is, with the single exception of the scenes of the wrestlers in the first act, nothing but a Greek drama on the English stage. Menander or Aristophanes would have made one of the characters recount that scene, which is merely introductory, and introduced Rosalind and her companions for the first time in the Forest of Arden, where the real interest of the piece commences. A slight change of scene, indeed, occurs from one part of the forest to another, but it is so inconsiderable as in no degree to interfere with the unity of effect. The single interest awakened by Rosalind's secret love and playful archness of manner is kept up undivided throughout. So also in The Tempest, the unities in all the scenes which excite sympathy are as completely preserved as ever they were on the Greek stage ; and the angelic innocence of Miranda stands forth in as striking and undivided relief as the devotion of Antigone to sisterly affection, or the selfimmolation of Iphigenia to patriotic duty. We are well aware that there are characters of a very different kind in that drama; but the interest is concentrated on those in which the unity is preserved. Look at Othello. In what play of Euripides is singleness of interest more completely preserved than in that noble tragedy? The haughty bearing, conscious pride, but ardent love of the Moor; the deep love of Desdemona, nourished, as we so often see in real life, by qualities in her the very reverse ; the gradual growth of jealousy from her innocent sportiveness of manner, and the diabolical machinations of Iago ; her murder, in a fit of jealousy, by her despairing husband, and his self-sacrifice when the veil was drawn from his eyes, are all brought forward, if not with the literal strictness of the Greek drama, at least with as much regard to unity of time, place, and action, as is required by its principles. It is the same in Schiller. The interest of all his finest tragedies is almost as much centralised as it is in the Greek drama; and one of the most perfect of them, The Bride of Messina, is a Greek tragedy complete.
We are well aware that there are many other dramas, and those, perhaps, not less popular, of Shakspeare, in which unity of time and place is entirely set at defiance, and in which the piece ends at the distance of hundreds of miles, sometimes after the lapse of years, from the point whence it commenced. Macbeth, Julius Cæsar, Richard III., Henry V., Hamlet, and many others, are examples of this deviation from former principle, and it is to the universal admiration which they excite that the national partiality for the Romantic drama is to be ascribed. But in all these instances it will be found—and the observation is a most material one—that the real interest is nearly as much centralised as it was in the Greek stage, and that it is on the extraordinary fascination which a few scenes, or the incidents grouped round a single event, possess, that the success of the piece depends. The historical tragedies read well, just as an historical romance does, and from the same cause, that they are looked on, not as dramas, but as brilliant passages of history. But this has proved unable to support them on the theatre. One by one they have gradually dropped away from the stage. Some are occasionally revived, from time to time, in order to display the power of a particular actor or actress, but never with any lasting success.
Those plays of Shakspeare which alone retain their hold of the theatre, are either those, such as Romeo and Juliet, or As you Like it, in which the unities are substantially observed, or those in which the resplendent brilliancy of a few characters or scenes, within very narrow limits, fixes the attention of the audience so completely as to render comparatively harmless, because unfelt, the distraction produced by the intermixture of farce in the subordinate persons, or the violations of time and place in the structure of the piece. But it is not to every man that the pencil of the Bard of Avon,
“Dipp'd in the orient hues of heaven," is given ; and the subsequent failure of the Romantic drama, in this and every other country, is mainly to be ascribed to succeeding writers not having possessed his power of fixing, by the splendid colours of genius, the attention of the spectators on a particular part of the piece. Shakspeare disregards the unities in form ; but his burning imagination restores their operations in substance, for it fixes the mind's gaze on spots of transcendant light.
Take for example the most popular of the really Romantic dramas, Macbeth and Hamlet. No one need be told how the unities are violated in the first of these pieces : that it begins on a heath in Morayshire, where the witches appear to the victorious Thane; that the murder of the King takes place in the Castle of Inverness ; that the usurper is slain by Macduff in front of Dunsinane Castle near the Tay. But none can either have read the play, or seen it acted, without feeling that the real interest lies in the events which occurred, and the ambitious feelings which were awakened in Macbeth and his wife, when temptation was put in their way within their own halls. Sophocles would have laid the scene there, and made one of the characters narrate in the outset the appearance of the witches on the heath, and brought Macduff to the gates of Macbeth's castle shortly after the murder of Duncan, to avenge his death. Shakspeare has not done this ; but he has painted the scenes in the interior of the castle, before and after the murder, with such force and effect, that the mind is as much riveted by them as if no previous or subsequent deviation from the unities had been introduced. Hamlet begins in a strain of unparalleled interest : had the four last acts proceeded in the same sublime style as the first, and the filial duty devolved by the ghost on his son of avenging his murder been discharged as rapidly as it should have been, and as the feelings of the audience led them to desire, it would have been perhaps the most powerful tragedy in the world. Had Shakspeare proceeded on the principles of the Greek drama, he would have done this, and produced a drama as universally admired as the Agamemnon of Æschylus. But every one feels that the interest is weakened and wellnigh lost as the play proceeds : new characters are introduced, the burlesque succeeds the sublime, the original design is forgotten; and when the spectre appears a second time “to whet your almost blunted purpose,” his appearance is felt to be as necessary to revive the decaying interest of the piece as to resuscitate the all but forgotten fervour of the Prince of Denmark.
We feel that we have committed high treason in the estimation of a large part of our readers, by contesting the justice of the principles on which Shakspeare proceeded in the construction of many of his dramas; and we know