LECTURES ON DRAMATIC ART AND LITERATURE
LECTURES ON DRAMATIC ART AND LITERATURE
AUGUST WILHELM SCHLEGEL
Preface of the Translator.
Memoir of the Life of Augustus William Schlegel.
Introduction--Spirit of True Criticism--Difference of Taste between the Ancients and Moderns--Classical and Romantic Poetry and Art--Division of
Dramatic Literature; the Ancients their Imitators and the Romantic Poets.
Definition of the Drama--View of the Theatres of all Nations--Theatrical
Effect--Importance of the Stage--Principal Species of the Drama.
Essence of Tragedy and Comedy--Earnestness and Sport--How far it is
possible to become acquainted with the Ancients without knowing Original
Structure of the Stage among the Greeks--Their Acting--Use of Masks--False
comparison of Ancient Tragedy to the Opera--Tragical Lyric Poetry.
Essence of the Greek Tragedies--Ideality of the Representation--Idea of
Fate--Source of the Pleasure derived from Tragical Representations--Import
of the Chorus--The materials of Greek Tragedy derived from Mythology--
Comparison with the Plastic Arts.
Progress of the Tragic Art among the Greeks--Various styles of Tragic Art
--Aeschylus--Connexion in a Trilogy of Aeschylus--His remaining Works.
Life and Political Character of Sophocles--Character of his different
Euripides--His Merits and Defects--Decline of Tragic Poetry through him.
Comparison between the _Choephorae_ of Aeschylus the _Electra_ of
Sophocles and that of Euripides.
Character of the remaining Works of Euripides--The Satirical Drama--
Alexandrian Tragic Poets.
The Old Comedy proved to be completely a contrast to Tragedy--Parody--
Ideality of Comedy the reverse of that of Tragedy--Mirthful Caprice--
Allegoric and Political Signification--The Chorus and its Parabases.
Aristophanes--His Character as an Artist--Description and Character of his
remaining Works--A Scene translated from the _Acharnae_ by way of
Whether the Middle Comedy was a distinct species--Origin of the New
Comedy--A mixed species--Its prosaic character--Whether versification is
essential to Comedy--Subordinate kinds--Pieces of Character and of
Intrigue--The Comic of observation of self-consciousness and arbitrary
Comic--Morality of Comedy.
Plautus and Terence as Imitators of the Greeks here examined and
characterized in the absence of the Originals they copied--Motives of the
Athenian Comedy from Manners and Society--Portrait-Statues of two
Roman Theatre--Native kinds: Atellane Fables Mimes Comoedia Togata--
Greek Tragedy transplanted to Rome--Tragic Authors of a former Epoch and
of the Augustan Age--Idea of a National Roman Tragedy--Causes of the want
of success of the Romans in Tragedy--Seneca.
The Italians--Pastoral Dramas of Tasso and Guarini--Small progress in
Tragedy--Metastasio and Alfieri--Character of both--Comedies of Ariosto
Aretin Porta--Improvisatore Masks--Goldoni--Gozzi--Latest state.
Antiquities of the French Stage--Influence of Aristotle and the Imitation
of the Ancients--Investigation of the Three Unities--What is Unity of
Action?--Unity of Time--Was it observed by the Greeks?--Unity of Place as connected with it.
Mischief resulting to the French Stage from too narrow Interpretation of
the Rules of Unity--Influence of these rules on French Tragedy--Manner of
treating Mythological and Historical Materials--Idea of Tragical Dignity--
Observation of Conventional Rules--False System of Expositions.
Use at first made of the Spanish Theatre by the French--General Character
of Corneille Racine and Voltaire--Review of the principal Works of
Corneille and of Racine--Thomas Corneille and Crebillon.
Voltaire--Tragedies on Greek Subjects: _Oedipe_ _Merope_ _Oreste_--
Tragedies on Roman Subjects: _Brute_ _Mort de Cesar_ _Catiline_ _Le
Triumvirat_--Earlier Pieces: _Zaire_ _Alzire_ _Mahomet_ _Semiramis_
French Comedy--Moliere--Criticism of his Works--Scarron Boursault
Regnard; Comedies in the Time of the Regency; Marivaux and Destouches;
Piron and Gresset--Later Attempts--The Heroic Opera: Quinault--Operettes
and Vaudevilles--Diderot's attempted Change of the Theatre--The Weeping
Drama--Beaumarchais--Melo-Dramas--Merits and Defects of the Histrionic Art.
Comparison of the English and Spanish Theatres--Spirit of the Romantic
Drama--Shakspeare--His Age and the Circumstances of his Life.
Ignorance or Learning of Shakspeare--Costume as observed by Shakspeare
and how far necessary or may be dispensed with in the Drama--Shakspeare
the greatest drawer of Character--Vindication of the genuineness of his
pathos--Play on Words--Moral Delicacy--Irony-Mixture of the Tragic and
Comic--The part of the Fool or Clown--Shakspeare's Language and
Criticisms on Shakspeare's Comedies.
Criticisms on Shakspeare's Tragedies.
Criticisms on Shakspeare's Historical Dramas.
Two Periods of the English Theatre: the first the most important--The
first Conformation of the Stage and its Advantages--State of the
Histrionic Art in Shakspeare's Time--Antiquities of Dramatic Literature--
Lilly Marlow Heywood--Ben Jonson; Criticism of his Works--Masques--
Beaumont and Fletcher--General Characterization of these Poets and
Remarks on some of their Pieces--Massinger and other Contemporaries of
Closing of the Stage by the Puritans--Revival of the Stage under Charles
II.--Depravity of Taste and Morals--Dryden Otway and others--
Characterization of the Comic Poets from Wycherley and Congreve to the
Middle of the Eighteenth Century--Tragedies of the same Period--Rowe--
Addison's _Cato_--Later Pieces--Familiar Tragedy: Lillo--Garrick--
Spanish Theatre--Its three Periods: Cervantes Lope de Vega Calderon--
Spirit of the Spanish Poetry in general--Influence of the National History
on it--Form and various Species of the Spanish Drama--Decline since the
beginning of the Eighteenth Century.
Origin of the German Theatre--Hans Sachs--Gryphius--The Age of Gottsched--
Wretched Imitation of the French--Lessing Goethe and Schiller--Review of
their Works--Their Influence on Chivalrous Dramas Affecting Dramas and
Family Pictures--Prospect for Futurity.
PREFACE OF THE TRANSLATOR.
The Lectures of A. W. SCHLEGEL on Dramatic Poetry have obtained high
celebrity on the Continent and been much alluded to of late in several
publications in this country. The boldness of his attacks on rules which
are considered as sacred by the French critics and on works of which the
French nation in general have long been proud called forth a more than
ordinary degree of indignation against his work in France. It was amusing
enough to observe the hostility carried on against him in the Parisian
Journals. The writers in these Journals found it much easier to condemn M.
SCHLEGEL than to refute him: they allowed that what he said was very
ingenious and had a great appearance of truth; but still they said it was
not truth. They never however as far as I could observe thought proper
to grapple with him to point out anything unfounded in his premises or
illogical in the conclusions which he drew from them; they generally
confined themselves to mere assertions or to minute and unimportant
observations by which the real question was in no manner affected.
In this country the work will no doubt meet with a very different
reception. Here we have no want of scholars to appreciate the value of his
views of the ancient drama; and it will be no disadvantage to him in our
eyes that he has been unsparing in his attack on the literature of our
enemies. It will hardly fail to astonish us however to find a stranger
better acquainted with the brightest poetical ornament of this country
than any of ourselves; and that the admiration of the English nation for
Shakspeare should first obtain a truly enlightened interpreter in a critic
It is not for me however to enlarge on the merits of a work which has
already obtained so high a reputation. I shall better consult my own
advantage in giving a short extract from the animated account of M.
SCHLEGEL'S Lectures in the late work on Germany by Madame de Stael:--
"W. SCHLEGEL has given a course of Dramatic Literature at Vienna which
comprises every thing remarkable that has been composed for the theatre
from the time of the Grecians to our own days. It is not a barren
nomenclature of the works of the various authors: he seizes the spirit of
their different sorts of literature with all the imagination of a poet. We
are sensible that to produce such consequences extraordinary studies are
required: but learning is not perceived in this work except by his
perfect knowledge of the _chefs-d'oeuvre_ of composition. In a few
pages we reap the fruit of the labour of a whole life; every opinion
formed by the author every epithet given to the writers of whom he
speaks is beautiful and just concise and animated. He has found the art
of treating the finest pieces of poetry as so many wonders of nature and
of painting them in lively colours which do not injure the justness of
the outline; for we cannot repeat too often that imagination far from
being an enemy to truth brings it forward more than any other faculty of
the mind; and all those who depend upon it as an excuse for indefinite
terms or exaggerated expressions are at least as destitute of poetry as
of good sense.
"An analysis of the principles on which both Tragedy and Comedy are
founded is treated in this course with much depth of philosophy. This
kind of merit is often found among the German writers; but SCHLEGEL has no
equal in the art of inspiring his own admiration; in general be shows
himself attached to a simple taste sometimes bordering on rusticity; but
he deviates from his usual opinions in favour of the inhabitants of the
South. Their play on words is not the object of his censure; he detests
the affectation which owes its existence to the spirit of society: but
that which is excited by the luxury of imagination pleases him in poetry
as the profusion of colours and perfumes would do in nature. SCHLEGEL
after having acquired a great reputation by his translation of Shakspeare
became also enamoured of Calderon but with a very different sort of
attachment from that with which Shakspeare had inspired him; for while the
English author is deep and gloomy in his knowledge of the human heart the
Spanish poet gives himself up with pleasure and delight to the beauty of
life to the sincerity of faith and to all the brilliancy of those
virtues which derive their colouring from the sunshine of the soul.
"I was at Vienna when W. SCHLEGEL gave his public course of Lectures. I
expected only good sense and instruction where the object was merely to
convey information: I was astonished to hear a critic as eloquent as an
orator and who far from falling upon defects which are the eternal food
of mean and little jealousy sought only the means of reviving a creative
Thus far Madame de Stael. In taking upon me to become the interpreter of a
work of this description to my countrymen I am aware that I have incurred
no slight degree of responsibility. How I have executed my task it is not
for me to speak but for the reader to judge. This much however I will
say--that I have always endeavoured to discover the true meaning of the
author and that I believe I have seldom mistaken it. Those who are best
acquainted with the psychological riches of the German language will be
the most disposed to look on my labour with an eye of indulgence.
From the size of the present work it will not be expected that it should
contain either a course of Dramatic Literature bibliographically complete
or a history of the theatre compiled with antiquarian accuracy. Of books
containing dry accounts and lists of names there are already enough. My
purpose was to give a general view and to develope those ideas which
ought to guide us in our estimate of the value of the dramatic productions
of various ages and nations.
The greatest part of the following Lectures with the exception of a few
observations of a secondary nature the suggestion of the moment were
delivered orally as they now appear in print. The only alteration consists
in a more commodious distribution and here and there in additions where
the limits of the time prevented me from handling many matters with
uniform minuteness. This may afford a compensation for the animation of
oral delivery which sometimes throws a veil over deficiencies of
expression and always excites a certain degree of expectation.
I delivered these Lectures in the spring of 1808 at Vienna to a
brilliant audience of nearly three hundred individuals of both sexes. The
inhabitants of Vienna have long been in the habit of refuting the
injurious descriptions which many writers of the North of Germany have
given of that capital by the kindest reception of all learned men and
artists belonging to these regions and by the most disinterested zeal for
the credit of our national literature a zeal which a just sensibility has
not been able to cool. I found here the cordiality of better times united
with that amiable animation of the South which is often denied to our
German seriousness and the universal diffusion of a keen taste for
intellectual amusement. To this circumstance alone I must attribute it
that not a few of the men who hold the most important places at court in
the state and in the army artists and literary men of merit women of
the choicest social cultivation paid me not merely an occasional visit
but devoted to me an uninterrupted attention.
With joy I seize this fresh opportunity of laying my gratitude at the feet
of the benignant monarch who in the permission to deliver these Lectures
communicated to me by way of distinction immediately from his own hand
gave me an honourable testimony of his gracious confidence which I as a
foreigner who had not the happiness to be born under his sceptre and
merely felt myself bound as a German and a citizen of the world to wish
him every blessing and prosperity could not possibly have merited.
Many enlightened patrons and zealous promoters of everything good and
becoming have merited my gratitude for the assistance which they gave to
my undertaking and the encouragement which they afforded me during its
The whole of my auditors rendered my labour extremely agreeable by their
indulgence their attentive participation and their readiness to
distinguish in a feeling manner every passage which seemed worthy of
It was a flattering moment which I shall never forget when in the last
hour after I had called up recollections of the old German renown sacred
to every one possessed of true patriotic sentiment and when the minds of
my auditors were thus more solemnly attuned I was at last obliged to take
my leave powerfully agitated by the reflection that our recent relation
founded on a common love for a nobler mental cultivation would be so soon
dissolved and that I should never again see those together who were then
assembled around me. A general emotion was perceptible excited by so much
that I could not say but respecting which our hearts understood each
other. In the mental dominion of thought and poetry inaccessible to
worldly power the Germans who are separated in so many ways from each
other still feel their unity: and in this feeling whose interpreter the
writer and orator must be amidst our clouded prospects we may still
cherish the elevating presage of the great and immortal calling of our
people who from time immemorial have remained unmixed in their present
GENEVA _February_ 1809.
OBSERVATION PREFIXED TO PART OF THE WORK PRINTED IN 1811.
The declaration in the Preface that these Lectures were with some
additions printed as they were delivered is in so far to be corrected
that the additions in the second part are much more considerable than in
the first. The restriction in point of time in the oral delivery
compelled me to leave more gaps in the last half than in the first. The
part respecting Shakspeare and the English theatre in particular has
been almost altogether re-written. I have been prevented partly by the
want of leisure and partly by the limits of the work from treating of the
Spanish theatre with that fulness which its importance deserves.
MEMOIR OF THE LITERARY LIFE OF AUGUSTUS WILLIAM VON SCHLEGEL
AUGUSTUS WILLIAM VON SCHLEGEL the author of the following Lectures was
with his no-less distinguished brother Frederick the son of John Adolph
Schlegel a native of Saxony and descended from a noble family. Holding a
high appointment in the Lutheran church Adolph Schlegel distinguished
himself as a religious poet and was the friend and associate of Rabener
Gellert and Klopstock. Celebrated for his eloquence in the pulpit and
strictly diligent in the performance of his religious duties he died in
1792 leaving an example to his children which no doubt had a happy
influence on them.
Of these the seventh Augustus William was born in Hanover September
5th 1767. In his early childhood he evinced a genuine susceptibility for
all that was good and noble; and this early promise of a generous and
virtuous disposition was carefully nurtured by the religious instruction
of his mother an amiable and highly-gifted woman. Of this parent's pious
and judicious teaching Augustus William had to the end of his days a
grateful remembrance and he cherished for her throughout life a sincere
and affectionate esteem whose ardour neither time nor distance could
diminish. The filial affection of her favourite son soothed the declining
years of his mother and lightened the anxieties with which the critical
and troubled state of the times alarmed her old age. His further education
was carried on by a private tutor who prepared him for the grammar-school
at Hanover where he was distinguished both for his unremitting
application to which he often sacrificed the hours of leisure and
recreation and for the early display of a natural gift for language
which enabled him immediately on the close of his academic career to
accept a tutorial appointment which demanded of its holder a knowledge
not only of the classics but also of English and French. He also displayed
at a very early age a talent for poetry and some of his juvenile
extempore effusions were remarkable for their easy versification and
rhythmical flow. In his eighteenth year he was called upon to deliver in
the Lyceum of his native city the anniversary oration in honour of a
royal birthday. His address on this occasion excited an extraordinary
sensation both by the graceful elegance of the style and the interest of
the matter written in hexameters. It embraced a short history of poetry
in Germany and was relieved and animated with many judicious and striking
illustrations from the earliest Teutonic poets.
He now proceeded to the University of Gottingen as a student of theology
which science however he shortly abandoned for the more congenial one of
philology. The propriety of this charge he amply attested by his Essay on
the Geography of Homer which displayed both an intelligent and
comprehensive study of this difficult branch of classical archaeology.
At Gottingen he lived in the closest intimacy with Heyne for whose