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of science; rival them in the greateft of their actions, but not in the verfatility of their mimic talents, till it fhall be faid of us by some fus ture fatirift,
Natio comeda eft. Rides? Majore cachin
Concutituri flet, fi lacrymas afpexit amici, Nec dolet. Igniculum brumæ fi tempore pofcas,
Accipit endromidem: Si dixeris, aftuo, fudat.
Non fumus ergo pares; melior qui femper
Nolte dieque poteft alienum fumere vultum.”
'Laugh, and your merry echo bursts his fides;
Weep, and his courteous tears gush out in tides:
Light a few flicks you cry, 'tis wintry
He's a furr'd Laplander from top to
HIS theatre was the firft which had any fuccefs in Europe; the Italians, the French, and the English imitated and pillaged it for a confiderable time without indicating the fource whence they drew improvement. The Spaniards had about twenty.four thousand comedies: it is true they laid facred and profane hiftory, miracles, fable, and prodigies, all under contribution. Every thing beneath the pen of their authors, but little confined by tafte or rules, became a fubject for comedy. The leaft probable incidents, the whole life of a hero, fieges, battles, gallantry, and the means it infpires in a jealous nation to enjoy the beloved object, furnish the fubject of most of the Spanish theatrical pieces. The Spaniards are commendable for having reprefented, on the stage, the principal events of their hiftory; a merit they have in common with the English, but which the rules of the French theatre prevent that nation from imitating.
The Spaniards have felt and expreffed all the degrees of most of the great paffions; they have deferibed
Prefent State of the Spanish Theatre.-By M. Peyron.
With one, who night and day maintains his pace,
And faft as you fhift humours ftill can fhift his face."
venge, in the most energetic man-" ner. But they had too much imagination to fpeak the language of love; to this paffion they have moftly fubftituted gallantry, and we owe to them the infipidities which for a long time have vitiated our theatre; thofe love fcenes which disfigure Corneille and fometimes Racine. The language of their lovers is mere jargon, a confufed heap of ridiculous figures and comparifons, equally cold and exaggerated. Their tender declarations, are befides, in general, of fuch a length as to exhauft the most exemplary patience.
The artleffnefs and variety of their intrigues, and fome of their denouements have been justly admired; thefe Imbroglios are the refult of ancient Spanish manners. The imagination of comic authors must have been exhaufted in bringing two 'lovers together, and uniting them in a country where women were very difficult of accefs; whilft in France, where fociety is in general more at liberty, authors have employed their whole art in prolonging delicate and tender converfations. The differ
ambition, anger, jealoufy, and re-ence of manners therefore has proVOL. X. No. 57.
duced too much action and intrigue in Spanish comedy, and too many words without action, in that of France. A Spanish woman of quality reading the romance of Calprenede, and fatigued by the too long and languishing converfations, faid, throwing down the book, What a deal of wit ill employed! To what purpose is all this dialogue ince they are together?? The father of the Spanish theatre was Lopes de Rueda, a native of Seville, and a gold-beater by profeffion. Cervantes, who in his youth had feen him perform, fpeaks highly of his pieces. My tafte, fays he, was not then fufficiently formed to judge of his verses; but by thofe which have remained in my memory, and upon which I reflected at a maturer age, I am not afraid to affert, that Lopes was as good an author as he was an actor. We are not then acquainted with the machinery now neceffary, nor with the challenges the Moors gave to the Chriftians, and which are now fo common; we faw no figures rife from underground, by means of a hole in the stage, nor angels borne upon clouds, to come to vifit us; the fimple ornament of the theatre was an old curtain, behind which, two or three musicians fung with accompaniments fome ancient romance.'
Lopes de Rueda imitated, in his pieces, the fatirical manner of Plautus, and the fimplicity of Terence; he was highly applauded by his cotemporaries, and dying at Cordova, was interred, as a man of diftinguish ed talents, in the cathedral of that city. I have four of his comedies printed in 1567: the editor obferves, that feveral paffages, which gave of fence by their freedom, have been erafed from them; which, with some other circumstances, feems to prove this impreffion of his works to have been given a few years after his death.
There was but little art in thefe first pieces of the Spanish theatre; but the language is natural, and is remarkakble for a pleasing softness and fimplicity.
The titles of the four comedies of Lopes de Rueda are, Eufemia, Ar melina, Los Enganados, (the deceived) and Medora. The fame volume con tains dialogues and paftorals, the place of which is now occupied by what is called el entremes, or the interlude,
Juan Timoneda, and Alonfo de la Vega, were the fucceffors and imi. tators of Lopes de Rueda. They alfo wrote with fimplicity, but admitted too much intrigue, and too large a portion of the marvellous, inte their comedies. Timoneda introdu ced feveral allegorical perfons into his Marie, in which he treats of the birth of Chrift, and the conception of the Virgin. The poet Vega employed enchantments. Their works are very fcarce, and thofe I faw of them were imperfect.
The four comedies, entitled Florinea, Selvagia, Celeftina, and Eufrofine had already appeared. The two last I have read, the others are very scarce. Celeftina has been tranflated into Latin, and into French under the title of Califte et Melibee. These pieces were not written for repreTentation; Celeftina has twenty-one acts, and contains fcenes admirable for their fimplicity, truth of cha- racter, and morality; the latter would be excellent were it not fometimes expreffed in too free a manner. Eufrofine was tranflated from the Portuguefe into Caftilian; the edition I faw was of 1735, in which the piece is corrected. It wearied me by the great number of proverbs with which it is filled. The best edition is that of 1566, and extremely fcarce.
After Lopes de Rueda, Cervantes names Naharro, a native of Toledo, as one of the restorers of the theatre. He was especially famous in the cha
that Cervantes dared not to explain himfelf in terms lefs equivocal; he was already perfecuted for poffefling fenfe and judgment, and fo poor that he was afraid truth, too frequently repeated, should aggravate his mis fortunes.
facter of a poltroon or a knave. He added a variety of embellishments to the ftage, and brought the mufic from behind the curtain by which it was hidden, and placed it in front of the theatre; he made the actors lay afide their masks, and the false hair and beard's with which they covered their heads and chins; he invented machinery, decorations, clouds, thunder and lightning, and was the first who introduced battles and challenges into theatrical reprefentations. Comedy then loft its primitive fimplicity. Cervantes acknowledges that he himself was one of the firft to adopt this vitiated tafte; he had nevertheless written feveral pieces which might have ferved as models to his countrymen, and were more perfect than any by which they were preceded. Complicated intrigues, and an unexpected denouement, were the delight of the people, and Cervantes saw, when it was too late, that a corrupted talte had taken very deep root.
He had corrected his nation of its eagernefs for extravagant adventure, and by his Don Quixote had thrown an indelible ridicule upon the knights of chivalry: perhaps he may be reproached with having enervated the heroic fentiments, energy of character and greatnefs of mind, by which the Spanish nation was diftinguished. It is fometimes a misfortune to open the eyes of a people and deprive them of their enthufiafin. He with ed to correct the theatre alfo. He compofed feveral pieces quite unconnected, and without the leaft regard to the rules which probability requires, but fo fimilat in every thing to the pieces which were then reprefented, that they were received with applaufe. The irony and instruction were loft to the age in which he lived. The theatre was, at that time, in high reputation, and the poets in vogue had fuch powerful protectors,
The theatre is no unimportant object; it is a general and national taste which, on one hand, is furiously attacked; and, on the other, obftinately defended. We have feen mufic at first produce witticisms, and afterwards libels and abuse. Sounds, more or lefs, grave or acute, have filled the too-fufceptible mind of a philofopher with bitterness, and produced endless disputes. There is not an Englishman who would not defend Shakespear as he would his houshold gods; and the French, worthy of eulogium, for the good reception they have always given to ftrangers, did not receive, as they ought to have done, this hero of the English stage, when he appeared amongst them, cloathed in all the graces of the French language, to take His place by the fide of their, tragic poets. Our taftes and pleafures are a part of our manners: they must be suffered to fink into difufe before they can be fuccefsfully combated, and then they are no longer dangerous.
Cervantes feeing that his indirect attack had not fucceeded, chofe rather to palliate what he could not correct. He introduced in one of his pieces two allegorical perfonages, Comedy and Curiofity. A part of the dialogue between these was as follows: Curiofity. Comedy. Comedy. What defireft thou of me?
A & 2
Curiofity. I wish to know why thou haft quitted the fock, buskins, and mantle? For what reafon haft thou reduced to three, the five acts which formerly made thee fo grave,
noble, and stately? I fee thee pafs in the twinkling of an eye from રે Spain into Flanders: thou con, foundest time and places, and art no longer the fame perfon. Give me fome account of thyself, for thou knoweft I was ever thy friend. Comedy. I am a little changed by time, which wished to improve me. I was formerly a good creature enough; and, if thou confidereft me well, thou wilt find I am not now a bad one, although I may have wandered a little from the paths traced out for me by Plautus, Terence, and all the ancients with whom thou art acquainted. I defcribe a thousand events, not by my words as formerly, but in action, and for this purpose it is fometimes neceffary for me to remove from one place to another. I am like a map of the world, in which London is within a finger's breadth of Rome. It is of little confequence to perfons who fee and hear me, whether or not I go from Europe to Afia, provided. I do not leave the theatre.. Thought is agile, and can follow me wherever I lead, without being fatigued or lofing * fight of me.'
Beneath this irony Cervantes endeavoured to convey instruction to his cotemporaries: but the neceffity he was under of pleafing, and efpecially of living, forced him to compofe as others did. Bad tafte was perpetuated, for that Monster of Nature, as Cervantes calls him, the famous Lopes de Vega, who fled the world with comedies, then made his appearance. He wrote upwards of eighteen hundred theatrical pieces; but the most whimsical and incongruous incidents, the most extravagant language, a jargon almost unin telligible, and the most disgusting bombaft compofe the greatest part of the whole. However, the facility of certain thoughts, and the happy
manner in which they are expressed, are aftonishing; yet ftill the offen. ces committed against true taste in every line, renders the reading of this author difficult, and makes us pay dearly for a few strokes of ge nius.
It must not be imagined that all the Spaniards are enthufiafts in their admiration of Lopes de Vega. He has, amongst his countrymen, more than one learned and judicious cri tic, who has endeavoured to circum fcribe within the rules which Nature feems to dictate, the invention of comic authors, and the taste of the public. There never was a more fertile pen than that of Lopes de Vega. According to a calculation made of his works, what he wrote amounted to five fheets each day, counting from the day of his birth to that of his death.
Calderon, although extravagant, feems to me lefs fo than Lopes de Vega: his intrigues are more fimple, and his ftyle purer and lefs embarraffed; he wrote only about fix or feven hundred theatrical pieces; fo that he could bestow more care on his compofitions.
Notwithstanding the glaring defects of Lopes de Vega and Calderon, they merit fome eulogiums. Nature endowed them with a very uncommon imagination.
Auguftin Moreto holds the third ram among the Spanish dramatic poets: had his genius been as fertile as that of his predeceffors, critics might have been tempted to place him above them. He has thewn more judgment in the management of his pie es, which are thirty-fix in number, and all contain great beauties. After these three poets the most efteen ed comic authors are Guillen de Caftro, Francis de Roxas, and Anthony de Solis. Their pieces are in general more regular, and have neit her the great defects nor the ftriking paffages of those of
withdraw himself from his embarraffment. He opens the door of a private house, and prefents, as by chance, fome of the fcenes which most commonly pafs in it; and as foon as he thinks the fpectator's curiofity satisfied, he fhuts the door and the piece concludes.
Lopes de Vega, Calderon and Mo reto; but the public will ftill pre fer the latter. Regularity will always pleafe men of tafte; and they who are amused by the flights and extravagance of genius will join in opinion with the people.
At present the Spaniards have Bone but tranflators; they have turned into profe feveral good French comedies. They reprefent Nanine under the title of the Affected Mar garet, but it produces no effect. As the name of Voltaire is odious in Spain, they give his piece to an Italian. The Legataire of Regnard has had more fuccefs, because it is more comic. They have also translated a few French tragedies.
There are alfo certain modern pieces which have at leaft the merit of faithfully delineating characters. Thefe are what the Spaniards call Saynetes or Entremes, which are little pieces in one act, as fimple in their plots as those of great pieces are complicated. The manners and character of the inferior claffes of fociety, and the petty interests which affociate or divide them, are therein represented in the most striking manner. It is not an imitation, but the thing itself. The fpectator feems to be fuddenly tranfported into a circle of Spaniards, where he is prefent at their amusements and little cavilings. The manner of drefs is fo faithfully copied that he is fometimes difgufted. He fees porters, flower girls, and fish-women, who have all the geftures, manner, and language of thofe he has feen a hundred times in the street. For thefe kinds of characters the Spanish comedians have an admirable talent. Were they equally natural in every other, they would be the first actors in Europe. The compofition of thefe little pieces, however, requires no great talents. It might be fuppofed the author was afraid of going too far, and only waited for an expedient to
The Saynetes feem to have been invented to give relief to the attention of the audience fatigued by following the intrigue of the great piece through its inextricable labyrinth. Their most certain effect is that of making you loofe the clew; for it feldom happens that the real Spanish comedies are represented without interruption. They are compofed of three acts, called Jornadas. After the first act comes the Saynete, and the warrior or king, whom you have feen adorned with a helmet or à crown, has frequently a part in the little piece; and to fpare himfelf the trouble of entirely changing his drefs, fometimes preferves a part of his noble or royal garments. His fafh or bufkin ftill appears from beneath the dirty cloak of a man of the loweft clafs, or the robe of an Ali calde. The ftranger, who is ignorant of the old cuftom of joining together objects fo incongruous, imagines the hero who has fo long oc cupied his imagination has affumed a disguise useful to his purpose; and feriously feeks for the connexion between that fcene and thofe preced ing. When the Saynete is finished, the principal piece is continued.
After the fecond act, there is a new interruption longer than the firft; another Saynete begins, and is fucceeded by a fpecies of comicopera, very fhort, and called Tonadila. A fingle actress frequently performs the whole, the relates, in finging, either an uninterefting adventure, or fome trivial maxims of gallantry; if fhe be a favourite with the public, and her indecent manner fatisfies the admirers of this infipid and fome