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A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance

Whom Chapelain seems in part to follow


if it is observed by any of

the ancients, need not force us to restrict our tragedies in any way, since we are not bound by their manner of writing or by the measure of feet and syllables with which they compose their verses. In the second place, if we were forced to observe this rigorous law, we should fall into one of the greatest of absurdities, by being obliged to introduce impossible and incredible things in order to enhance the beauty of our tragedies, or else they would lack all grace; for besides being deprived of matter, we could not embellish our poems with long discourses and various interesting events. In the third place, the action of the _Troades_, an excellent tragedy by Seneca, could not have occurred in one day, nor could even some of the plays of Euripides or Sophocles. In the fourth place, according to the definition already given [on the authority of Aristotle], tragedy is the recital of the lives of heroes, the fortune and grandeur of kings, princes, and others; and all this could not be accomplished in one day. Besides, a tragedy must contain five acts, of which the first is joyous, and the succeeding ones exhibit a gradual change, as I have already indicated above; and this change a single day would not suffice to bring about. In the fifth and last place, the tragedies in which this rule is observed are not any better than the tragedies in which it is not observed; and
the tragic poets, Greek and Latin, or even French, do not and need not and cannot observe it, since very often in a tragedy the whole life of a prince, king, emperor, noble, or other person is represented;--besides a thousand other reasons which I could advance if time permitted, but which must be left for a second edition."[373]

The history of the unity of time during the next century does not strictly concern us here; but it may be well to point out that it was through the offices of Chapelain, seconded by the authority of Cardinal Richelieu, that it became fixed in the dramatic theory of France. In a long letter, dating from November, 1630, and recently published for the first time, Chapelain sets out to answer all the objections made against the rule of twenty-four hours. It is sustained, he says, by the practice of the ancients and the universal consensus of the Italians; but his own proof is based on reason alone. It is the old argument of _vraisemblance_, as found in Maggi, Scaliger, and especially Castelvetro, whom Chapelain seems in part to follow. By 1635 he had formulated the whole theory of the three unities and converted Cardinal Richelieu to his views. In the previous year Mairet's _Sophonisbe_, the first "regular" French tragedy, had been produced. In 1636 the famous _Cid_ controversy had begun. By 1640 the battle was gained, and the unities became a part of the classic theory of the drama throughout Europe. A few years later their practical application was most thoroughly indicated by the Abbe d'Aubignac, in his _Pratique du Theatre_; and they were definitely formulated for all time by Boileau in the celebrated couplet:--

"Qu'en un lieu, qu'en un jour, un seul fait accompli Tienne jusqu'a la fin le theatre rempli."[374]

III. _Heroic Poetry_

It was the supreme ambition of the Pleiade to produce a great French epic. In the very first manifesto of the new school, Du Bellay urges every French poet to attempt another _Iliad_ or _AEneid_ for the honor and glory of France. For Pelletier (1555) the heroic poem is the one that really gives the true title of poet; it may be compared to the ocean, and all other forms to rivers.[375] He seems to be following Giraldi Cintio's discourse on the _romanzi_, published the year before his own work, when he says that the French poet should write a _Heracleid_, the deeds of Hercules furnishing the mightiest and most heroic material he can think of.[376] At the same time Virgil is for him the model of an epic poet; and his parallel between Homer and Virgil bears striking resemblance to the similar parallel in Capriano's _Della Vera Poetica_, published in the very same year as his own treatise.[377] Like Capriano, Pelletier censures the superfluous exuberance, the loquaciousness, the occasional indecorum, and the inferiority in eloquence and dignity of Homer when compared with the Latin poet.


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