Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/182

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"Rome, unique objet de mon ressentiment."

We have seen in the foregoing essays that with certain subordinate differences both the plays in question exhibit a common principle of construction, which fits and corresponds to the peculiar position of the author, as a notorious rationalist compelled by the circumstances of the time to use for his organ of expression a stage appropriated by origin and custom to the exhibition of miraculous legend. In each case the body of work, the story acted by the real dramatis personae, is strictly realistic in tone and fact, and in purport contradictory to 'religion' (that is to say, to certain decadent superstitions); while the prologue and epilogue, in sharp opposition to the drama proper and therefore with manifest irony, assert pro forma the miraculous explanation which the facts tend visibly to invalidate and deny. The use of this method, not always in exactly the same way, but with modifications for different cases of the same general principle, is characteristic of Euripides, and is the true cause of a phenomenon, which candid and reasonable judges have always admitted to be perplexing, the singular stiffness, formality, frigidity, and general artlessness which often appear in his opening and his conclusion. The final scenes in particular, the coups de théâtre with which the action is wound up or cut short, have almost always a conventionality of manner, a perfunctory style, a looseness of adaptation, a feebleness in thought and feeling, which contrast strangely with the originality, terseness, energy, and passion displayed in other parts of the work,