Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/24

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8

EURIPIDES.

Of these two scenes then in particular we have to say, in obedience to the general verdict, that they are mechanically useless and aesthetically repulsive. It will be seen that these charges, though separable, are in reality two sides of the same. An incident not agreeable in itself becomes pardonable and even acceptable, if it contributes essentially to the progress of the story. But in the two examples before us, the altercation with Pheres, and the intoxication of Heracles, it is not the least curious part of the author's offence, though it is commonly the less insisted on, that they contribute nothing to the movement of the drama. The progress of events towards the proposed conclusion is not forwarded, arrested, or in any way explained by the fact that Admetus and his father regard one another with a contempt which they succeed in making not altogether incomprehensible, and that neither of them has decency enough to refrain from waging a battle of taunts over the corpse of the wife and daughter, and in the presence of vainly expostulating friends. The altercation leaves us, so far as the story is concerned, exactly where we were. Of the next scene indeed this cannot be said, for here the story does take a step; Heracles discovers the deception practised upon him with regard to the identity of the corpse. But to make this discovery it was not requisite that he should get very drunk, in circumstances which make such behaviour not merely contemptible but grossly offensive, and thus expose himself to the scorn and indignation, the merited scorn and merited indignation, as most people have thought and will continue to think, of the servant who waits at his table. To produce the disclosure was not a difficulty needing to be cut in this heroic fashion. On the contrary the difficulty, if any, was to keep Heracles so long in ignorance of the truth; but neither on this side nor on the other is there anything in the dramatic requirements of the situation to account for the manners which he is made to exhibit.

Mechanically therefore these scenes are useless; and, considered aesthetically, as exhibitions of character, they are worse. The finale of the play consists entirely of a dialogue between Heracles and Admetus, and must depend therefore largely for its effect upon the impression of these two personages which in the course of the piece has been stamped on