Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/37

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ALCESTIS.

21

Down to his very dress the Heracles of Balaustion is not the personage of the Alcestis but of the Madness. It is she, not Euripides, who tells us that, when he goes forth to encounter Death, he picks up his lion-skin and leaves behind his club; she who by other allusions takes care to keep before our eyes these consecrated symbols of beneficent power. The arrows too, the 'unimaginable shaft', she manages to get in by a side-glance; and it seems a mere accident that these also are not brought upon the stage. Now of course from the nature of the case it cannot be proved directly that Heracles in the Alcestis does not wear the spoil of Nemea, does not carry the club which smote the giants, or the bow which put an end to the outrages of Nessus. No one notes their absence; it were impossible, except in a burlesque, that any one should. But neither is there any trace of their presence; which of itself proves that the author on this occasion attached no importance to them, and when taken in connexion with the corresponding omission of all the mythical and doctrinal matter associated with them, goes far to prove that he did not allow them to be used. In the Madness all are mentioned, and not only mentioned but brought tragically into play. In the Alcestis the skin of the lion would be as irrelevant as the lion itself. If worn on the stage (which I do not believe) it must have been merely as a conventional mark of the person; and the author, who wrote, we must remember, for a public of readers as well as of spectators, has done his best to protect a reader at all events from the intrusion.

How hopeless is the well-meant effort to deify a swashbuckler appears when Balaustion ceases to describe and begins to quote. She indeed, like a good girl, having given her heart sticks at nothing: and since Browning—with a poet poetizing it could not be otherwise—has given his heart to her, we, so long as we keep in their company, can perhaps believe what they tell us. But go to Euripides, and the charm is lost. Here is the behaviour of the hero at table, as described by Euripides—Mr Way, not Balaustion, shall recite, as it will save the trouble of noting a few little coquetries of hers:

He first, albeit he saw my master mourning
Entered and passed the threshold unashamed;

Then nowise courteously received the fare