communicating his sorrow to his sympathetic visitor, does he force upon him a graceless entertainment by means of a deception, which sooner or later must needs be discovered and resented? Why does he do it? The situation itself presents the wretched reason. It is because by his own devices he has put himself in such a position that he dares not, cannot tell the truth. The arrival of Heracles at this instant is an embarrassment for him at once ludicrous and horrible. The Chorus, waiting before the door, at once perceive the difficulty and stand on reserve. 'Is Admetus within?''Yes', they reply, 'he is within; but. . . .' But what? Why do they not say plainly and naturally 'But you cannot have heard, and we have to tell you, that he is in mourning for his wife, who died a few minutes ago?' Instead of this they engage him in conversation about himself and his journey, which continues till Admetus comes out and they resign the lead to him. Now what is Admetus to do? In the dialogue which ensues, his wriggling, quibbling, and lying are those of a criminal on the point of detection; for such and no better he feels himself to be. It would have been humiliating enough, had there been nothing more in the circumstances, to say to this gallant friend, who is so far from believing that Alcestis is really to be sacrificed by and for her husband, that he prefers rather to make light of the anxiety which the prediction of her fate has raised in more impressionable minds,—to meet him with the words 'But it is certainly true. It has come to pass. I have accepted her self-immolation, and with my consent she has actually died in my stead'. This, for a man 'excessive', as we are told, 'on the point of honour', would have been bad enough. But that would not have been the end nor the worst, for the next word must have touched on the funeral, and whatever it was, must have abased him further. Should he confess to the noble Argive, 'descendant of Perseus and son of Zeus', that the company before him, a few old friends of the house, are engaged as a minimum to make a following for the queen of Thessaly, who is dead indeed, just dead, and for certain reasons (what reasons?) is to be buried
- That the Chorus are unwilling to tell Heracles the truth is well brought out by Browning. But he does not see why, and has to find a reason by mis-stating the facts. See above, p. 27.