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The Mirror of Taste, and Dramatic Censor, Vol. I, No. 6, June 1810   By: (-1820?)

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THE MIRROR OF TASTE,

AND

DRAMATIC CENSOR.

Vol. I. JUNE, 1810. No. 6.

HISTORY OF THE STAGE.

CHAPTER VI.

THE ROMAN DRAMA.

In proportion as the Romans yielded to the habit of imitating the Greeks, they advanced into refinement, and receded from their characteristic roughness and ferocity. Their pace, however, was very slow, for imagining rudeness and brutality to be synonimous with independence, they indulged and prided themselves in an adherence to their original coarseness and despised the manners of the Grecians, as the latter did those of the Persians, for their extreme refinement and effeminacy. Of the drama there is not to be found a trace on the records of Rome till more than three hundred and fifty years after the building of the city. The people had revels and brutal debauches at which rude compositions filled with raillery and gross invective were sung, accompanied with indecent action and lascivous gestures. But the raillery they used was so personal and calumnious that riots constantly ensued from the resentment of the injured parties, in consequence of which the senate passed a law, in the three hundred and second year of the city, condemning to death any person who should injure the reputation of his neighbour.

It was a full century after that law when, on occasion of great public calamity, they, in order to appease the divine wrath instituted feasts in honour of the gods, and those feasts for the first time exhibited a sort of irregular theatrical performances, composed wholly of imitation. The actors in those may in all probability be placed on a level with those called Mummers in Great Britain, and Livy describes them as Balladines who travelled to Rome from Tuscany. Though their merit could not have been great, they were very much applauded. Applause produced improvement, and they soon formed themselves into companies called histrioni, who performed regular pieces called satires. These, which were at best entitled to no higher rank than bad farces, kept exclusive possession of the public regards for a hundred and twenty years.

It was at the end of that period, and about two hundred and forty years before the Christian æra that the first play performed after the manner of the Greeks, was brought forward in Rome, by Livius Andronicus, the earliest of the Roman dramatic poets. He turned the personal Satires and Fescenine verses so long the admiration of the Romans, into regular form and dialogue, and though the character of a player, so long valued and applauded in Greece, was reckoned vile and despicable among the Romans, Andronicus himself acted a part in his dramatic compositions. At the time of Cicero the works of this poet were obsolete; yet some passages of them are preserved in the Corpus Poetarum .

It is related of Livius Andronicus that he at first formed and sung his pieces in the manner of his predecessors, despairing of being able to accomplish any improvement in the Roman theatre, but that one day being surrounded by the multitude and excessively fatigued, he called a slave to relieve him while he recovered his breath. Displeased with the bungling manner in which the slave performed this new task, Livius rebuked him very severely, the slave justified, the master replied, and a dialogue ensued which the spectators imagining to be a part of the plan of the piece, greatly applauded. The drama at once broke upon their view in a new and superior aspect they perceived that it was in familiar colloquial communications, such as men use in real life, that human affairs and the hearts of men could be justly imitated, and Andronicus taking advantage of this singular and felicitous incident, composed and represented regular dramas in dialogue.

To Livius Andronicus is due the praise of having first refined the Roman taste in dramatic poetry, as Ennius had but a short time before done in Epic, by introducing the Greek model, as the standard of literature. Both were, according to Suetonius, half Greeks, and were masters of both languages... Continue reading book >>


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