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SARDANAPALUS, King of Nineveh and Assyria, §.c.
ZARINA, the Queen.
MYRRHA, an Ionian female Slave, and the Favourite of SARDANAPALUS.
Women composing the Harem of SARDANAPALUS, Guards, Attendants, Chaldean Priests, Medes, &c. &c.
Scene-a Hall in the Royal Palace of Nineveh
neither of them could possibly find favour with a person whose genius had a truly dramatic character. We should as soon expect an orator to compose a speech altogether unfit to be spoken. A drama is not merely a dialogue, but an action; and necessarily supposes that something is to pass before the eyes of assembled spectators. Whatever is peculiar to its written part, should derive its peculiarity from this consideration Its style should be an accompaniment to action, and should be calculated to excite the emotions, and keep alive the attention, of gazing multitudes. If an author does not bear this continually in his mind, and does not write in the ideal presence of an eager and diversified assemblage, he may be a poet perhaps, but assuredly he will never be a dramatist. If Lord Byron really does not wish to impregnate his elabo rate scenes with the living part of the drama if he has no hankering after stage-effect-if he is not haunted with the visible presentiment of the persons he has created-if, in setting down a vehement invective, he does not fancy the tone in which Mr. Kean would deliver it, and anticipate the long applauses of the pit, then he may be sure that neither his feelings nor his genius are in unison with the stage at all. Why, then, should he affect the form, without the power of tragedy? Didactic reasoning and eloquent description will not compensate, in a play, for a dearth of dramatic spirit and invention: and, besides, sterling sense and poetry, as such, ought to stand by themselves, without the unnieaning mockery of a dramatis person. As to Lord Byron pretending to set up the unities at this time of day, as the law of literature throughout the world, it is mere caprice and contradiction. He, if ever man was, is a law to himself— a chartered libertine; and now, when he is tired of this unbridled license, be wants to do penance within the unities! English dramatic poetry soars above the unities, just as the imagination does. The only pretence for insisting on them is, that we suppose the stage itself to be, actually and really, the very spot on which a given action is performed, and, if so, this space cannot be removed to another. But the supposition is manifestly quite contrary to truth and experience."— Edin. Rev. vol. xxxvi.
The reader may be pleased to compare the above with the following passage from Dr. Johnson:
"Whether Shakspeare knew the unities, and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide and useless to inquire. We may reasonably suppose, that when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and critics; and that he at last deliberately persisted in a practice which he might have begun by chance. As nothing is essential to the table but unity of action, and as the unities of time and place arise evidently from false assumptions, and, by circumscribing the extent of the drama, lessen its variety, I cannot think it much to be lamented that they were not known by him, or not observed: nor, if such another poet could arise, should Ivery vehemently reproach him, that his first act passed at Venice, and his next in Cyprus. Such violations of rules merely positive become the comprehensive genius of Shakspeare, and such censures are suitable to the minute and slender criticism of Voltaire :
- Non usque adeo permiscuit imis Longus summa dies, ut non, si voce Metelli Serventur leges, malint a Cæsare tolli.'
A Hall in the Palace.
Sulemenes (solus). He hath wrong'd his queen, but still he is her lord;
He hath wrong'd my sister, still he is my brother; He hath wrong'd his people, still he is their sovereign, And I must be his friend as well as subject:
He must not perish thus. I will not see The blood of Nimrod and Semiramis
Sink in the earth, and thirteen hundred years
Yet, when I speak thus slightly of dramatic rules, I cannot but recollect how much wit and learning may be produced against me; before such authorities I am afraid to stand. not that I think the present question one of those that are to be decided by mere authority, but because it is to be suspected, that these precepts have not been so easily received, but for far better reasons than I have yet been able to find. The result of my inquiries, in which it would be ludicrous to boast of impartiality, is, that the unities of time and place are not essential to a just drama; that though they may sometimes conduce to pleasure, they are always to be sacrificed to the nobler beauties of variety and instruction; and that a play written with nice observation of critical rules, is to be contemplated as an elaborate curiosity, as the product of superfluous and ostentatious art, by which is shown rather what is possible than what is necessary. He that without diminution of any other excellence shall preserve all the unities unbroken, deserves the like applause with the architect, who shall display all the orders of architecture in a citadel, without any deduction from its strength: but the principal beauty of a citadel is to exclude the enemy; and the greatest graces of a play are to copy nature and instruct life." - Preface to Shakspeare.]
In this tragedy it has been my intention to follow the account of Diodorus Siculus; reducing it, however, to such dramatic regularity as I best could, and trying to approach the unities. I therefore suppose the rebellion to explode and succeed in one day by a sudden conspiracy, instead of the long war of the history.
[Sardanapalus is, beyond all doubt, a work of great beauty and power; and though the heroine has many traits in common with the Medoras and Gulnares of Lord Byron's undramatic poetry, the hero must be allowed to be a new character
his hands. He has, indeed, the scorn of war, and glory, and priestcraft, and regular morality, which distinguishes the rest of his lordship's favourites; but he has no misanthropy, and very little pride and may be regarded, on the whole, as one of the most truly good-humoured, amiable, and respectable voluptuaries to whom we have ever been presented. In this conception of his character, the author has very wisely followed nature and fancy rather than history. His Sardana. palus is not an effeminate, worn-out debauchee, with shattered nerves and exhausted senses, the slave of indolence and vicious habits; but a sanguine votary of pleasure, a princely epicure, indulging, revelling in boundless luxury while he can, but with a soul so inured to voluptuousness, so saturated with delights, that pain and danger, when they come uncalled for, give him neither concern nor dread; and he goes forth from the banquet to the battle, as to a dance or measure, attired by the Graces, and with youth, joy, and love for his guides. He dallies with Bellona as bridegroom-for his sport and pastime; and the spear or fan, the shield or shining mirror, become his hands equally well. He enjoys life, in short, and triumphs in death and whether in prosperous or adverse circumstances, his soul smiles out superior to evil. JEFFREY.
The Sardanapalus of Lord Byron is pretty nearly such a person as the Sardanapalus of history may be supposed to have been. Young, thoughtless, spoiled by flattery and unbounded self-indulgence, but with a temper naturally amiable, and abilities of a superior order, he affects to undervalue the
Steep'd, but not drown'd, in deep voluptuousness.
To have reach'd an empire; to an empire born,
He sweats in palling pleasures, dulls his soul,
Health like the chase, nor glory like the war-
By the first manly hand which dares to snatch it.
sanguinary renown of his ancestors as an excuse for inattention to the most necessary duties of his rank, and flatters himself, while he is indulging his own sloth, that he is making his people happy. Yet, even in his fondness for pleasure, there lurks a love of contradiction. Of the whole picture, selfishness is the prevailing feature-selfishness admirably drawn indeed; apologised for by every palliating circumstance of education and habit, and clothed in the brightest colours of which it is susceptible from youth, talents, and placability. But it is selfishness still; and we should have been tempted to quarrel with the art which made vice and frivolity thus amiable, if Lord on had not at the same time pointed out with much skill the bitterness and weariness of spirit which inevitably wait on such a character; and if he had not given a fine contrast to the picture in the accompanying portraits of Salemenes and of Myrrha.- BISHOP HEBER.]
[" He sweats in dreary, dulled effeminacy.” — MS.]
3 ["And see the gewgaws of the glittering girls."-- MS.]
[Salemenes is the direct opposite to selfishness; and the character, though slightly sketched, displays little less ability than that of Sardanapalus. He is a stern, loyal, plain-spoken soldier and subject; clear-sighted, just and honourable in his ultimate views, though not more punctilious about the means of obtaining them than might be expected from a respectable satrap of ancient Nineveh, or a respectable vizier of the mo. dern Turkish empire. To his king, in spite of personal neglect and family injuries, he is, throughout, pertinaciously attached and punctiliously faithful. To the king's rebels he is inclined to be severe, bloody, and even treacherous; an imperfection, however, in his character, to want which would, in his situation, be almost unnatural, and which is skilfully introduced as a contrast to the instinctive perception of virtue and honour which flashes out from the indolence of his master. Of the satrap, however, the faults as well as the virtues are alike the offspring of disinterested loyalty and patriotism. It is for his country and king that he is patient of injury; for them he is valiant; for them cruel. He has no ambition of personal power, no thirst of individual fame. In battle and in victory, Assyria!" is his only war-cry. When he sends off
Enter SARDANAPALUS effeminately dressed, his Head crowned with Flowers, and his Robe negligently flowing, attended by a Train of Women and young Slaves.
Sar. (speaking to some of his uttendants). Let the pavilion over the Euphrates
Be garlanded, and lit, and furnish'd forth
Of midnight we will sup there: see nought wanting,
A cooling breeze which crisps the broad clear river:
Sar. My lord, my life! why answerest thou so coldly?
It is the curse of kings to be so answer'd. [thou
The king's choice is mine.
Sar. I pray thee say not so: my chiefest joy Is to contribute to thine every wish.
I do not dare to breathe my own desire,
Lest it should clash with thine; for thou art still
Yet! what YET?
the queen and princes, he is less anxious for his nephews and sister than for the preservation of the line of Nimrod; and, in his last moments, it is the supposed flight of his sovereign which alone distresses and overcomes him.- HEBER.]
"The Ionian name had been still more comprehensive, having included the Achaians and the Baotians, who, together with those to whom it was afterwards confined, would make nearly the whole of the Greek nation; and among the orientals it was always the general name for the Greeks.". MITFORD'S Greece, vol. i. p. 199.
[The chief charm and vivifying angel of the piece Myrrha, the Greek slave of Sardanapalus - a beautiful, heroic, devoted, and etherial being in love with the generous and infatuated monarch- ashamed of loving a barbarian and using all her influence over him to ennoble as well as to adorn his existence, and to arm him against the terrors of his close. Her voluptuousness is that of the heart-her heroism of the affections. If the part she takes in the dialogue be sometimes too subdued and submissive for the lofty daring of her character, it is still such as might become a Greek slave
a lovely lonian girl, in whom the love of liberty and the scorn of death were tempered by the consciousness of what she regarded as a degrading passion, and an inward sense of fitness and decorum with reference to her condition. — JEFFREY.]
6 [Myrrha is a female Salemenes, in whom, with admirable skill, attachment to the individual Sardanapalus is substituted for the gallant soldier's loyalty to the descendant of kings: and whose energy of expostulation, no less than the natural high tone of her talents, her courage, and her Grecian pride, is softened into a subdued and winning tenderness by the constant and painful recollection of her abasement as a slave in the royal harem; and still more by the lowliness of perfect womanly love in the presence of and towards the object of her passion. No character can be drawn more natural than hers; few ever have been drawn more touching and amiable. Of course she is not, nor could be, a Jewish or a Christian heroine; but she is a model of Grecian piety and nobility of spirit, and she is one whom a purer faith would have raised to the level of a Rebecca or a Miriam. — HEBER.]
I can at least command myself, who listen
By the god Baal! The man would make me tyrant.
[la the original draught," Byblis."]
The worst acts of one energetic master,
Sal. Forgiveness of the queen, my sister's wrongs; A natural love unto my infant nephews; Faith to the king, a faith he may need shortly, In more than words; respect for Nimrod's line; Also, another thing thou knowest not.
Sar. What's that?
I love to learn.
Sal. Sar. Not know the word! Never was word yet rung so in my earsWorse than the rabble's shout, or splitting trumpet: I've heard thy sister talk of nothing else. [vice.
Sal. To change the irksome theme, then, hear of Sur. From whom?
Sal. Even from the winds, if thou couldst listen Unto the echoes of the nation's voice.
Sar. Come, I'm indulgent, as thou knowest, patient, [thee? As thou hast often proved-speak out, what moves Sal. Thy peril. Sur. Say on.
Sal. Thus, then all the nations, For they are many, whom thy father left In heritage, are loud in wrath against thee. Sar. 'Gainst me! What would the slaves ? Sal.
Am I then?
Sul. In their eyes a nothing; but In mine a man who might be something still. Sar. The railing drunkards! why, what would they have?
Have they not peace and plenty?
To thee an unknown word.
A king. And what
Sal. Of the first More than is glorious; of the last, far less Than the king recks of.
Sar. Whose then is the crime, But the false satraps, who provide no better? Sal. And somewhat in the monarch who ne'er looks Beyond his palace walls, or if he stirs Beyond them, 't is but to some mountain palace, Till summer heats wear down. O glorious Baal! Who built up this vast empire, and wert made A god, or at the least shinest like a god Through the long centuries of thy renown, This, thy presumed descendant, ne'er beheld As king the kingdoms thou didst leave as hero, Won with thy blood, and toil, and time, and peril! For what? to furnish imposts for a revel, Or multiplied extortions for a minion.
Sar. I understand thee — thou wouldst have me go
2["I know each glance of those deep Greek-soul'd eyes." - MS.]
Sal. All warlike spirits have not the same fate.
She but subdued them.
Sar. There was a certain Bacchus, was there not?
An idol foreign to Assyria's worship,
Sal. I have heard of such a man; and thou per-
For all thy realms
Sal. Wilt thou resume a revel at this hour? Sar. And if I did, 't were better than a trophy, Being bought without a tear. But that is not
It may be ere long That they will need her sword more than your My present purpose: since thou wilt not pledge me, sceptre. Continue what thou pleasest.
(To the Cupbearer.)
That he is deem'd a god for what he did.
Sar. And in his godship I will honour him-
And ancient conqueror.
Sar. (addressing the Cupbearer). Bring me the
golden goblet thick with gems,
A fitting one for the resumption of
am the lawful king, descended from
A race of kings who knew no predecessors.
That thou shouldst rail, or they rise up against me?
Sal. Think! Thou hast wrong'd her! 3
Ye knew nor me, nor monarchs, nor mankind.
Sal. I pray thee, change the theme: my blood
Complaint, and Salemenes' sister seeks not
Re-enter Cupbearer, with wine.
Sar. (taking the cup from him). Noble kinsman,
Sal. He did, and thence was deem'd a deity. 2
Which may be his, and might be mine, if I
The realms he wasted, and the hearts he broke.
["I have a mind
To curse the restless slaves with their own wishes."-MS.] ["He did, and thence was deem'd a god in story."—MS.] 3 [In many parts of this play, it strikes me that Lord Byron
[Exit Cupbeareт. Sal. I would but have recall'd thee from thy dream: Better by me awaken'd than rebellion.
Sar. Who should rebel? or why? what cause?
has more in his eye the case of a sinful Christian that has but one wife, and a sly business or so which she and her kin do not approve of, than a bearded Oriental, like Sardanapalus, with three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines. HOGG.]
"For this expedition he took only a small chosen body of the phalanx, but all his light troops. In the first day's march he reached Anchialus, a town said to have been founded by the king of Assyria, Sardanapalus. The fortifications, in their magnitude and extent, still in Arriau's time, bore the character of greatness, which the Assyrians appear singularly to have affected in works of the kind. A monument representing Sardanapalus was found there, warranted by an inscription in Assyrian characters, of course in the old Assyrian language, which the Greeks, whether well or ill, interpreted thus: Sardanapalus, son of Anacyndaraxes, in one day founded Anchialus and Tarsus. Eat, drink, play all other human joys are not worth a fillip.' Supposing this version nearly exact (for Arrian says it was not quite so), whether the purpose has not been to invite to civil order a people disposed to turbulence, rather than to recommend immoderate luxury, may perhaps reasonably be questioned. What, indeed, could be the object of a king of Assyria in founding such towns in a country so distant from his capital, and so divided from it by an immense extent of sandy deserts and lofty mountains, and, still more, how the inhabitants could be
Talk not of such to me! the worms are gods;
At least they banqueted upon your gods,
Those gods were merely men: look to their issue—
I feel a thousand mortal things about me,
The doom of Nineveh is seal'd. - Woe-woe To the unrivall'd city!
What dost dread?
Sal. Thou art guarded by thy foes: in a few hours The tempest may break out which overwhelms thee, And thine and mine; and in another day
What is shall be the past of Belus' race.
Sal. Wouldst thou not take their lives who seek for thine?
Sar. That's a hard question-But I answer, Yes. Cannot the thing be done without? Who are they Whom thou suspectest? Let them be arrested. Sul. I would thou wouldst not ask me; the next moment
Will send my answer through thy babbling troop
Sar. Thou knowest I have done so ever; Take thou the signet. [Gives the signet. Sal. I have one more request.
Sar. Name it. Sal. That thou this night forbear the banquet In the pavilion over the Euphrates.
Sar. Forbear the banquet! Not for all the plotters That ever shook a kingdom! Let them come, And do their worst: I shall not blench for them; Nor rise the sooner; nor forbear the goblet;
at once in circumstances to abandon themselves to the intemperate joys which their prince has been supposed to have recommended, is not obvious: but it may deserve observation that, in that line of coast, the southern of Lesser Asia, ruins of cities, evidently of an age after Alexander, yet barely named in history, at this day astonish the adventurous traveller by their magnificence and elegance. Amid the desolation which, under a singularly barbarian government, has for so many centuries been daily spreading in the finest countries of the globe, whether more from soil and climate, or from opportunities for commerce, extraordinary means must have been found for communities to flourish there; whence it may seem that the measures of Sardanapalus were directed by juster views than have been commonly ascribed to him: but that monarch having been the last of a dynasty, ended by a revolution, obloquy on his memory would follow of course from the policy of his successors and their partisans. The inconsistency of traditions concerning Sardanapalus is striking in Diodorus's account of him." MITFORD's Greece, vol. x. p. 311.