Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Spinetto on the Pastoral Drama

May 11th.—I went yesterday to hear Spinetto's lecture at the institution, when I found that the pastoral drama was the subject. I expected to be much tired, anticipating only a discussion on the' Aminta' and ' Pastor Fido,' too long and much too full of national partiality for my patience or my estimation of their merits. I was agreeably surprised. Spinetto is fully aware of the faults of these two dramas, and especially of their tremendous long-windedness, and did not dwell upon them very long.

He laughed at the attempts made in France at this species of composition, the absurdity of which must be felt by every person who has the least love of poetry or discrimination of character. The French ideas of shepherds and shepherdesses seem to me to be exactly adapted to the stiff, long-stayed, hoop-petticoated, powdered, full-wigged caricatures of the human form which Watteau, Boucher, &c. call by these names.

When Spinetto came to speak of the pastoral drama in England, he of course began by the ' Faithful Shepherdess ' of Fletcher.* Praise of the occasional beauties of the poetry and emanations of genius throughout the performance, was nearly overbalanced by blame on occasional coarseness and immorality. He then proceeded to the 'Gentle Shepherd,' which he rated higher, adverted to the general diffusion of knowledge in Scotland, and digressing to the eternal never-ceasing topic of additional schools, wished them to prosper, neatly applying a quotation from Petrarch, 'Quando luce it sol, ed ovvunque luce.'

We then came to ' Comus,' which I feared would scarcely be allowed to come under the denomination of a pastoral drama; but the praise bestowed upon it fully satisfied my partial feelings. The morality of Spinetto, which I own myself apt to think puritanical and over-strained, was quite in its place when he admired the skill with which the sainted muse of Milton contrived to describe, or rather represent, the licentious court of Comus without contaminating herself.

Spinetto then startled his audience by telling them that we possessed a drama which might be denominated pastoral by a still greater poet. I was puzzled, and could anticipate only the ' Winter's Tale,' which, after all, I think should have been mentioned, though certainly not quite equal to ' As you Like it,' which he terms the most perfect pastoral drama extant. I have often thought that this beautiful play is not generally rated as highly as it deserves, and was delighted at hearing a foreigner commend it so forcibly. At the same time, I cannot go quite as far as my friend Miss Stables, who places it second to ' Hamlet' only, and above every other play.

Now, in reading, I believe I prefer 'Othello,' 'Lear,' and 'Macbeth.' Upon the stage, I am quite sure that the two plays from which I derive most pleasure are ' Macbeth' and ' As you Like it.'

Editor's note
* Can he have forgotten The Passionate Shepherd of Marlow:
(Come live with me and be my love' ?
The same incongruity may be observed as in the French pastoral:
e.g. the damsel is to have—
Slippers lined choicely for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold,
A belt of straw, and ivy buds,
"With coral clasps and amber studs.'

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