Weep, spirits of the woods
and of the hills,
Weep, each pure nymph beside her fountain-head,
And weep, ye mountains, in a thousand rills,
For the fair child who here below lies dead:
Mourn, all ye gods, the last of human ills,
Your sacred foreheads all ungarlanded.
Here the traditional story of Cephalus and Procris, as founded on the rather inferior version in the seventh book of the Metamorphoses, ends. There remains, however, a fifth act, in which Diana appears, raises Procri, and restores her to her husband.
The play, composed for the most part in octaves with choruses in terza rima, is, from the dramatic point of view, open to obvious and fatal objections. The preposterous dea ex machina of the last act; the inconsequence of motive and inconsistency of character, partly, it is true, inherent in the original story, but by no means made less obvious by the dramatist; the insufficiency of the action to fill the necessary space, and the inability of the author to make the most of his materials, are all alike patent. On the other hand, we have already noticed a certain theatrical ability displayed in the writing of the first act, and we may further attribute the alteration by which Procri is represented as jealous of Cefalo’s original lover, Aurora, instead of the wholly imaginary Aura, as in Ovid, to a desire for dramatic unity of motive.
The extent to which either the Orfeo or Cefalo can be regarded as pastoral will now be clear, and it must be confessed that they do not carry us very far. The two fifteenth-century plays constitute a distinct species which has attained to a high degree of differentiation if not of dramatic evolution, and critics who would see in them the origin of the later pastoral drama have to explain the strange phenomenon of the species lying dormant for nearly three-quarters of a century, and then suddenly developing into an equally individualized but very dissimilar form. It should, moreover, be borne in mind that contemporary critics never regarded the Arcadian pastoral as in any way connected with the mythological drama, and that the writers of pastoral themselves claimed no kinship with Poliziano or Correggio, but always ranked themselves as the followers of Beccari alone in the line of dramatic development. On the other hand, there can be no reasonable doubt that such performances went to accustom spectators to that mixture of mythology and idealism which forms the atmosphere, so to speak, of the Aminta and the Pastor fido. This must be my excuse for lingering over these early works.
When dealing with the Italian eclogue we saw how, at a certain point, it began to assume a distinctly dramatic character, and in so doing took the first step towards the possible evolution of a real pastoral drama. It will be my task in the ensuing pages to follow up this clue, and to show how the pastoral drama arose through a process of natural development from the recited eclogue.