With Browning’s “A Blot in the ’scutcheon”〖H. C., xviii, 359.〗 we return to the kind of tragedy that arises amid normal conditions of life. Yet here again a peculiar aspect of the tragic is emphasized. Both Dryden’s Antony and Shelley’s Cenci know clearly that they are committing wrong. Browning perceived that there are tragic cases in which a character acts in accordance with his highest moral standard, and comes too late to realize that his standard is false or inapplicable. The personages in “A Blot in the ’scutcheon” are of admirable nobility, and among them Thorold is not the least scrupulously conscientious, but the code of honor which he loyally obeys becomes an instrument of fatal cruelty. The very intensity with which he looks up to a splendid ideal blinds his judgment regarding the apparent dishonor of his beloved sister, so that he fails to see “through the surface of crime a depth of purity unmovable.” It is thus a subtle as well as a natural course of events that Browning aims to trace, and only a rich and pregnant style could express the complex thoughts and feelings of so highly cultivated and exquisitely sensitive beings as his Thorold, Mildred, and Guendolen.

The reader of these six dramas who understands their main purposes will surely admire the conscientious manner in which those aims are carried out. He will perceive that the plot, characterization, and dialogue of each are designed with remarkable skill to conform to its dominant ideal. In fact, the chief reason why these plays are among the very, very few dramatic masterpieces of their time is that their authors clearly knew what they wanted to do, and came about as near to doing it as human limitations permit. The different means they had to employ interestingly exhibit the varieties of dramatic technique; and the diverse views of human life that they held serve to enlarge the bounds of our sympathy with many sorts and conditions of men.

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