Professor de Sumichrast gave the last of the series of lectures on the Psychological Drama of the Seventeenth Century, yesterday afternoon in Sever 11. It was a lecture teeming with the expression of that deep appreciation and sympathy which have been so characteristic of the series.
Professor de Sumichrast introduced his subject by a short history of the Convent of Saint Cyr where the masterpieces of Racine were acted under the supervision of Mme. de Maintenon. When Athalie was first produced, instead of arousing the enthusiasm which Racine had so confidently hoped for it, it seemed to fall flat, the truth being that it was so far superior to the standards of the times that it was beyond appreciation; it was a play written for posterity.
There is a feeling pervading the play, which is common to Moliere's Tartuffe and Shakspere's Hamlet, of an unknown presence which seems constantly to be exerting its supernatural influence upon the players but which seldom if ever appears. This mysterious power is the real hero of the play, it is Jehovah, the God of the Jews in Athalie. As we have seen in Phedre woman was Racine's chosen study, and here again in Athalie we find a wonderful picture of the imperious, strong-minded woman conquered by the iron hand of fate.
In choosing the temple of Jerusalem for the site of his play, Racine secured an element of primary importance to the success of his work. About Jerusalem is gathered not only the feeling of romance and reverence of the whole world, but in the eyes of the Jews in particular, surrounded as it was by the houses of the faithful and reaching from its summit towards the heavens, it was representative of the very highest life. There court after court rose in imposing succession, one above the other, terminating in the Holy of Holies.
Professor de Sumichrast then gave an exhaustive description of the scenes of interest throughout the play, bringing out forcibly the truth of the remark with which he had prefaced the series of lectures, that of all modern nations none has shown a more dramatic instinct than the French in the Classical Drama of the Seventeenth Century.