1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Drama/11f
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(f) English Drama.
Among the nations of Germanic descent the English alone succeeded, mainly through the influence of the Renaissance movement, in transforming the later growths of the medieval drama into the beginnings of a great and enduring national dramatic literature, second neither in volume nor in splendour to any other in the records of the world. And, although in England, as elsewhere, the preparatory process had been continuing for some generations, its consummation coincided with one of the greatest epochs of English national history, and indeed forms one of the chief glories of that epoch itself; so that, in thinking or speaking of the Elizabethan age and the Elizabethan drama, the one can scarcely be thought or spoken of without the other.
It is of course conceivable that the regular drama, or drama proper, might in England have been called into life without the direct influence of classical examples. Already in the reign of Edward VI. the spirit of the Reformation had Beginnings of the regular drama. (with the aid of a newly awakened desire for the study of history, which was no doubt largely due to Italian examples) quickened the relatively inanimate species of the morality into the beginning of a new development. But though the Kyng Johan of Bale (much as this author abhorred the chronicles as written by ecclesiastics) came very near to the chronicle histories, there is no proof whatever that the work, long hidden away for very good reasons, actually served as a transition to the new species; and Bale’s production was entirely unknown to the particular chronicle history which treated the same subject. Before the earliest example of this transitional species was produced, English tragedy had directly connected its beginnings with classical models.
Much in the same way, nothing could have been more natural and in accordance with the previous sluggish evolution of the English drama than that a gradual transition, however complete in the end, should have been effected from the moralities to comedy. It was not, however, John Heywood himself who was to accomplish any such transition; possibly, he was himself the author of the morality Genus humanum performed at the coronation feast of Queen Mary, whose council speedily forbade the performance of interludes without the queen’s licence. Nor are we able to conjecture the nature of the pieces bearing this name composed by Richard Farrant, afterwards the master of the Children of St George’s at Windsor, or of William Hunnis, master under Queen Elizabeth of the Children of the Chapel Royal. But the process of transition is visible in productions, also called interludes, but charged with serious purpose, such as T. Ingeland’s noteworthy Disobedient Child (before 1560), and plays in which the element of abstractions is perceptibly yielding to that of real personages, or in which the characters are for the most part historical or the main element in the action belongs to the sphere of romantic narrative. The demonstration would, however, be alien to the purpose of indicating the main conditions of the growth of the English drama. The immediate origin of the earliest extant English comedy must, like that of Imitation of classical examples. the first English tragedy, be sought, not in the development of any popular literary or theatrical antecedents, but in the imitation, more or less direct, of classical models. This cardinal fact, unmistakable though it is, has frequently been ignored or obscured by writers intent upon investigating the origines of our drama, and to this day remains without adequate acknowledgment in most of the literary histories accessible to the great body of students.
It is true that in tracing the entrance of the drama into the national literature there is no reason for seeking to distinguish very narrowly between the several tributaries to the main stream which fertilized this as well as other fields under Renaissance culture. The universities then still remained, and for a time became more prominently than ever, the leading agents of education in all its existent stages; and it is a patent fact that no influence could have been so strong upon the Elizabethan dramatists as that to which they had been subjected during the university life through which the large majority of them had passed. The corporate life of the universities, and the enthusiasms (habitually unanimous) of their undergraduates and younger graduates, communicated this influence, as it were automatically, to the students, and to the learned societies themselves, of the Inns of Court. In the Tudor, as afterwards in the early Stuart, times, these Inns were at once the seminaries of loyalty, and the obvious resort for the supply of young men of spirit desirous of honouring a learned court by contributing to its choicer amusements. Thus, whether we trace them in the universities, in the “bowers” or halls of the lawyers, or in the palaces of the sovereign, the beginnings of the English academical drama, which in later Elizabethan and Jacobean literature cannot claim to be more than a subordinate species of the national drama, in an earlier period served as the actual link between classical tragedy and comedy and the surviving native growths, and supplied the actual impulse towards the beginnings of English tragedy and comedy.
The academical drama of the early years of Elizabeth’s reign and of the preceding part of the Tudor period—including the school-drama in the narrower sense of the term and other performances of academical origin—consisted, The earlier academical drama. apart from actual reproductions of classical plays in original Latin or in Latin versions of the Greek, in adaptations of Latin originals, or of Latin or English plays directly modelled on classical examples. A notable series of plays of this kind was performed in the hall of Christ Church, Oxford, from the first year of Edward VI. onward, when N. Grimald’s Archipropheta, treating in classic form the story of St John the Baptist, but introducing the Vice and comic scenes, was brought out. Others were J. Calfhill’s Progne and R. Edwardes’ Palaemon and Arcyte (both 1566), and, from about 1580 onwards, a succession of Latin plays by William Gager, beginning with the tragedy Meleager, and including, with other tragedies, a comedy Rivales. Yet another comedy, acted at Christ Church, and extolled in 1591 by Harington for “harmless mirth,” was the Bellum grammaticale, or Civil War between Nouns and Verbs, which may have been a revision of a comedy written by Bale’s friend, R. Radcliff, in 1538, but of which in any case the ultimate origin was a celebrated Italian allegorical treatise. In Cambridge, as is not surprising, the activity of the early academical friends and favourers of the drama was even more marked. At St John’s College, where Bishop Watson’s Latin tragedy called Absolom was produced within the years 1534 and 1544, plays were, according to Ascham, repeatedly performed about the middle of the century; at Christ’s a controversial drama in the Lutheran interest called Pammachius, of which Gardiner complained to the privy council, and which seems afterwards to have been translated by Bale, was acted in 1544; and at Trinity there was a long series of performances which began with Christopherson’s Jephtha about 1546, and consisted partly of reproductions of classical works, partly of plays and “shows” unnamed; while on one occasion at all events, in 1559, “two English plays” were produced. In 1560 was acted, doubtless in the original Latin, and not in Palsgrave’s English translation (1540) for schoolboys, the celebrated “comedy” of Acolastus, by W. Gnaphaeus, on the story of the Prodigal Son. The long series of Trinity plays interspersed with occasional plays at King’s (where Udall’s Ezechias was produced in English in 1564), at St John’s (where T. Legge’s Richardus III. was first acted in 1573), and, as will be seen below, at Christ’s, continued, with few noticeable breaks, up to the time when the Elizabethan drama was in full activity. Among the “academical” plays not traceable to any particular university source may be mentioned, as acted at court so early as the end of 1565 or the beginning of 1566, the Latin Sapientia Solomonis, which generally follows the biblical narrative, but introduces a comic element in the sayings of the popular Marcolph, who here appears as a court fool.
It was under the direct influence of the Renaissance, viewed primarily, in England as elsewhere, as a revival of classical studies, and in connexion with the growing taste in university and cognate circles of society, and at a Influence of Seneca. court which prided itself on its love and patronage of learning, that English tragedy and comedy took their actual beginnings. Those of comedy, as it would seem, preceded those of tragedy by a few years. Already in Queen Mary’s reign, translation was found the readiest form of expression offering itself to literary scholarship; and Italian examples helped to commend Seneca, the most modern of the ancient tragedians, and the imitator of the most human among the masters of Attic tragedy, as a favourite subject for such exercises. In the very year of Elizabeth’s accession—seven years after Jodelle had brought out the earliest French tragedy—a group of English university scholars began to put forth a series of translations of the ten tragedies of Seneca, which one of them, T. Newton, in 1581 collected into a single volume. The earliest of these versions was that of the Troades (1559) by Jasper Heywood, a son of the author of the Interludes. He also published the Thyestes (1560) and the Hercules Furens (1561); the names of his fellow-translators were A. Neville, T. Nuce, J. Studley and the T. Newton aforesaid. These translations, which occasionally include original interpolations (“additions,” a term which was to become a technical one in English dramaturgy), are in no instance in blank verse, the favourite metre of the dialogue being the couplets of fourteen-syllable lines best known through Chapman’s Homer.
The authority of Seneca, once established in the English literary world, maintained itself there long after English drama had emancipated itself from the task of imitating this pallid model, and, occasionally, Seneca’s own prototype, Earliest English tragedies. Euripides. Nor can it be doubted that some translation of the Latin tragic poet had at one time or another passed through Shakespeare’s own hands. But what is of present importance is that to the direct influence of Seneca is to be ascribed the composition of the first English tragedy which we possess. Of Gorboduc (afterwards re-named Ferrex and Porrex), first acted on the 18th of January 1562 by the members of the Inner Temple before Queen Elizabeth, the first three acts are stated to have been written by T. Norton; the rest of the play (if not more) was the work of T. Sackville, afterwards Lord Buckhurst and earl of Dorset, whom Jasper Heywood praised for his sonnets, but who is better known for his leading share in The Mirror for Magistrates. Though the subject of Gorboduc is a British legend, and though the action is neither copied nor adapted from any treated by Seneca, yet the resemblance between this tragedy and the Thebais is too strong to be fortuitous. In all formal matters—chorus, messengers, &c.—Gorboduc adheres to the usage of classical tragedy; but the authors show no respect for the unities of time or place. Strong in construction, the tragedy is—like its model, Seneca—weak in characterization. The dialogue, it should be noticed, is in blank verse; and the device of the dumb-show, in which the contents of each act are in succession set forth in pantomime only, is employed at once to instruct and to stimulate the spectator.
The nearly contemporary Apius and Virginia (c. 1563), though it takes its subject—destined to become a perennial one on the modern stage—from Roman story; the Historie of Horestes (pr. 1567); and T. Preston’s Cambises King of Percia (1569-1570), are somewhat rougher in form, and, the first and last of them at all events, more violent in diction, than Gorboduc. They still contain elements of the moralities (above all the Vice) and none of the formal features of classical tragedy. But a Julyus Sesyar seems to have been performed, in precisely the same circumstances as Gorboduc, so early as 1562; and, four years later, G. Gascoigne, the author of the satire The Steele Glass, produced with the aid of two associates (F. Kinwelmersh and Sir Christopher Yelverton, who wrote an epilogue), Jocasta, a virtual translation of L. Dolce’s Giocasta, which was an adaptation, probably, of R. Winter’s Latin translation of the Phoenissae of Euripides. Between the years 1567 and 1580 a large proportion of the plays presented at court by choir- or school-boys, and by various companies of actors, were taken from Greek legend or Roman history; as was R. Edwardes’ Damon and Pithias (perhaps as early as 1564-1565), which already shades off from tragedy into what soon came to be called tragi-comedy. Simultaneously with the influence, exercised directly or indirectly, of classical literature, that of Italian, both dramatic and narrative, with its marked tendency to treat native themes, asserted itself, and, while diversifying the current of early English tragedy, infused into it a long-abiding element of passion. There are sufficient grounds for concluding that a play on the subject of Romeo and Juliet, which L. da Porto and M. Bandello had treated in prose narrative—that of the latter having through a French version formed itself into an English poem—was seen on an English stage in or before 1562. Gismonde of Salerne, a play founded on Boccaccio, was acted before Queen Elizabeth at the Inner Temple in 1568, nearly a generation before it was published, rewritten in blank verse by R. Wilmot, one of the performers, then in holy orders; G. Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra, founded on G. Cinthio (from which came the plot of Measure for Measure), followed, printed in 1578; and there were other “casts of Italian devices” belonging to this age, in which the choice of a striking theme still seemed the chief preoccupation of English tragic poets.
From the double danger which threatened English tragedy in the days of its infancy—that it would congeal on the wintry heights of classical themes, or dissolve its vigour in the glowing heat of a passion fiercer than that of the Italians—Ingleso Italianato è un diavolo incarnato—it was preserved more than by any other cause by its happy association with the traditions of the national history. An exceptional position might seem to be in this respect occupied by T. Hughes’ interesting tragedy The Misfortunes of Arthur (1587). But the author of this play—in certain portions of whose framework there were associated with him seven other members of Gray’s Inn, including Francis Bacon, and which was presented before Queen Elizabeth like Gorboduc—in truth followed the example of the authors of that work both in choice of theme, in details of form, and in a general though far from servile imitation of the manner of Seneca; nor does he represent any very material advance upon the first English tragedy.
Fortunately, at the very time when from such beginnings as those just described the English tragic drama was to set forth upon a course in which it was to achieve so much, a new sphere of activity suggested itself. And in this, Chronicle histories. after a few more or less tentative efforts, English dramatists very speedily came to feel at home. In their direct dramatization of passages or portions of English history (in which the doings and sufferings of King Arthur could only by courtesy or poetic licence be included) classical models would be of scant service, while Italian examples of the treatment of national historical subjects, having to deal with material so wholly different, could not be followed with advantage. The native species of the chronicle history, which designedly assumed this name in order to make clear its origin and purpose, essayed nothing more or less than a dramatic version of an existing chronicle. Obviously, while the transition from half historical, half epical narrative often implied carrying over into the new form some of the features of the old, it was only when the subject matter had been remoulded and recast that a true dramatic action could result. But the histories to be found among the plays of Shakespeare and one or two other Elizabethans are true dramas, and it would be inconvenient to include these in the transitional species of those known as chronicle histories. Among these ruder compositions, which intermixed the blank verse introduced on the Stage by Gorboduc with prose, and freely combined or placed side by side tragic and comic ingredients, we have but few distinct examples. One of these is The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, known to have been acted before 1588; in which both the verse and the prose are frequently of a very rude sort, while it is neither divided into acts or scenes nor, in general, constructed with any measure of dramatic skill. But its vigour and freshness are considerable, and in many passages we recognize familiar situations and favourite figures in later masterpieces of the English historical drama. The second is The Troublesome Raigne of King John, in two parts (printed in 1591), an epical narrative transferred to the stage, neither a didactic effort like Bale’s, nor a living drama like Shakespeare’s, but a far from contemptible treatment of its historical theme. The True Chronicle History of King Leir (acted in 1593) in form resembles the above, though it is not properly on a national subject (its story is taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth); but, with all its defects, it seems only to await the touch of the master’s hand to become a tragedy of supreme effectiveness. A yet further step was taken in the Tragedy of Sir Thomas More (c. 1590)—in which Shakespeare’s hand has been thought traceable, and which deserves its designation of “tragedy” not so much on account of the relative nearness of the historical subject to the date of its dramatic treatment, as because of the tragic responsibility of character here already clearly worked out.
Such had been the beginnings of tragedy in England up to the time when the genius of English dramatists was impelled by the spirit that dominates a great creative epoch of literature to seize the form ready to their hands. Earliest comedies. The birth of English comedy, at all times a process of less labour and eased by an always ready popular responsiveness to the most tentative efforts of art, had slightly preceded that of her serious sister. As has been seen from the brief review given above of the early history of the English academical drama, isolated Latin comedies had been performed in the original or in English versions as early as the reign of Henry VIII.—perhaps even earlier; while the morality and its direct descendant, the interlude, pointed the way towards popular treatment in the vernacular of actions and characters equally well suited for the diversion of Roman, Italian and English audiences. Thus there was no innovation in the adaptation by N. Udal (q.v.) of the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus under the title of Ralph Roister Doister, which may claim to be the earliest extant English comedy. It has a genuinely popular vein of humour, and the names fit the characters after a fashion familiar to the moralities. The second English comedy—in the opinion of at least one high authority our first—is Misogonus, which was certainly written as early as 1560. Its scene is laid in Italy; but the Vice, commonly called “Cacurgus,” is both by himself and others frequently designated as “Will Summer,” in allusion to Henry VIII.’s celebrated jester. Gammer Gurton’s Needle, long regarded as the earliest of all English comedies, was printed in 1575, as acted “not long ago in Christ’s College, Cambridge.” Its authorship was till recently attributed to John Still (afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells), who was a resident M.A. at Christ’s, when a play was performed there in 1566. But the evidence of his authorship is inconclusive, and the play “made by Mr. S., Master of Arts,” may be by William Stevenson, or by some other contemporary. This comedy is slighter in plot and coarser in diction than Ralph Roister Doister, but by no means unamusing.
In the main, however, early English comedy, while occasionally introducing characters and scenes of thoroughly native origin and complexion (e.g. Grim, the Collier of Croydon), was content to borrow its themes from classical or Italian sources. G. Gascoigne’s Supposes (acted at Gray’s Inn in 1566) is a translation of I Suppositi of Ariosto, remarkable for the flowing facility of its prose. While, on the one hand, the mixture of tragic with comic motives, which was to become so distinctive a feature of the Elizabethan drama, was already leading in the direction of tragi-comedy, the precedent of the Italian pastoral drama encouraged the introduction of figures and stories derived from classical mythology; and the rapid and diversified influence of Italian comedy, in close touch with Italian prose fiction, seemed likely to affect and quicken continuously the growth of the lighter branch of the English drama.
Out of such promises as these the glories of English drama were ripened by the warmth and light of the great Elizabethan age—of which the beginnings may fairly be reckoned from the third decennium of the reign to which it owes Conditions of the early Elizabethan drama. its name. The queen’s steady love of dramatic entertainments could not of itself have led, though it undoubtedly contributed, to such a result. Against the attacks which a nascent puritanism was already directing against the stage by the hands of J. Northbrooke, the repentant playwright S. Gosson, P. Stubbes, and others, were to be set not only the frugal favour of royalty and the more liberal patronage of great nobles, but the fact that literary authorities were already weighing the endeavours of the English drama in the balance of respectful criticism, and that in the abstract at least the claims of both tragedy and comedy were upheld by those who shrank from the desipience of idle pastimes. It is noticeable that this period in the history of the English theatre coincides with the beginning of the remarkable series of visits made to Germany by companies of English comedians, which did not come to an end till the period immediately before the Thirty Years’ War, and were occasionally resumed after its close. As at home the popularity of the stage increased, the functions of playwright and actor, whether combined or not, began to hold out a reasonable promise of personal gain. Nor, above all, was that higher impulse which leads men of talent and genius to attempt forms of art in harmony with the tastes and tendencies of their times wanting to the group of writers who can be remembered by no nobler name than that of Shakespeare’s predecessors.
The lives of all of these are, of course, in part contemporary with the life of Shakespeare himself; nor was there any substantial difference in the circumstances under which most of them, and he, led their lives as dramatic The predecessors of Shakespeare. authors. A distinction was manifestly kept up between poets and playwrights. Of the contempt entertained for the actor’s profession some fell to the share of the dramatist; “even Lodge,” says C. M. Ingleby, “who had indeed never trod the stage, but had written several plays, and had no reason to be ashamed of his antecedents, speaks of the vocation of the play-maker as sharing the odium attaching to the actor.” Among the dramatists themselves good fellowship and literary partnership only at times asserted themselves as stronger than the tendency to mutual jealousy and abuse; of all chapters of dramatic history, the annals of the early Elizabethan stage perhaps least resemble those of Arcadia.
Moreover, the theatre had hardly found its strength as a powerful element in the national life, when it was involved in a bitter controversy, with which it had originally no connexion, on behalf of an ally whose sympathy with History of the Elizabethan stage. it can only have been of a very limited kind. The Marprelate controversy, into which, among leading playwrights, Lyly and Nashe were drawn, in 1589 led to a stoppage of stage-plays which proved only temporary; but the general result of the attempt to make the stage a vehicle of political abuse and invective was beyond a doubt to coarsen and degrade both plays and players. Scurrilous attempts and rough repression continued during the years 1590-1593; and the true remedy was at last applied, when from about 1594, the chief London actors became divided into two great rival companies—the lord chamberlain’s and the lord admiral’s—which alone received licences. Instead of half a dozen or more companies whose jealousies communicated themselves to the playwrights belonging to them, there were now, besides the Children of the Chapel, two established bodies of actors, directed by steady and, in the full sense of the word, respectable men. To the lord chamberlain’s company, which, after being settled at “the Theater” (opened as early as 1576 or 1577), moved to Blackfriars, purchased by James Burbage, in 1596, and to the Globe on the Bankside in 1599, Shakespeare and Richard Burbage, the greatest of the Elizabethan actors, belonged; the lord admiral’s was managed by Philip Henslowe, the author of the Diary, and Edward Alleyn, the founder of Dulwich College, and was ultimately, in 1600, settled at the Fortune. In these and other houses were performed the plays of the Elizabethan dramatists, with few adventitious aids, the performance being crowded into a brief afternoon, when it is obvious that only the idler sections of the population could attend. No woman might appear at a playhouse, unless masked; on the stage, down to the Restoration, women’s parts continued to be acted by boys.
It is futile to take no account of such outward circumstances as these and many which cannot here be noted in surveying the progress of the literature of the Elizabethan drama. Like that of the Restoration—and like that of the present day—it was necessarily influenced in its method and spirit of treatment by the conditions and restrictions which governed the place and circumstances of the performance of plays, including the construction of theatre and stage, as well as by the social composition of its audiences, which the local accommodation, not less than the entertainment, provided for them had to take into account. But to these things a mere allusion must suffice. It may safely be said, at the same time, that no dramatic literature which has any claim to rank beside the Elizabethan—not that of Athens nor those of modern Italy and Spain, nor those of France and Germany in their classic periods—had to contend against such odds; a mighty inherent strength alone ensured to it the vitality which it so triumphantly asserted, and which enabled it to run so unequalled a course.
Among Shakespeare’s predecessors, John Lyly, whose plays were all written for the Children of the Chapel and the Children of St Paul’s, holds a position apart in English dramatic literature. The euphuism, to which his famous Lyly. romance gave its name, likewise distinguishes his mythological, quasi-historical, allegorical, and satirical comedies. But his real service to the progress of English drama is to be sought neither in his choice of subjects nor in his imagery—though to his fondness for fairylore and for the whole phantasmagoria of legend, classical as well as romantic, his contemporaries, and Shakespeare in particular, were indebted for a stimulative precedent, and though in his Endimion at all events he excites curiosity by an allegorical treatment of contemporary characters and events. It does not even lie in the songs interspersed in his plays, though none of his predecessors had in the slightest degree anticipated the lyric grace which distinguishes some of these incidental efforts. It consists in his adoption of Gascoigne’s innovation of writing plays in prose; and in his having, though under the fetters of an affected and pretentious style, given the first example of brisk and vivacious dialogue—an example to Kyd. which even such successors as Shakespeare and Jonson were indebted. Thomas Kyd, the author of the Spanish Tragedy (preceded or followed by the first part of Jeronimo), and probably of several plays whose author was unnamed, possesses some of the characteristics, but none of the genius, of the greatest tragic dramatist who preceded Shakespeare. Marlowe. No slighter tribute than this is assuredly the due of Christopher Marlowe, whose violent end prematurely closed a poetic career of dazzling brilliancy. His earliest play, Tamburlaine the Great, in which the use of blank verse was introduced upon the English public stage, while full of the “high astounding terms” of an extravagant and often bombastic diction, is already marked by the passion which was the poet’s most characteristic feature, and which was to find expression so luxuriantly beautiful in his Doctor Faustus, and so surpassingly violent in his Jew of Malta. His masterpiece, Edward II., is a tragedy of singular pathos and of a dramatic Peele. power unapproached by any of his contemporaries. George Peele was a far more versatile writer even as a dramatist; but, though his plays contain passages of exquisite beauty, not one of them is worthy to be ranked by the side of Marlowe’s Edward II., compared with which, if indeed not absolutely, Peele’s Chronicle of Edward I. still stands on the level of the species to which its title and character alike assign it. His finest play is undoubtedly David and Bethsabe, which resembles Edward I. in construction, but far surpasses it in beauty of language and versification, besides treating its subject with greatly superior dignity. If the difference between Peele and Shakespeare is still, in many respects besides that of genius, an immeasurable one, we seem to come into something like a Greene. Shakespearian atmosphere in more than one passage of the plays of the unfortunate Robert Greene—unfortunate perhaps in nothing more enduringly than in the proof which he left behind him of his supercilious jealousy of Shakespeare. Greene’s genius, most conspicuous in plays treating English life and scenes, could, notwithstanding his academic self-sufficiency, at times free itself from the pedantry apt to beset the flight of Peele’s and at times even of Marlowe’s muse; and his most delightful work seems to breathe something of the air, sweet and fresh like no other, which blows over an English countryside. Thomas Lodge, whose dramatic, and much less of course his literary activity, is measured by the only play that we know to have been wholly his; Thomas Nashe, the redoubtable pamphleteer and the father of the English picaresque novel; Henry Chettle, who worked the chords of both pity and terror with equal vigour, and Anthony Munday, better remembered for his city pageants than for his plays, are among the other more important writers of the early Elizabethan drama, though not all of them can strictly speaking be called predecessors of Shakespeare. It is not possible here to enumerate the more interesting of the anonymous plays which belong to this “pre-Shakespearian” period of the Elizabethan drama; but many of them are by intrinsic merit as well as for special causes deserving of the attention of the student.
The common characteristics of nearly all these dramatists and plays were in accordance with those of the great age to which they belonged. Stirring times called for stirring themes, such as those of “Mahomet, Scipio and Common characteristics of the early Elizabethans. Tamerlane”; and these again for a corresponding vigour of treatment. Neatness and symmetry of construction were neglected for fulness and variety of matter. Novelty and grandeur of subject seemed well matched by a swelling amplitude and often reckless extravagance of diction. As if from an inner necessity, the balance of rhymed couplets gave way to the impetuous march of blank verse; “strong lines” were as inevitably called for as strong situations and strong characters. Although the chief of these poets are marked off from one another by the individual genius which impressed itself upon both the form and the matter of their works, yet the stamp of the age is upon them all. Writing for the stage only, of which some of them possessed a personal experience and from which none of them held aloof, they acquired an instinctive insight into the laws of dramatic cause and effect, and infused a warm vitality into the dramatic literature which they produced, so to speak, for immediate consumption. On the other hand, the same cause made rapidity of workmanship indispensable to a successful playwright. How a play was produced, how many hands had been at work upon it, what loans and what spoliations had been made in the process, were considerations of less moment than the question whether it was produced, and whether it succeeded. His harness—frequently double or triple—was inseparable from the lusty Pegasus of the early English drama, and its genius toiled, to borrow the phrase of the Attic comedian, “like an Arcadian mercenary.”
This period of the English drama, though it is far from being one of crude effort, could not therefore yet be one of full consummation. In tragedy the advance which had been made in the choice of great themes, in knitting closer Progress of tragedy and comedy before Shakespeare. the connection between the theatre and the national history, in vindicating to passion its right to adequate expression, was already enormous. In comedy the advance had been less decisive and less independent; much had been gained in reaching greater freedom of form and something in enlarging the range of subjects; but artificiality had proved a snare in the one direction, while the licence of the comic stage, upheld by favourite “clowns,” such as Kemp or Tarlton, had not succumbed before less elastic demands. The way of escaping from the dilemma had, however, been already recognized to lie in the construction of suitable plots, for which a full storehouse was open in the popular traditions preserved in national ballads, and in the growing literature of translated foreign fiction, or of native imitations of it. Meanwhile, the aberration of the comic stage to political and religious controversy, which it could never hope to treat with Attic freedom in a country provided with a strong monarchy and a dogmatic religion, seemed likely to extinguish the promise of the beginnings of English romantic comedy.
These were the circumstances under which the greatest of dramatists began to devote his genius to the theatre. Shakespeare’s career as a writer of plays can have differed little in its beginnings from those of his contemporaries Shakespeare. and rivals. Before or while he was proceeding from the re-touching and re-writing of the plays of others to original dramatic composition, the most gifted of those whom we have termed his predecessors had passed away. He had been decried as an actor before he was known as an author; and after living through days of darkness for the theatre, if not for himself, attained, before the close of the century, to the beginnings of his prosperity and the beginnings of his fame. But if we call him fortunate, it is not because of such rewards as these. As a poet, Shakespeare was no doubt happy in his times, which intensified the strength of the national character, expanded the activities of the national mind, and were able to add their stimulus even to such a creative power as his. He was happy in the antecedents of the form of literature which commended itself to his choice, and in the opportunities which it offered in so many directions for an advance to heights yet undiscovered and unknown. What he actually accomplished was due to his genius, whose achievements are immeasurable like itself. His influence upon the progress of English drama divides itself in very unequal proportions into a direct and an indirect influence. To the former alone reference can here be made.
Already the first editors of Shakespeare’s works in a collected form recognized so marked a distinction between his plays taken from English history and those treating other historical subjects (whether ancient or modern) that, Shakespeare and the national historical drama. while they included the latter among the tragedies at large, they grouped the former as histories by themselves. These histories are in their literary genesis a development of the chronicle histories of Shakespeare’s predecessors and contemporaries, the taste for which had greatly increased towards the beginning of his own career as a dramatist, in accordance with the general progress of national life and sentiment in this epoch. Though it cannot be assumed that Shakespeare composed his several dramas from English history in the sequence of the chronology of their themes, his genius gave to the entire series an inner harmony, and a continuity corresponding to that which is distinctive of the national life, such as not unnaturally inspired certain commentators with the wish to prove it a symmetrically constructed whole. He thus brought this peculiarly national species to a perfection which made it difficult, if not impossible, for his later contemporaries and successors to make more than an occasional addition to his series. None of them was, however, found able or ready to take up the thread where Shakespeare had left it, after perfunctorily attaching the present to the past by a work (probably not all his own) which must be regarded as the end rather than the crown of the series of his histories. But to furnish such supplements accorded little with the tastes and tendencies of the later Elizabethans; and with the exception of an isolated work, the national historical drama in Shakespeare reached at once its perfection and its close. The ruder form of the old chronicle history for a time survived the advance made upon it; but the efforts in this field of T. Heywood, S. Rowley, and others are, from a literary point of view, anachronisms.
Of Shakespeare’s other plays the several groups exercised a more direct influence upon the general progress of our dramatic literature. His Roman tragedies, though following their authorities with much the same fidelity as that of the English histories, even more effectively taught the great lesson of free dramatic treatment of historic themes, and thus pre-eminently became the perennial models of the modern historic drama. His tragedies on other subjects, which necessarily admitted of a more absolute freedom of treatment, established themselves as the examples for all time of the highest kind of tragedy. Where else is exhibited with the same fulness the struggle between will and obstacle, character and circumstance? Where is mirrored with equal power and variety the working of those passions in the mastery of which over man lies his doom? Here, above all, Shakespeare as compared with his predecessors, as well as with his successors, “is that nature which they paint and draw.” He threw open to modern tragedy a range of hitherto unknown breadth and depth and height, and emancipated the national drama in its noblest forms from limits to which it could never again restrict itself without a consciousness of having renounced its enfranchisement. Happily for the variety of his creative genius on the English stage, no divorce had been proclaimed between the serious and the comic, and no division of species had been established such as he himself ridicules as pedantic when it professes to be exhaustive. The comedies of Shakespeare accordingly refuse to be tabulated in deference to any method of classification deserving to be called precise; and several of them are comedies only according to a purely technical use of the term. In those in which the instinct of reader or spectator recognizes the comic interest to be supreme, it is still of its nature incidental to the progress of the action; for the criticism seems just, as well as in agreement with what we can conclude as to Shakespeare’s process of construction, that among all his comedies not more than a single one is in both design and effect a comedy of character proper. Thus in this direction, while the unparalleled wealth of his invention renewed or created a whole gallery of types, he left much to be done by his successors; while the truest secrets of his comic art, which interweaves fancy with observation, draws wisdom from the lips of fools, and imbues with character what all other hands would have left shadowy, monstrous or trivial, are among the things inimitable belonging to the individuality of his poetic genius.
The influences of Shakespeare’s diction and versification upon those of the English drama in general can hardly be overrated, though it would be next to impossible to state them definitely. In these points, Shakespeare’s manner as a writer was progressive; and this progress has been deemed sufficiently well traceable in his plays to be used as an aid in seeking to determine His style and its influence. their chronological sequence. The general laws of this progress accord with those of the natural advance of creative genius; artificiality gives way to freedom, and freedom in its turn submits to a greater degree of regularity and care. In versification as in diction the earliest and the latest period of Shakespeare’s dramatic writing are more easily recognizable than what lies between and may be called the normal period, the plays belonging to which in form most resemble one another, and are least affected by distinguishable peculiarities—such as the rhymes and intentionally euphuistic colouring of style which characterize the earliest, or the feminine endings of the lines and the more condensed manner of expression common to the latest of his plays. But, such distinctions apart, there can be no doubt but that in verse and in prose alike, Shakespeare’s style, so far as it admitted of reproduction, is itself to be regarded as the norm of that of the Elizabethan drama; that in it the prose form of English comedy possesses its first accepted model; and that in it the chosen metre of the English versified drama established itself as irremovable unless at the risk of an artificial experiment.
The assertion may seem paradoxical, that it is by their construction that Shakespeare’s plays exerted the most palpable influence upon the English drama, as well as upon the modern drama of the Germanic nations in general, Influence of his method of construction. and upon such forms of the Romance drama as have been in more recent times based upon it. For it was not in construction that his greatest strength lay, or that the individuality of his genius could raise him above the conditions under which he worked in common with his immediate predecessors and contemporaries. Yet the fact that he accepted these conditions, while producing works of matchless strength and of unequalled fidelity to the demands of nature and art, established them as inseparable from the Shakespearian drama—to use a term which is perhaps unavoidable but has been often misapplied. The great and irresistible demand on the part of Shakespeare’s public was for incident—a demand which of itself necessitated a method of construction different from that of the Greek drama, or of those modelled more or less closely upon it. To no other reason is to be ascribed the circumstance that Shakespeare so constantly combined two actions in the course of a single play, not merely supplementing the one by means of the other as a bye- or under-plot. In no respect is the progress of his technical skill as a dramatist more apparent,—a proposition which a comparison of plays clearly ascribable to successive periods of his life must be left to prove.
Should it, however, be sought to express in one word the greatest debt of the drama to Shakespeare, this word must be the same as that which expresses his supreme gift as a dramatist. It is in characterization—in the drawing His characters. of characters ranging through almost every type of humanity which furnishes a fit subject for the tragic or the comic art—that he remains absolutely unapproached; and it was in this direction that he pointed the way which the English drama could not henceforth desert without becoming untrue to itself. It may have been a mere error of judgment which afterwards held him to have been surpassed by others in particular fields of characterization (setting him down, forsooth, as supremely excellent in male, but not in female, characters). But it was a sure sign of decay when English writers began to shrink from following him in the endeavour to make the drama a mirror of humanity, and when, in self-condemned arrogance, they thrust unreality back upon a stage which he had animated with the warm breath of life, where Juliet had blossomed like a flower of spring, and where Othello’s noble nature had suffered and sinned.
By the numerous body of poets who, contemporary with Shakespeare or in the next generation, cultivated the wide field of the national drama, every form commending itself to the tastes and sympathies of the national genius was essayed. None were neglected except those from which the spirit of English literature had been estranged by the Reformation, and those which had from the first been artificial importations of the Forms of the later Elizabethan drama. Renaissance. The mystery could not in England, as in Spain, produce such an aftergrowth as the auto, and the confines of the religious drama were only now and then tentatively touched. The direct imitations of classical examples were, except perhaps in the continued efforts of the academical drama, few and feeble. Chapman, while resorting to use of narrative in tragedy and perhaps otherwise indebted to ancient models, was no follower of them in essentials. S. Daniel (1562-1619) may be regarded as a belated disciple of Seneca, while experiments like W. Alexander’s (afterwards earl of Stirling) Monarchicke Tragedies (1603-1605) are the mere isolated efforts of a student, and more exclusively so than Milton’s imposing Samson Agonistes, which belongs to a later date (1677). At the opposite end of the dramatic scale, the light gaiety of the Italian and French farce could not establish itself on the English popular stage without more substantial adjuncts; the Englishman’s festive digestion long continued robust, and The pastoral drama. he liked his amusements solid. In the pastoral drama and the mask, however, many English dramatists found special opportunities for the exercise of their lyrical gifts and of their inventive powers. The former could never become other than an exotic, so long as it retained the artificial character of its origin. Shakespeare had accordingly only blended elements derived from it into the action of his romantic comedies. In more or less isolated works Jonson, Fletcher, Daniel, Randolph, and others sought to rival Tasso and Guarini—Jonson coming nearest to nationalizing an essentially foreign growth by the fresh simplicity of his treatment, Fletcher bearing away the palm for beauty of poetic execution; Daniel being distinguished by simpler beauties of style in both verse and prose.
The mask (or masque) was a more elastic kind of composition, mixing in varying proportions its constituent elements of declamation and dialogue, music and dancing, decoration and scenery. In its least elaborate literary form—which, The mask. of course, externally was the most elaborate—it closely approached the pageant; in other instances the distinctness of its characters or the fulness of the action introduced into its scheme, brought it nearer to the regular drama. A frequent ornament of Queen Elizabeth’s progresses, it was cultivated with increased assiduity in the reign of James I., and in that of his successor outshone, by the favour it enjoyed with court and nobility, the attractions of the regular drama itself. Most of the later Elizabethan dramatists contributed to this species, upon which Shakespeare expended the resources of his fancy only incidentally in the course of his dramas; but by far the most successful writer of masks was Ben Jonson, of whose numerous compositions of this kind many hold a permanent place in English poetic literature, and “next” whom, in his own judgment, “only Fletcher and Chapman could write a mask.” From a poetic point of view, however, they were at least rivalled by Dekker and Ford; in productivity and favour T. Campion, who was equally eminent as poet and as musician, seems for a time to have excelled. Inasmuch, however, as the history of the mask in England is to a great extent that of “painting and carpentry” and of Inigo Jones, and as, moreover, this kind of piece, while admitting dramatic elements, is of its nature occasional, it need not further be pursued here. The Microcosmus of T. Nabbes (printed 1637), which is very like a morality, seems to have been the first mask brought upon the public stage. It was the performance of a mask by Queen Henrietta Maria and her ladies at Whitehall which had some years previously (1632) been thought to have supplied to the invective of Histrio-Mastix against the stage the occasion for disloyal innuendo; and it was for the performance of a mask in a great nobleman’s castle that Milton—a Puritan of a very different cast—not long afterwards (1634) wrote one of the loftiest and loveliest of English poems. Comus has been judged and condemned as a drama—unjustly, for the dramatic qualities of a mask are not essential to it as a species. Yet its history in England remains inseparably connected with that of the Elizabethan drama. In later times the mask merged into the opera, or continued a humble life of its own apart from contact with higher literary effort. It is strange that later English poets should have done so little to restore to its nobler uses, and to invest with a new significance, a form so capable of further development as the poetic mask.
The annals of English drama proper in the period reaching from the closing years of Elizabeth to the outbreak of the great Revolution include, together with numerous names relatively insignificant, many illustrious in the The later Elizabethan drama. history of our poetic literature. Among Shakespeare’s contemporaries and successors there is, however, but one who by the energy of his genius, not less than by the circumstances of his literary career, reached undisputed primacy among his fellows. Ben Jonson, to whom in his latter days a whole generation of younger writers did filial homage as to their veteran chief, was alone in full truth the founder of a school or family of dramatists. Yet his pre-eminence did not (whatever he or his followers may have thought) extend to both branches of the regular drama. In tragedy he fell short of the highest success; the weight of his learning lay too heavily upon his efforts to draw from deeper sources than those which had sufficed for Shakespeare. Such as they are, his tragic works stand almost, though not quite, alone in this period as examples of sustained effort in historic tragedy proper. G. Chapman treated stirring themes, more especially from modern French history, always with vigour, and at times with genuine effectiveness; but, though rich in beauties of detail, he failed in this branch of the drama to follow Shakespeare even at a distance in the supreme art of fully developing a character by means of the action. Mention has been made above of Ford’s isolated effort in the direction of historic tragedy, as well as of excursions into the still popular domain of the chronicle history by T. Heywood, Dekker and others, which cannot be regarded as anything more than retrogressions. With the great body of the English dramatists of this and of the next period, tragedy had passed into a phase where its interest depended mainly upon plot and incident. The romantic tragedies and tragi-comedies which crowd English literature in this period constitute together a growth of at first sight astonishing exuberance, and in mere externals of theme—ranging as these plays do from Byzantium to ancient Britain, and from the Caesars of ancient Rome to the tyrants of the Renaissance—of equally astonishing variety. The sources from which these subjects were derived had been perennially augmenting. Besides Italian, Spanish and French fiction, original or translated, besides British legend in its Romance dress, and English fiction in its humbler or in its more ambitious and artificial forms, the contemporary foreign drama, especially the Spanish, offered opportunities for resort. To the English, as to the French and Italian drama, of both this and the following century, the prolific dramatists clustering round Lope de Vega and Calderon, and the native or naturalized fictions from which they drew their materials supplied a whole arsenal of plots, incidents and situations—among others to Middleton, to Webster, and most signally to Beaumont and Fletcher. And, in addition to these resources, a new field of supply was at hand since English dramatists had begun to regard events and episodes of domestic life as fit subjects for tragic treatment. Domestic tragedy of this description was indeed no novelty on the English stage; Shakespeare himself may have retouched with his master-hand more than one effort of this kind; but T. Heywood may be set down as the first who achieved any work of considerable literary value of this class, to which some of the plays of T. Dekker, T. Middleton, and others likewise more or less belong. Yet, in contrast to this wide variety of sources, and consequent apparent variety of themes, the number of motives employed—at least as a rule—in the tragic drama of this period was comparatively small and limited. Hence it is that, notwithstanding the diversity of subjects among the tragic dramas of such writers as Marston, Webster, Fletcher, Ford and Shirley, an impression of sameness is left upon us by a connected perusal of these works. Scheming ambition, conjugal jealousy, absolute female devotion, unbridled masculine passion—such are the motives which constantly recur in the Decameron of our later Elizabethan drama. And this impression is heightened by the want of moderation, by the extravagance of passion, which these dramatists so habitually exhibit in the treatment of their favourite themes. All the tragic poets of this period are not equally amenable to this charge; in J. Webster, master as he is of the effects of the horrible, and in J. Ford, surpassingly seductive in his sweetness, the monotony of exaggerated passion is broken by those marvellously sudden and subtle touches through which their tragic genius creates its most thrilling effects. Nor will the tendency to excess of passion which F. Beaumont and J. Fletcher undoubtedly exhibit be confounded with their distinctive power of sustaining tenderly pathetic characters and irresistibly moving situations in a degree unequalled by any of their contemporaries—a power seconded by a beauty of diction and softness of versification which for a time raised them to the highest pinnacle of popular esteem, and which entitles them in their conjunction, and Fletcher as an independent worker, to an enduring pre-eminence among their fellows. In their morals Beaumont and Fletcher are not above the level of their age. The manliness of sentiment and occasionally greater width of outlook which ennoble the rhetorical genius of P. Massinger, and the gift of poetic illustration which entitles J. Shirley to be remembered not merely as the latest and the most fertile of this group of dramatists, have less direct bearing upon the general character of the tragic art of the period. The common features of the romantic tragedy of this age are sufficiently marked; but they leave unobscured the distinctive features in its individual writers of which a discerning criticism has been able to take note.
In comedy, on the other hand, the genius and the insight of Jonson pointed the way to a steady and legitimate advance. His theory of “humours” (which found the most palpable expression in two of his earliest plays), if translated into the ordinary language of dramatic art, signifies the paramount importance in the comic drama of the presentation of distinctive human types. As such it survived by name into the Restoration age and cannot be said to have ever died out. In the actual reproduction of humanity in its infinite but never, in his hands, alien variety, it was impossible that Shakespeare should be excelled by Jonson; but in the consciousness with which he recognized and indicated the highest sphere of a comic dramatist’s labours, he rendered to the drama a direct service which the greater master had left unperformed. By the rest of his contemporaries and his successors, some of whom, such as R. Brome, were content avowedly to follow in his footsteps, Jonson was only occasionally rivalled in individual instances of comic creations; in the entirety of its achievements his genius as a comic dramatist remained unapproached. The favourite types of Jonsonian comedy, to which Dekker, J. Marston and Chapman had, though to no large extent, added others of their own, were elaborated with incessant zeal and remarkable effect by their contemporaries and successors. It was after a very different fashion from that in which the Roman comedians reiterated the ordinary types of the New Attic comedy, that the inexhaustible verve of T. Middleton, the buoyant productivity of Fletcher, the observant humour of N. Field, and the artistic versatility of Shirley—not to mention many later and not necessarily minor names—mirrored in innumerable pictures of contemporary life the undying follies and foibles of mankind. As comedians of manners more than one of these surpassed the old master, not indeed in distinctness and correctness—the fruits of the most painstaking genius that ever fitted a learned sock to the representation of the living realities of life—but in a lightness not incompatible with sureness of touch; while in the construction of plots the access of abundant new materials, and the greater elasticity in treatment resulting from accumulated experience, enabled them to advance from success to success. Thus the comic dramatic literature from Jonson to Shirley is unsurpassed as a comedy of manners, while as a comedy of character it at least defies comparison with any other national literary growth preceding or contemporaneous with it. Though the younger generation, of which W. Cartwright may be taken as an example, was unequal in originality or force to its predecessors, yet so little exhausted was the vitality of the species, that its traditions survived the interregnum of the Revolution, and connected themselves more closely than is sometimes assumed with later growths of English comedy.
Such was also the case with a special growth which had continued side by side, but in growing frequency of contact, with the progress of the national drama. The academical drama of the later Elizabethan period and The later academical drama. of the first two Stuart reigns by no means fell off either in activity or in variety from that of the preceding generations. At Oxford, after an apparent break of several years—though in the course of these one or two new plays, including a Tancred by Sir Henry Wotton at Queen’s, seem to have been produced—a long succession of English plays, some in Latin doubtless from time to time intervening, were performed, from the early years of the 17th century onwards to the dark days of the national theatre and beyond. The production of these plays was distributed among several colleges, among which the most conspicuously active were Christ Church and St John’s, where a whole series of festal performances took place under the collective title of The Christmas Prince (i.e. master of the Christmas revels). They included a wide variety of pieces, from the treatment by an author unnamed of the story of “Ovid’s owne Narcissus” (1602) and S. Daniel’s Queen’s Arcadia (1606) to Barten Holiday’s Technogamia (1618), a complicated allegory on the relations between the arts and sciences quite in the manner of the moralities; interspersed by romantic dramas of the ordinary contemporary type by T. Goffe (1591-1629), W. Cartwright, J. Maine (1604-1672) and others. At Cambridge the list of Latin and English academical plays, performed in the latter half of Elizabeth’s reign at Trinity, St John’s, Queen’s and a few other colleges, contains several examples in each language which for one reason or another possess a special interest. Thus E. Forsett’s Pedantius, probably acted at Trinity in 1581, ridicules a personage who lived very near the rose—the redoubtable Gabriel Harvey; a Laelia, acted at Queen’s in 1590 and again in 1598, resembles Twelfth Night in part of its plot; while in Silvanus, performed in 1596, probably at St John’s, there are certain striking similarities to As You Like It. These are in Latin, as are the comedies Hispanus (containing some curious allusions to the Armada, Drake and Dr Lopez) and Machiavellus, acted at St John’s in 1597. By far the most interesting of the English plays of the later Cambridge series, and, it may be averred, of the remains of the English academical drama as a whole, are the Parnassus Plays (q.v.), successively produced at St John’s in 1598-1602, which illustrate with much truthfulness as well as fancy the relations between university life and the outside world, including the world of letters and of the stage. Upon a different, but also a very notable, aspect of English university life—the relations between town and gown—a partisan light is thrown by Club-Law, acted at Clare in 1599—and in G. Ruggle’s celebrated Latin comedy of Ignoramus, twice acted by members of Clare at Trinity in 1615 before King James I. On one of these occasions were also produced in English T. Tomkis’ comedy Albumazar (a play absurdly attributed to Shakespeare), and Phineas Fletcher’s Sicelides, a “piscatory” (i.e. a pastoral drama in which the place of the shepherds is taken by fishermen). Latin and English plays continued to be brought out in Cambridge till the year of the outbreak of the Civil War, T. Randolph and A. Cowley being among the authors of some of the latest so produced; and with the Restoration the usage recommenced, the Adelphi of Terence and other Latin comedies being performed as they had been a century earlier. A complete survey and classification of the English academical drama, for which the materials are at last being collected and compared, will prove of an importance which is only beginning to be recognized to the future historian of the English drama.
To return to the general current of that drama. The rivals against which it had to contend in the times with which its greatest epoch came to an end have in their turn been noticed. From the masks and triumphs at court and The stage. at the houses of the nobility, with their Olympuses and Parnassuses built by Inigo Jones, and filled with goddesses and nymphs clad in the gorgeous costumes designed by his inventive hand, to the city pageants and shows by land and water—from the tilts and tournaments at Whitehall to the more philosophical devices at the Inns of Court and the academical plays at the universities—down even to the brief but thrilling theatrical excitements of Bartholomew Fair and the “Ninevitical motions” of the puppets—in all these ways the various sections of the theatrical public were tempted aside. Foreign performers—French and Spanish actors, and even French actresses—paid visits to London. But the national drama held its ground. The art of acting maintained itself at least on the level to which it had been brought by Shakespeare’s associates and contemporaries, Burbage and Heminge, Alleyn, Lewin, Taylor, and others “of the older sort.” The profession of actor came to be more generally than of old separated from that of playwright, though they were still (as in the case of Field) occasionally combined. But this rather led to an increased appreciation of the artistic merit of actors who valued the dignity of their own profession and whose co-operation the authors learnt to esteem as of independent significance. The stage was purged from the barbarism of the old school of clowns. Women’s parts were still acted by boys, many of whom attained to considerable celebrity; and a practice was thus continued which must assuredly have placed the English theatre at a considerable disadvantage as compared with the Spanish (where it never obtained), and which may, while it has been held to have facilitated freedom of fancy, more certainly encouraged the extreme licence of expression cherished by the dramatists. The arrangement of the stage, which facilitated a rapid succession of scenes without any necessity for their being organically connected with one another, remained essentially what it had been in Shakespeare’s days; though the primitive expedients for indicating locality had begun to be occasionally exchanged for scenery more or less appropriate to the place of action. Costume was apparently cultivated with much greater care; and the English stage of this period had probably gone a not inconsiderable way in a direction to which it is obviously in the interests of the dramatic art to set some bounds, if it is to depend for its popular success upon its qualities as such, and upon the interpretation of its agents upon the stage. At the same time, the drama had begun largely to avail itself of adventitious aids to favour. The system of prologues and epilogues, and of dedications to published plays, was more uniformly employed than it had been by Shakespeare as the conventional method of recommending authors and actors to the favour of individual patrons, and to that of their chief patron, the public.
Up to the outbreak of the Civil War the drama in all its forms continued to enjoy the favour or good-will of the court, although a close supervision was exercised over all attempts to make the stage the vehicle of political The drama and Puritanism. references or allusions. The regular official agent of this supervision was the master of the revels; but under James I. a special ordinance, in harmony with the king’s ideas concerning the dignity of the throne, was passed “against representing any modern Christian king in plays on the stage.” The theatre could hardly expect to be allowed a liberty of speech in reference to matters of state denied to the public at large; and occasional attempts to indulge in the freedom of criticism dear to the spirit of comedy met with more or less decisive repression and punishment. But the sympathies of the dramatists were so entirely on the side of the court that the real difficulties against which the theatre had to contend came from a directly opposite quarter. With the growth of Puritanism the feeling of hostility to the stage increased in a large part of the population, well represented by the civic authorities of the capital. This hostility found many ways of expressing itself. The attempts to suppress the Blackfriars theatre (1619, 1631, 1633) proved abortive; but the representation of stage-plays continued to be prohibited on Sundays, and during the prevalence of the plague in London in 1637 was temporarily suspended altogether. The desire of the Puritans of the more pronounced type openly aimed at a permanent closing of the theatres. The war between them and the dramatists was accordingly of a life-and-death kind. On the one hand, the drama heaped its bitterest and often coarsest attacks upon whatever savoured of the Puritan spirit; gibes, taunts, caricatures in ridicule and aspersion of Puritans and Puritanism make up a great part of the comic literature of the later Elizabethan drama and of its aftergrowth in the reigns of the first two Stuarts. This feeling of hostility, to which Shakespeare was no stranger, though he cannot be connected with the authorship of one of its earliest and coarsest expressions, rose into a spirit of open defiance in some of the masterpieces of Ben Jonson; and the comedies of his contemporaries and successors abound in caricatured reproductions of the more common or more extravagant types of Puritan life. On the other hand, the moral defects, the looseness of tone, the mockery of ties sanctioned by law and consecrated by religion, the tendency to treat middle-class life as the hunting-ground for the diversions of the upper classes, which degraded so much of the dramatic literature of the age, intensified the Puritan opposition to all and any stage plays. A patient endeavour to reform instead of suppressing the drama was not to be looked for from such adversaries, should they ever possess the means of carrying out their views; and whenever Puritanism should victoriously assert itself in the state, the stage was doomed. Among the attacks directed against it in its careless heyday of prosperity Prynne’s Histrio-Mastix (1632), while it involved its author in shamefully cruel persecution, did not remain wholly without effect upon the tone of the dramatic literature of the subsequent period; but the quarrel between Puritanism and the theatre was too old and too deep to end in any but one way, so soon as the latter was deprived of its Closing of the theatres. protectors. The Civil War began in August 1642; and early in the following month was published the ordinance of the Lords and Commons, which, after a brief and solemn preamble, commanded “that while these sad causes and set-times of humiliation do continue, public stage plays shall cease and be forborne.” Many actors and playwrights followed the fortunes of the royal cause in the field; some may have gone into a more or less voluntary exile; upon those who lingered on in the familiar haunts the hand of power lay heavy; and, though there seems reason to believe that dramatic entertainments of one kind or another continued to be occasionally presented, stringent ordinances gave summary powers to magistrates against any players found engaged in such proceedings (1647), and bade them treat all stage-players as rogues, and pull down all stage galleries, seats and boxes (1648). A few dramatic works were published in this period; while at fairs about the country were acted farces called “drolls,” consisting of the most vulgar scenes to be found in popular plays. Thus, the life of the drama was not absolutely extinguished; and its darkest day proved briefer than perhaps either its friends or its foes could have supposed.
Already “in Oliver’s time” private performances took place from time to time at noblemen’s houses and (though not undisturbed) in the old haunt of the drama, the Red Bull. In 1656 the ingenuity of Sir William Davenant Revival of the drama. whose name (though not really so significant in the dramatic as in another field of English literature) is memorable as connecting together two distinct periods in it, ventured on a bolder step in the production of a quasi-dramatic entertainment “of declamation and music”; and in the following year he brought out with scenery and music a piece which was afterwards in an enlarged form acted and printed as the first part of his opera, The Siege of Rhodes. This entertainment he afterwards removed from the private house where it had been produced to the Cockpit, where he soon ventured upon the performance of regular plays written by himself. Thus, under the cover of two sister arts, whose aid was in the sequel to prove by no means altogether beneficial to its progress, the English drama had boldly anticipated the Restoration, and was no longer hiding its head when that much-desired event was actually brought about. Soon after Charles II.’s entry into London, two theatrical companies are known to have been acting in the capital. For these companies patents were soon granted, under the names of “the Duke (of York)’s” and “the King’s Servants,” to Davenant and one of the brothers Killigrew respectively—the former from 1662 acting at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, then at Dorset Garden in Salisbury Court, the latter from 1663 at the Theatre Royal near Drury Lane. These companies were united from 1682, a royal licence being granted in 1695 to a rival company which performed in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and which migrated to Covent Garden in 1733. Meanwhile, Vanbrugh had in 1705 built the theatre in the Haymarket; and a theatre in Goodman’s Fields—afterwards rendered famous by the first appearance of Garrick—led a fitful existence from 1729 to 1733. The act of 1737 deprived the crown of the power of licensing any more theatres; so that the history of the English stage for a long period was confined to a restricted area. The rule which prevailed after the Restoration, that neither of the rival companies should ever attempt a play produced by the other, operated beneficially both upon the activity of dramatic authorship and upon the progress of the art of acting, which was not exposed to the full effects of that deplorable spirit of personal rivalry which too often leads even most intelligent actors to attempt parts for which they have no special qualification. There can be little doubt that the actor’s art has rarely flourished more in England than in the days of T. Betterton and his contemporaries, among whose names those of Hart, Mohun, Kynaston, Nokes, Mrs Barry, Mrs Betterton, Mrs Bracegirdle and Mrs Eleanor Gwyn have, together with many others, survived in various connexions among the memories of the Restoration age. No higher praise has ever been given to an actor than that which Addison bestowed upon Betterton, in describing his performance of Othello as a proof that Shakespeare could not have written the most striking passages of the character otherwise than he has done.
It may here be noticed that the fortunes of the Irish theatre in general followed those of the English, of which of course it was merely a branch. Of native dramatic compositions in earlier times not a trace remains in Ireland; and the The Irish stage. drama was introduced into that country as an English exotic—apparently already in the reign of Henry VIII., and more largely in that of Elizabeth. The first theatre in Dublin was built in 1635; but in 1641 it was closed, and even after the Restoration the Irish stage continued in a precarious condition till near the end of the century. About that time an extraordinarily strong taste for the theatre took possession of Irish society, and during the greater part of the 18th century the Dublin stage rivalled the English in the brilliancy of its stars. Betterton’s rival, R. Wilks, Garrick’s predecessor in the homage paid to Shakespeare, Macklin, and his competitor for favour, the “silver-tongued” Barry, were alike products of the Irish stage, as were Mrs Woffington and other well-known actresses. Nor should it be forgotten that three of the foremost English writers of comedy in its later days, Congreve, Farquhar and Sheridan, were Irish, the first by education, and the latter two by birth also.
Already in the period preceding the outbreak of the Civil War the English drama had perceptibly sunk from the height to which it had been raised by the great Elizabethans. When it had once more recovered possession of that The later Stuart drama. arena with which no living drama can dispense, it would have been futile to demand that the dramatists should return altogether into the ancient paths, unaffected by the influences, native or foreign, in operation around them. But there was no reason why the new drama should not, like the Elizabethan, have been true in spirit to the higher purposes of the dramatic art, to the nobler tendencies of the national life, and to the demands of moral law. Because the later Stuart drama as a whole proved untrue to these, and, while following its own courses, never more than partially returned from the aberrations to which it condemned itself, its history is that of a decay which the indisputable brilliancy, borrowed or original, of many of its productions is incapable of concealing.
Owing in part to the influence of the French theatre, which by this time had taken the place of the Spanish as the ruling drama of Europe, the separation between tragedy and comedy is clearly marked in post-Restoration plays. Tragedy. Comic scenes are still occasionally introduced into tragedies by some dramatists who adhered more closely to the Elizabethan models (such as Otway and Crowne), but the practice fell into disuse; while the endeavour to elevate comedy by pathetic scenes and motives is one of the characteristic marks of the beginning of another period in English dramatic literature. The successive phases through which English tragedy passed in the later Stuart times cannot be always kept distinct from one another; and the guidance offered by the theories put forth by some of the dramatists in support of their practice is often delusive. Following the example of Corneille, Dryden and his contemporaries and successors were fond of proclaiming their adherence to this or that principle of dramatic construction or form, and of upholding, with much show of dialectical acumen, maxims derived by them from French or other sources, or elaborated with modifications and variations of their own, but usually amounting to little more than what Scott calls “certain romantic whimsical imitations of the dramatic art.” Students of the drama will find much entertainment and much instruction in these prefaces, apologies, dialogues and treatises. They will acknowledge that Dryden’s incomparable vigour does not desert him either in the exposing or in the upholding of fallacies, while le bon sens, which he hardly ever fails to exhibit, and which is a more eclectic gift than common-sense, serves as a sure guide to the best intelligence of his age. Even Rymer, usually regarded as having touched the nadir of dramatic criticism, will be found to be not wholly without grains of salt. But Restoration tragedy itself must not be studied by the light of Restoration criticism. So long as any dramatic power remained in the tragic poets—and it is absent from none of the chief among them from Dryden to Rowe—the struggle between fashion (disguised as theory) and instinct (tending in the direction of the Elizabethan traditions) could never wholly determine itself in favour of the former.
Lord Orrery, in deference, as he declares, to the expressed tastes of his sovereign King Charles II. himself, was the first to set up the standard of heroic plays. This new species of tragedy (for such it professed to be) commended itself by its novel choice of themes, to a large extent supplied by recent French romance—the romans de longue haleine of the Scudérys and their contemporaries—and by French plays treating similar themes. It likewise borrowed from France that garb of rhyme which the English drama had so long abandoned, and which now reappeared in the heroic couplet. But the themes which to readers of novels might seem of their nature inexhaustible could not long suffice to satisfy the more capricious appetite of theatrical audiences; and the form, in the application which it was more or less sought to enforce for it, was doomed to remain an exotic. In conjunction with his brother-in-law Sir R. Howard, and afterwards more confidently by himself, Dryden threw the incomparable vigour and brilliancy of his genius into the scale, which soon rose to the full height of fashionable popularity. At first he claimed for English tragedy the right to combine her native inheritance of freedom with these valuable foreign acquisitions. Nor was he dismayed by the ridicule which the celebrated burlesque (by the duke of Buckingham and others) of The Rehearsal (1671) cast upon heroic plays, without discriminating between them and such other materials for ridicule as the contemporary drama supplied to its facetious authors, but returned to the defence of a species which he was himself in the end to abandon. The desire for change proved stronger than the love of consistency—which in Dryden was never more than theoretical. After summoning tragedy to rival the freedom (without disdaining the machinery) of opera—with whose birth its own revival was as a matter of fact simultaneous—he came to recognize in characterization the truest secret of the master-spirit of the Elizabethan drama, and after audaciously, but in one instance not altogether unhappily, essaying to rival Shakespeare on his own ground, produced under the influence of the same views at least one work of striking merit. But he was already growing weary of the stage itself as well as of the rhymed heroic drama; and, though he put an end to the species to which he had given temporary vitality, he failed effectively to point the way to a more legitimate development of English tragedy. Among the other tragic poets of this period, N. Lee, in the outward form of his dramas, accommodated his practice to that of Dryden, with whom he occasionally co-operated as a dramatist, and like whom he allowed political partisanship to intrude upon the stage. His rhetorical genius was not devoid of genuine energy, nor is he to be regarded as a mere imitator. T. Otway, the most gifted tragic poet of the younger generation contemporary with Dryden, inherited something of the spirit of the Elizabethan drama; he possessed a real gift of tragic pathos and melting tenderness; but his genius had a worse alloy than stageyness, and, though he was often happy in his novel choice of themes, his most successful efforts fail to satisfy tests supplementary to that of the stage. Among dramatists who contributed to the vogue of the “heroic” play may be mentioned J. Bankes, J. Weston, C. Hopkins, E. Cooke, R. Gould, S. Pordage, T. Rymer and Elkanah Settle. The productivity of J. Crowne (d. c. 1703) covers part of the earlier period as well as of the later, to which properly belong T. Southerne, a writer gifted with much pathetic power, but probably chiefly indebted for his long-lived popularity to his skill in the discovery of “sensational” plots; and Lord Lansdowne (“Granville the polite”) (c. 1667-1735). Congreve, by virtue of a single long celebrated but not really remarkable tragedy, and N. Rowe, may be further singled out from the list of the tragic dramatists of this period, many of whom were, like their comic contemporaries, mere translators or adapters from the French. The tragedies of Rowe, whose direct services to the study of Shakespeare deserve remembrance, indicate with singular distinctness the transition from the fuller declamatory style of Dryden to the calmer and thinner manner of Addison. In tragedy (as to a more marked degree in comedy) the excesses (both of style and subject) of the past period of the English drama had produced an inevitable reaction; decorum was asserting its claims on the stage as in society; and French tragedy had set the example of sacrificing what passion—and what vigour—it retained in favour of qualities more acceptable to the “reformed” court of Louis XIV. Addison, in allowing his Cato to take its chance upon the stage, when a moment of political excitement (April 1713) ensured to it an extraordinary success, to which no feature in it corresponds, except an unusual number of lines predestined to become familiar quotations, unconsciously sealed the doom of English national tragedy. The “first reasonable English tragedy,” as Voltaire called it, had been produced, and the oscillations of the tragic drama of the Restoration were at an end.
English comedy in this period displayed no similar desire to cut itself off from the native soil, though it freely borrowed the materials for its plots and many of its figures from Spanish, and afterwards more generally from French, Comedy. originals. The spirit of the old romantic comedy had long since fled; the graceful artificialities of the pastoral drama, even the light texture of the mask, ill suited the demands of an age which made no secret to itself of the grossness of its sensuality. With a few unimportant exceptions, such poetic elements as admitted of being combined with the poetic drama were absorbed by the opera and the ballet. No new species of the comic drama formed itself, though towards the close of the period may be noticed the beginnings of modern English farce. Political and religious partisanship, generally in accordance with the dominant reaction against Puritanism, were allowed to find expression in the directest and coarsest forms upon the stage, and to hasten the necessity for a more systematic control than even the times before the Revolution had found requisite. At the same time the unblushing indecency which the Restoration had spread through court and capital had established its dominion over the comic stage, corrupting the manners, and with them the morals, of its dramatists, and forbidding them, at the risk of seeming dull, to be anything but improper. Much of this found its way even into the epilogues, which, together with the prologues, proved so important an adjunct of the Restoration drama. These influences determine the general character of what is with a more than chronological meaning termed the comedy of the Restoration. In construction, the national love of fulness and solidity of dramatic treatment induced its authors to alter what they borrowed from foreign sources, adding to complicated Spanish plots characters of native English directness, and supplementing single French plots by the addition of others. At the same time, the higher efforts of French comedy of character, as well as the refinement of expression in the list of their models, notably in Molière, were alike seasoned to suit the coarser appetites and grosser palates of English patrons. The English comic writers often succeeded in strengthening the borrowed texture of their plays, but they never added comic humour without at the same time adding coarseness of their own. Such were the productions of Sir George Etheredge, Sir Charles Sedley, and the “mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease”; nor was there any signal difference between their productions and those of a playwright-actor such as J. Lacy (d. 1681), and a professional dramatist of undoubted ability such as J. Crowne. Such, though often displaying the brilliancy of a genius which even where it sank could never wholly abandon its prerogative, were, it must be confessed, the comedies of Dryden himself. On the other hand, the lowest literary deeps of the Restoration drama were sounded by T. D’Urfey, while of its moral degradation the “divine Astraea,” the “unspeakable” Mrs Aphra Behn, has an indefeasible title to be considered the most faithful representative. T. Shadwell, fated, like the tragic poet Elkanah Settle, to be chiefly remembered as a victim of Dryden’s satire, deserves more honourable mention. Like J. Wilson, whose plays seem to class him with the pre-Restoration dramatists, Shadwell had caught something not only of the art, but also of the spirit, of Ben Jonson; but in most of his works he was, like the rest of his earlier contemporaries, and like the brilliant group which succeeded them, content to take his moral tone from the reckless society for which, or in deference to the tastes of which, he wrote. The absence of a moral sense, which, together with a grossness of expression often defying exaggeration, characterizes English comic dramatists from the days of Dryden to those of Congreve, is the main cause of their failure to satisfy the demands which are legitimately to be made upon their art. They essayed to draw character as well as to paint manners, but they rarely proved equal to the former and higher task; and, while choosing the means which most readily commended their plays to the favour of their immediate public, they achieved but little as interpreters of those essential distinctions which their art is capable of illustrating. Within these limits, though occasionally passing beyond them, and always with the same deference to the immoral tone which seemed to have become an indispensable adjunct of the comic style, even the greatest comic authors of this age moved. W. Wycherley was a comic dramatist of real power, who drew his characters with vigour and distinctness, and constructed his plots and chose his language with natural ease. He lacks gaiety of spirit, and his wit is of a cynical turn. But, while he ruthlessly uncloaks the vices of his age, his own moral tone is affected by their influence in as marked a degree as that of the most light-hearted of his contemporaries. The most brilliant of these was indisputably W. Congreve, who is not only one of the very wittiest of English writers, but equally excels in the graceful ease of his dialogue, and draws his characters and constructs his plots with the same masterly skill. His chief fault as a dramatist is one of excess—the brilliancy of the dialogue, whoever be the speaker, overpowers the distinction between the “humours” of his personages. Though he is less brutal in expression than “manly” Wycherley, and less coarse than the lively Sir J. Vanbrugh, licentiousness in him as in them corrupts the spirit of his comic art; but of his best though not most successful play it must be allowed that the issue of the main plot is on the side of virtue. G. Farquhar, whose morality is on a par with that of the other members of this group, is inferior to them in brilliancy; but as pictures of manners in a wider sphere of life than that which contemporary comedy usually chose to illustrate, two of his plays deserve to be noticed, in which we already seem to be entering the atmosphere of the 18th-century novel. His influence upon Lessing is a remarkable fact in the international history of dramatic literature.
The improvement which now begins to manifest itself in the moral tone and spirit of English comedy is partly due to the reaction against the reaction of the Restoration, partly to the punishment which the excesses of the comic stage had brought upon it in the invective of Jeremy Collier (1698), of all the assaults the theatre in England has had to undergo the best-founded, Sentimental comedy. and that which produced the most perceptible results. The comic poets, who had always been more or less conscious of their sins, and had at all events not defended them by the ingenious sophistries which it has pleased later literary criticism to suggest on their behalf, now began with uneasy merriment to allude in their prologues to the reformation which had come over the spirit of the town. Writers like Mrs Centlivre became anxious to reclaim their offenders with much emphasis in the fifth act; and Colley Cibber—whose Apology for his Life furnishes a useful view of this and the subsequent period of the history of the stage, with which he was connected as author, manager and actor (excelling in this capacity as representative of those fools with which he peopled the comic stage)—may be credited with having first deliberately made the pathetic treatment of a moral sentiment the basis of the action of a comic drama. But he cannot be said to have consistently pursued the vein which in his Careless Husband (1704) he had essayed. His Non-Juror is a political adaptation of Tartuffe; and his almost equally celebrated Provoked Husband only supplied a happy ending to Vanbrugh’s unfinished play. Sir R. Steele, in accordance with his general tendencies as a writer, pursued a still more definite moral purpose in his comedies; but his genius perhaps lacked the sustained vigour necessary for a dramatist, and his humour naturally sought the aid of pathos. From partial he passed to more complete experiment; and thus these two writers, who transplanted to the comic stage a tendency towards the treatment of domestic themes noticeable in such writers of Restoration tragedy as Southerne and Rowe, became the founders of sentimental comedy, a species which exercised a most depressing influence upon the progress of English drama, and helped to hasten the decline of its comic branch. With Cato English tragedy committed suicide, though its pale ghost survived; with The Conscious Lovers English comedy sank for long into the tearful embraces of artificiality and weakness.
During the 18th century the productions of dramatic literature were still as a rule legitimately designed to meet the demands of the stage, from which its higher efforts afterwards to so large an extent became dissociated. The goodwill The drama and stage in the period before Garrick. of most sections of the public continued to be steadily accorded to a theatre which had ceased to defy the accepted laws and traditions of morality; and the opposition still aroused by it was confined to a small minority of thinkers, though these included some who were far from being puritans. John Dennis was not thought to have the worst of the controversy, when he defended the stage against the attack of an opponent far above him in stature—the great mystic William Law—and to John Wesley himself it seemed that “a great deal more might be said in defence of seeing a serious tragedy” than of taking part in the amusements of bear-baiting and cock-fighting. On the other hand, the demands of the stage and those of its patrons and of the public of the “Augustan” age, and of that which succeeded it, were, in general, fast bound by the trammels of a taste with which a revival of the poetic drama long remained irreconcilable. There is every reason to conclude that the art of acting progressed in the same direction of artificiality, and became stereotyped in forms corresponding to the “chant” which represented tragic declamation in a series of actors ending with Quin and Macklin. In the latter must be recognized features of a precursor, but it was reserved to the genius of Garrick, whose Garrick. theatrical career extended from 1741 to 1776, to open a new era in his art. His unparalleled success was due in the first instance to his incomparable natural gifts; yet these were indisputably enhanced by a careful and continued literary training, and ennobled by a purpose which prompted him to essay the noblest, as he was capable of performing the most various, range of English theatrical characters. By devoting himself as actor and manager with special zeal to the production of Shakespeare, Garrick permanently popularized on the national stage the greatest creations of English drama, and indirectly helped to seal the doom of what survived of the tendency to maintain in the most ambitious walks of dramatic literature the nerveless traditions of the pseudo-classical school. A generation of celebrated actors and actresses, many of whom live for us in the drastic epigrams of Churchill’s Rosciad (1761), were his helpmates or his rivals; but their fame has paled, while his is destined to endure as that of one of the typical masters of his art.
The contrast between the tragedy of the 18th century and those plays of Shakespeare and one or two other Elizabethans which already before Garrick were known to the English stage, was weakened by the mutilated form Decline of tragedy. in which the old masterpieces generally, if not always, made their appearance there. Even so, however, there are perhaps few instances in theatrical history in which so unequal a competition was so long sustained. In the hands of the tragic poets of the age of Pope, as well as that of Johnson, tragedy had hopelessly stiffened into the forms of its accepted French models. Direct reproductions of these continued, as in Ambrose Philips’s and Charles Johnson’s (1679-1748) translations from Racine, and Aaron Hill’s from Voltaire. Among other tragic dramatists of the earlier part of the century may be mentioned J. Hughes, who, after assisting Addison in his Cato, produced at least one praiseworthy tragedy of his own; E. Fenton, a joint translator of “Pope’s Homer” and the author of one extremely successful drama on a theme of singularly enduring interest, and L. Theobald the first hero of the Dunciad, who, besides translations of Greek dramas, produced a few more or less original plays, one of which he was daring enough to father upon Shakespeare. A more distinguished name is that of J. Thomson, whose unlucky Sophonisba and subsequent tragedies are, however, barely remembered by the side of his poems (The Seasons, &c.). The literary genius of E. Young, on the other hand, possessed vigour and variety enough to distinguish his tragedies from the ordinary level of Augustan plays; in one of them he seems to challenge comparison in the treatment of his theme with a very different rival, but by his main characteristics as a dramatist he belongs to the school of his contemporaries. The endeavour of G. Lillo, in his London Merchant, or George Barnwell (1731), to bring the tragic lessons of terror and pity directly home to his fellow-citizens exercised an extraordinarily widespread as well as enduring effect on the history of the 18th-century drama. At home, they gave birth to the new, or, more properly speaking, to the revived, species of domestic tragedy, which connects itself more or less closely with a notable epoch in the history of English prose-fiction as well as of English painting. Abroad, this play—whose success was of the kind which nothing can kill—supplied the text to the teachings of Diderot, as well as an example to his own dramatic attempts; and through Diderot the impulse communicated itself to Lessing, and long exercised a great effect upon the literature of the German stage. At the same time, it must be allowed that Lillo’s pedestrian muse failed in the end to satisfy higher artistic demands than those met in his most popular play, while in another she was less consciously guilty of an aberration towards that “tragedy of destiny,” which, in the modern drama at least, obscures the ethical character of all tragic actions. “Classical” tragedy in the generation of Dr Johnson pursued the even tenor of its way, the dictator himself treading with solemn footfall in the accustomed path, and W. Mason making the futile attempt to produce a close imitation of Greek models. The best-remembered tragedy of the century, Home’s Douglas (1757), was the production of an author whose famous kinsman, David Hume (though no friend of the contemporary English stage), had advised him “to read Shakespeare, but to get Racine and Voltaire by heart.” The indisputable merits of the play cannot blind us to the fact that Douglas is the offspring of Merope.
While thus no high creative talent arose to revive the poetic genius of English tragedy, comedy, which had to contend against the same rivals, naturally met the demands of the conflict with greater buoyancy. The history of English opera. the most formidable of those rivals, Music, forms no part of this sketch; but the points of contact between its progress and the history of dramatic literature cannot be altogether left out of sight. H. Purcell’s endeavours to unite English music to the words of English poets were now a thing of the past; analogous attempts in the direction of musical dialogue, which have been insufficiently noticed, had likewise proved transitory; and the isolated efforts of Addison and others to recover the operatic stage for the native tongue had proved powerless. Italian texts, which had first made their entrance piecemeal, in the end asserted themselves in their entirety; and the marvellously assimilative genius of Handel completed the triumphs of a form of art which no longer had any connexion with the English drama, and which reached the height of its fashionable popularity about the time when Garrick began to adorn the national stage. In one form, however, the English opera was preserved as a pleasing species of the popular drama. The pastoral drama had (in 1725) produced an isolated aftergrowth in Allan Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd, which, with genuine freshness and humour, but without a trace of burlesque, transferred to the scenery of the Pentland Hills the lovely tale of Florizel and Perdita. The dramatic form of this poem is only an accident, but it doubtless suggested an experiment of a different kind to the most playful of London wits. Gay’s “Newgate Pastoral” of The Beggar’s Opera (1728), in which the amusing text of a burlesque farce was interspersed with songs set to popular airs, caught the fancy of the town by this novel combination, and became the ancestor of a series of agreeable productions, none of which, however, not even its own continuation, Polly (amazingly successful in book form, after its production was forbidden by the lord chamberlain), have ever rivalled it in success or celebrity. Among these may be mentioned the pieces of I. Bickerstaffe and C. Dibdin. The opera in England, as elsewhere, thus absorbed what vitality remained to the pastoral drama, while to the ballet and the pantomime (whose glories in England began at Covent Garden in 1733, and to whose popularity even Garrick was obliged to defer) was left (in the 18th century at all events) the inheritance of the external attractions of the mask and the pageant.
In the face of such various rivalries it is not strange that comedy, instead of adhering to the narrow path which Steele and others had marked out for her, should have permitted herself some vagaries of her own. Gay’s Comedy. Burlesque. example pointed the way to a fatally facile form of the comic art; and burlesque began to contribute its influence to the decline of comedy. In an age when party-government was severely straining the capabilities of its system, dramatic satire had not far to look for a source of effective seasonings. The audacity of H. Fielding, whose regular comedies (original or adapted) have secured no enduring remembrance, but whose love of parody was afterwards to suggest to him the theme of the The Licensing Act. first of the novels which have made his name immortal, accordingly ventured in two extravaganzas (so we should call them in these days) upon a larger admixture of political with literary and other satire. A third attempt (which never reached the stage) furnished the offended minister, Sir Robert Walpole, with the desired occasion for placing a curb upon the licence of the theatre, such as had already been advocated by a representative of its old civic adversaries. The famous act of 1737 asserted no new principle, but converted into legal power the customary authority hither exercised by the lord chamberlain (to whom it had descended from the master of the revels). The regular censorship which this act established has not appreciably affected the literary progress of the English drama, and the objections which have been raised against it seem to have addressed themselves to practice rather than to principle. The liberty of the stage is a question differing in its conditions from that of the liberty of speech in general, or even from that of the liberty of the press; and occasional lapses of official judgment weigh lightly in the balance against the obvious advantages of a system which in a free country needs only the vigilance of public opinion to prevent its abuse. The policy of the restraint which the act of 1737 put upon the number of playhouses is a different, but has long become an obsolete, question.
Brought back into its accustomed grooves, English comedy seemed inclined to leave to farce the domain of healthy ridicule, and to coalesce with domestic tragedy in the attempt to make the stage a vehicle of homespun didactic Comedy in the latter half of the 18th century. morality. Farce had now become a genuine English species, and has as such retained its vitality through all the subsequent fortunes of the stage; it was actively cultivated by Garrick as both actor and author; and he undoubtedly had more than a hand in the very best farce of this age, which is ascribed to clerical authorship. S. Foote, whose comedies and farces are distinguished both by wit and by variety of characters (though it was an absurd misapplication of a great name to call him the English Aristophanes), introduced into comic acting the abuse of personal mimicry, for the exhibition of which he ingeniously invented a series of entertainments, the parents of a long progeny of imitations. Meanwhile, the domestic drama of the sentimental kind achieved, though not immediately, a success only inferior to that of The London Merchant, in The Gamester of E. Moore, to which Garrick seems to have directly contributed; and sentimental comedy courted sympathetic applause in the works of A. Murphy, the single comedy of W. Whitehead, and the earliest of H. Kelly. It cannot be said that this species was extinguished, as it is sometimes assumed to have been, by O. Goldsmith; but he certainly published a direct protest against it between the production of his admirable character-comedy of The Good-Natured Man, and his delightfully brisk and fresh She Stoops to Conquer, which, after startling critical propriety from its self-conceit, taught comedy no longer to fear being true to herself. The most successful efforts of the elder G. Colman had in them something of the spirit of genuine comedy, besides a finish which, however playwrights may shut their eyes to the fact, is one of the qualities which ensure a long life to a play. And in the masterpieces of R. B. Sheridan some of the happiest features of the comedy of Congreve were revived, together with its too uniform brilliancy of dialogue, but without its indecency of tone. The varnish of the age is indeed upon the style, and the hollowness of its morality in much of the sentiment (even where that sentiment is meant for the audience) of The Rivals and The School for Scandal; but in tact of construction, in distinctness of characters, and in pungency of social satire, they are to be ranked among the glories of English comedy. Something in Sheridan’s style, but quite without his brilliancy, is the most successful play of the unfortunate General Burgoyne. R. Cumberland, who too consciously endeavoured to excel both in sentimental morality and in comic characterization, in which he was devoid of depth, closes the list of authors of higher pretensions who wrote for the theatre. Like him, Mrs Cowley (“Anna Matilda”), T. Holcroft, and G. Colman the younger, all writers of popular comedies, as well as the prolific J. O’Keefe (1746-1833), who contributed to nearly every species of the comic drama, survived into the 19th century. To an earlier date belong the favourite burlesques of O’Keefe’s countryman K. O’Hara (d. 1782), good examples of a species the further history of which may be left aside. In the hands of at least one later writer, J. R. Planché, it proved capable of satisfying a more refined taste than his successors have habitually consulted.
The decline of dramatic composition of the higher class, perceptible in the history of the English theatre about the beginning of the 19th century, was justly attributed by Sir Walter Scott to the wearing out of the French The English drama of the 19th century. model that had been so long wrought upon; but when he asserted that the new impulse which was sought in the dramatic literature of Germany was derived from some of its worst, instead of from its noblest, productions—from Kotzebue rather than from Lessing, Schiller and Goethe—he showed a very imperfect acquaintance with a complicated literary movement which was obliquely reflected in the stage-plays of Iffland and his contemporaries. The change which was coming over English literature was in truth of a wider and deeper nature than it was possible for even one of its chief representatives to perceive. As that literature freed itself from the fetters so long worn by it as indispensable ornaments, and threw aside the veil which had so long obscured both the full glory of its past and the lofty capabilities of its future, it could not resort except tentatively to a form which like the dramatic is bound by a hundred bonds to the life of the age itself. Soon, the poems with which Scott and Byron, and the unrivalled prose fictions with which Scott, both satisfied and stimulated the imaginative demands of the public, diverted the attention of the cultivated classes from dramatic literature, which was unable to escape, with the light foot of verse or prose fiction, into “the new, the romantic land.” New themes, new ideas, new forms occupied a new generation of writers and readers; nor did the drama readily lend itself as a vessel into which to pour so many fermenting elements. In Byron the impressions produced upon a mind not less open to impulses from without than subjective in its way of recasting them, called forth a series of dramatic attempts betraying a more or less wilful ignorance of the demands of dramatic compositions; his beautiful Manfred, partly suggested by Goethe’s Faust, and his powerful Cain, have but the form of plays; his tragedies on Italian historical subjects show some resemblance in their political rhetoric to the contemporary works of Alfieri; his Sardanapalus, autobiographically interesting, fails to meet the demands of the stage; his Werner (of which the authorship has been ascribed to the duchess of Devonshire) is a hastily dramatized sensation novel. To Coleridge (1772-1834), who gave to English literature a splendidly loose translation of Schiller’s Wallenstein, the same poet’s Robbers (to which Wordsworth’s only dramatic attempt, the Borderers, is likewise indebted) had probably suggested the subject of his tragedy of Osorio, afterwards acted under the title of Remorse. Far superior to this is his later drama of Zapolya, a genuine homage to Shakespeare, out of the themes of two of whose plays it is gracefully woven. Scott, who in his earlier days had translated Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen, gained no reputation by his own dramatic compositions. W. S. Landor, apart from those Imaginary Conversations upon which he best loved to expend powers of observation and characterization such as have been given to few playwrights, cast in a formally dramatic mould studies of character of which the value is far from being confined to their wealth in beauties of detail. Of these the magnificent, but in construction altogether undramatic, Count Julian, is the most noteworthy. Shelley’s The Cenci, on the other hand, is not only a poem of great beauty, but a drama of true power, abnormally revolting indeed in theme, but singularly pure and delicate in treatment. A humbler niche in the temple of dramatic literature belongs to some of the plays of C. R. Maturin, Sir T. N. Talfourd, and Dean Milman.
Divorced, except for passing moments, from the stage, English dramatic literature could during much the greater part of the 19th century hardly be regarded as a connected national growth; though, already in the last decades of the Victorian age, the revival of public interest in the theatre co-operated with a gradual change in poetic taste to awaken the hope of a future living reunion. Among English poets who lived in this period, Sir Henry Taylor probably approached nearest to the objective treatment and the amplitude of style characteristic of the Elizabethan drama. R. H. Horne, long an almost solitary survivor of the romantic school, was able in at least one memorable dramatic attempt to revive something of the early Elizabethan spirit. Of the chief poets of the age, Tennyson only in his later years addressed himself to a form of composition little suited to his genius, though the very fact of the homage paid by him to the national forms of the historic drama and of romantic comedy could not fail to ennoble the contemporary stage. Matthew Arnold’s stately revival of the traditions of classical tragedy proper, on the other hand, deliberately excluded itself from any such contact; while Longfellow’s refined literary culture and graceful facility of form made ready use of a quasi-dramatic medieval vesture. William Morris’s single “morality,” too, cannot be regarded as a contribution to dramatic literature proper. Of very different importance are the excursions into dramatic composition of Robert Browning, whose place in the living inheritance of the English drama has in one instance at least been not unsuccessfully vindicated by a later age, and some of whose greatest gifts are beyond a doubt displayed in his dramatic work; and the sustained endeavours of A. C. Swinburne, after adding a flower of exquisite beauty to the wreath which the lovers of the Attic muse have laid at her feet, to enrich the national historic drama by a trilogy instinct with the ardent eloquence of passion. Until a date too near the times in which we live to admit of its being fixed with precision, most of the English writers who sought to preserve a connexion between their dramatic productions and the demands of the stage addressed themselves to the theatrical rather than the literary public—for the distinction, in those times at all events, was by no means without a difference. The modestly simple and judiciously concentrated efforts of Joanna Baillie deserve a respectful remembrance in the records of literature as well as of the stage, though the day has passed when the theory which suggested her Plays on the Passions could find acceptance among critics, or her exemplifications of it satisfy the demands of playgoers. Sheridan Knowles, on the other hand, composed his conventional semblances of genuine tragedy and comedy with a thorough knowledge of stage effect, and some of them can hardly yet be said to have vanished from the stage. The first Lord Lytton, though his plays were for the most part of a lighter texture, showed even more artificiality of sentiment in their conception and execution; but the romantic touch which he imparted to at least one of them accounts for its long-lived popularity. Among later Victorian playwrights T. W. Robertson brought back a breath of naturalness into the acted comic drama; Tom Taylor, rivalling Lope in fertility, made little pretence to original invention, but adapted with an instinct that rarely failed him, and materially helped to keep the theatrical diversions of his age sound and pure; an endeavour in which he had the co-operation of Charles Reade and that of most of those who competed with them for the favour of generations of playgoers more easily contented than their successors. The one deplorable aspect of this age of the English drama was to be found neither in the sphere of tragedy nor in that of comedy—nor even in that of farce. It was presented in the low depths of contemporary burlesque, which had degenerated from the graceful extravaganza of J. R. Planché into witless and tasteless emptiness.
Curiously enough, it was at this point that something like real originality—discovering a new sub-species of its own—first began, with the aid of a sister-art, to renovate the English popular comic stage. At the beginning of the 19th century the greatest tragic actress of the English theatre, Mrs Siddons, had passed her prime; and before its second decade had closed, not only she (1812) but her brother John Kemble (1817), the representative of a grand style of acting which later generations might conceivably find overpowering, had withdrawn from the boards. Mrs Siddons was soon followed into retirement by her successor Miss O’Neill (1819); while Kemble’s brilliant later rival, Edmund Kean, an actor the intuitions of whose genius seem to have supplied, so far as intuition ever can supply, the absence of a consecutive self-culture, remained on the stage till his death in 1833. Young, Macready, and others handed down some of the traditions of the older school of acting to the very few artists who remained to suggest its semblance to a later generation. Even these—among them S. Phelps, whose special merit it was to present to a later age, accustomed to elaborate theatrical environments, dramatic masterpieces as dependent upon themselves and adequate interpretation; and the foremost English actress of the earlier Victorian age, Helen Faucit (Lady Martin)—were unable to leave a school of acting behind them. Still less was this possible to Charles Kean the younger, with whom the decorative production of Shakespearian plays really had its beginning; or even to Sir Henry Irving, an actor of genius, but also an irrepressible and almost eccentric theatrical personality, whose great service to the English drama was his faith in its masterpieces. The comic stage was fortunate in an ampler aftergrowth, from generation to generation, of the successors of the old actors who live for us all in the reminiscences of Charles Lamb; nor were the links suddenly snapped which bound the humours of the present to those of the past. In the first decade of the 20th century a generation still survived which could recall, with many other similar joys, the brilliant levity of Charles Mathews the younger; the not less irresistible stolidity of J. B. Buckstone; the solemn fooling of H. Compton (1805-1877); the subtle humours of J. L. Toole, and the frolic charm of Marie Wilton (Lady Bancroft), the most original comic actress of her time.
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The outlook was in many ways far from encouraging. It was not quite so black, indeed, as it had been in the late ’fifties and early ’sixties, when the “legitimate” enterprises of Phelps at Sadler’s Wells and Charles Kean at the Princess’s had failed to hold their ground, and when modern comedy and drama were represented almost exclusively by adaptations from the French. There had been a slight stirring of originality in the series of comedies produced by T. W. Robertson at the Prince of Wales’s theatre, where, under the management of Bancroft (q.v.) a new school of mounting and acting, minutely faithful (in theory at any rate) to everyday reality, had come into existence. But the hopes of a revival of English comedy seemed to have died with Robertson’s death. One of his followers, James Albery, possessed both imagination and wit, but had not the strength of character to do justice to his talent, and sank into a mere adapter. In the plays of another disciple, H. J. Byron, the Robertsonian or “cup-and-saucer” school declined upon sheer inanity. Of the numerous plays signed by Tom Taylor some were original in substance, but all were cast in the machine-made French mould. Wilkie Collins, in dramatizing some of his novels, produced somewhat crude anticipations of the modern “problem play.” The literary talent of W. S. Gilbert displayed itself in a group of comedies both in verse and prose; but Gilbert saw life from too peculiar an angle to represent it otherwise than fantastically. The Robertsonian impulse seemed to have died utterly away, leaving behind it only five or six very insubstantial comedies and a subdued, unrhetorical method in acting. This method the Bancrofts proceeded to apply, during the ’seventies, to revivals of stage classics, such as The School for Scandal, Money and Masks and Faces, and to adaptations from the French of Sardou.
While the modern drama appeared to have relapsed into a comatose condition, poetic and romantic drama was giving some signs of life. At the Lyceum in 1871 Henry Irving had leapt into fame by means of his performance of Mathias in The Bells, an adaptation from the French of Erckmann-Chatrian. He followed this up by an admirably picturesque performance of the title-part in Charles I. by W. G. Wills. In the autumn of 1874 the great success of Irving’s Hamlet was hailed as the prelude to a revival of tragic acting. As a matter of fact, it was the prelude to a long series of remarkable achievements in romantic drama and melodrama. Irving’s lack of physical and vocal resources prevented him from scaling the heights of tragedy, and his Othello, Macbeth, and Lear could not be ranked among his successes; but he was admirable in such parts as Richard III., Shylock, Iago and Wolsey, while in melodramatic parts, such as Louis XI. and the hero and villain of The Lyons Mail, he was unsurpassed. Mephistopheles in a version of Faust (1885), perhaps the greatest popular success of his career, added nothing to his reputation for artistic intelligence; but on the other hand his Becket in Tennyson’s play of that name (1893) was one of his most masterly efforts. His management of the Lyceum (1878-1899) did so much to raise the status of the actor and to restore the prestige of poetic drama, that the knighthood conferred upon him in 1895 was felt to be no more than an appropriate recognition of his services. But his managerial career had scarcely any significance for the living English drama. He seldom experimented with a new play, and, of the few which he did produce, only The Cup and Becket by Lord Tennyson have the remotest chance of being remembered.
To trace the history of the new English drama, then, we must go back to the Prince of Wales’s theatre. Even while it seemed that French comedy of the school of Scribe was resuming its baneful predominance, the seeds of a new order of things were slowly germinating. Diplomacy, an adaptation of Sardou’s Dora, produced in 1878, brought together on the Prince of Wales’s stage Mr and Mrs Bancroft, Mr and Mrs Kendal, John Clayton and Arthur Cecil—in other words, the future managers of the Haymarket, the St James’s and the Court theatres, which were destined to see the first real stirrings of a literary revival. Mr and Mrs Kendal, who, in conjunction with John Hare, managed the St James’s theatre from 1879 to 1888, produced A. W. Pinero’s first play of any consequence, The Money-Spinner (1881), and afterwards The Squire (1882) and The Hobby Horse (1887). The Bancrofts, who, after entirely rebuilding the Haymarket theatre, managed it from 1880 till their retirement in 1885, produced in 1883 Pinero’s Lords and Commons; and Messrs Clayton and Cecil produced at the Court theatre between 1885 and 1887 his three brilliant farces, The Magistrate, The Schoolmistress and Dandy Dick, which, with the sentimental comedy, Sweet Lavender, produced at Terry’s theatre in 1888, assured his position as an original and fertile dramatic humorist of no small literary power. It is to be noted, however, that Pinero was almost the only original playwright represented under the Bancroft, Hare-Kendal and Clayton-Cecil managements, which relied for the rest upon adaptations and revivals. Adaptations of French vaudevilles were the staple productions of Charles Wyndham’s management at the Criterion from its beginning in 1876 until 1893, when he first produced an original play of any importance. When Herbert Beerbohm Tree went into management at the Haymarket in 1887, he still relied largely on plays of foreign origin. George Alexander’s first managerial ventures (Avenue theatre, 1890) were two adaptations from the French. Until well on in the ’eighties, indeed, adaptation from the French was held the normal occupation of the British playwright, and original composition a mere episode. Robertson, Byron, Albery, Gilbert, Tom Taylor, Charles Reade, Herman Merivale, G. W. Godfrey, all produced numerous adaptations; Sydney Grundy was for twenty years occupied almost exclusively in this class of work; Pinero himself has adapted more than one French play. The ’eighties, then, may on the whole be regarded as showing a very gradual decline in the predominance of France on the English stage, and an equally slow revival of originality, so far as comedy and drama were concerned, manifesting itself mainly in the plays of Pinero.
The reaction against French influence, however, was no less apparent in the domain of melodrama and operetta than in that of comedy and drama. Until well on in the ’seventies, D’Ennery and his disciples, adapted and imitated by Dion Boucicault and others, ruled the melodramatic stage. The reaction asserted itself in two quarters—in the East End at the Grecian theatre, and in the West End at the Princess’s. In The World, produced at Drury Lane in 1880, Paul Meritt (d. 1895) and Henry Pettitt (d. 1893) brought to the West End the “Grecian” type of popular drama; and at Drury Lane it survived in the elaborately spectacular form imparted to it by Sir Augustus Harris, who managed that theatre from 1879 till his death in 1896. The production of G. R. Sims’s Lights o’ London at the Princess’s in 1881, under Wilson Barrett’s management, also marked a new departure. This style of melodrama was chiefly cultivated at the Adelphi theatre, from 1882 until the end of the century, when it died out there as a regular institution, apparently because a host of suburban theatres drew away its audiences. Of all these English melodramas, only one, The Silver King, by Henry Arthur Jones (Princess’s, 1882), could for a moment compare in invention or technical skill with the French dramas they supplanted. The fact remains, however, that even on this lowest level of dramatic art the current of the time set decisively towards home-made pictures of English life, however crude and puerile.
For twenty-five years, from 1865 to 1890, the English stage was overrun with French operettas of the school of Offenbach. Hastily adapted by slovenly hacks, their librettos (often witty in the original) became incredible farragos of metreless doggrel and punning ineptitude. The great majority of them are now so utterly forgotten that it is hard to realize how, in their heyday, they swarmed on every hand in London and the provinces. The reaction began in 1875 with the performance at the Royalty theatre of Trial by Jury, by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. This was the prelude to that brilliant series of witty and melodious extravaganzas which began with The Sorcerer at the Opera Comique theatre in 1877, but was mainly associated with the Savoy theatre, opened by R. D’Oyly Carte (d. 1901) in 1881. Little by little the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas (of which the most famous, perhaps, were H.M.S. Pinafore, 1878, Patience, 1881, and The Mikado, 1885) undermined the popularity of the French opera-bouffes, and at the same time that of the indigenous “burlesques” which, graceful enough in the hands of their inventor J. R. Planché, had become mere incoherent jumbles of buffoonery, devoid alike of dramatic ingenuity and of literary form. When, early in the ’nineties, the collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan became intermittent, and the vogue of the Savoy somewhat declined, a new class of extravaganza arose, under the designation of “musical comedy” or “musical farce.” It first took form in a piece called In Town, by Messrs “Adrian Ross” and Osmond Carr (Prince of Wales’s theatre, 1892), and rapidly became very popular. In these plays the scene and costumes are almost always modern though sometimes exotic, and the prose dialogue, setting forth an attenuated and entirely negligible plot, is frequently interrupted by musical numbers. The lyrics are often very clever pieces of rhyming, totally different from the inane doggrel of the old opera-bouffes and burlesques. In other respects there is little to be said for the literary or intellectual quality of “musical farce”; but, being an entirely English (or Anglo-American) product, it falls into line with the other indications we have noted of the general decline—one might almost say extinction—of French influence on the English stage.
To what causes are we to trace this gradual disuse of adaptation? In the domain of modern comedy and drama, to two causes acting simultaneously: the decline in France of the method of Scribe, which produced “well-made,” exportable plays, more or less suited to any climate and environment; and the rise in England of a generation of playwrights more original, thoughtful and able than their predecessors. It is not at all to be taken for granted that the falling off in the supply of exportable plays meant a decline in the absolute merit of French drama. The historian of the future may very possibly regard the movement in France, no less than the movement in England, as a step in advance, and may even see in the two movements co-ordinate manifestations of one tendency. Be this as it may, the fact is certain that as the playwrights of the Second Empire gradually died off, and were succeeded by the authors of the “new comedy,” plays which would bear transplantation became ever fewer and farther between. Of recent years Henri Bernstein, author of Le Voleur and Samson, has been almost the only French dramatist whose works have found a ready and steady market in England. Attempts to acclimatize French poetical drama—Pour la Couronne, Le Chemineau, Cyrano de Bergerac—were all more or less unsuccessful.
Having noted the decline of adaptation, we may now trace a stage farther the development of the English drama. The first stage, already surveyed, ends with the production of Sweet Lavender in 1888. Up to this point its author, Pinero (b. 1855), stood practically alone, and had won his chief successes as a humorist. Henry Arthur Jones (b. 1851) was known as little more than an able melodramatist, though in one play, Saints and Sinners (1884), he had made some attempt at a serious study of provincial life. R. C. Carton (b. 1856) had written, in collaboration, one or two plays of slight account. Sydney Grundy (b. 1848) had produced scarcely any original work. The second stage may be taken as extending from 1889 to 1893. On the 24th of April 1889 John Hare opened the new Garrick theatre with The Profligate, by Pinero—an unripe and superficial piece of work in many ways, but still a great advance, both in ambition and achievement, upon any original work the stage had seen for many a year.
With all its faults, it may be said that The Profligate notably enlarged at one stroke the domain open to the English dramatist. And it did not stand alone. The same year saw the production of two plays by H. A. Jones, Wealth and The Middleman, in which a distinct effort towards a serious criticism of life was observable, and of two plays by Sydney Grundy, A Fool’s Paradise and A White Lie, which, though very French in method, were at least original in substance. Jones during the next two years made a steady advance with Judah (1890), The Dancing Girl and The Crusaders (1891). Pinero in these years was putting forth less than his whole strength in The Cabinet Minister (1890), Lady Bountiful and The Times (1891), and The Amazons (March 1893). But meanwhile new talents were coming forward. The management of George Alexander, which opened at the Avenue theatre in 1890, but was transferred in the following year to the St James’s, brought prominently to the front R. C. Carton, Haddon Chambers and Oscar Wilde. Carton’s two sentimental comedies, Sunlight and Shadow (1890) and Liberty Hall (1892), showed excellent workmanship, but did not yet reveal his true originality as a humorist. Haddon Chambers’s work (notably The Idler, 1891) was as yet sufficiently commonplace; but in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) Oscar Wilde showed himself at his first attempt a brilliant and accomplished dramatist. Wilde’s subsequent plays, A Woman of No Importance (1893) and An Ideal Husband and The Importance of being Earnest (1895), though marred by mannerism and insincerity, did much to promote the movement we are here tracing.
As the production of The Profligate marked the opening of the second period in the revival of English drama, so the production of the same author’s The Second Mrs Tanqueray is very clearly the starting-point of the third period. Before attempting to trace its course we may do well to glance at certain conditions which probably influenced it.
In the first place, economic conditions. The Bancroft-Robertson movement at the old Prince of Wales’s, between 1865 and 1870, was of even more importance from an economic than from a literary point of view. By making their little theatre a luxurious place of resort, and faithfully imitating in their productions the accent, costume and furniture of upper and upper-middle class life, the Bancrofts had initiated a reconciliation between society and the stage. Throughout the middle decades of the century it was the constant complaint of the managers that the world of wealth and fashion could not be tempted to the theatre. The Bancroft management changed all that. It was at the Prince of Wales’s that half-guinea stalls were first introduced; and these stalls were always filled. As other theatres adopted the same policy of upholstery, both on and off the stage, fashion extended its complaisance to them as well. In yet another way the reconciliation was promoted—by the ever-increasing tendency of young men and women of good birth and education to seek a career upon the English stage. The theatre, in short, became at this period one of the favourite amusements of fashionable (though scarcely of intellectual) society in London. It is often contended that the influence of the sensual and cynical stall audience is a pernicious one. In some ways, no doubt, it is detrimental; but there is another side to the case. Even the cynicism of society marks an intellectual advance upon the sheer rusticity which prevailed during the middle years of the 19th century and accepted without a murmur plays (original and adapted) which bore no sort of relation to life. In a celebrated essay published in 1879, Matthew Arnold (whose occasional dramatic criticisms were very influential in intellectual circles) dwelt on the sufficiently obvious fact that the result of giving English names and costumes to French characters was to make their sayings and doings utterly unreal and “fantastic.” During the years of French ascendancy, audiences had quite forgotten that it was possible for the stage to be other than “fantastic” in this sense. They no longer thought of comparing the mimic world with the real world, but were content with what may be called abstract humour and pathos, often of the crudest quality. The cultivation of external realism, coinciding with, and in part occasioning, the return of society to the playhouse, gradually led to a demand for some approach to plausibility in character and action as well as in costume and decoration. The stage ceased to be entirely “fantastic,” and began to essay, however imperfectly, the representation, the criticism of life. It cannot be denied that the influence of society tended to narrow the outlook of English dramatists and to trivialize their tone of thought. But this was a passing phase of development; and cleverly trivial representations of reality are, after all, to be preferred to brainless concoctions of sheer emptiness.
Quite as important, from the economic point of view, as the reconciliation of society to the stage, was the reorganization of the mechanism of theatrical life in the provinces which took place between 1865 and 1875. From the Restoration to the middle of the 19th century the system of “stock companies” had been universal. Every great town in the three kingdoms had its established theatre with a resident company, playing the “legitimate” repertory, and competing, often by illegitimate means, for the possession of new London successes. The smaller towns, and even villages, were grouped into local “circuits,” each served by one manager with his troupe of strollers. The “circuits” supplied actors to the resident stock companies, and the stock companies served as nurseries to the patent theatres in London. Metropolitan “stars” travelled from one country theatre to another, generally alone, sometimes with one or two subordinates in their train, and were “supported,” as the phrase went, by the stock company of each theatre. Under this system, scenery, costumes and appointments were often grotesquely inadequate, and performances almost always rough and unfinished. On the other hand, the constant practice in a great number and variety of characters afforded valuable training for actors, and developed many remarkable talents. As a source of revenue to authors, the provinces were practically negligible. Stageright was unprotected by law; and even if it had been protected, it is doubtful whether authors could have got any considerable fees out of country managers, whose precarious ventures usually left them a small enough margin of profit.
The spread of railways throughout the country gradually put an end to this system. The “circuits” disappeared early in the ’fifties, the stock companies survived until about the middle of the ’seventies. As soon as it was found easy to transport whole companies, and even great quantities of scenery, from theatre to theatre throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain, it became apparent that the rough makeshifts of the stock company system were doomed. Here again we can trace to the old Prince of Wales’s theatre the first distinct impulse towards the new order of things. Robertson’s comedies not only encouraged but absolutely required a style of art, in mounting, stage-management and acting, not to be found in the country theatres. To entrust them to the stock companies was well-nigh impossible. On the other hand, to quote Sir Squire Bancroft, “perhaps no play was ever better suited than Caste to a travelling company; the parts being few, the scenery and dresses quite simple, and consequently the expenses very much reduced.” In 1867, then, a company was organized and rehearsed in London to carry round the provincial theatres as exact a reproduction as possible of the London performance of Caste and Robertson’s other comedies. The smoothness of the representation, the delicacy of the interplay among the characters, were new to provincial audiences, and the success was remarkable. About the same time the whole Haymarket company, under Buckstone’s management, began to make frequent rounds of the country theatres; and other “touring combinations” were soon organized. It is manifest that the “combination” system and the stock company system cannot long coexist, for a manager cannot afford to keep a stock company idle while a London combination is occupying his theatre. The stock companies, therefore, soon dwindled away, and were probably quite extinct before the end of the ’seventies. Under the present system, no sooner is a play an established success in London than it is reproduced in one, two or three exact copies and sent round the provincial theatres (and the numerous suburban theatres which have sprung up since 1895), Company A serving first-class towns, Company B the second-class towns, and so forth. The process is very like that of taking plaster casts of a statue, and the provincial companies often stand to their London originals very much in the relation of plaster to marble. Even the London scenery is faithfully reproduced in material of extra strength, to stand the wear-and-tear of constant removal. The result is that, instead of the square pegs in round holes of the old stock company system, provincial audiences now see pegs carefully adjusted to the particular holes they occupy, and often incapable of fitting any other. Instead of the rough performances of old, they are now accustomed to performances of a mechanical and soulless smoothness.
In some ways the gain in this respect is undeniable, in other ways the loss is great. The provinces are no longer, in any effective sense, a nursery of fresh talents for the London theatres, for the art acquired in touring combinations is that of mimicry rather than of acting. Moreover, provincial playgoers have lost all personal interest and pride in their local theatres, which have no longer any individuality of their own, but serve as a mere frame for the presentation of a series of ready-made London pictures. Christmas pantomime is the only theatrical product that has any really local flavour in it, and even this is often only a second-hand London production, touched up with a few topical allusions. Again, the railways which bring London productions to the country take country playgoers by the thousand to London. The wealthier classes, in the Lancashire, Yorkshire and Midland towns at any rate, do almost all their theatre-going in London, or during the autumn months when the leading London companies go on tour. Thus the better class of comedy and drama has a hard fight to maintain itself in the provinces, and the companies devoted to melodrama and musical farce enjoy an ominous preponderance of popularity.
On the whole, however—and this is the main point to be observed with regard to the literary development of the drama—the economic movement of the five- and twenty years between 1865 and 1890 was enormously to the advantage of the dramatic author. A London success meant a long series of full houses at high prices, on which he took a handsome percentage. The provinces, in which a popular playwright would often have three or four plays going the rounds simultaneously, became a steady source of income. And, finally, it was found possible, even before international copyright came into force, to protect stageright in the United States, so that about the beginning of the ’eighties large receipts began to pour in from America. Thus successful dramatists, instead of living from hand to mouth, like their predecessors of the previous generation, found themselves in comfortable and even opulent circumstances. They had leisure for reading, thought and careful composition, and they could afford to gratify their ambition with an occasional artistic experiment. Failure might mean a momentary loss of prestige, but it would not spell ruin. A distinctly progressive spirit, then, began to animate the leading English dramatists—a spirit which found intelligent sympathy in such managers as John Hare, George Alexander, Beerbohm Tree and Charles Wyndham. Nor must it be forgotten that, though the laws of literary property, internal and international, remained far from perfect, it was found possible to print and publish plays without incurring loss of stageright either at home or in America. The playwrights of the present generation have accordingly a motive for giving literary form and polish to their work which was quite inoperative with their predecessors, whose productions were either kept jealously in manuscript or printed only in miserable and totally unreadable stage editions. It is no small stimulus to ambition to know that even if a play prove to be in advance of the standards of taste or thought among the public to which it is originally presented, it will not perish utterly, but will, if it have any inherent vitality, continue to live as literature.
Having now summed up the economic conditions which made for progress, let us glance at certain intellectual influences which tended in the same direction. The establishment of the Théâtre Libre in Paris, towards the close of 1887, Influence of foreign drama. unquestionably marked the beginning of a period of restless experiment throughout the theatrical world of Europe. A. Antoine and his supporters were in open rebellion against the artificial methods of Scribe and the Second Empire playwrights. Their effort was to transfer to the stage the realism, the so-called “naturalism,” which had been dominant in French fiction since 1870 or earlier; and this naturalism was doubtless, in its turn, the outcome of the scientific movement of the century. New methods (or ideals) of observation, and new views as to the history and destiny of the race, could not fail to produce a profound effect upon art; and though the modern theatre is a cumbrous contrivance, slow to adjust its orientation to the winds of the spirit, even it at last began to revolve, like a rusty windmill, so as to fill its sails in the main current of the intellectual atmosphere. Within three or four years of its inception, Antoine’s experiment had been imitated in Germany, England and America. The “Freie Bühne” of Berlin came into existence in 1889, the Independent Theatre of London in 1891. Similar enterprises were set on foot in Munich and other cities. In America several less formal experiments of a like nature were attempted, chiefly in Boston and New York. Nor must it be forgotten that in Paris itself the Théâtre Libre did not stand alone. Many other théâtres à côté sprang up, under such titles as “Théâtre d’Art,” “Théâtre Moderne,” “Théâtre de l’Avenir Dramatique.” The most important and least ephemeral was the “Théâtre de l’Œuvre,” founded in 1893 by Alex. Lugné-Poë, which represented mainly, though not exclusively, the symbolist reaction against naturalism.
The impulse which led to the establishment of the Théâtre Libre was, in the first instance, entirely French. If any foreign influence helped to shape its course, it was that of the great Russian novelists. Tolstoi’s Puissance des ténèbres was the only “exotic” play announced in Antoine’s opening manifesto. But the whole movement was soon to receive a potent stimulus from the Norwegian poet Henrik Ibsen.
Ibsen’s early romantic plays had been known in Germany since 1875. In 1878 Pillars of Society and in 1880 A Doll’s House achieved wide popularity, and held the German stage side by side with A Bankruptcy, by Björnstjerne Björnson. But these plays had little influence on the German drama. Their methods were, indeed, not essentially different from those of the French school of the Second Empire, which were then dominant in Germany as well as everywhere else. It was Ghosts (acted in Augsburg and Meiningen 1886, in Berlin 1887) that gave the impulse which, coalescing with the kindred impulse from the French Théâtre Libre, was destined in the course of a few years to create a new dramatic literature in Germany. During the middle decades of the century Germany had produced some dramatists of solid and even remarkable talent, such as Friedrich Hebbel, Heinrich Laube, Karl Gutzkow and Gustav Freytag. Even the generation which held the stage after 1870, and included Paul Heyse, Paul Lindau and Adolf Wilbrandt, with numerous writers of light comedy and farce, such as E. Wichert, O. Blumenthal, G. von Moser, A. L’Arronge and F. von Schönthan, had produced a good many works of some merit. But, in the main, French artificiality and frivolity predominated on the German stage. In point of native talent and originality, the Austrian popular playwright Ludwig Anzengruber was well ahead of his North German contemporaries. It was in 1889, with the establishment of the Berlin Freie Bühne, that the reaction definitely set in. In Berlin, as afterwards in London, Ghosts was the first play produced on the outpost stage, but it was followed in Berlin by a very rapid development of native talent. Less than a month after the performance of Ibsen’s play, Gerhart Hauptmann came to the front with Vor Sonnenaufgang, an immature piece of almost unrelieved Zolaism, which he soon followed up, however, with much more important works. In Das Friedensfest (1890) and Einsame Menschen (1891) he transferred his allegiance from Zola to Ibsen. His true originality first manifested itself in Die Weber (1892); and subsequently he produced plays in several different styles, all bearing the stamp of a potent individuality. His most popular productions have been the dramatic poems Hannele and Die versunkene Glocke, the low-life comedy Der Biberpelz, and the low-life tragedy Fuhrmann Henschel. Other remarkable playwrights belonging to the Freie Bühne group are Max Halbe (b. 1865), author of Jugend and Mutter Erde, and Otto Erich Hartleben (b. 1864), author of Hanna Jagert and Rosenmontag. These young men, however, so quickly gained the ear of the general public, that the need for a special “free stage” was no longer felt, and the Freie Bühne, having done its work, ceased to exist. Unlike the French Théâtre Libre and the English Independent theatre, it had been supported from the outset by the most influential critics, and had won the day almost without a battle. The productions of the new school soon made their way even into some of the subventioned theatres; but it was the unsubventioned Deutsches Theater of Berlin that most vigorously continued the tradition of the Freie Bühne. One or two playwrights of the new generation, however, did not actually belong to the Freie Bühne group. Hermann Sudermann produced his first play, Die Ehre, in 1888, and his most famous work, Heimat, in 1892. In him the influence of Ibsen is very clearly perceptible; while Arthur Schnitzler of Vienna, author of Liebelei, may rather be said to derive his inspiration from the Parisian “new comedy.” Originality, verging sometimes on abnormality, distinguishes the work of Frank Wedekind (b. 1864), author of Erdgeist and Frühlingserwachen. Hugo von Hofmannsthal (b. 1874), in his Elektra and Ödipus, rehandles classic themes in the light of modern anthropology and psychology.
The promoters of the Théâtre Libre had probably never heard of Ibsen when they established that institution, but three years later his fame had reached France, and Les Revenants was produced by the Théâtre Libre (29th May 1890). Within the next two or three years almost all his modern plays were acted in Paris, most of them either by the Théâtre Libre or by L’Œuvre. Close upon the heels of the Ibsen influence followed another, less potent, but by no means negligible. The exquisite tragic symbolism of Maurice Maeterlinck began to find numerous admirers about 1890. In 1891 his one-act play L’Intruse was acted; in 1893, Pelléas et Mélisande. By this time, too, the reverberation of the impulse which the Théâtre Libre had given to the Freie Bühne began to be felt in France. In 1893 Hauptmann’s Die Weber was acted in Paris, and, being frequently repeated, made a deep and lasting impression.
The English analogue to the Théâtre Libre, the Independent theatre, opened its first season (March 13, 1891) with a performance of Ghosts. This was not, however, the first introduction of Ibsen to the English stage. On the 7th of June 1889 (six weeks after the production of The Profligate) A Doll’s House was acted at the Novelty theatre, and ran for three weeks, amid a storm of critical controversy. In the same year Pillars of Society was presented in London. In 1891 and 1892 A Doll’s House was frequently acted; Rosmersholm was produced in 1891, and again in 1893; in May and June 1891 Hedda Gabler had a run of several weeks; and early in 1893 The Master Builder enjoyed a similar passing vogue. During these years, then, Ibsen was very much “in the air” in England, as well as in France and Germany. The Independent theatre, in the meantime, under the management of J. T. Grein, found but scanty material to deal with. It presented translations of Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, and of A Visit, by the Danish dramatist Edward Brandes; but it brought to the front only one English author of any note, in the person of George Bernard Shaw, whose “didactic realistic play,” Widowers’ Houses, it produced in December 1892.
None the less is it true that the ferment of fresh energy, which between 1887 and 1893 had created a new dramatic literature both in France and in Germany, was distinctly felt in England as well. England did not take at all kindly to it. The productions of Ibsen’s plays, in particular, were received with an outcry of reprobation. A great part of this clamour was due to sheer misunderstanding; but some of it, no doubt, arose from genuine and deep-seated distaste. As for the dramatists of recognized standing, they one and all, both from policy and from conviction, adopted a hostile attitude towards Ibsen, expressing at most a theoretical respect overborne by practical dislike. Yet his influence permeated the atmosphere. He had revealed possibilities of technical stagecraft and psychological delineation that, once realized, were not to be banished from the mind of the thoughtful playwright. They haunted him in spite of himself. Still subtler was the influence exerted over the critics and the more intelligent public. Deeply and genuinely as many of them disliked Ibsen’s works, they found, when they returned to the old-fashioned play, the adapted frivolity or the homegrown sentimentalism, that they disliked this still more. On every side, then, there was an instinctive or deliberate reaching forward towards something new; and once again it was Pinero who ventured the decisive step.
On the 27th of May 1893 The Second Mrs Tanqueray was produced at the St James’s theatre. With The Second Mrs Tanqueray the English acted drama ceased to be a merely insular product, and took rank in the literature of Europe. Here was a play which, whatever its faults, was obviously comparable with the plays of Dumas, of Sudermann, of Björnson, of Echegaray. It might be better than some of these plays, worse than others; but it stood on the same artistic level. The fact that such a play could not only be produced, but could brilliantly succeed, on the London stage gave a potent stimulus to progress. It encouraged ambition in authors, enterprise in managers. What Hernani was to the romantic movement of the ’thirties, and La Dame aux camélias to the realistic movement of the ’fifties, The Second Mrs Tanqueray was to the movement of the ’nineties towards the serious stage-portraiture of English social life. All the forces which we have been tracing—Robertsonian realism of externals, the leisure for thought and experiment involved in vastly improved financial conditions, the substitution in France of a simpler, subtler technique for the outworn artifices of the Scribe school, and the electric thrill communicated to the whole theatrical life of Europe by contact with the genius of Ibsen—all these slowly converging forces coalesced to produce, in The Second Mrs Tanqueray, an epoch-marking play.
Pinero followed up Mrs Tanqueray with a remarkable series of plays—The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith, The Benefit of the Doubt, The Princess and the Butterfly, Trelawny of the “Wells,” The Gay Lord Quex, Iris, Letty, His House in Order and The Thunderbolt—all of which show marked originality of conception and intellectual force. In January 1893 Charles Wyndham initiated a new policy at the Criterion theatre, and produced an original play, The Bauble-Shop, by Henry Arthur Jones. It belonged very distinctly to the pre-Tanqueray order of things; but the same author’s The Case of Rebellious Susan, in the following year, showed an almost startlingly sudden access of talent, which was well maintained in such later works as Michael and his Lost Angel (1896), that admirable comedy The Liars (1897), and Mrs Dane’s Defence (1900). Sydney Grundy produced after 1893 by far his most important original works, The Greatest of These (1896) and The Debt of Honour (1900). R. C. Carton, breaking away from the somewhat laboured sentimentalism of his earlier manner, produced several light comedies of thoroughly original humour and of excellent literary workmanship—Lord and Lady Algy, Wheels within Wheels, Lady Huntworth’s Experiment, Mr Hopkinson and Mr Preedy and the Countess. Haddon Chambers, in The Tyranny of Tears (1899) and The Awakening (1901), produced two plays of a merit scarcely foreshadowed in his earlier efforts.
What was of more importance, a new generation of playwrights came to the front. Its most notable representatives were J. M. Barrie, who displayed his inexhaustible gift of humorous observation and invention in Quality Street (1902), The Admirable Crichton (1903), Little Mary (1903), Peter Pan (1904), Alice Sit-by-the-Fire (1905) and What Every Woman Knows (1908); Mrs Craigie (“John Oliver Hobbes”), who produced in The Ambassador (1898) a comedy of fine accomplishment; and H. V. Esmond, Alfred Sutro, Hubert Henry Davies, W. S. Maugham, Rudolf Besier, Roy Horniman and J. B. Fagan.
Meanwhile, the efforts to relieve the drama from the pressure of the long-run system had not been confined to the Independent theatre. Several other enterprises of a like nature had proved more or less short-lived; but the Stage Society, founded in 1900, was conducted with more energy and perseverance, and became a real force in the dramatic world. After two seasons devoted mainly to Bernard Shaw, Ibsen, Maeterlinck and Hauptmann, it produced in its third season The Marrying of Ann Leete, by Granville Barker (b. 1877), who had developed in its service his remarkable gifts as a producer of plays. A year or two later, Barker staged for another organization, the New Century theatre, Professor Gilbert Murray’s rendering of the Hippolytus of Euripides; and it was partly the success of this production that suggested the Vedrenne-Barker partnership at the Court theatre, which, between 1904 and 1907, gave an extraordinary impulse to the intellectual life of the theatre. Adopting the “short-run” system, as a compromise between the long-run and the repertory systems, the Vedrenne-Barker management made the plays of Bernard Shaw (both old and new) for the first time really popular. Of the plays already published You Never Can Tell and Man and Superman were the most successful; of the new plays, John Bull’s Other Island, Major Barbara and The Doctor’s Dilemma. But though Shaw was the mainstay of the enterprise, it gave opportunities to several other writers, the most notable being John Galsworthy (b. 1867), author of The Silver Box and Strife, St John Hankin (1869-1909), author of The Return of the Prodigal and The Charity that began at Home, and Granville Barker himself, whose plays The Voysey Inheritance and Waste (1907) were among the most important products of this movement. It should also be noted that the production of the Hippolytus was followed up by the production of the Trojan Women, the Electra and the Medea of Euripides, all translated by Gilbert Murray.
The impulse to which were due the Independent theatre, the Stage Society and the Vedrenne-Barker management, combined with local influences to bring about the foundation in Dublin of the Irish National theatre. Its moving spirit was the poet W. B. Yeats (b. 1865), who wrote for it Cathleen-ni-Hoolihan, The Hour-Glass, The King’s Threshold and one or two other plays. Lady Gregory, Padraic Collum, Boyle and other authors also contributed to the repertory of this admirable little theatre; but its most notable products were the plays of J. M. Synge (1871-1909), whose Riders to the Sea, Well of the Saints and Playboy of the Western World showed a fine and original dramatic faculty combined with extraordinary beauty of style.
Both in Manchester and in Glasgow endeavours have been made, with considerable success, to counteract the evils of the touring system, by the establishment of resident companies acting the better class of modern plays on a “short-run” plan, similar to that of the Vedrenne-Barker management. The Manchester enterprise was to some extent subsidized by Miss E. Horniman, and may therefore claim to be the first endowed theatre in England. The need for endowment on a much larger scale was, however, strongly advocated in the early years of the 20th century by the more progressive supporters of English drama, and in 1908 found a place in the scheme for a Shakespeare National theatre, which was then superimposed on the earlier proposal for a memorial commemorating the Shakespeare tercentenary, organized by an influential committee under the chairmanship of the Lord Mayor of London. The scheme involved the raising of £500,000, half to be devoted to the requisite site and building, while the remainder would be invested so as to furnish an annual subvention.
It remains to say a few words of the English literary drama, as opposed to the acted drama. The two classes are not nearly so distinct as they once were; but plays continue to be produced from time to time which are wholly unfitted for the theatre, and others which, though they may be experimentally placed on the stage, make their appeal rather to the reading public. Tennyson had essayed in his old age an art which is scarcely to be mastered after the energy of youth has passed. He continued to the last to occupy himself more or less with drama, and all his plays, except Harold, found their way to the stage. The Cup and Becket, as we have seen, met with a certain success, but The Promise of May (1882), an essay in contemporary drama, was a disastrous failure, while The Falcon (1879) and The Foresters (acted by an American company in 1893) made little impression. Lord Tennyson was certainly not lacking in dramatic faculty, but he worked in an outworn form which he had no longer the strength to renovate. Swinburne continued now and then to cast his creations in the dramatic mould, but it cannot be said that his dramas attained either the vitality or the popularity of his lyrical poems. Mary Stuart (1881) brought his Marian trilogy to a close. In Locrine he produced a tragedy in heroic couplets—a thing probably unattempted since the age of Dryden. The Sisters is a tragedy of modern date with a medieval drama inserted by way of interlude. Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards (1899), perhaps approached more nearly than any of his former works to the concentration essential to drama. It may be doubted, however, whether his copious and ebullient style could ever really subject itself to the trammels of dramatic form. Of other dramas on the Elizabethan model, the most notable, perhaps, were the works of two ladies who adopt the pseudonym of “Michael Field”; Callirrhoë (1884), Brutus Ultor (1887), and many other dramas, show considerable power of imagination and expression, but are burdened by a deliberate artificiality both of technique and style. Alfred Austin put forth several volumes in dramatic form, such as Savonarola (1881), Prince Lucifer (1887), England’s Darling (1896), Flodden Field (1905). They are laudable in intention and fluent in utterance. Notable additions to the purely literary drama were made by Robert Bridges in his Prometheus (1883), Nero (1885), The Feast of Bacchus (1889), and other solid plays in verse, full of science and skill, but less charming than his lyrical poems. Sir Lewis Morris made a dramatic experiment in Gycia, but was not encouraged to repeat it.
From the outset of his career, John Davidson (1857-1909) was haunted by the conviction that he was a born dramatist; but his earlier plays, such as Smith: a Tragedy (1886), Bruce: a Chronicle Play (1884) and Scaramouch in Naxos (1888), contained more poetry than drama; and his later pieces, such as Self’s the Man (1901), The Theatrocrat (1905) and the Triumph of Mammon (1907), showed a species of turbulent imagination, but became more and more fantastic and impracticable. Stephen Phillips (b. 1867), on the other hand, having had some experience as an actor, wrote always with the stage in view. In his first play, Paolo and Francesca (1899; produced in 1902), he succeeded in combining great beauty of diction with intense dramatic power and vitality. The same may be said of Herod (1900); but in Ulysses (1902) and Nero (1906) a great falling-off in constructive power was only partially redeemed by the fine inspiration of individual passages.
The collaboration of Robert Louis Stevenson with William Ernest Henley produced a short series of interesting experiments in drama, two of which, Beau Austin (1883) and Admiral Guinea (1884), had more than a merely experimental value. The former was an emotional comedy, treating with rare distinction of touch a difficult, almost an impossible, subject; the latter was a nautical melodrama, raised by force of imagination and diction into the region of literature. Incomparably the most important of recent additions to the literary drama is Thomas Hardy’s vast panorama of the Napoleonic wars, entitled The Dynasts (1904-1908). It is rather an epic in dialogue than a play; but however we may classify it we cannot but recognize its extraordinary intellectual and imaginative powers.
United States.—American dramatists have shown on their own account a progressive tendency, quite as marked as that which we have been tracing in England. Down to about 1890 the influence of France had been even more predominant in America than in England. The only American dramatist of eminence, Bronson Howard (1842-1908), was a disciple, though a very able one, of the French school. A certain stirring of native originality manifested itself during the ’eighties, when a series of semi-improvised farces, associated with the names of two actor-managers, Harrigan and Hart, depicted low life in New York with real observation, though in a crude and formless manner. About the same time a native style of popular melodrama began to make its appearance—a play of conventional and negligible plot, which attracted by reason of one or more faithfully observed character-types, generally taken from country life. The Old Homestead, written by Denman Thompson, who himself acted in it, was the most popular play of this class. Rude as it was, it distinctly foreshadowed that faithfulness to the external aspects, at any rate, of everyday life, in which lies the strength of the native American drama. It was at a sort of free theatre in Boston that James A. Herne (1840-1901) produced in 1891 his realistic drama of modern life, Margaret Fleming, which did a great deal to awaken the interest of literary America in the theatrical movement. Herne, an actor and a most accomplished stage-manager, next produced a drama of rural life in New England, Shore Acres (1892), which made an immense popular success. It was a play of the Old Homestead type, but very much more coherent and artistic. His next play, Griffith Davenport (1898), founded on a novel, was a drama of life in Virginia during the Civil War, admirable in its strength and quiet sincerity; while in his last work, Sag Harbour (1900), Herne returned to the study of rustic character, this time in Long Island. Herne showed human nature in its more obvious and straightforward aspects, making no attempt at psychological subtlety; but within his own limits he was an admirable craftsman. The same preoccupation with local colour is manifest in the plays of Augustus M. Thomas, a writer of genuine humour and originality. His localism announces itself in the very titles of his most popular plays—Alabama, In Mizzoura, Arizona. He also made a striking success in The Witching Hour, a play dealing with the phenomena of hypnotism and suggestion. Clyde Fitch (1865-1909), an immensely prolific playwright of indubitable ability, after becoming known by some experiments in quasi-historic drama (notably Nathan Hale, 1898; Barbara Frietchie, 1899), devoted himself mainly to social drama on the French model, in which his most notable efforts have been The Climbers (1900), The Truth (1906), and The Girl with the Green Eyes (1902). In popular drama, with elaborate scenic illustration, William Gillette (b. 1856), David Belasco (b. 1859) and Charles Klein (b. 1867) have done notable work. William Vaughn Moody (b. 1869) produced in The Great Divide (1907) a play of somewhat higher artistic pretensions; Eugene Walter in Paid in Full (1908) and The Easiest Way (1909) dealt vigorously with characteristic themes of modern life; and Edward Sheldon produced in Salvation Nell a slum drama of very striking realism. The poetic side of drama was mainly represented by Percy Mackaye (b. 1875), whose Jeanne d’Arc (1906) and Sappho and Phaon showed a high ambition and no small literary power. On the whole it may be said that, though the financial conditions of the American stage are even more unfortunate than those which prevail in England, they have failed to check a very strong movement towards nationalism in drama. Season by season, America writes more of her own plays, good or bad, and becomes less dependent on imported work, whether French or English.
- (W. A.)
- As has been already seen, Sir David Lyndsay’s celebrated Satyre of the Three Estaits, a dramatic manifesto in favour of the Reformation, is in form a morality pure and simple.
- Tom Tiler and his Wife (1578); A Knack to know a Knave (c. 1594); Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes (misattributed to G. Peele), (printed 1599).
- An earlier drama by him, Christus redivivus, is said to have been printed at Cologne.
- Oedipus; Dido; Ulysses redux.
- By A. Guarna.
- Pax; Troas; Menaechmi; Oedipus; Mostellaria; Hecuba; Amphytruo; Medea. These fall between 1546 and 1560. The date and place of the production of William Goldingham of Trinity Hall’s Herodes, some time after 1567, are unknown.
- The date and place of performance of the Latin Fatum Vortigerni are unknown; but it was not improbably produced at a later time than Shakespeare’s Richard II., which it seems in certain points to resemble.
- Latin “academical” plays directly imitated from Seneca, but of unknown date, are Solymannidae (or the story of Solyman II. and his son Mustapha), and Tomumbeius (Tuman Bey, sultan of Egypt, 1516); yet others exhibit his influence.
- ”Supposes” and “Jocasta,” ed. J. W. Cunliffe.
- His Palamon and Arcyte (produced in Christ Church hall, Oxford, in 1566) is not preserved; or we should be able to compare with The Two Noble Kinsmen this early dramatic treatment of a singularly fine theme.
- The History of the Collier.
- A Historie of Error (1577), one of the many imitations of the Menaechmi, may have been the foundation of the Comedy of Errors. In the previous year was printed the old Taming of a Shrew, founded on a novel of G. F. Straparola. Part of the plot of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew may have been suggested by The Supposes.
- Treatise wherein Dicing, Dauncing, Vaine Playes or Enterluds ... are reproved, &c. (1577).
- The School of Abuse.
- The Anatomy of Abuses.
- H. Denham, G. Whetstone (the author of Promos and Cassandra), W. Rankine.
- It may be mentioned that the practice of companies of players, of one kind or another, being taken into the service of members of the royal family, or of great nobles, dates from much earlier times than the reign of Elizabeth. So far back as 1400/1 the corporation of Shrewsbury paid rewards to the histriones of Prince Henry and of the earl of Stafford, and in 1408/9 reference is made to the players of the earl and countess of Arundel, of Lord Powys, of Lord Talbot and of Lord Furnival.
- The Woman in the Moone; Sapho and Phao.
- Alexander and Campaspe.
- Endimion; Mydas.
- Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay.
- The Wounds of Civil War. With Greene he wrote A Looking-Glass for London.
- Summer’s Last Will and Testament is his sole entire extant play. Dido, Queen of Carthage, is by him and Marlowe.
- Patient Grissil (with Dekker and Haughton).
- Hoffman, or A Revenge for a Father.
- Henry VIII.
- Ford, Perkin Warbeck.
- Edward IV.; If You Know Not Me, &c.
- Henry VIII.
- The Merry Wives of Windsor.
- Massinger, The Virgin Martyr; Shirley, St Patrick for Ireland.
- Cleopatra; Philotas.
- Darius; Croesus; Julius Caesar; The Alexandraean Tragedy.
- The Sad Shepherd.
- The Faithful Shepherdess.
- The Queen’s Arcadia.
- Sejanus his Fall; Catiline his Conspiracy.
- Bussy d’Ambois; The Revenge of B. d’A.; The Conspiracy of Byron; The Tragedy of B.; Chabot, Admiral of France (with Shirley).
- Arden of Faversham; A Yorkshire Tragedy.
- A Woman killed with Kindness; The English Traveller.
- Vittoria Coromboni; The Duchess of Malfi.
- ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore; The Broken Heart.
- Every Man in his Humour; Every Man out of his Humour.
- Shadwell, The Humorists.
- It is impossible in a summary survey to seek to discriminate by any kind of evidence the respective shares in many Elizabethan plays, and the respective credit due to them, of the joint writers. Yet some such inquiry is necessary before judging the claims to remembrance of highly-gifted dramatists such as William Rowley, his namesake Samuel, John Day, and not a few others.
- The Latin comedy Victoria by Abraham Fraunce of St John’s was written some time before 1583, and dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney; but there is no evidence to show that it was ever acted.
- (Bishop) Hacket’s Loyola was acted at Trinity in 1623.
- Naufragium joculare—The Guardian (rewritten later as The Cutter of Coleman Street).
- Chapman, Marston (and Jonson), Eastward Hoe (1605); Middleton, A Game at Chess (1624); Shirley and Chapman, The Ball (1632); Massinger(?), The Spanish Viceroy (1634).
- Twelfth Night.
- The Puritan, or the Widow of Watling Street, by “W. S.” (Wentworth Smith?).
- The Alchemist; Bartholomew Fair.
- Chapman, An Humorous Day’s Mirth; Marston, The Dutch Courtesan; Middleton, The Family of Love.
- Among these was Sir Richard Fanshawe’s English version of the Pastor fido (1646); after his death were published his translations of two plays by A. de Mendoza.
- A Short View of Tragedy (1693).
- The Black Prince; Tryphon; Herod the Great; Altemira.
- The Indian Queen.
- The Indian Emperor; Tyrannic Love; The Conquest of Granada.
- Essay of Dramatic Poesy.
- Essay of Heroic Plays.
- A direct satirical invective against rhymed tragedy of the “heroic” type is to be found in Arrowsmith’s comedy Reformation (1673).
- The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy.
- All for Love (Antony and Cleopatra).
- Don Sebastian.
- The Rival Queens; Lucius Junius Brutus; The Massacre of Paris.
- Don Carlos; The Orphan; Venice Preserved.
- Oroonoko; The Fatal Marriage.
- The Mourning Bride.
- The Fair Penitent; Jane Shore.
- A notable influence was exercised upon English comedy as well as upon other branches of literature by C. de Saint-Evremond, a soldier and man of fashion who was possessed of great intellectual ability and of a charming style. Though during his long exile in England—from 1670 to his death—he never learned English, his critical works included Remarks on English Comedy (1677), and one of his own comedies, the celebrated Sir Politick Would-be, professed to be composed “à la manière angloise.”
- Epsom Wells; The Squire of Alsatia; The Volunteers.
- A dramatic curiosity of a rare kind would be The Female Rebellion (1682), which has been, on evidence rather striking at first sight, attributed to Sir Thomas Browne. It is more likely to have been by his son.
- The Country Wife; The Plain-Dealer.
- The Double Dealer.
- The Recruiting Officer; The Beaux’ Stratagem.
- A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage.
- Sir Novelty Fashion (Lord Foppington), &c.
- The Lying Lover; The Tender Husband.
- The Conscious Lovers.
- The Absolute Unlawfulness of Stage Entertainments fully Demonstrated; The Stage defended, &c. (1726).
- The Siege of Damascus.
- The Double Falsehood.
- The Revenge (Othello).
- Fatal Curiosity.
- Irene (1749); The Patriot attributed to Johnson, is by Joseph Simpson.
- Elfrida; Caractacus.
- Love in a Village, &c.
- The Waterman, &c.
- Pasquin; The Historical Register for 1736.
- The Golden Rump.
- The first dramatic performance licensed by the lord chamberlain after the passing of the act was appropriately entitled The Nest of Plays, and consisted of three comedies named respectively The Prodigal Reformed, In Happy Constancy and The Trial of Conjugal Love. It is a curious fact that in the first decade of the reign of George III. a severe control of the theatre was very actively exerted after a positive as well as a negative fashion—objectionable passages being ruthlessly suppressed and plays actually written and licensed for the purpose of upholding the existing régime.
- J. Townley, High Life Below Stairs (1759).
- The Minor; Taste; The Author, &c.
- This celebrated play was at first persistently attributed to Miss Elizabeth Carter.
- The School for Lovers.
- False Delicacy.
- The Jealous Wife; The Clandestine Marriage.
- The Heiress.
- The West Indian; The Jew.
- The Belle’s Stratagem; A Bold Stroke for a Husband, &c.
- The Road to Ruin, &c.
- John Bull; The Heir at Law, &c.
- Midas; The Golden Pippin.
- Philip van Artevelde.
- The Death of Marlowe.
- Becket; The Cup.
- The Golden Legend.
- Love is Enough.
- Strafford; The Blot on the Scutcheon.
- Atalanta in Calydon; Bothwell; Chastelard; Mary Stuart.
- Virginius; The Hunchback.