Page:Elizabethan People.djvu/25

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.


5
THE ELIZABETHAN CHARACTER

yet it cannot be denied that certain changes do take place, and, whether or not they be considered fundamental or superficial, a knowledge of them materially influences our conception of a piece of literature. We should certainly consider rag-time interludes between the acts of Hamlet as, to say the least, a manifestation of bad taste; yet the buffoon scenes of the miracle plays, the admixture of serious and comic incidents in the Elizabethan drama, the jig with which a tragedy was neatly finished off, were quite in accordance with the spirit of the age. To criticise, with our own as a standard, and to conclude that such an element of an early play is in bad taste is to mistake the situation. Unity, the violation of which is one of the first points of modern attack, was, in Elizabethan times, an unknown quality, or, at least, an unnecessary if not an embarrassing one. It is easy to comprehend the reason for this state of affairs. The Elizabethans, as a nation, though brilliantly intellectual, were in many respects immature,—as if the characteristics of childhood were set in a body of manhood. Their delight in rapid changes of scene, in rapidly succeeding varied emotional sensations, above all, in their dislike of long and continuous mental strain—these are qualities peculiar to them as a nation. It was sympathy with rather than an intentional attempt