Page:The Palace of Pleasure, Volume 1 (1890).djvu/18

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xii
INTRODUCTION.

to bring which can never recur, for while man may come into even greater treasures of wealth or thought than the Elizabethans dreamed of, they can never be as new to us as they were to them. The sublime confidence of Bacon in the future of science, of which he knew so little, and that little wrongly, is thus eminently and characteristically Elizabethan.[1]

The department of Elizabethan literature in which this exuberant energy found its most characteristic expression was the Drama, and that for a very simple though strange reason. To be truly great a literature must be addressed to the nation as a whole. The subtle influence of audience on author is shown equally though conversely in works written only for sections of a nation. Now in the sixteenth century any literature that should address the English nation as a whole—not necessarily all Englishmen,—but all classes of Englishmen could not be in any literary form intended to be merely read. For the majority of Englishmen could not read. Hence they could only be approached by literature when read or recited to them in church or theatre. The latter form was already familiar to them in the Miracle Plays and Mysteries, which had been adopted by the Church as the best means of acquainting the populace with Sacred History. The audiences of the Miracle Plays were pre pared for the representation of human action on the stage. Meanwhile, from translation and imitation, young scholars at the universities had become familiar with some of the master pieces of Ancient Drama, and with the laws of dramatic form. But where were they to seek for matter to fill out these forms? Where were they, in short, to get their plots?

Plot, we know, is pattern as applied to human action. A story, whether told or acted, must tend in some definite direction if it is to be a story at all. And the directions in which stories can go are singularly few. Somebody in the Athenæum—probably Mr. Theodore Watts, he has the habit of saying such things—has remarked that during the past century only two novelties in plot,

  1. There was something Elizabethan in the tone of men of science in England during the "seventies," when Darwinism was to solve all the problems. The Marlowe of the movement, the late Professor Clifford, found no Shakespeare.