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INTRODUCTION.

IN the following pages I shall essay to trace the origin, and to sketch the most important part of the history, of a literary growth which I have long studied with no common love. I am well aware of the difficulties besetting any such attempt, and of the defects which even a surer and more competent hand than mine could hardly be expected altogether to avoid. Nor do I claim for this book any merit beyond that of an endeavour in the direction of completeness within definite limits. These limits it may be in the first instance convenient

to state.

I propose, then, to sketch the history of English Dramatic Literature from its origin to the close of the reign of Queen Anne. It is no part of my design to rewrite what for the greater part of this period has been so well written already,—the Annals of the English Stage1. But with reference both to the times before the Stuart Restoration, and to so much of those after that event as falls within my boundary-line, I shall seek consistently to treat of our dramatic literature in connexion with the national stage, its proper vehicle of presentment. Such contributions to our drama as are unworthy of a

1 Mr. J. Payne Collier's work has, I need hardly say, been of the utmost use to me in many parts of my own. Its value is too well known to require more than a single word of cordial recognition.

place in our literature will receive at most a casual notice as illustrative of particular tendencies, styles, or fashions. The period of our drama which precedes its organic union with the general current of our literary history will be treated as summarily as possible; while I shall not attempt even an outline of that later period in which the higher efforts of our drama gradually, though not entirely, came to be divorced from its only adequate and legitimate exponent. Within these limits lies a field wide and varied -almost beyond comparison-in its products, but admitting as it seems to me of a connected survey. This survey will so far as possible be conducted in the order of chronological sequence; but there are certain general principles which will be kept in view throughout, and to which, while by no means desirous of laying down or expounding any critical canons in reference to dramatic literature, I may therefore here briefly refer.

Strictly speaking, dramatic literature is that form of literary composition which accommodates itself to the demands of an art whose method is imitation in the way of action'. The varieties of the drama differ widely both as to the objects imitated and as to the means employed in the imitation. But the method or manner peculiar to the drama is indispensable to it, and all dramatic writing, while of course amenable to criticism from other points of view, must, in so far as it claims to be dramatic, be judged according to its adherence to the dramatic method. The use of words is necessary, not to every kind of drama, but to every kind of drama which falls within the range of literature. To speak of 'dance-poems' is to use an expression analogous to such phrases as 'songs without words' or 'word-painting,'— metaphors intended to mystify. Where words have only a share in the action.

1 This is Donaldson's translation of the expression used by Aristotle, when pointing out (de Poëtica, cap. iii) the essential distinction between dramatic and other kinds of poetry.

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of a dramatic work, it depends on the nature and extent of that share, how far such a work belongs to dramatic literature and how far it is to be judged from the point of view of literary art. The acted drama removes itself from the sphere of literary criticism, in proportion as it neglects words for other means of imitating action. Whatever importance it may happen to attach to the mere paraphernalia of action, these latter are quite extraneous to the dramatic art. 'Painting and carpentry' may, as Ben Jonson says, have been 'the soul of mask' in the days of Inigo Jones, and may in our own be the soul of many theatrical entertainments; but their significance only begins where the task of dramatic criticism ceases.

It may further be well to point out, that speech or writing not designed to be employed as part of an imitation in the way of action is to be altogether excluded from the domain of the drama. The rude beginnings of dramatic composition, in which a harmonious combination of words with other elements in the representation of action has not yet been reached, or in which the general demands of literary art are still imperfectly met, necessarily call for notice in the history of the drama, nor can they be wholly left aside in any attempt to sketch the growth of a particular dramatic literature. But a work cannot be regarded as entitled to a place in dramatic literary history by the mere fact of the assumption of a form which though necessary to the drama is, even when accompanied by indications of time and place, not exclusively proper to it. Such forms are those of the address and the dialogue. Epical, lyrical, didactic, or oratorical works-the Iliad of Homer, the Odes of Pindar, the Dialogues of Plato, the Orations of Demosthenesmay accordingly possess and exhibit dramatic elements; but only such works as pursue the dramatic method are of their essence dramatic.

The uses to which this method is put differ in various

ways, in no respect more conspicuously than in that of the subjects of the action imitated. No merely formal distinction between tragedy and comedy can be maintained by those who consider dramatic literature as a whole, and are prepared to waive the transitory distinctions drawn at various times by successive writers or schools of poets. The difference between the tragic and the comic drama is no essential difference of method. Each of them appeals to distinct human feelings by treating its own kinds of subjects from its own points of view; and their results vary accordingly. But since they are one in method, there is no reason why they should be uniformly dissociated, though on aesthetical as well as ethical grounds it is most frequently desirable to keep tragic and comic elements of action asunder. There is however no law which binds down to any particular form either

'Tragoedia cothurnata, fitting kings,

Containing matter, and not common things'

or the lightest comedy, while both are of their nature subject to the same method.

As representing an action, every drama must exhibit that which renders an action capable of being regarded and treated as such, viz. its unity. With this question of unity the question of length has no real concern. That an action should possess a certain length, is a demand arising from considerations to a great degree determined by comparison, and therefore of their nature elastic. Thus it is appropriate to the dignity of tragedy, that a tragic action should have a certain length; but the actual extent of this length will not admit of absolute definition. 'Bad plays,' says Webster, 'are the worse for their length;' and good plays are at times by no means the better for theirs ; but no permanent validity attaches to rules of criticism which condemned a comedy as a farce because it was written in three acts, or which rank a farce as a comedy because it is written in five.

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