Neoclassical Tragedy in Elizabethan England

Neoclassical Tragedy in Elizabethan England

Neoclassical Tragedy in Elizabethan England

Neoclassical Tragedy in Elizabethan England

Synopsis

After receiving a Master's and a doctoral degree from the University of Wisconsin, Howard B. Norland pursued a career in university teaching and research. An Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, he has edited plays, critical works, and collections of essays but is perhaps best known for his articles on Renaissance English and Neo-Latin drama and especially for his book Drama in Early Tudor Britain, 1485-1558 (1995). In Neoclassical Tragedy in Elizabethan England, he continues his study of the development of drama into the later Tudor period by focusing upon the adaptation of the classical genre of tragedy during the reign of Elizabeth.

Excerpt

The application of ancient greek and roman principles to artistic creation and appreciation may be observed in visual, literary, and dramatic traditions from the fourth to the eighteenth centuries, though interpretations and influences vary with time and place. the most influential interpreters of classical comedy were the fourthcentury Terentian commentators, Donatus, Evanthius, and Diomedes, who set out the critical principles of genre and dramatic structure. in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries their commentaries were supplemented by scholars throughout western Europe in elaborate editions of Terence’s comedies. Terence as the model of comedy thus became a standard school text for the study of Latin, but the commentaries also became a critical guide for generic distinctions and dramatic structure. Horace’s Ars poetica offered instruction in the composition of drama, and Seneca provided the model for tragedy. These widely known classical authors and the critical works that they engendered formed the neoclassical perspective that prevailed in western Europe from the late fifteenth century onward.

Neoclassical tragedy as a dramatic form is first sighted in early sixteenth-century Italy, and by the middle of the century the tradition had developed in France and England as well. Characterized by their imitation of ancient Greek and Roman drama, especially of the works ascribed to Seneca, these new tragedies were written in the classical and the vernacular languages. in England neoclassical tragedy was first composed and performed in Latin and Greek at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford in the 1540s and made its debut in English in 1562, some four years after Elizabeth’s succession. in the next forty years it became the most prestigious, though not the most popular, form of theatrical entertainment. Although initially designed for learned and aristocratic audiences, tragedy within a generation became accessible to a more general public through translations of classical and continental works and generated a growing number of compositions in English. By the end of . . .

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