Dramatic Theory and the Rhymed Heroic Play

Dramatic Theory and the Rhymed Heroic Play

Dramatic Theory and the Rhymed Heroic Play

Dramatic Theory and the Rhymed Heroic Play

Excerpt

The study of the literature of an age of transition is always interesting, and it is liable to be particularly instructive when the period is one of English assimilation of foreign influences. The specific purpose of my inquiry is to determine how far the heroic play observed the neo-classic 'Rules' of the drama as expounded by the French theorists and as somewhat freely adapted by English critics, but the book may also be regarded more generally as an attempt--not, I hope, over-obscured by documentation--to throw fresh light on the somewhat elusive process whereby the English genius almost always contrives to impose its native individuality on forms borrowed from abroad. With the advance of literary studies it becomes increasingly clear that our non-indigenous literary and artistic movements must be considered less as the retarded northern offshoots of European culture than as periods of creative enterprise, during which new ideas and fashions from a variety of sources are welcomed for purposes of experiment.

The heroic play is a particularly good example of a product of this kind of activity. At the Restoration a new form of drama was needed, and playwrights did not hesitate to graft on to the old stock whatever likely material came their way. The species which resulted, although artificial in essence and grandiose and extravagant in effect, somehow possesses a life and vigour of its own and an arrogant assurance that tends to sweep censure aside. Something similar may be said in behalf of the theoretical criticism of the time. Its pedantry and dogmatism are apt to be oppressive, but behind much of this may be discerned a keen interest in dramatic reform, together with a zealous spirit of inquiry not unlike that which animated the con-

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