Christopher Fry

Christopher Fry

Christopher Fry

Christopher Fry

Excerpt

In many cultures there was no prose drama; the actors in the theater spoke only poetry. The first great dramatic writers, the Athenians, expressed themselves in verse, and so did the playwrights who re-created the drama in Europe about a thousand years later.

By the time we get to Shakespeare, the dramatists are putting various passages into prose. That tremendous comic figure, Falstaff, is essentially a man of prose, but even Hamlet can speak in that medium, whether in the enraptured "What a piece of work is a man!" or in the amusing exchange with the gravedigger.

After the Restoration in England, there were still poetic dramas, notably the heroic plays in blank verse, but the comic authors, seeking realism, wrote their comedies in prose. Similarly, in the eighteenth century, Sheridan and Goldsmith turned out comedies in prose. In the Romantic period, however, Shelley, Keats, and Byron all wrote poetic tragedies. These remain read rather than produced, though in The Death of Tragedy (1961) George Steiner made out an excellent case for Byron's plays as dramatically viable.

Meanwhile in France the poetic drama had been kept up in the seventeenth century by Corneille and Racine, and in Germany in the eighteenth by Goethe and Schiller. The most important dramatist of the nineteenth century, Henrik Ibsen, began as a writer of verse drama but switched over in 1871, with Emperor and Galilean. Although this was a historical play, Ibsen said that he was . . .

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