Lesser English Comedies of the Eighteenth Century

Lesser English Comedies of the Eighteenth Century

Lesser English Comedies of the Eighteenth Century

Lesser English Comedies of the Eighteenth Century

Excerpt

For most people English comedy, after rising to a height in Congreve, sank into a dismal darkness for nearly two hundred years, the only luminaries of those dark ages being Sheridan and Goldsmith. Addison is remembered for his essays, Fielding for his novels; hardly anyone troubles to peruse The Drummer or glance through the dramatic works of the author of Tom Jones. The explanation of this absolute neglect of eighteenth- century comedy is difficult to find, but an answer to the problem will be discovered, I believe, in the theatre of the Victorian era. The drama of the nineteenth century was fundamentally unliterary, and the contempt shown for it by the more dignified critics was extended to the earlier era. Romantic critism extolled the Elizabethans; everything from 1660 onwards was evil. In addition to this, we must note both the love of novelty displayed by nineteenth-century audiences and the growth of the 'long run'. In days when all theatres had their constantly changing repertories, many old plays could be revived and several scores were regular 'stock-plays' which reappeared season after season. The cry for novelty, however, urged the managers to produce new pieces, and the disappearance of the repertory system limited the number of individual dramas that could be performed in any one season. The eighteenth-century plays which had held the boards till about 1830 or . . .

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