British Romantic Drama: Historical and Critical Essays

By Terence Allan Hoagwood; Daniel P. Watkins | Go to book overview

6
Scott the Dramatist

DANIEL P. WATKINS

WALTER SCOTT’S INTEREST IN DRAMA HAS BEEN ALMOST ENTIRELY IGNORED BY scholars and general readers alike, both because his accomplish- ments in fiction and poetry tend to overshadow his other literary activities and, more broadly, because his dramatic work belongs to a genre that has seldom been regarded as worthy of serious critical attention. Nevertheless, his creative and critical work in the area of dramatic literature is important, because it provides a useful avenue into Romantic literary and social history and, by so doing, helps to create the necessary conditions for reconsidering the aesthetic and ideological dimensions of Romantic literature. Scott not only trans- lated several dramas from German into English,1 and wrote a lengthy (over one-hundred pages) historical sketch on the history of Western drama, but he also wrote four original dramas of his own. Although all of these works must eventually be given full scholarly and critical consideration, the original dramatic compositions offer a manage- able and enlightening starting point for the study of Scott the dramatist.

Halidon Hill, Macduff’s Cross, Auchindrane, and The Doom of De- vorgoil display many of the characteristic traits found in Scott’s po- etry and fiction, ranging from a nostalgic recollection of a now-faded Scottish past to an often-sentimental vision of Scottish culture and an intense interest in the power relations defining personal and pub- lic life in moments of large-scale historical transformation. If the meaning of the dramas can be contained in a single, workable expla- nation, it is perhaps that they acknowledge the power and direction of historical change over the three hundred years immediately pre- ceding Scott’s own day, as well as the emergence of certain bourgeois structures of value and belief during that period, but attempt to nego- tiate history in such a way as to preserve what Scott considered to be universal bedrock assumptions about human experience and meaning. Put slightly differently, desiring stability and yet unable to

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