A History of Elizabethan Literature

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE THIRD DRAMATIC PERIOD

I HAVE chosen, to fill the third division of our dramatic chapters, seven chief writers of distinguished individuality, reserving a certain fringe of anonymous plays and of less famous personalities for the last chapter. The seven exceptional persons are Beaumont and Fletcher, Webster, Middleton, Heywood, Tourneur, and Day. It would be perhaps lost labour to attempt to make out a severe definition, shutting these off on the one hand from their predecessors, on the other from those that followed them. We must be satisfied in such cases with an approach to exactness, and it is certain that while most of the men just named had made some appearance in the latest years of Elizabeth, and while one or two of them lasted into the earliest years of Charles, they all represent, in their period of flourishing and in the character of their work, the Jacobean age. In some of them, as in Middleton and Day, the Elizabethan type prevails; in others, as in Fletcher, a distinctly new flavour--a flavour not perceptible in Shakespere, much less in Marlowe--appears. But in none of them is that other flavour of pronounced decadence, which appears in the work of men so great as Massinger and Ford, at all perceptible. We are still in the creative period, and in some of the work to be now noticed we are in a comparatively unformed stage of it. It has been said, and not unjustly said, that the work of Beaumont and Fletcher belongs when looked at

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