A History of Elizabethan Literature

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
THE FOURTH DRAMATIC PERIOD

Two great names remain to be noticed in the Elizabethan drama (though neither produced a play till after Elizabeth was dead), some interesting playwrights of third or fourth rate importance have to be added to them, and in a postscript we shall have to gather up the minor or anonymous work, some of it of very high excellence, of the second division of our whole subject, including plays of the second, third, and fourth periods. But with this fourth period we enter into what may really be called by comparison (remembering always what has been said in the last chapter) a period of decadence, and at its latter end it becomes very decadent indeed. Only in Ford perhaps, of our named and individual authors in this chapter, and in him very rarely, occur the flashes of sheer poetry which, as we have seen in each of the three earlier chapters on the drama, lighten the work of the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists proper with extraordinary and lavish brilliance. Not even in Ford are to be found the whole and perfect studies of creative character which, even leaving Shakespere ' out of the question, are to be found earlier in plays and playwrights of all kinds and strengths, from The Maid's Tragedy and Viltoria Corombona, to The Merry Devil of Edmonton and A Cure for a Cuckold. The tragedies have Ben Jonson's labour without his force, the comedies his coarseness and lack of inspiriting life without his keen observation and incisive touch. As the

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