English Dramatic Verse After Shakespeare -- By: Theodore W. Hunt

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 065:257 (Jan 1908)
Article: English Dramatic Verse After Shakespeare
Author: Theodore W. Hunt

English Dramatic Verse After Shakespeare

Professor Theodore W. Hunt

This era includes the comprehensive period between Elizabeth and Victoria, an era of over three centuries, as contrasted with the half-century of the drama of the Golden Age, in which contrast is found a sufficiently striking difference between the dramatic character and product of the respective periods. There is a sense, indeed, in which English literature may be said to have had but one specifically dramatic age, all Post-Shakespearian dramatic product being properly classified as secondary. In this respect, English dramatic verse is strikingly distinct from English lyric as a steadily progressive literary evolution, and more in keeping with English epic, which reached as high a status in the poetry of Milton in the seventeenth century as it has done in any subsequent era.

Hence, it may, at the outset, be noticed that it is quite impossible to speak of the Historical Development of the Modern English Drama, as we speak of that of Modern English Prose or English Lyric, in the sense of discovering a progressive evolution of better and better product. If we call the Pre-Elizabethan Age preparative, as it was, and the Elizabethan, culminative, then, all that is Post-Elizabethan must be, at its best, but a little more than a reproduction, in varied and somewhat inferior form, of antecedent product. When it is said by Ward, “that all literary growths are continuous,” it

would be sufficient to show in the case of the later English drama that it is not strictly a growth at all, but rather a literary history with its diversified features of progress and decline. It is this fact that Ward himself has in mind when he adds: “In literary, as in all other history, it is generally difficult to say where growth passes into decline, and where, in the midst of exuberant life, the first signs announce themselves of the beginning of the end.” In other words, growth had ceased by “passing into decline,” and it becomes the object of the student’s researches to follow carefully the course of the decline and note any deviations from it to that Which is better.

In any case, the first fact of interest as to the drama before us is, that it is a record of decline, however complex and concealed the causes of such a decline may be. These are found, in part, (a) in the uniform principle of literary reaction,, (b) in the increasing emergence of non-dramatic conditions, and (c) in the necessary limitations of the human mind, making it incapable of the prolonged exercise of such a high order of literary genius, the literary history, in the main, following the course of the civic and social history of the nation. Be the...

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