The Elizabethan Dramatic Development -- By: Theodore W. Hunt
BSac 66:262 (April 1909) p. 251
The Elizabethan Dramatic Development
The Golden Age of English Letters is made so especially by its distinctive dramatic development. Whatever excellence it may have had along other lines of verse, and in the sphere of prose, it is its dramatic character that at once attracts attention, and puts the student on the search after the causes sufficient to account for it; an age which had, as has been said, “many hundreds of pieces and more than fifty masterpieces.” Mr. Taine, the eminent French critic of English Literature, would make an application here of his notable threefold condition of the literary status of a nation — that of race, of epoch, and of environment. While dramatic ability, as general literary ability, may be, in part, assignable to natural causes — to genius, to special talent, and to certain innate aptitudes — Mr. Taine insists that the finally determining agencies are external, and so universally such, that no order of genius is independent of them. Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, and Cervantes are thus as surely influenced by them, though not, perhaps, as fully, as are the inferior authors of a nation.
Thus, on the principle of Race, the drama is more germane to certain peoples than to others. The Greek thus offers us a more excellent dramatic literature than the Latin, and the South European continental nations, as a whole, a more excellent drama than the North European, not only as a matter of literary history, but as a matter of racial instincts, capabil-
BSac 66:262 (April 1909) p. 252
ities, and tendency, antecedent to history and quite independent of it. As peoples, the one are more dramatic in spirit and function than the other. Nationally and racially, it is easier for them than for others to express their literary life along such lines and in superior forms. They are constitutionally dramatic, so that they must belie their inherited characteristics if they fail to reach decided results in this direction. In this respect, the English race may be said to stand midway between the North and the South of Europe, evincing some of the salient racial tendencies of each, while having distinctive dramatic capacities of its own.
So, as to the second condition, that of Epoch, as determining both the form and quality of literary product at any given period, Mr. Lowell, in his essay on Shakespeare, lays down a general principle which is here in point, as he says, “The first demand we make on whatever claims to be a work of art is, that it shall be in keeping”; and, he adds, “this may be either extrinsic or intrinsic.” It is this principle of propriety, in its extrinsic form, that is here in place; so that the authorship shall be in “keeping” with the era in which i...
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