Imágenes de páginas

yet the real drama was in existence in its substantially grave and gay expressions.


Much of this confusion arises from that triple order of dramatic literature then existing, to which Scott alludes as he says: On the one hand, stands a body of playwrights who adhere to the traditions of the vernacular drama. On the other side, stands an influential body who treated these rude medleys with disdain and owned allegiance to classical masters. Between these two schools stands a third which united the characteristics of both." The constant attempt on the part of this third school to maintain its own standard and yet to adapt some of the best features of the others, is a sufficient explanation of apparent anomalies. The earliest English tragedy, as we know, is "Gorboduc," written by Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset, with the possible assistance of Thomas Norton. It was represented before the Queen in the Inner Temple in 1561. Its object was to show the great dangers which must arise from a distribution of the supreme power of the state, the author asserting at last the prevalent doctrine of the divine. right of kings and that of consequent passive obedience. It is thus that one of the counselors of the old king remarks:

"That no cause serves, whereby the subject may
Call to account the doings of his prince.

In act nor speech, no, not in secret thought,
The subject may rebel against his lord,
Or judge of him that sits in Cæsar's seat.
Though kings forget to govern as they ought,
Yet subjects must obey as they are bound."

Such was the political creed, of the time, and it was the purpose of Sackville to exhibit and enforce it. We are surprised to find in this early specimen of dramatic literature so complete a picture of the later Elizabethan tragedy. We note the regular division of five successive acts with varying numbers of scenes, the presence and gradual unfolding of a plot, and the uniformly recurring choruses of the ancient Greek stage. The tragedy cannot be said to be characterized by high dramatic quality, nor could this be expected. Its excellence lies rather in its strict adherence to classical models, in its happy introduction of Surrey's blank verse into the dialogue, and in the comparative purity of its diction. Though the characters are not original, they are well conceived and presented; the question of civil polity is well discussed; the substance of the language is vigorous, if not passionate; while throughout there is evidence of an ethical and a well-balanced mind and

some degree of poetic genius. Sir Philip Sidney, the accomplished critic of the day, wrote of it: "Gorboduc is full of stately speeches and wellsounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca's style and as full of notable morality. Thus it doth most delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of poetry." In the eyes of the Elizabethan court and of the literati of the time, it was regarded as a poetical marvel, while even the critical Alexander Pope became the agent of its later publication, and earnestly recommended it to all succeeding writers for its "chastity, correctness, and gravity of style."

The first comedy in our language and first extant English play was long supposed to be the one known as "Gammer Gurton's Needle," a poem of inferior literary merit and marked by moral grossness. The earliest, as now known, is "Ralph Roister Doister," by Nicholas Udall, Master of Eton, and modeled after the plays of Plautus and Terence. It precedes our earliest tragedy by nearly a decade. It presents a graphic picture of the London manners of the sixteenth century, having a good claim to the title, "a right pithy, pleasant and merrie comedie."

"As long does live the merry man, they say,

As doth the sorry man, and longer by a day." The dramatis persona are a wealthy widow and her wooers, among whom is the imperturbable Ralph, who is beguiled into all sorts of misdeeds. Full of self-conceit and the passion of love, he is unsuccessful as he is ardent.

"So fervent at wooing and so far from winning."

The course of the comedy thus runs on in the persons of Matthew Merry Greek and his compeers; full of life without being frivolous; full of humor without being coarse; while, in general style and ease of versification, it may be said to be far in advance of its time.

The English Drama is thus fully established in each of its cardinal divisions and it is certainly a matter of congratulation that these earliest examples of the tragic and the comic were as praiseworthy, mentally and morally, as they were. Sackville, the learned author of the "Induction," was depicting the evils of political rivalry, and Udall, the eminent Master of Eton, was depicting the features of the citizen life of London. Just as in Cadmon and Layamon, of Old and Middle English days, the ethical basis of our literature was laid, so in the persons and poems of these early dra

matists, the moral cast of all our later drama is permanently set from which, in the last three centuries, however, there has been more or less departure.

We have thus traced, in brief, the historical thread of our vernacular drama from its elementary origin to its perfected form, and have thereby opened the way for the intelligent prosecution of the history in its later unfoldings. It is not our purpose here to follow this narrative from Elizabeth to Victoria. Beginning with Mr. Symond's treatise on Shakespeare's Predecessors in the English Drama," and following with the study of Professor Ward's "History of English Dramatic Literature," the English scholar may readily possess himself of all the facts bearing on the subject.


A few suggestions are in place as to the inherent ground of the dramatic art and the occasion of its peculiar method. The origin of scenic representation, as already intimated, is not to be traced to any form of legislative enactment or to the growing needs of civilization, but has its basis. and sufficient reason in the constitution of the As man is possessed of a mind that under


« AnteriorContinuar »