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not first or alone in Shakspere, but in him alone transcendantly great, that genius appeared in the sphere of dramatic literature, it found the form not indeed perfected or fixed, but ready to its hand, and awaiting its transmuting touch. In speaking of Shakspere's predecessors, I shall seek to discriminate not only between the results of natural and so to speak necessary literary evolution, and the conquering efforts of original genius, but also between performance and promise. Of Shakspere himself so much has been written by critics, great and small, that as one of the latter category I shall seek to add but little of my own. It will be more advisable briefly to survey the history of opinion and criticism concerning the master-spirit of our dramatic literature, and to furnish in a convenient form the most necessary data for an examination of the materials with which he worked. But of his works themselves it will only be possible to examine some of the characteristics, and such will chiefly be selected as are typical of tendencies observable in the Elisabethan drama in general, rather than of the distinctive qualities of his own creative genius.

It will then be necessary to insist upon the truths, however well known, that Shakspere was indeed the master-mind of a particular literary growth, as he was a master-mind of all ages and of all literature; but that in our dramatic literature we have to treat of an Elisabethan age, not of a Shaksperean school. The age itself was far from adjusting its comparative estimate of its literary leaders with the positiveness permissible to posterity, and the dramatists contemporary with Shakspere will therefore have to be judged, less by comparison with him, than as independent workers in the same open field. It will be my endeavour both to trace in the more noteworthy among them the distinctive characteristics of individual genius, and show to what special results the several branches of our drama achieved in different hands, VOL. I.


-under the influence of earlier and of contemporary examples, and of foreign dramatic literatures. To Ben Jonson's long and illustrious career a separate chapter will be devoted; the rest of the dramatists whose activity mainly fell into the later part of the reign of Elisabeth will be grouped together in another chapter.

The death of Queen Elisabeth marks no break in our dramatic literature, such as it does in our political history, nor is there any significant personal relation between the first of our Stuart kings and the literature of his reign such as would allow me to speak of a Jacobean drama. The dramatic genius of Beaumont and Fletcher, though to some extent under the influence of a foreign literature of a continually growing importance for our drama, opened no essentially new paths; and the contemporaries of Fletcher in the reigns of both James and Charles I were content to adhere in the main to the forms employed by Shakspere and Ben Jonson (who long remained the honoured veteran of the drama), rather narrowing than extending their range. So brilliant is the activity of these later writers of the old drama from Webster, who composed already under Elisabeth, to Shirley, who survived the downfall of the monarchy—that the decline of the drama, of which we shall in this period have to note the beginnings, cannot be attributed to an exhaustion of the dramatic vein in our literature. We shall have to acknowledge the absence in this age of any dramatist of commanding genius; but we shall I think be ready to explain the beginning of the decline in part at least by a co-operation of external as well as internal causes connected with the progress of our national history. It will therefore be worth while to show how the want of sympathy between the drama and the political ideas preparing to assert themselves in the national life, and the perennial conflict between the stage and the religious conceptions coming to ally themselves with those

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ideas, could lead to but one result; and how this result was hastened by the too faithful reflexion in much of our dramatic literature of a tone of morality and views of social life not in harmony with the instincts and aspirations of the great body of the population. Thus we shall accompany our dramatic literature to the dark days of the temporary extinction of the national theatre.

With its re-opening begins a period of our dramatic literature which, though covering a long series of years, may I think be legitimately surveyed in a single concluding chapter. The creative activity of this period will be shown to be not indeed unconnected with its predecessors, but subject to foreign influences of unprecedented distinctness, and aided in their operation by external causes of unprecedented power. Addressing itself to a more limited public, and under the immediate sway of the tastes of that public and in the first instance of its centre, the Court, our dramatic literature will be found in pernicious contact with an unblushing immorality of social life. In the career as a dramatist of the foremost literary genius of this period-Dryden-it will be easy to study the principal phases of the earlier part of this period of our dramatic literature. His rapidity in the formation and defence of theories of the dramatic art will reflect at once the brilliancy, the uncertainty, and the lingering regrets characteristic of this age of English tragedy. After having vainly sought to give vitality to an artificial and unhealthy style, our tragic drama will be seen recurring - only however in some degree-to earlier native examples, but merely to sink into impotence, ill concealed by a rigid adherence to an arbitrary code of rules. Comedy, as following healthier and more congenial examples, and never wholly losing its connexion with the traditions of the old masters, and again as elastically lending itself to the tone and taste of the times without sacrificing the laws of its own being, will have to be followed through a more devious

course. In some of the last of the comic writers of whom I shall have to speak, we shall recognise elements of genius unhappily associated with a tone of morality at last intolerable to the very age of which the manners find so faithful a reflexion in its comedy;-and we shall leave this branch of the drama seeking to recover itself by efforts unfortunately as mistaken in their method as they are praiseworthy in their aims.

The general course of the national history in the period which I shall call that of the Later Stuart Drama will be found to exercise a very perceptible but not a commanding influence upon the progress of our dramatic literature. The party-struggles of the latter years of the reign of Charles II will be seen reflected there with all their fury and all their bitterness but the drama will be necessarily found incapable of attesting the national recovery from the non-fulfilment of the Restoration compact. The crowned representative of the Revolution of 1688 is a great statesman, not a national hero; and the vast European struggle in which his wise policy engages the English nation only gradually comes to be regarded by the English public as a war waged for a national cause. Whatever influence the course of the struggle and its results may in the end exercise upon the national self-consciousness and the consequent national progress, the classes to which the drama addresses itself are too much accustomed to view the world of politics from the stand-point of partyfeeling to make it possible for their literature to be animated by a broadly national spirit. The uncertainty as to the consequences which would follow upon the death of Queen Anne added a special element of uneasiness to the situation. Her reign, in which Great Britain asserted herself as the foremost among the European powers, and the period of preparation and preliminary effort which preceded it, could not indeed fail to offer signs even in its literature of the gradual broadening, deepening,

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and strengthening of the current of national feeling and national life. But these signs are least manifest in that branch of literature which, besides addressing itself in the main to a particular class, had to so great an extent admitted the influence of foreign literary examples. The artificiality of our dramatic literature in this age precluded it from competing on equal terms with the new literary forms whose day was beginning; though comedy still retained enough contact with the life of the people to leave open the prospect of its further developement as a national literary growth.

But with the death of Queen Anne, the last of our Stuart sovereigns, I shall close my survey. A review of what lies beyond—a period of our dramatic literature full of interest even when it becomes all but devoid of promise for the future-must be left to another opportunity, or to other hands.

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