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place in our literature will receive at most a casual notice as illustrative of particular tendencies, styles, or fashions. The period of our drama which precedes its organic union with the general current of our literary history will be treated as summarily as possible; while I shall not attempt even an outline of that later period in which the higher efforts of our drama gradually, though not entirely, came to be divorced from its only adequate and legitimate exponent. Within these limits lies a field wide and varied -almost beyond comparison-in its products, but admitting as it seems to me of a connected survey. This survey will so far as possible be conducted in the order of chronological sequence; but there are certain general principles which will be kept in view throughout, and to which, while by no means desirous of laying down or expounding any critical canons in reference to dramatic literature, I may therefore here briefly refer.

Strictly speaking, dramatic literature is that form of literary composition which accommodates itself to the demands of an art whose method is imitation in the way of action The varieties of the drama differ widely both as to the objects imitated and as to the means employed in the imitation. But the method or manner peculiar to the drama is indispensable to it, and all dramatic writing, while of course amenable to criticism from other points of view, must, in so far as it claims to be dramatic, be judged according to its adherence to the dramatic method. The use of words is necessary, not to every kind of drama, but to every kind of drama which falls within the range of literature. To speak of 'dance-poems' is to use an expression analogous to such phrases as 'songs without words' or 'word-painting,'— metaphors intended to mystify. Where words have only a share in the action

1 This is Donaldson's translation of the expression used by Aristotle, when pointing out (de Poëtica, cap. iii) the essential distinction between dramatic and other kinds of poetry.

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of a dramatic work, it depends on the nature and extent of that share, how far such a work belongs to dramatic literature and how far it is to be judged from the point of view of literary art. The acted drama removes itself from the sphere of literary criticism, in proportion as it neglects words for other means of imitating action. Whatever importance it may happen to attach to the mere paraphernalia of action, these latter are quite extraneous to the dramatic art. 'Painting and carpentry' may, as Ben Jonson says, have been 'the soul of mask' in the days of Inigo Jones, and may in our own be the soul of many theatrical entertainments; but their significance only begins where the task of dramatic criticism ceases.

It may further be well to point out, that speech or writing not designed to be employed as part of an imitation in the way of action is to be altogether excluded from the domain of the drama. The rude beginnings of dramatic composition, in which a harmonious combination of words with other elements in the representation of action has not yet been reached, or in which the general demands of literary art are still imperfectly met, necessarily call for notice in the history of the drama, nor can they be wholly left aside in any attempt to sketch the growth of a particular dramatic literature. But a work cannot be regarded as entitled to a place in dramatic literary history by the mere fact of the assumption of a form which though necessary to the drama is, even when accompanied by indications of time and place, not exclusively proper to it. Such forms are those of the address and the dialogue. Epical, lyrical, didactic, or oratorical works-the Iliad of Homer, the Odes of Pindar, the Dialogues of Plato, the Orations of Demosthenes— may accordingly possess and exhibit dramatic elements; but only such works as pursue the dramatic method are of their essence dramatic.

The uses to which this method is put differ in various

ways, in no respect more conspicuously than in that of the subjects of the action imitated. No merely formal distinction between tragedy and comedy can be maintained by those who consider dramatic literature as a whole, and are prepared to waive the transitory distinctions drawn at various times by successive writers or schools of poets. The difference between the tragic and the comic drama is no essential difference of method. Each of them appeals to distinct human feelings by treating its own kinds of subjects from its own points of view; and their results vary accordingly. But since they are one in method, there is no reason why they should be uniformly dissociated, though on aesthetical as well as ethical grounds it is most frequently desirable to keep tragic and comic elements of action asunder. There is however no law which binds down to any particular form either

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or the lightest comedy, while both are of their nature subject to the same method.

As representing an action, every drama must exhibit that which renders an action capable of being regarded and treated as such, viz. its unity. With this question of unity the question of length has no real concern. That an action should possess a certain length, is a demand arising from considerations to a great degree determined by comparison, and therefore of their nature elastic. Thus it is appropriate to the dignity of tragedy, that a tragic action should have a certain length; but the actual extent of this length will not admit of absolute definition. 'Bad plays,' says Webster, 'are the worse for their length;' and good plays are at times by no means the better for theirs; but no permanent validity attaches to rules of criticism which condemned a comedy as a farce because it was written in three acts, or which rank a farce as a comedy because it is written in five.


The necessity that an action should be one is very far from being tantamount to the supposed necessity-upheld as a dramatic law by misapprehension only-that it should consist of one event. For an event is but an element in an action, though it may be an element of decisive significance. The so-called unities of time and place are purely fictitious principles, to either of which it may be convenient to adhere in order to make the unity of an action more distinctly perceptible, and either of which may with equal propriety be disregarded in order to give the action probability.


In a complete drama the action must be likewise complete. Now, every action has its causes, growth, height, return or consequences, and close. The actions of real life-historical actions in other words-cannot indeed in any case be traced to their roots with absolute certainty, or in all cases even with relative probability; and their results are lost in the continuity which is the stream of the historic life of mankind. But art is limited by no such uncertainties; and the dramatist in treating an action as one comprehends the whole of it within his scope. Accordingly, every drama represents in organic sequence the five stages of which a complete action consists and which are essential to it. The introduction or exposition forms an integral part of the action, even if (as with the Greeks) it be presented in the form of a Prologue, or (as in some of our older English plays and in many modern dramas) by means of a separate Induction, or even by an inductive Dumb-show. From this opening the growth of the action continues to that third stage which we call its climax or height; and hence again the fall or return of the action proceeds to its close or catastrophe'. There

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1 For an admirably lucid exposition of this 'pyramidal the drama, which is precisely that indicated in other words by Aristotle (cap. xviii), a-c representing the déois, c-e the Xúois, see G. Freytag, Die Technik des Dramas, chap. ii. sect. 2.


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is no law to prescribe the proportionate length at which these several stages in the action are to be treated; but it is obvious that experience could not but here introduce certain rules of practice from which the dramatist will find it neither easy nor in ordinary cases advantageous to escape. Herein, too, lies the secret of the enduring prevalence of the Roman system dividing a play into five acts, with which the several stages of the action usually, but of course by no means uniformly, coincide.

This completeness in unity need not exclude the introduction of one or even more subsidiary actions as contributing to the developement of the main action. The sole imperative law is that they should always be treated as what they are-subsidiary only; and it is for this reason that they are well called under-plots. It is a fair question (which much exercised the critical acumen of Dryden) whether the advantages of this device are not more than counterbalanced by its dangers; but it is not intrinsically illegitimate. The ancient drama, in accordance with its usual practice of sustaining the particular tone of a single play throughout its entire course, only at a late period introduced the use of under-plots: the modern has in many of its growths largely resorted to them.

Inasmuch as dramatic action, like that which it imitates, is carried out by human characters, it is on the invention and presentment of these that the dramatist has to expend a great proportion of his labour. His treatment of them will, in at least as high a degree as his choice of subject itself, determine the nature of the effect he produces and the species of drama to which his work is to be assigned. Whether however his characters be tragic or comic, or a mixture of both, it will depend upon his treatment of them in relation to the course of his plot whether his action is what all really dramatic action must be-probable. The dramatist (who deals with generals, and is not hampered

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