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I. The Life of Marlowe-Catalogue of his Works.-11. The Father
of English Dramatic Poetry-He Fixes the Romantic Type--
Adopts the Popular Dramatic Form, the Blank Verse Metre of
I. Method of Inquiry-Chronological Limits-Unity of the Subject.-
II. Three Stages in Evolution of the Drama-Stage of Preparation and Formation-Closed by Marlowe--Stage of perfectly developed Type-Character of Shakspere's Art-Jonson and Fletcher-Stage of Gradual Decline.-III. The Law of Artistic Evolution-Illustrations from Gothic Architecture, Greek Drama, Italian Painting.-IV. The Problem for Criticism - In Biography – In History-Shakspere personifies English Genius in his Century-Criticism has to demonstrate this.—V. Chronology is scarcely helpful-Complexity of the Subject-Imperfection of our Drama as a Work of Art-Abundance of Materials for Studying all Three Stages-Unique Richness of our Dramatic Literature.-VI. Shakspere's Relation to his Age-To his Predecessors—To his Successors.–VII. Double Direction of English Literary Art-Jonson, Milton, Dryden, Pope-Spirit of the Elizabethan Epoch.---VIII. The Elizabethan Inspiration is exhausted in the Reign of Charles I.-Dramatists of the Restoration -Rise of the Novel-Place of Novelists in the Victorian Age.
In attempting a survey of one of the great periods of. literary history, the critic is met with a problem, upon his conception and solution of which will depend both method and distribution of material. This initial difficulty may be stated in the form of questions. What central point of view can be adopted ? How
shall the order of inquiry be determined ? Do the phenomena to be considered suggest some natural classification ; or must the semblance of a system be introduced by means of artificial manipulation ?
This difficulty makes itself fully felt in dealing with what we call Elizabethan Drama. The subject is at once one of the largest and the narrowest, of the most simple and the most complex. It ranks among the largest, because it involves a wide and varied survey of human experience; among the narrowest, because it is confined to a brief space of time and to a single nation ; among the most simple, because the nation which produced that Drama was insulated and independent of foreign interference; among the most complex, because the English people at that epoch exhibited the whole of its exuberant life together with an important stage of European culture in its theatre.
Confined within the strictest chronological limits (1580-1630), the period embraced by such a study does not exceed fifty years. Very little therefore of assistance to the critical method can be expected from the mere observation of development in time. Yet the ruling instinct of the present century demands, and in my opinion demands rightly, some demonstration of a process in the facts collected and presented by a student to the public. It is both unphilosophical and uninteresting to bind up notices, reviews, and criticisms of a score or two of dramatists; as though these writers had sprung, each unaided by the other, into the pale light of history; as though they did not acknowledge one law, controlling the noblest no less than the meanest; as though their work, surveyed in its entirety,