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THE NATION AND THE DRAMA.
1. The Function of a Great Drama -- To be both National and Universal
-How that of England fulfilled this–England and the Renaissance -Fifty Years of Mental Activity.-11. Transitional Character of that Age in England.-III. Youthfulness—Turbulence—Marked Personality. -IV. The Italians of the Renaissance-Cellini.-V. Distinguishing Characteristics of the English--Superior Moral Qualities -Travelling-Rudeness of Society—The Medley of the Age.-VI. How the Drama represented Society-Determination of the Romantic Species—Its Specific Quality-Materials of Plays-Heywood's Boast. -VII. Imperfections of the Romantic Style.–VIII. Treatment of Character-Violent Changes-Types of Evil-Fantastic Horrors. --IX. Insanity.-X. Meditations upon Death.--XI. Sombre Philosophy of Life-Melancholy-Religious Feeling.–XII. Blending of Gay with Grave—Types of Female Character-Boy-Actors.--XIII. Comedy of Life and of Imagination-Shaksperian Comedy-Fletcher's Romantic Comedy and Comedy of Intrigue--Hybrids between Pastoral and Allegory-Farce—Comedy of Manners-Jonson.-XIV. Questions for Criticism.—XV. Three Main Points relating to English Drama.—XVI. National Public-England compared with Italy, France, Spain. -XVII. English Poetry—Mr. M. Arnold on Literatures of Genius and Intelligence—The Inheritors of Elizabethan Poetry.-XVIII. Unimpeded Freedom of Development-Absence of Academies—No Interference from Government–The Dramatic Art considered as a Trade and a Tradition.—XIX. Dramatic Clairvoyance--Insight into Human Nature-Insight into Dramatic Method. -XX. The Morality of the Elizabethan Drama.—XXI. Its Importance in Educating the People-In Stimulating Patriotism-Contrast with the Drama of the Restoration.-XXII. Improvement of the Language-Variety of Styles ---Creation of Blank Verse. --XXIII. History of Opinion on the Drama-De Quincey's Panegyric.
I. At all periods of history the stage has been a mirror of the age and race in which it has arisen. Dramatic poets more than any other artists reproduce the life of men around them; exhibiting their aims, hopes, wishes, aspirations, passions, in an abstract more intensely cuioured than the diffuse facts of daily experience. It is the function of all artistic genius to interpret human nature to itself, and to leave in abiding form a record of past ages to posterity; but more especially of the dramatic genius, which rules for its domain the manners, actions, destinies of men. The result attained by a great drama in those few ages and among those rare races which can boast this highest growth of art, is twofold. On the one hand it shows 'the very age and body of the time his form and pressure;' it is strictly local, national, true to the epoch of its origin. But it is more than this; it is on the other hand a glass held up to nature, reflecting what is permanent in man beneath the customs and costumes, the creeds and polities, of any age or nation.
These remarks, though obvious enough, contain a truth which must not be neglected on the threshold of our inquiry in'o the origins of the English Drama. If it be granted that other theatres, the Greek, the Spanish, and the French, each of which embalms for us the spirit of a gre it people at one period of the world's development, are at the same time by their revelation of man's nature permanent and universal, this may be claimed in even a stricter sense for the English. Never since the birtl, of the dramatic art in Greece has any theatre displayed a genius so local and spontaneously popular, so thoroughly representative of the century in which it sprang to power, so national in tone and character. Yet none has been more universal by right of insight into the essential qualities of human nature,
FUNCTION OF THE DRAMA.
by right of sympathy with every phase of human feeling, by right of meditation upon all the problems which have vexed the human spirit; none is more permanent by right of artistic potency and beauty, accumulated learning, mar.ifold experience, variety of presentation, commanding interest, and inexhaustible fertility of motives.
We are led to ask how our Drama came to be in this high sense both national and universal ; how our playwrights, working for their age and race, achieved the artistic triumph of presenting to the world an abstract picture of humanity so complex and so perfect. Questions like these can never be completely answered. There remains always something inscrutable in the spontaneous efforts of a nation finely touched to a fine issue. Yet some considerations will help us to understand, if not to explain, the problem. And, in the first place, it may be repeated that the intellectual movement, to which we give the name of Renaissance, expressed itself in England mainly through the Drama. Other races in that era of quickened activity, when modern man regained the consciousness of his own strength and goodliness after centuries of mental stagnation and social depression, threw their energies into the plastic. arts and scholarship. The English found a similar outlet for their pent-up forces in the Drama. The arts and literature of Greece and Rome had been revealed by Italy to Europe. Humanism had placed the present once more in a vital relation to the past. The navies of Portugal and Spain had discovered new continents beyond the ocean ; the merchants of Verive and Genoa had explored the
farthest East. Copernicus had revolutionised astronomy, and the telescope was revealing fresh worlds beyond the sun. The Bible had been rescued from the mortmain of the Church; scholars studied it in the language of its authors, and the people read it in their own tongue. In this rapid development of art, literature, science, and discovery, the English had hitherto taken but little part. But they were ready to reap what other men had sown. Unfatigued by the labours of the pioneer, unsophisticated by the pedantries and sophistries of the schools, in the freshness of their youth and vigour, they surveyed the world unfolded to them. For more than half a century they freely enjoyed the splendour of this spectacle, until the struggle for political and religious liberty replunged them in the hard realities of life. During that eventful period of spiritual disengagement from absorbing cares, the race was fully conscious of its national importance. It had shaken off the shackles of oppressive feudalism, the trammels of ecclesiastical tyranny. It had not yet passed under the Puritan yoke, or felt the encroachments of despotic monarchy. It was justly proud of the Virgin Queen, with whose idealised personality the people identified their newly acquired sense of greatness. During those fortunate years, the nation, which was destined to expend its vigour in civil struggles and constitutional reforms between 1642 and 1689, and then to begin that strenuous career of colonisation and conquest in both hemispheres, devoted its best mental energy to self-expression in one field of literature. The pageant of renascent humanity to which the English were invited by Italians, Spaniards, and
Frenchmen, our predecessors in the arts and studies of two centuries, stimulated the poets of the race to their dramatic triumphs. What in those fifty years they saw with the clairvoyant eyes of artists, the poets wrote, And what they wrote, remains imperishable. It is the portrait of their age, the portrait of an age in which humanity stood self-revealed, a miracle and marvel to its own admiring curiosity.
England was in a state of transition when the Drama came to perfection. That was one of those rare periods when the past and the future are both coloured by imagination, and both shed a glory on the present. The medieval order was in dissolution ; the modern order was in process of formation. Yet the old state of things had not faded from memory and usage; the new had not assumed despotic sway. Men stood then, as it were, between two dreams-a dream of the past, thronged with sinister and splendid reminiscences; a dream of the future, bright with unlimited aspirations and indefinite hopes. Neither the retreating forces of the Middle Ages nor the advancing forces of the modern era pressed upon them with the iron weight of actuality. The brutalities of feudalism had been softened; but the chivalrous sentiment remained to inspire the Surreys and the Sidneys of a milder epoch -its high enthusiasm and religious zeal, its devotion to women, its ideal of the knightly character, its cheerful endurance of hardship, its brave reliance on a righteous cause. The Papacy, after successive revo