« PreviousContinue »
AN HISTORICAL SKETCH
ENGLISH DRAMA BEFORE
BY REV. HENRY N. HUDSON, LL. D.
THE English Drama, as we have it in Shakespeare, was the slow growth of several centuries. Nor is it clearly traceable to any foreign source: it appears to have been an original and independent growth, the native and free product of the soil; not a mere revival, or reproduction, or continuation of what had existed somewhere else. This position will be found very material when we approach the subject of structure and form; for it evidently infers that the Drama in question is not amenable to any ancient or foreign jurisdiction; that it stands on independent ground, has a life and spirit of its
own, is to be viewed as a thing by itself, and judged according to the peculiar laws under which it grew and took its shape. That is, it had just as good a right to differ from any other Drama as any other had, from it.
The ancient Drama, that which grew to perfection and, so far as is known, had its origin in Greece, is universally styled the Classic Drama. By what term to distinguish the modern Drama of Europe, writers are not fully agreed. Within a comparatively recent period, it has received from high authorities the title of the Romantic Drama. A much more appropriate title, as it seems to us, suggested by its Gothic original and used by earlier and perhaps equally good authorities, is that of the Gothic Drama. Such, accordingly, is the term by which we shall distinguish it in these pages. The fitness of the name, it is thought, will be seen at once from the fact that the thing was an indigenous and self-determined outgrowth from the Gothic mind under Christian culture. Of course, the term naturally carries the idea that the Drama in question stands on much the same ground, relatively to the Classic Drama, as is commonly recognized in the case of Gothic and Classic architecture. We can thus the better realize that each Drama forms a distinct species by itself, so that any argument or criticism urged from the rules of the ancient against the modern is wholly impertinent.
The Gothic Drama, as it fashioned itself in dif
ferent nations of modern Europe, especially in England and Spain, where it grew up and reached perfection simultaneously and independently, has certain not inconsiderable varieties. Upon the reason and nature of the variations we cannot enlarge: suffice it to say that they do not reach beyond mere points of detail; so that their effect is to approve all the more forcibly the strength of the common principles which underlie and support them. These principles cover the whole ground of difference from the Classic Drama. The several varieties, therefore, of the Gothic Drama may be justly regarded as bearing concurrent testimony to a common right of freedom from the jurisdiction of ancient rules.
Of the origin and progress of the Drama in England our limits will permit only a brief sketch, not more than enough, perhaps not enough, to give a general idea on the subject. Ample materials for the work are furnished to our hand in Warton's History of English Poetry and Collier's Annals of the Stage, so that the only merit or demerit we can claim is in so selecting and condensing the matter as may best agree with our judgment and our space.
In England, as in the other Christian nations where it can be regarded as at all original, the Drama was of ecclesiastical origin, and for a long time was used only as a means of diffusing among the people a knowledge of the leading facts and doctrines of Christianity as then understood and received. Of course, therefore, it was in substance