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DRAMA. — Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Author of “ Tamburlaine the Great,” “The Rich Jew of Malta,” and “ Doctor John Faustus ”; a dramatist of great power, who has been called “ a second Shakespeare."
Robert Greene (1560-1592). Author of “ Alphonsus, King of Aragon," and other plays. In a pamphlet entitled “A Groat's Worth of Wit,” he rails at Shakespeare as “an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers.”
Ben Jonson (1573-1637). Friend of Shakespeare, and author of many dramas, among which are “ Every Man in his Humor,” “Cynthia's Revels,” “Sejanus,” and “The Alchemist."
Philip Massinger (1584-1640). Author of thirty-eight dramas, among which are “ The City Madam,” “The Fatal Dowry,” and “A New Way to Pay Old Debts.” „The last still keeps its place upon the stage.
John Webster (date of birth and death unknown) was strong in handling terrible subjects. Among his plays are “ The Duchess of Malfi” and “The White Devil,” which Hazlitt says come near to Shakespeare.
Thomas Dekker (1570-1637). Author of twenty-eight plays. His “Satiromastix” satirizes Ben Jonson. In another of his plays occur the oft-quoted lines,
66 The best of men
Francis Beaumont (1586-1615) and John Fletcher (1579-1625) re joint authors of fifty-two plays, among the best of which are “ The Maid's Tragedy," "Cupid's Revenge,” and “ Philaster."
GREAT REPRESENTATIVE AUTHORS.
FIRST CREATIVE PERIOD.
Interest of period — Barren era after Chaucer – Revival of learning
– Inventions — Caxton and the printing-press — The Reformation - Condition of England — Elizabeth's character — General progress — Influence on thought and character -- Pre-Elizabethan literature Old ballads Thomas More Earl of Surrey — Sir Thomas Wyat — Elizabethan outburst of literature Ascham Lyly-Sidney-Hooker --- Raleigh-Elizabethan lyrics-Sackville, Daniel, Drayton — Origin of drama — Miracle plays — Moralities First comedy and tragedy Theatres Minor dramatists Ben Jonson - EDMUND SPENSER — FRANCIS BACON — WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
This period, which includes the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., is one of great interest. In the long course of English literature there is no other period that deserves more careful attention. It was the natural outcome of forces that had been accumulating for a hundred years. It is sometimes called the Elizabethan era, because the successful reign of that queen supplied the opportunity for a splendid manifestation of literary genius. Peace, prosperity, and general intelligence are the necessary conditions for the creation of a great national literature - a truth that finds abundant exemplification in the age of Pericles in Athens, of Augustus in Rome, and of Louis XIV. in France. While these conditions do not explain genius, which must be referred to the immediate agency of the Creator, they make it possible for genius to realize its best capabilities. The reign of Elizabeth, with its increase of intelligence and national power, furnished the occasion and the stimulus under which Spenser, Shakespeare, and Bacon produced their immortal works. At one great bound English literature reached an excellence that for variety of interest and weight of thought has scarcely been surpassed.
The century and a half lying between the death of Chaucer and the accession of Elizabeth was an era of preparation. The potential forces that had called the father of English poetry into being seemed to subside, and not a single writer in either prose or poetry attained to the first or even to the second rank. The cause of this literary barrenness is to be found partly in the repression of free inquiry by the church and Parliament, partly in the social disorders connected with the Wars of the Roses, and partly in the varied and important interests that engaged general attention.
The century preceding the accession of Elizabeth was an era of awakened mind and intellectual acquisition. The revival of learning was an event of vast importance, not only in the intellectual life of England, but also of all Europe. It had its central point in the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, which caused many Greek scholars to seek refuge in Italy. As ancient learning had already begun to receive attention there, these scholarly fugitives were warmly welcomed. Noble and wealthy patronage was not wanting; and soon the classic literature of Greece and Rome was studied with almost incredible enthusiasm. The popes received the new learning under their protection ; libraries were founded, manuscripts collected, and academies established.
Eager scholars from England, France, and Germany sat at the feet of Italian masters, in order afterward to bear beyond the Alps the precious seed of the new culture. Its beneficent effects soon became apparent. Greek was introduced into the great universities of England. Erasmus, the most brilliant scholar of his time, taught at Oxford. It became the fashion to study the ancient classics, and Elizabeth, Jane Grey, and other noble ladies are said to have been conversant with Plato, Xenophon, and Cicero in the original. The taste, the eloquence, the refined literary culture, of Athens and pagan Rome were restored to the world; and “gradually, by an insensible change, men were raised to the level of the great and healthy minds which had freely handled ideas of all kinds fifteen centuries before."
The remarkable inventions and discoveries of the fifteenth century contributed, in a noteworthy degree, to awaken intellect and lift men to a higher plane of knowledge. The printing-press was invented about the middle of the century, and in less than a decade it was brought to such perfection that the whole Bible appeared in type in 1456. It became a powerful aid in the revival of learning. It at once supplanted the tedious and costly process of copying books by hand, and brought the repositories of learning within reach of the common people.
The printing-press was introduced into England about 1476, by William Caxton, who had learned the art of printing in Bruges. The following year appeared the “Dictes and Notable Wise Sayings of the Philosophers,” which is probably the first book printed in England. Caxton contributed materially to the advancement of English letters. He was himself a translator and editor. He printed no fewer than ninety-nine works, among which are Chaucer's “Canterbury Tales,” Gower's “Confessio Amantis," and Malory's “Morte d'Arthur,” from which Tennyson drew the materials for his “ Idyls of the King."
Gunpowder, which had been invented the previous century, came into common use, and wrought a salutary change in the organization of society. It destroyed the military prestige of the knightly order, brought the lower classes into greater prominence, and contributed to the abolition of serfdom. The mariner's compass greatly furthered navigation. Instead of creeping along the shores of the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, seamen boldly ventured upon unknown waters. In 1492 Columbus discovered America; and six years later Vasco da Gama, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, sailed across the Indian Ocean to Calcutta. Voyages of discovery followed in rapid succession, new continents were added to the map, and the general store of knowledge was greatly increased.
The greatest event in history since the advent of Christ is the Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was essentially a religious movement, which sought to correct the errors in doctrine and practice that had crept into the church and long given rise to deep dissatisfaction. In connection with the coöperating influences spoken of in the preceding paragraphs, the Reformation began a new stage in human progress, marking the close of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the modern era. There is scarcely