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ON THE DRAMA OF ELIZABETH AND JAMES CONSIDERED AS THE
MAIN PRODUCT OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ENGLAND.
O much has been written about
the origins of the Drama in England, that it will suffice to touch but briefly on this topic. The English, like other European nations, composed and
acted Miracle Plays upon the events of sacred history and the main doctrines of the Church. Embracing the whole drama of humanity, from the Creation of the World to the Last Judgment, these Miracles, of which we possess several well-preserved specimens, might rather be regarded as immense epics scenically presented to an audience, than as plays with a plot and action. Yet certain episodes in the lengthy cycle, such for example as the Entrance of Noah into the Ark, the Sacrifice of Isaac, Nativity of our Lord, the story of the Woman taken in Adultery, and the Repentance of Magdalen, detached themselves from the main scheme, and became the subjects of free dramatic handling.
In this way the English people were familiarized at an early period with tragedy and comedy in the * rough, while preparation was made for the
emergence of the secular Drama as a specific form of art. Before this happened, however, a second stage had to be accomplished. Between the Miracle
Play and the Drama intervened the Morality and y the Interlude. The former was a peculiar species
of representation, in which abstract conceptions and the personages of allegory were introduced in action under the forms of men and women. The tone of such pieces remained purely didactic, and their machinery was clumsy; yet their authors found it impossible to deal dramatically with Youth and Pleasure, Sin, Grace, and Repentance, the Devil and Death, without developing dialogue, marking character, and painting the incidents of real life. Thus the Morality led to the Interlude, which completed the disengagement of the drama from religious aims,
and brought various types of human nature on the stage. The most remarkable specimen of this kind now extant may be mentioned. It is the elder Heywood's Three P's, in which a Pardoner, a Pedlar, and a Palmer, three characteristic figures among contemporary vagrants and impostors, are vividly delineated. From the Interlude to Farce and Comedy there was but a
short step to take ; and in England the earliest plays, properly so-called, were of a humorous description. At the same time, tragedy began to form itself out of serious pieces detached in detail from the Miracle Plays. Godly Queen Esther, King Darius, The Conversion of St. Paul, and so forth, smoothed the way for secular dramas upon subjects chosen from history and legend.
The process of dramatic evolution which I have briefly sketched, had reached this point before the new learning of the Italian Renaissance penetrated English society. The people were accustomed to scenic representations, and had traced the outlines of what was afterwards to become the Romantic or Shakespearian drama. At this point the attention of cultivated people was directed to the Latin and Italian theatre. Essayists like Sir Philip Sidney, poets like Lord Buckhurst and Thomas Norton, tried by their precepts and their practice to introduce the classical style of dramatic composition into England. They severely criticized the rhymed plays in which the populace delighted, the involved tales roughly versified for declamation by actors in the yards of inns, and the incongruous blending of rude farce with pathetic or passionate incident. It seemed for a time as though these “courtly makers” might divert the English Drama from its spontaneously chosen path into the precise and formal channels of pedantic imitation. The aristocracy and learned coteries delighted in tragedies