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Dramatic Character in the English Romantic Age

Dramatic Character in the English Romantic Age

Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 446
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  • Book Info
    Dramatic Character in the English Romantic Age
    Book Description:

    This was the age of the star. For the first time in the history of the theater, the playwright took second place to the actor; the interpretation of the role assumed primary importance in a assessing a performance. It was Mr. Kean's Hamlet first, and Mr. Shakespeare's second.

    What effects did this highly subjective, interpretive emphasis have on the drama? Where did it originate and how did it evolve? These questions are considered at length in the author's analysis of the nature of Romanticism itself as revealed in essays, novels, criticism, and by the actors themselves. The Jacobean origins of this revolutionary period are reviewed, followed by a close scrutiny of the critical writing of such contemporary thinkers as Hazlitt, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats. This entirely new concept provides an important link between the practical theater and the contemporary philosophical thought of the time.

    Originally published in 1970.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7302-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Joseph W. Donohue Jr.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. xi-1)
  5. Abbreviations and Citations
    (pp. 2-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    The emblem of human nature on the stage and in the text of the play is a constantly engaging but problematic figure. Whether man remains in all ages the same or possesses no nature, only a history, his analogue in dramatic art has in the course of time undergone striking transformations. Andromache, Ophelia, Beatrice Cenci, and Blanche DuBois may all have a reference in distressed femininity; Agamemnon, Faustus, Cato, and Willy Loman may each epitomize inevitable human defeat. But if their common plight sometimes reassures us, it helps very little to explain the protean differences they exhibit. For this explanation...


    • CHAPTER I The Affective Drama of Situation
      (pp. 13-28)

      An author who attempts to write for a repertory theater will naturally cast his eye about for successful models on which to base his own play. Because this is especially true of the English theater in the early nineteenth century, the great popularity of Shakespeare in that day is commonly taken as the key to the nature of Romantic drama. And the common conclusion is that the later playwright badly misinterpreted the poet whose works had inspired him. Not only in their language but in dramatic character and structure as well, the plays of Romantic writers have been seen largely...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER II The Persistence of the Fletcherian Mode
      (pp. 29-46)

      Citing performance records ofThe Traitorthat span a period of several centuries, a recent editor of the play singles out Shell’s adaptation,Evadne, for special interest “because it shows the nineteenth-century mind at work on the Jacobean material.”¹ The continuity established by these records provides an important example of the influence of the Fletcherian pattern; at both their beginning and culmination the link with the Jacobean playwright is clear. A “true son of Fletcher,” as Alfred Harbage has described him,² Shirley extensively exhibited his debt to the elder writer inThe Traitor(licensed 1631). Again, when Richard Lalor Sheil...

    • CHAPTER III Affective Drama and the Moment of Response
      (pp. 47-69)

      By nature an openly conservative form of art, the drama consistently dresses itself out in the next-to-new of old fashion. Addison’sCato, for example, is in many ways a regressive work, its emotional structure and heroic character and blank verse oratory a clear resume of Fletcher, Chapman and Dryden, Otway and Lee. Its justifiable impression of originality on Augustan audiences derived not from innovationary dramaturgy but from Addison’s sense of how the past may serve the present. Although a special instance because of the heated political issue it framed,Catoillustrates the general truth that the seemingly new may preserve...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER IV Romantic Heroism and Its Milieu
      (pp. 70-92)

      Although little known, and deservedly so, William Hodson’sZoraida:A Tragedy(Drury Lane, 1779-80) was produced late enough to reflect in an important way the development of pictorialism in late eighteenth-century drama and yet early enough so that the new lighting effects possible by 1785 were not present to draw from Hodson too complex a response. Those who believe that heroic drama died a century before Hodson may find confirmation in a reading of his play. Bearing many characteristics of the earlier form,Zoraidaseems in fact to have been written after a fresh review ofThe Conquest of Granada.¹...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)

    • CHAPTER V The West Indian: Cumberland, Goldsmith, and the Uses of Comedy
      (pp. 95-124)

      Previous discussion has traced the growth, persistence, and mutation of Fletcherian dramatic character and form in the serious English drama written over a span of two centuries. In the three chapters that follow, length of historical perspective is reduced, with a consequent enlargement of scale; concentration on the individual work remains unchanged. The reader will ob serve that the plays examined cluster around three points: the early 1770’s, the end of the century, and the period of about 1820. This is an intentional arrangement, but its purpose is not simply historical. The present essay seeks to illustrate the nature of...

    • CHAPTER VI Sheridan’s Pizarro: Natural Religion and the Artificial Hero
      (pp. 125-156)

      If the name of Richard Brinsley Sheridan were not attached to it,Pizarro(Drury Lane, 1798-99) might now lie buried in obscurity even deeper than it has found. Modern readers who open a complete edition of his plays continue to discover in astonishment that it was indeed Sheridan, author ofThe School for ScandalandThe Rivals, who proudly put his name to a work translated from the German of Kotzebue. Even in his own time, Sheridan was regarded by some as a traducer of those high principles of dramatic art illustrated in the composition of his earlier plays and...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER VII The Cenci: The Drama of Radical Innocence
      (pp. 157-186)

      I draw a stroke over all thoseDalilahsof the Theatre,” Dryden said, repenting authorial excesses in his Epistle Dedica tory toThe Spanish Fryar, “and am resolv’d I will settle my self no reputation by the applause of fools.”¹ Not the first to consider what posterity would make of him, Dryden was nevertheless the self-conscious father of those writers who have sensed their allegiance divided between ideals of permanent truth and the demands of professional life. His distaste for the stage was that of a dramatist who had experienced both success and failure and knew the uncertainty of either...


    • CHAPTER VIII Macbeth and Richard III: Dramatic Character and the Shakespearean Critical Tradition
      (pp. 189-215)

      Alongside the growing new drama in eighteenth-century England there developed an interest in Shakespearean plays and their chief characters which, by the end of the century, amounted to high devotion. Not only had Shakespeare usurped the place of Beaumont and Fletcher in the eyes of theatergoers; his works had claimed equal priority from their professionally critical contemporaries—many of whom apparently never entered a theater. The history of eighteenth-century literary criticism is to an important extent the history of Shakespearean criticism in this age. Because this is so, a study of the developing critical fascination with the Elizabethan playwright’s great...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER IX Garrick’s Shakespeare and Subjective Dramatic Character
      (pp. 216-242)

      Eighteenth-century Shakespearean criticism, explored in the previous chapter, provides a valuable point of vantage from which to examine the treatment of Shakespeare on the stage of this period. The discoveries of psychological critics and moral philosophers, although theoretical and general in tenor, bear directly on the practice of contemporary actors; for in each case the sense of experience is the same. But there is another body of theory, observation, and opinion whose relationship, not nearly so easy to define, cannot be neglected. One of the most interesting (and sometimes annoying) characteristics of the age of Doctor Johnson was its increasing...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER X Shakespearean Character on the Early Romantic Stage
      (pp. 243-279)

      The precedents of Shakespearean acting established by Garrick in the middle years of the eighteenth century influenced later actors to an extraordinary degree. As late as 1813-14, when Edmund Kean rose to triumph almost overnight, comparisons with Garrick seemed so inevitable that Kean has since been often thought of as his legitimate heir. Yet Kean’s own originality, especially his cultivation of grotesque posturing and idiosyncratic mannerisms, marked him as an actor much unlike his graceful predecessor. Kean shared with Garrick a high proficiency in revealing a character’s mental processes, but his method of giving them theatrical substance was all his...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER XI Coleridge, Lamb, and the Theater of the Mind
      (pp. 280-312)

      The notions of dramatic character that emerge in eighteenth-century criticism and performance of Shakespeare become the heritage of the early nineteenth century. Critics and actors in this later period stand in obvious debt to the two traditions that, developing independently, reached identical views of dramatic character by the end of the former age. Nineteenth-century critics derive from their predecessors the fundamental assumptions that character is the essence of drama and that the meaning of a play is the meaning of a particular character’s experience. And they carry on the ambivalent attitudes of genuine sympathetic involvement in the plight of the...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER XII Hazlitt, Kean, and the Lofty Platform of Imagination
      (pp. 313-343)

      Describing the cultural context of Crabb Robinson’s early comments on the theater, a modern editor observes that a shift in early nineteenth-century taste away from formalism toward naturalism was outdating Kemble’s studied approach to his art and preparing the way for the triumph of Edmund Kean.¹ As surely as Hazlitt’s championing of that actor represents the emergence of this new taste, the theatrical reviews of his contemporary Leigh Hunt provide an index to the shift as it occurred. The student who seeks a frame of reference for the mid-nineteenth-century domestic dramas of Boucicault, Tom Taylor, and Robertson would hardly do...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 344-348)

    The outcome of late eighteenth-century notions in the writings of Hazlitt, Coleridge, and their contemporaries is effectively summarized in a now little-known work which appeared early in their day. In 1807 Henry Siddons, actor and eldest son of Mrs. Siddons, brought out his adaptation of a German treatise he entitledPractical Illustrations of Rhetorical Gesture and Action, Adapted to the English Drama. The dramatic poem, Siddons says, presents figures that, in each important situation, find themselves

    in the real embarrassment of persons who communicate their ideas at the moment they receive them; and their affections, at the instant they are...

    (pp. 349-378)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 379-402)