Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Drama (Gk. drao, I do or act). A play may be defined as a composition in dialogue in which the action is not described, but acted or imitated, its aim being to "hold the mirror up to nature"; and the drama may be roughly divided into two kinds - Tragedy and Comedy, with numerous minor divisions. The love of mimicry is inherent in human nature, finding vent in all times and places, and among the rudest savages we can find traces of the fondness for mimic representations of the realities of life, which in civilised societies has produced some of the noblest literary masterpieces. The corroboree of the Australian aborigines and the wild dances of other savage races are forerunners of Hamlet and Faust, and the games of children are prophetic of the love of the theatre which will obtain in later years. The earliest theatrical representations in Europe originated with the Greeks, both tragedy and comedy being among the many gifts to posterity from that splendid people. We hear of a rudimentary comic drama in Greece from the 7th century B.C. According to tradition, the first comedy at Athens was produced by Susarion and Dolon in 562 B.C., and the first tragedy was written by Thespis 536 B.C. This author's name is still associated with all things dramatic. Both forms had their origin in the dances and choruses in honout of Dionysus (Bacchus), who was the patron deity of the theatre, and the chorus remained a feature of the Greek drama. The golden days of the Grecian theatre commenced with AEschylus, who made use of two actors in addition to the chorus and also introduced the use of scenery, the mask, and the cothurnus or tragic buskin. His most famous countrymen in the writing of tragedies were Sophocles and Euripides; in comedy, Eupolis, Cratinus, and, beyond all, Aristophanes. Of the new Greek comedy of Menander and others we can only judge by means of Latin adaptations, for though the Romans had rude dramatic beginnings of their own [Comedy], the theatre with them attained no position till the Grecian drama was introduced about 364 B.C. Seneca, probably the philosophic minister of Nero, is the only Roman tragic writer of whose works we have any specimens, and these productions, bombastic and tedious, do not favourably impress us with the worth of Roman tragedies. Plautus and Terence are their two greatest writers of comedies, but their work is little more than the adaptation of Greek originals. A strange gap, caused, perhaps, by the horror in which the early Christians not unnaturally held such a pagan institution as the theatre, comes between the ancient and modern drama. With the exception of the works of a select school of pedants in Italy, who, perhaps, held that imitation best expressed their admiration, the modern drama has slowly grown up from the miracle and mystery plays of the Middle Ages, by means of which the Church endeavoured to teach the history and mysteries of the Christian religion to an illiterate public. Italy, however, commenced with a series of reproductions of classical models, the earliest tragedy being the Sofonisba of Trissino (1502). To the 15th and 16th centuries belong the Pastoral Plays, and in the same centuries Ariosto, Aretino, and Macchiavelli were distinguished as writers of comedy. After a long period of depression the drama was raised to a high place by Goldoni and Alfieri, and amongst later writers may be named Monti, Manzoni, and Niccolini. Until the advent of Corneille the French drama was only distinguished by its mediocrity, but since then French dramatists have taken a foremost position in the history of the drama. Racine, Moliere, Voltaire, Beautnarchais stand out conspicuous, and in later days Hugo and Dumas led the attack made by the romantic upon the classical school. Of still more recent writers we may name de Vigny, de Musset, Merimee, Augier, Scribe, Dumas fils, Sardou, and Daudet, who with a number of others have by their wit and ingenuity upheld and increased the brilliancy of the French theatre. It will not be out of place to record that the aid of the State has done much to encourage the art of acting in France, and that the actors of that country have long held the foremost place for polish and finish, as is well attested by such names as Favart, Talma, Rachel, Got, Delaunay, Lemaitre, Bernhardt, and Coquelin. In Spain dramatic art attained its highest point with Lope de Vega and Calderon. In Germany Lessing broke the spell of French tradition and practice, but his fame has oeen overshadowed by that of Schiller and Goethe. Of other prominent writers the most noteworthy are perhaps Korner, Schlegel, Tieck, Grillparzer, and Freytag. The Dutch drama numbers amongst its highest ornaments Koster and Vondel, and of Scandinavian dramatists Holberg, Oehlenschlager, Bjornson, and Ibsen are the best known. Turning now to our own country, the history of whose drama we shall trace more fully, we find that the Mystery and Miracle plays gradually gave place in popular esteem to the Moralities, and that these insensibly developed into the drama proper. These early plays were, as their names imply, entirely religious in character, and were at first written and acted by churchmen. The Moralities were allegorical, not historical, and one of the most important characters was the Vice, the lineal predecessor of the modern clown. John Ball is a typical writer of the transition stage of the English drama. He was the author of some of the latest Mysteries and Moralities, which he used as vehicles for bitter attacks upon Popery. But his most interesting production is his play of King John, founded upon the chronicles of that king's reign. It is the first historical play, and in a way the last of the Moralities, for amongst its characters we find such personages as Widowed England, Verity, Treason, and Sedition. Balph Bolster Doister was the first regular English comedy, and the author was Nicholas Udall (b. circa 1504, d. 1556). It possesses considerable spirit and observation of character, relating the adventures and follies of a rich young man surrounded by flatterers and sycophants. This piece was followed by Gammer Gnrton's Needle, of far inferior merit, written by John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells. The first tragedy, Gorboduc; or, Ferrex and Porrex, was the production of Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and was acted in 1561 by the members of the Inner Temple before Queen Elizabeth. The theatre in the modern sense of the word had as yet no existence, no separate building having ever been set apart for the performance of plays. The players wandered from place to place, acting in innyards, banqueting halls, barns, and other suitable places, and unless under the patronage and protection of some peer or great man, in whose service they were supposed to be, were considered and treated as vagabonds and vagrants. The Blackfriars theatre was opened in 1576 by James Burbage and his company of players, who had been driven from the City by the intolerant persecutions of the Corporation. (For a description of the theatre and the performances, see Theatre.) It is noteworthy that many of the early dramatists were actors, notably Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and Shakespeare. In the later days of Elizabeth and the early years of the reign of James I. the English drama reached a height of splendour such as it has never since approached. Headed by Shakespeare, we find then a band of writers who singly would have shed lustre on their age, who together have rendered the drama of their day unequalled for its poetry, vigour, and profound knowledge of humac nature. Lyly, Kyd, Greene, Peele, Marlowe - who first mastered the beauties of blank verse - Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Webster, Tourneur, Middleton, Dekker, Marston, Ford, Massinger are among the more notable of Shakespeare's fellow workers. Shakespeare himself must stand alone. Under the Commonwealth the performances of stage plays were put a stop to by the Puritans, but on the Restoration Charles II. restored the theatre to favour. A new school arose; the Elizabethan dramatists were considered barbarous and crude;:

artifice and wit displaced poetry and nature; and the tastes acquired by the king during his long exile are chiefly responsible for the sensuality and immorality that is the distinguishing feature of the revival of the drama. Dryden, Davenant, and Killigrew may be named as among the earlier, and Shadwell, Settle, Lee, and Otway among the later writers of this period. But the revival is chiefly to be remembered for the brilliantly witty but licentious comedies of Wycherley, who was ably followed by Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar. Their plays are utterly unreal, the world they depict entirely false; morals there are none, and every character speaks with equal wit and acts with equal indecency. Jeremy Collier, a nonjuring bishop, published in 1628 A Short View.of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage, a bitter attack on this school of dramatists, which called forth more or less feeble replies from Congreve, Vanbrugh, Dennis, and others, and a more manly confession of guilt from Dryden. These writers were followed by Steele and Addison, whose Cato is a strange example of temporary and undeserved success; Goldsmith, who has given the theatre two masterpieces; Colley Cibber, Gay, Garrick, and the brilliant Sheridan, who rivalled in wit any of his predecessors. We now come to what may fairly be termed the drama of the present day, when it is necessary to a certain extent to divide it into two classes - one purely literary, the other theatrical and too often non-literary. In the. former class, though some of their plays have been seen on the stage, the chief representatives are Byron, Shelley, Milman, Browning, Tennyson, and Swinburne. Their works - many of them holding a foremost place in the literary productions of our country - have added few to the number of our acting plays, and it appears to be becoming more and more customary for literary men to ignore the theatre as a vehicle for bringing their best work before the public. Talfourd and Planche in lighter work, and Knowles and the first Lord Lytton hold a position somewhat between these two schools of writers of the drama, and the plays of the latter seem to have gained a permanent place in the repertoire of our leading actors. The same may perhaps be said of Tom Taylor and W. G. Wills. Of those who may be distinguished rather as playwrights than dramatists we may mention Douglas Jerrold, Charles Reade, Dion Boucicault, Thomas Robertson, and Henry J. Byron, and of writers of farce Matthews and Morton, the author of that immortal farce Box and Cox. In recent years the drama has shown some symptoms of revival. It is customary to depreciate English dramatic authors of to-day, and to say that we owe their best work to French originals. To a certain extent this charge is true and borne out by facts, but it is unfair to ignore the large amount of vigorous and worthy work that has been achieved by several of our most popular dramatists. W. S. Gilbert holds perhaps a place apart. He has originated - and as yet had no rivals in their production - the amazingly clever and charming operas which, in conjunction with Sir Arthur Sullivan and other composers, have achieved immense and well-deserved popularity. His more ambitious productions both in comedy and drama are of a high standard of ability, and are distinguished for literary as well as for dramatic power. Robert Buchanan also has given much good work to the stage. Sydney Grundy, Henry Arthur Jones, and Arthur Wing Pinero have written many plays of striking merit, and the popular approval that meets the production of plays of serious import and artistic aim bodes well for the future of the English drama. (See Theatre, Tragedy, Comedy, and the various names mentioned in this article.)