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BETWEEN the publication of Jonson's Discoveries (1641) and that of Dryden's Essay of Dramatick Poesie (1668), there is no outstanding piece of dramatic criticism in English. However, Davenant's efforts to create the opera, his Preface to Gondibert and Hobbes' reply, in 1650, together with the former's Dedication and To the Reader prefixed to his Siege of Rhodes (printed 1663), deserve passing notice as connecting links. Sir Robert Howard's Preface to Four New Playes (1665), which called forth Dryden's reply, and Howard's further Preface -- toThe Great Favorite (1668) -- Richard Flecknoe's A Short Discourse of the English Stage (1664), and the various prefaces, dedications, and prologues, especially of Shadwell's The Sullen Lovers (1668) and of The Humourists (1671), are further indications of interest in dramatic controversies. Thomas Rymer entered the field a few years after Dryden. His Preface to his translation of Rapin's Reflexions sur la poétique (1674) attacked all stragglers from the narrow path prescribed by the rigid neo-classicists; he followed this with a severe criticism of the Elizabethans, in The Tragedies of the Last Age Consider'd, etc. (1678), and in 1693 he published his Short View of Tragedy, etc., containing the famous onslaught on Othello. Milton published his short dissertation on tragedy with his Samson Agonistes (1671) as a sort of apology. It is bases almost entirely upon the Italian Renaissance critics' conception of Aristotle's remarks on tragedy. Other contemporaries of Dryden, who dominated the last years of the century are, among others of less importance: the Duke of Buckingham, whose Essay upon Poetry was published in 1682; Ravenscroft's preface to the play Dame Dobson (1684); Sedley, whose Bellamira (1687) had a short Preface; Sir Thomas Pope Blount, whose extensive treatise -- De Re Poetica -- with numerous excerpts from ancient and modern poets, appeared in 1694; and the dramatists, Blackmore -- Prefaces to Prince Arthur (1695) and King Arthur (1697) -- and Dilke -- Preface to The City Lady (1697). Of Dryden's thirty odd prefaces, essays, etc., on the drama, the first, the Epistle Dedicatory to his play The Rival Ladies, was published in 1664. This was followed by the Essay of Dramatick Poesie (1668), and the Defence, the same year. Nearly every one of his plays carries a preface, dedication, or separate essay defending his dramatic practice, setting forth some theory, or attacking the practice or theory of others. His last word on the drama is found in the Discourse on Epick Poetry, prefixed to his translation of the Aeneid in 1697, three years before his death. Dryden was a great critic, one of the greatest of all time. "He established (let us hope for all time)," says Saintsbury, "the English fashion of criticizing, as Shakespeare did the English fashion of dramatizing,--the fashion of aiming at delight, at truth, at justice, at nature, at poetry, and letting the rules take care of themselves." The controversy between the Puritans and the stage assumed its most violent form in the famous Collier dispute. In 1696 Jeremy Collier, a Nonjuring clergyman, published his Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage. This pamphlet was aimed primarily against the dramatists who "profaned" the stage with immoral characters and situations, and who attacked the clergy. While his purpose was primarily a moral one, there is a good deal of literary criticism in his work. There is no doubt that he was a most important factor in changing the tone of the plays of his generation, and stultifying the comedies of the next. The Short View called forth many replies, some of which were anonymous. Congreve replied with his Amendments upon Mr. Collier's False and Imperfect Citations, etc., the same year. Collier at once riposted with his Defence of the Short View, etc., Farquhar is the probable author of The Adventures of Covent Garden, in which he answered Collier by suggesting that the "best way of answering Mr. Collier was not to have replied at all." Vanbrugh, who together with Congreve and Dryden, was specifically attacked, replied in his Vindication of the Relapse, etc. (1699). John Dennis, a critic of no mean ability, defended the stage in a lengthy treatise on The Usefulness of the Stage to the Happiness of Mankind, to Government, and to Religion, etc. (1698). When, in 1705, Collier published his Dissuasive from the Play House, Dennis again answered with A Person of Quality's Answer to Mr. Coller's Letter. Before the Collier controversy started, Dennis had written his first criticism, the Impartial Critick (1693), in reply to Rymer's Short View of Tragedy. Among his subsequent dramatic criticisms may be mentioned: An Essay on the Opera (1706), An Essay on the Genius and Writings of Shakespeare (1712), Remarks upon Cato, a Tragedy (1713), A Defence of Sir Fopling Flutter, a Comedy (1722), Remarks on a Play call'd The Conscious Lovers, a Comedy (1723), The Stage Defended from Scripture, Reason and the Common Sense of Mankind for Two Thousand Years (1726). Drake's Antient and Modern Stages survey'd (1699) called forth Collier's Second Defence of the Short View, etc. (1700). E. Filmer's A Defence of Plays, etc. (1707), found Collier once more ready with an answer, A Farther Vindication of the Short View, etc. (1708). Mr. Collier's Dissuasive from the Play House (1703), completes the list of the clergyman's attacks on the stage. Among the many defenses of Collier may be mentioned the anonymous A Representation of the Impiety and Immorality of the English Stage, etc. (1704). Formal treatises on the art of poetry made their appearance early in the new century. Edward Bysshe's Art of English Poetry (probably 1700) is of great historical importance, and sums up the neo-classic tendencies of the time. This was followed in 1721 by Charles Gildon's Complete Art of Poetry. It was probably Gildon who "improved" and continued Gerard Langbaine's Lives and Characters of the English Dramatic Poets, etc., which was published in 1699 (?). Addison, great as he was in other fields, is not important as a dramatic critic. In the Spectator, however, he touches on drama at several points. In THe Tatler, The Guardian, and other papers, Richard Steele also occasionally wrote on the drama, and in the dedications and prefaces to his plays (The Funeral, 1702, The Lying Lover, 1704, The Conscious Lovers, 1723). Farquhar, the last of the great Restoration dramatists, made his contributions to dramatic criticism in the Prologue to Sir Harry Wildair (1701) and in the Discourse upon English Comedy (1702). The latter, which is of course much fuller, is a sort of summing-up of the theories of drama held by many dramatists. It contains a vigorous protest against Aristotle and the Rules, and a loose definition of comedy as a moral guide, with the Horatian ingredient of the "useful" and the "pleasing." The Shakespearean Prefaces of the seventeenth century contain interesting critical matter. The most important are collected by D. Nichol Smith in his Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare, which contains the following, among others: Nicholas Rowe's Some Account of the Life . . . of Mr. William Shakespeare (1707); Pope's Preface (1725); essays of Theobald (1733), Hanmer (1744), Warburton (1747), Jonson (1765), and Farmer's Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare (1767). Pope's Essay on Criticism (1711) may also be consulted for its sections relating to the drama. Many literary critics of the period referred to the drama in the course of their writings on general literature, rhetoric, and poetry. David Hume's Essay on Tragedy (1742), Joseph Warton's papers in The Adventurer (on The Tempest, Nos. 93 and 97, and on King Lear, Nos. 113, 116, and 122); Colley Cibber's Apology (1740)--deal with various aspects of the drama, while Blair, Hurd, and Kames are more especially concerned with the historical, rhetorical, and aesthetic sides. Burke's Essay on Tragedy, and On the Sublime and Beautiful (1756), are concerned almost wholly with purely aesthetic considerations, and Samuel Foote's Roman and English Comedy Considered and Compared (1747) is little more than a curious document on contemporary plays and acting. Dr. Johnson's contribution to the criticism of the drama is not great in extent, but is important as an indication of the spirit of the times. His essays in the Rambler, the Idler, and the Adventurer, the casual remarks in the Lives of the Poets (1789-91), and the Preface to his edition of Shakespeare (1765) are practically his only dramatic criticism. Goldsmith was not a great critic, but his knowledge of the stage and inborn shrewdness make his observations in The State of Polite Learning (1759), the Preface to The Good-Natur'd Man (1768), and the Essay on the Theatre (1772), dramatic manifestos, attractive and interesting. They indicate the reaction against the Sentimental Comedy, which was at that time in its heyday. The century closed with a few treatises on the more formal aspects of dramatic criticism, like Cooke's Elements of Dramatic Criticism (1775), J. Penn's Letters on the Drama (1796), B. Walwyn's Essay on Comedy (1782), and Samuel Wyte's The Theatre, a Didactic Essay (1790).

This article was originally published in European Theories of the Drama. Barrett H. Clark. Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd Company, 1918.


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