Thursday, 8 September 2011



The Renaissance brings a sweeping advancement of the drama to raise it from the medieval mystery and morality plays to regular drama namely tragedies, comedies and history plays. This sudden spectacular development is seen to come in between 1530 to 1580. The study of Plautus and Terence gives English comedy a clear sense of pattern as well as characterization. Seneca was the favourite Latin author and all his tragedies were translated into English between 1559 and 1581. Under the strong influence of Seneca English regular tragedies started to be written. Along with the classical plays was the native breed of historical plays.

Early Tragedies:


* It is the first English tragedy written on the model of the Senecan tragedy. Afterwards it is called as ‘Ferrex and Porrex.’ It is at first acted in Jan.18, 1561 at Inner Temple.
* It treats a national episode taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Chronicle’.

*Gorboduc, king of Britain, divided his realms in his lifetime to his sons Ferrex and Porrex. The sons fell to dissension. The younger killed the elder. The mother that more dearly loved the elder, for revenge killed the younger. The people moved with the cruelty of the fact, rose in rebellion, and slew both father and mother. The nobility assembled, and most terribly destroyed the rebels; and afterwards for want of issue of the Prince, where by the succession of the crown became uncertain, they fell to civil war, in which both they and many of their issues were slain, and the land for a long time almost desolate and miserably wasted.” 

* The action of the drama follows the Senecan tradition. It takes place behind the scenes and what is more important is the ending of each act. Like Senecan tragedy each act ends with a chorus. There is in the drama long and heavy speeches, melo-dramatic effect, - bloodshed (“Blood asketh blood and death must death requite) revenge, Nemesis and an inexorable fate exacting them.

* Inside of these it departs from the classical model in the use of dumb show and is written in blank verse.

* The play is remarkable for being the first English regular tragedy. The play has some lacking – The characters are not lively. They had a didactic note. Each act opens with a pantomime in which the lesson it conveys is illustrated.

Other plays of a similar character are
- Appius and Virginia, Jocasta, Cambyses, King of Percia, Historie of Horestes.

Early Comedies:    

      Though the early English comedies are written under the influence of Latin comic authors like Plautus and Terence, the comedies are to a great extent the growth of the English mumming clement. “They were composed usually in mixed verse and prose, the humour was of a primitive character, but the best of them had verve and high good-humour, and they were distinguished by some worthy songs and ditties.

Ralph Roister Doister:

* It is the first regular English comedy written by Nicholas Udall in 1550 or earlier. (Udall was successively the Headmaster of Eton and Westminster)

* The play was acted by the school boys of sometime before 1556.

* The play is based on ‘Miles Glorisus’ classic comedy by Plautus.

* The story of the play as follows- Ralph, the hero of the play, is a swaggering, simpleton, though he is wealthy. He is fooled to the top of his bent by the mischievous Matthew Merygreek who is modeled upon the parasites of the classical stage. He falls in love with Dame Custance, a widow betrothed to Gawin Goodluck, a merchant, who is away on a voyage. During Goodluck’s absence Ralph, through the agency of Merygreek, besieges the widow with letters, vows and visits. Dame Custance, though she hated Ralph and his protestations, treats him with humorous raillery. Goodluck was informed of the love-affairs between Custance and Ralph and he comes back home filled with jealous suspicion. But Ralph’s own foolish speeches dispel the clouds of his suspicion, and the play ends with the hero’s exposure and discomfiture.   

* It is a play of five Acts. The play is a farce in nature. Udall’s characters, specially the English characters are more or less artificial; but as furnishing a model of a clear plot and natural dialogue its influence can hardly be over estimated.

Gammer Gurton’s Needle

* It is the second English comedy, written about 1560.

* It was long been attributed to John Still, afterwards Bishop of Bath; but the authorship is definitely assigned to William Stevenson.  

* It is a domestic comedy, a true bit of English realism, representing the life of the peasant class.

* The story of the play as follows- “Gammer Gurton loses her needle – at that time an article of value; Diccon the Bedlam accuses Dame Chat, the Ale-wife of stealing it. This upsets the whole village; the parsons, the bailey, the constable, Doctor Rat- are all called in to assist in the emergency. The tumult and confusion increases, eventually the needle is found sticking in the breeches of Hodge, the Gammer’s farm servant.

* The humour is heavy-handed and coarse, but the characterization is vivid and skilful. Hodge has become a generic title for the farm labourer. Diccon represents a type common enough both before and after Shakespeare, but which has disappeared with the altered social conditions of modern days. Like “Poor Tom” (King Lear), Diccon is a half-witted wanderer, incapable of useful work and responsible for a good deal of mischief.

Historical Plays:

A healthier breed of historical plays arises along with the classical plays. These plays are basically the dramatized form of the early chronicles and combined both tragic and comic elements. This union of tragedy and comedy was alien to the classical drama and was the chief glory of the Elizabethan stage.

      The first attempt in writing historical play was made by one John bale in the play ‘King John’ which is in essence a morality play in which allegorical characters are mingled with real figures during the reign of king John.

* Other historical plays are- ‘The famous Victories of Henry-V, ‘The Troublesome reigne of King John, The chronicle History of King Leir.’

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