If we turn to the writings of the most intellectual race in ancient time and possibly in recorded historythe Greekswe shall see the higher law vindicated with incomparable power in the moral philosophy of its three greatest dramatists, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
" He could see no merit in Spenser, preferred Tasso to Milton, and called the old English dramatists "mad and turbid mountebanks."
Among his favorite authors, while at the University, we have been told he greatly delighted in the old dramatists, Webster, Heywood, and Fletcher.
Little is known of Shakspeare's earlier years, except that he was sent to the free school at Stratford, where he acquired the rudiments of the learned languages; that he was never a distinguished classic is certain, but it is equally certain that he must have been acquainted with the Greek dramatists by the use of translations, though he may not have had scholarship enough to study them in the original.
Such however is the case here, and so the matter stands between Shakspeare and the ancient dramatists.
The writers of the Elizabethan age and previously, were all of them very coarse in their mode of expression, and the dramatists not very delicate in their plots, though in doing so they did but obey the dictates of fashion and the bad taste of the times.
The most important of the dramatists who were Shakspere's forerunners, or early contemporaries, was Christopher oras he was familiarly calledKit Marlowe.
In all these ante-Shaksperian dramatists there was a defect of art proper to the first comers in a new literary departure.
Such partnerships were common among the Elizabethan dramatists, the most illustrious example being the long association of Beaumont and Fletcher.
It is common to speak of Shakespeare and the other Elizabethan dramatists as if they stood, in some sense, on a level.
The most remarkable of the dramatists contemporary with Shakespeare was Ben Jonson, whose robust figure is in striking contrast with the other's gracious impersonality.
Of the Stuart dramatists the most important were Beaumont and Fletcher, all of whose plays were produced during the reign of James I. These were fifty-three in number, but only thirteen of them were joint productions.
The Stuart dramatists followed the lead of Shakspere rather than of Ben Jonson.
In diction he was the most Shaksperian of the Elizabethan dramatists, and there are sudden gleams of beauty among his dark horrors which light up a whole scene with some abrupt touch of feeling.
But a very few have here been mentioned of the great host of dramatists who kept the theaters busy through the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I.
The tragic dramatists of the Restoration, Dryden, Howard, Settle, Crowne, Lee, and others, composed what they called "heroic plays," such as the Indian Emperor, the Conquest of Granada, the Duke of Lerma, the Empress of Morocco, the Destruction of Jerusalem, Nero, and the Rival Queens.
The only one of the tragic dramatists of the Restoration who prolonged the traditions of the Elizabethan stage was Otway, whose Venice Preserved, written in blank verse, still keeps the boards.
In 1698 Jeremy Collier, a non-juring Jacobite clergyman, published his Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, which did much toward reforming the practice of the dramatists.
2. Macaulay's Essay, The Comic Dramatists of the Restoration.
With this view, in conjunction with Shadwell and Crowne, two brother-dramatists, equally jealous of Settle's success, he composed a pamphlet, entitled "Remarks upon the Empress of Morocco."
She was very enthusiastic about this revival of ancient art, and planned to read anew all the Greek dramatists with her husband.
If comparison be made between novelists and dramatists of diverse schools, why has not M. Zola, who in so many regards should be considered a master, attained the heights of eminence upon which are enrolled the names of Shakespeare, Molière, Corneille, Schiller, Madame de Staël, and George Sand?
Heywood's play, I have little doubt, was a mere love-comedy (cf. such titles as The Amorous War, and similar expressions in the dramatists passim).
It will be found in Mr. Bullen's admirable collection, Lyrics from the Dramatists, 1889, p. 231.
In Maidment and Logan's Dramatists of the Restoration.