General Apercu Of The Theatre In France And England Between 1640 And 1900 In France

( Originally Published 1902 )

INSPIRED by the spirit of the heroic Spanish Drama, and the `rules' of Ancient Poetry, Corneille with Le Cid (performed 1636) decided the fate of Classical Tragedy, which was henceforth to reign paramount on the French Stage for a period of two centuries. We have already seen that Hardy's company, established at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, found, from 1629, a formidable competitor in the Prince of Orange's actors, who came at that date to take possession of the Hôtel d'Argent (the Théâtre du Marais), where there had already been performances of Corneille's first play Mélite. Le Cid, one of the finest tragedies of the French Theatre, was followed by other admirable works, among others Horace, Cinna, Polyeucte, Rodogune, Nicomède, as well as a comedy in verse, Le Menteur (1644) ; all plays of Corneille, which have remained in the repertory of the Comédie-Française from that period, and still obtain a certain number of performances every year. The Theatre of the Hôtel de Bourgogne (which had the honour of producing Le Cid and Horace), along with that of the Marais, were rivals in the public favour, when in 1650, Molière, an excellent actor as well as an admirable author, brought his company to occupy a third playhouse, L'Illustre Théâtre, which he shortly after abandoned for the provinces. After ten years' absence, however, he returned to Paris, and established himself definitely at the Palais-Royal, with authorisation for his company to assume the name of ` Troupe du Roi.' Accordingly, in 1660, there were three great public theatres in Paris : the Hôtel de Bourgogne, which had the monopoly of Corneille's plays ; the Théâtre du Marais, which was shortly after to bring out Racine ; and lastly, the Palais - Royal, where Molière of course represented his own pieces.

Molière's works, in number thirty (written between 1655 and 1672), fall into three categories comedies of character, comedies of intrigue, and farces. The most famous are, Le Misanthrope, Tartufe, Les Femmes Savantes, L'Avare, Les Précieuses Ridicules, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Le Malade Imaginaire, Le Médecin Malgré Lui. These plays are still acted, and still obtain the same success with the audiences of the Comédie-Française.

Corneille depicted men as they ought to be; Racine described them as they are, the prey to every human passion. Feminine weaknesses, of which he made a particular study, also play a considerable part in his works. His plays, written between 1664 and 1691, include among other compositions three tragedies borrowed from the Greek legends : Andromaque, Iphigénie, Phèdre ; four taken from history, Britannicus, Bérénice, Mithridate ; two from the Old Testament, Esther and Athalie, with choruses on the model of ancient tragedy ; and lastly, a comedy, Les Plaideurs. Like the plays of Corneille, all these pieces find admirable interpretation in the present day from Mounet-Sully, Silvain, Albert Lambert, Paul Mounet, Coquelin, de Feraudy, Leloir, Berr, Boucher ; and Mesdames Bartet, du Minil, Amel, Lerou, Moréno, Thérèse Kolb,—who take the principal parts in the classical repertory.

After the death of Molière, in 1673, the theatre of the Palais-Royal was suppressed : part of his company amalgamated with that of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, part fused with the actors of the Marais theatre, who left that house for the Hôtel Guénégaud, close to the Pont-Neuf. When, how-ever, in 1680, Louis XIV. decreed that one company of actors should suffice for the amusements of the Court and city, the Hôtel de Bourgogne in its turn disappeared, and there remained only one theatre, that of the Rue Guénégaud, whose company had fused with the rival theatre to form the Comédie-Française. In 1687 the new company of the Comédie-Française was turned out of the Hôtel Guénégaud, and after wandering for a couple of years, settled finally in a Hôtel in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where it remained until 1770.

The tragedies of Corneille and Racine completely eclipsed those of other contemporary dramatic authors ; nevertheless Thomas Corneille, the brother of the great poet, occupies a place in the annals of the classical theatre, as the author of Timocrate and of the Comte d'Essex. Tristan l'Hermite, again, was the celebrated author of Marianne, a tragedy performed at the Odéon, in 1897, with great success.

In Comedy we must place, along with the works of Molière, several plays of great value, such as Jodelet ou le Maitre Valet, Don Japhet d'Arménie, by Scarron, Molière's predecessor in tragedy ; Crispin Médecin, by d'Hauteroche ; Le Mercure Galant, by Boursault ; L'Homme â Bonne Fortune, by Baron, all plays inscribed in the repertory of the two first French theatres.

The most distinguished actors of the seventeenth century were Floridor (a gentleman by birth), who filled the principal parts in the plays of Corneille and Racine ; and François Baron, who illuminated the character of Cinna, and distinguished himself equally in the dramas of Rotrou and Molière, and was ably seconded by the great tragic actress, Madame Champmeslé.

It is to be noted that the delivery of the actors was particularly studied and pompous at this period. The curtain went up at four or five in the afternoon, and the company went to the theatre before their third meal. Court dress was the rule for modern subjects, the Roman toga for ancient parts. As to the women, they were content' to follow the fashion pretty accurately in their theatrical costumes.

The Classical Tragedy of the eighteenth century, which was very inferior to that of the century preceding it, had as its first representatives Crébillon, only one of whose plays, Rhadamiste et Zénobie, (1711) remains in the répertoire, and Voltaire, who occupies the first place after Corneille and Racine.

Corneille excited admiration by his paintings of heroism, Racine by depicting the passions. Voltaire undertook to rejuvenate tragedy, seeking his effects in the most pathetic situations. His finest pieces, Zaïre (1732), Mérode (i743), La Mort de César, are still given at the Comédie-Française and the Odéon.

To Voltaire we owe certain reforms in costume and a modification of the delivery, which from being declamatory in the seventeenth century, became simple and natural in the mouths of actors like Lekain and Mlle. Clairon.

Ducis also tried to rejuvenate Tragedy by finding inspiration in Shakespeare's drama. He cut down Hamlet (1769), Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Othello, to the exigencies of the ' rule of the three unities,' but the plot of these different essays was imperfect, and they have fallen into oblivion.

Diderot in his turn undertook to revolutionise the Theatre and to create the ` Bourgeois Drame,' but he failed in the attempt ; and it was Sedaine to whom belongs the honour of having inaugurated the new type, with the Le Philosophe Sans Le Savoir (1765) and La Gageure Imprévue, plays which are in the repertory of the Comédie-Française.

The Comedy of the eighteenth century is in-finitely superior to its Tragedy, and finds splendid illustration in Regnard, Dancourt, Lesage, Mari-vaux, Destouches, Piron, Beaumarchais.

Regnard, who belongs to the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century, is considered the best comic author after Molière. He carried the Comedy of Intrigue to a high degree of perfection in Le Joueur (1696), Le Légataire Universel (1708), Les Ménechmes, Le Distrait, Les Folies Amoureuses, plays that still appear with success at the two great theatres.

Dancourt and Marivaux are distinguished in Light Comedy. The former wrote La Maison de Campagne, Les Eaux de Bourbon ; the latter Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard (1730), Les Fausses Confidences, Arlequin poli par l'Amour.

Lesage left a Comedy of Character, Turcaret (1709), which is a masterpiece. Destouches fell into the same vein in Le Curieux Impertinent, L'Ingrat, Les Philosophes Amoureux (1730). Lastly, Piron's Métromanie and Gresset's Le Méchant complete the list of comedies prior to the Revolution that still achieve great success on the stage of the national theatres;.

It was, however, Beaumarchais, the precursor of the modern theatre, who, after Molière and Regnard, gave new brilliancy to the ` Haute Comédie,' by Le Barbier de Séville (1775) and Le Mariage de Figaro (1784), two masterpieces of fine gaiety and cruel irony, which are still very successful at the Comédie-Française and the Odéon.

Besides Joseph Chénier, whose Charles IX. is regarded as the first French National Tragedy, the Revolution only produced one great dramatist : Népomucéne Lemercier, the most original author in the history of the Theatre between 1789 and 1830. To him we owe Pinto, ou la Journée d'une Conspiration, the play which in 1799 created Historical Comedy ; and in 1809 another drama, Christophe Colomb, which battered down the `rule of the three unities.' Népomucéne Lemercier also gave, in 1797, an excellent translation of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus.

As we saw above, the costumes of the actors had no historical accuracy in the seventeenth century, and this continued into the middle of the eighteenth century. For although in the regency of the Duc d'Orléans there had been some attempts at local colour on the stage, on the suggestion of Mlle. Adrienne Lecouvreur, Voltaire was, nevertheless, the first, in 1755, to give it an official recognition in the staging of his tragedy L'Orphelin de la Chine. A little later on, Beaumarchais still further accentuated this reform in costume ; but it was only fully effectuated in the nineteenth century, thanks to the efforts of the great actor Talma. The abolition of spectators from the stage took place in 1759, and it then became possible to give more amplitude to the mise en scène, by augmenting the number of actors and introducing changes of scene.

In 1770, the Comédie-Française abandoned the Hôtel de la Rue Guénégaud, where it had been in-stalled for nearly a century, and while awaiting the completion of a magnificent theatre constructed for it on the site of the present Odéon, took up temporary quarters in a hall of the Tuileries. In this provisory house was given the first performance of the Barbier de Séville, in 1775, and in 1778 the triumphal representation of Voltaire's Irène. In 1782, the new theatre of the Comédie-Française was inaugurated, and in 1784 the first performance of the Mariage de Figaro was given at this theatre. In 1789, the Comédie-Française changed its name for that of Théâtre de la Nation. Even by 1787, however, the foundations of a new theatre were being laid in the Rue Richelieu (site of the actual Comédie-Française), and it was completed in 1791. It was in this new house, the Théâtre de la République, that Talma and the Republican members of the company from the Théâtre de la Nation established themselves, while the Royalist section stayed in that house, where the mise en scène was already undergoing some happy modifications, such as the replacing of candles by oil-lamps. Another no less appreciable innovation was the distribution of programmes bearing the names of the artists.

In 1793 this theatre was closed, and that of the Rue Richelieu had often to shut, on account of insufficient receipts to cover the expenses. After the Terror, Paris found itself in possession of three theatres claiming the title of Comédie-Française : the Théâtre de la Nation (henceforth known as the Odéon), the Théâtre de la République (Rue Richelieu), and the Théâtre Feydeau, where comedies were played by preference.

During the disturbances in 1799 the Odéon was burned ; the Théâtre Feydeau came to grief; and Talma and his company came back to the Rue Richelieu. New financial difficulties, however, led to the closing of the theatre, and for two months the Comédie-Française ceased to exist. In this same year of 1799, however, the Odéon having been rebuilt, the company of the Comédie-Française, who had taken refuge at the Théâtre Louvois, established themselves in the new building, which received the name of deuxième Théâtre Français, and from there, on May 31, 1799, it went back to its old house in the Rue Richelieu, which was then officially called the Comédie-Française, and has been ever since.

The most celebrated actors of the Comédie-Française in the eighteenth century were Baron, whose long career terminated in 1720 ; his pupil, the famous tragic actress, Mlle. Adrienne Lecouvreur ; Mlle. Clairon, who made her début in 1743, in Phèdre, and was the brilliant interpreter of the chief feminine characters in the plays of Voltaire. The distinguished actors, Lekain, Molé, Fréville, Mlle. Dumesnil (who immortalised the Phèdre of Racine), appeared in turn in the principal plays of a repertory which, even before the Revolution, numbered at least six hundred more plays than in the preceding century.

In October 1812, Napoleon, in the course of his Russian campaign, signed the famous decree at Moscow which bears this name, and treats of the final constitution of the new Comédie-Française. The edict in question was, broadly speaking, a repetition of that of Louis XIV., but the theatrical company, instead of being as before under the control of the gentlemen of the King's bedchamber, passed under that of the Minister of Fine Arts, as represented by an Administrator--General.

The Theatre of the First Empire claims honour-able mention in the department of Light Comedy for the names of Andrieux, author of Le Trésor, and Picart, author of La Petite Ville, two elegant plays that remain in the repertory.

The year 1829 is an important date in the history of the theatre, for it marks the decline of Classical Tragedy, and the substitution of Romantic Drama, which is inimical to the ' unities' of time and place, and rests on the principle that ' whatever is in nature is also in art.' The movement arose with Alexandre Dumas, père, and Alfred de Vigny, in 1829 ; the former writing Henri III. et sa Cour, the latter Othello, represented in the same year. Lastly, on the 25th of February 1830, the triumph of the romantic school was assured by the success of Victor Hugo's Hernani, at the Comédie-Française. His other plays are Marion Delorme, Le Roi s'amuse, Lucrèce Borgia, Marie Tudor, Ruy Blas, Les Burgraves (1843). Hernani and Ruy Blas still constitute the finest masterpieces of the celebrated theatre, and particularly attract the attention of strangers. La Maréchale d'Ancre, Cinq-Mars, by Alfred de , Vigny ; Les Enfants d'Édouard, and Louis XI., by Casimir Delavigne, bring to a brilliant close the chefs-d'oeuvre of the romantic school.

The great comedian Talma (d. 1826) rendered illustrious the period of the Empire. Mlles. George and Mars made their début at the same epoch. Mlle. Mars was the star of the Comédie-Française throughout the reign of the romantic drama.

The Comedy of this period is adequately represented in Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle (1839), Un Mariage sous Louis X V. (1841), Les Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr (1843), by Alexandre Dumas, père : in the comedies and proverbes of Alfred de Musset, Les Caprices de Marianne (1833), On ne Badine pas avec l'Amour, Le Chandelier, Un Ca-price, Il faut qu'une Porte soil Ouverte ou Fermée, Il ne faut jurer de Rien (1848) ; and lastly in the numerous works of Scribe, in particular Valérie (1822), Le Verre d'eau, Bertrand et Raton, Une Chaîne, Bataille de Dames, all plays that have secured frequent revivals at the Comédie-Française.

In 1843, there was another dramatic revolution. For some years past, the violent situations, dear to the romantic school, had produced a sensation of general fatigue ; a reaction set in, and Ponsard (whose plays are a compromise between classical tragedy and the romantic drama), by his Lucrèce (1843), contributed to the success, ephemeral though it was, of the new school that was somewhat vaguely called the ' école du bon sens. His best plays are Agnès de Méranie, Charlotte Corday (1850),1 and Le Lion Amoureux. L'Honneur et l'Argent and La Bourse, by the same author, are also excellent specimens of high comedy.

The admirable tragic actress Rachel occupied the stage of the Comédie-Française during the whole of this period (1838 to 1855), with an éclat that only Mme. Sarah Bernhardt has since achieved.

The 'école du bon sens' was almost immediately replaced by the present school, which claims to observe the situations of daily life, to analyse the sentiments of some of its actors, and to reproduce the whole on the stage, in a sufficiently realistic setting.

The illustrious representatives of Contemporary Drama are MM. Émile Augier, Alexandre Dumas, fils, and Victorien Sardou.

Émile Augier more particularly depicts the evils that arise from the pursuit of money. His plays are La Ciguë (1844), L'Aventurière (1848), Le Gendre de M. Poirier, Maitre Guérin, Les Effrontés, Gabrielle, Les Fourchambault (1878), which are among the favourite pieces of the Comédie-Française.

Alexandre Dumas, fils, the greatest dramatic author of the second part of the nineteenth century, believed himself to be invested with an evangelical mission, and employed the theatre as a tribune whence he could deliver a course of moral lectures. In his comedies, which are mostly plays with a thesis, he exposes the evils of adultery, of seduction, of debauchery, and undertakes the rehabilitation of the Magdalen. Morality cannot be said to have gained by this exhibition of vice, but the author must be credited with his good intentions. His greatest successes at the Comédie-Française were and still are Diane de Lys (1853), L'Étrangère (18 76 ), Denise, Le Demi-Monde, L'ami des Femmes, M. Alphonse, Francillon (1885). His first play in 1852, was La Dame aux Camélias (one of Sarah Bernhardt's finest creations).

M. Victorien Sardou, who is as notable for his sparkling wit and frank gaiety as for his perfection in dramatic movement, the characteristic of all his plays, occupies the second half of the nineteenth century with his innumerable compositions, the spring of which appears to be inexhaustible. He is the only contemporary author who has experimented in every style, and it should be noted that his success has been as great in the drama, properly so-called, as in the comedy of character, or the comedy of manners. His profound historical erudition permits him to revivify the past upon the stage with an exactitude and precision of detail which have earned for his two chefs-d'oeuvre, Patrie and La Haine, a hearty reception. It must be acknowledged that M. Sardou has been marvellously seconded by artists like Mesdames Réjane, Sarah Bernhardt, and Bartet, who have given admirable interpretations, the one of his comedies, the other two of his dramas.

Nor must we omit to mention the great English actress Miss Ellen Terry, the brilliant interpreter of Madame Sans-Gêne, and the illustrious actor Sir Henry Irving, who also impersonates the character of Robespierre with great success in London.

Among the many comedies of manners and character, or dramatic comedies by this author, we may mention Nos Intimes (1861), Nos Bons Villa geois, Les Ganaches, Les Vieux Garçons, La Famille Benoiton, Belle-Maman, Andréa (which made its first appearance in New York), L'Oncle Sam (a critique of American manners), Dora ou l'Espionne (translated into English under the name of Diplomacy), Rabagas (a political satire), Daniel Rochat (a fine comedy which deals with the religious question), Fernande, Madame Sans-Gêne, an historical comedy which had a great run in England as well as in France.

Sardou's historical plays are Pairie (1869), which describes the Flemish revolt against the tyranny of the Duke of Alba; La Haine, or Italy in the fourteenth century ; Théodora, the Byzantine Empress ; La Tosca, or Rome after the Parthenopean republic; Gismonda, or Greece in the fourteenth century ; Fédora, or the Russian Princess ; Thermidor (1891) ; Robespierre (1899), expressly written for England.

As comedies of manners, Pattes de Mouches (1860) and Divorçons (1880) also obtained a great success.

The (satirical) Comedy of Manners also claims with pride the names of Pailleron and Meilhac.

Pailleron posed as the painter of the vagaries of high life, and more particularly ridiculed the pedants of good society. His most remarkable plays are Le Monde oû l'on s'ennuie (1881), which has always been an enormous success at the Comédie-Française, L'Age Ingrat, La Souris, and Cabotins.

Meilhac is more preoccupied with the external aspect of the ridiculous than attached to the satirising of caprice in itself. His best pieces are Frou-Frou (1869, his chef-d'oeuvre), Ma Cousine, La Boule, Le Réveillon.

Théodore Barrière must also be mentioned here as the author of the play Les Faux Bonshommes, (1856), a charming satirical comedy. Labiche, whom we have already quoted as the successor to the Farce of the Middle Ages, is the author of Le Voyage de M. Perrichon, Le Chapeau de Paille d'Italie (i 851), Célimare le Bien-aimé, La Cagnotte (1864), and other charming pieces, which are witty, but none the less bitter, satires on the eternal stupidity of human nature.

The best representatives of the modern school in High Comedy are M. Paul Hervieu, who has successfully produced La Loi de l'Homme (1897), Les Tenailles, and La Course du Flambeau (1901) ; M. Lavedan, who was no less happy in Le Prince d'Aurec (1892) and Les Deux Noblesses ; M. Jules Lemaitre, whose two fine plays, Révoltée (1889) and Le Député Leveau, are written in a perfect style ; and lastly, M. Paul Brieux, who has already earned a separate place with his three remarkable comedies, L'Évasion (1896), Robe Rouge (1900), and Les Remplaçantes (1901), which seem to prognosticate for the theatre a return to the grand moral traditions of Augier's school.

Among the Realistic Plays, and plays of great psychological pretensions, may be cited Les Cor-beaux (1882) and La Parisienne (works of great literary value), by Henri Becque ; and Les Fossiles, by M. François de Curel.

The principal interpreters of modern comedy at the Comédie-Française are M M. Worms, Lambert, Leloir, Le Bargy, and Coquelin and de Féraudy in the comic vein; Mesdames Bartet, Brandès, Baretta.

The Naturalist School has bequeathed us L'Amoureuse, by M. Porto-Riche ; Le Torrent and La Douloureuse, by M. Donnay. The other productions of this school need hardly be mentioned here.

The Drama in Verse on its side has shone from the illustrious pens of Bornier and François Coppée, of M. Richepin and Edmond Rostand.

M. Henri de Bornier is the author of La Fille de Roland. This historical play, written quite in the manner of Corneille, aroused the enthusiasm of the public of the Comédie - Française at its first performance in 1875, and has not yet fatigued the attention of the Parisians, who for twenty-five years have come in crowds to applaud it annually. The latest composition of the poet, France . . d'abord ! another great drama stamped with the same patriotic feeling, was favourably received at the Odéon, at the beginning of 1900. M. de Bornier has written several other works of great value, including Le Fils de l'Arétin, which had its day of fame.

M. François Coppée has given to the Odéon three magnificent historical plays : Severo Torelli (1883), Les Jacobites, and Pour la Couronne. The success of this last play has been considerable, not only in Paris but in London also, where it has been admirably interpreted in English by Forbes-Robertson. Three other plays in verse by this author have been produced at the Comédie-Française : Le Passant, Le Trésor, Le Luthier de Crémone, all infinitely charming.

M. Richepin, on his side, has been no less happy at the Comédie-Française with his fine plays, Le Filibustier (1888) and De par le Glaive (1892). Another composition of the same type, Le Chemineau, has recently achieved an enormous success at the Odéon.

M. Edmond Rostand, though still quite young, has tasted the wine of triumph, for his famous heroic drama, Cyrano de Bergerac (1898), is considered by the critics to mark a return to the most glorious traditions of the romantic period.

His previous works, Les Romanesques (1894), La Princesse Lomtaine (1895), and La Samaritaine, were also much applauded. His last play, L'Aiglon (1900), has both in Paris and in London won new laurels for the author and for his principal interpreter, the incomparable Sarah Bernhardt,—who is ably seconded by M. Coquelin.


On September 2, 1642, a decree of the English Parliament ordered the closing of the theatres, performances being judged inconvenient in those times of civil war. Under Cromwell's Protectorate this interdict was maintained in full rigour, the sole authorised performances being those of plays resembling the opéra-comique, such as The Siege of Rhodes, by D'Avenant. After the Restoration, this play was transformed by the author into a heroic drama, and (in 1662) was one of the first to make its appearance on the stage. As in the reign of Charles 1., certain authors still sought inspiration in Spanish Tragedy, and particularly in the plays of Calderon. The best-known writer of this school is Digby, Earl of Bristol, who in 1667 composed a play called Elvira, or The Worse not always True. There were also a few adaptations of famous pieces of the Elizabethan period, and this class of dramatic composition was especially cultivated by D'Avenant, Dryden, and Otway. But it was the plays of Corneille, Racine, Quinault, Regnard, and the novels of La Calprenède, Georges Scudéry, Mme. de Lafayette, and the Abbé de Saint-Réal, that were more especially put under contribution, between 1662 and 1700, by the English dramatists.

The outset of the reign of Charles 1. is marked by an important dramatic revolution. This was the substitution of rhymed for blank verse, which was put aside for a period of fourteen years (1664 to 1678). The author of this revolution was JOHN DRYDEN, the most illustrious writer of the Restoration, whose works were composed between 1663 and 1699.

His principal plays are :—

The Rival Ladies (1664), a tragi-comedy which attempts the use of rhyme.

The Indian Queen, a heroic tragedy, written in collaboration with Sir Robert Howard.

The Indian Emperor (1665), which definitely established the use of rhymed verse.

Secret Love, or The Maiden Queen, a tragi-comedy taken from Mlle. de Scudéry's romance of Arta-mène.

Sir Martin Mar-All, or The Feigned Innocence, an adaptation of Molière's L'Étourdi and Quinault's L'Amour Indiscret.

Almanzor and Almahide, or The Conquest of Granada, a heroic comedy suggested by the Almahide of Mlle. de Scudéry.

Mariage â la Mode, a prose comedy that is still famous.

All for Love, or The World Well Lost (1678), a play in blank verse. The preface to this play is a sort of confession by the author of his sins in matters poetic, and a manifesto in favour of a definite return to blank verse. This proclamation of the inadequacy of rhyme decided the majority of dramatists to return to blank verse.

The Spanish Friar, a tragi-comedy of great value.

Amphitryon, a comedy imitated from Plautus and Molière, which still contains a few rhymed verses. In addition to All for Love, which is an adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra ; to Truth Found too Late, taken from Troilus and Cressida ; and The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island, also imitated from Shakespeare,—Dryden made an adaptation of Ben Jonson's comedy, Every Man out of His Humour, under the title of The Wild Gallant (1663), which was his first dramatic composition.

SIR ROBERT HOWARD, who collaborated with Dryden in the tragedy of The Indian Queen, has also bequeathed to us an excellent comedy of manners, The Committee (1665) ; a clever caricature of the uses and customs of the period of the Protectorate.

NATHANIEL LEE and Thomas Otway must be regarded as the only serious disciples of Dryden in the department of the Drama. Lee's two principal tragedies are The Rival Queens and Lucius Junius Brutus (1681), an adaptation of Mlle. de Scudéry's Clélie. He also composed a comedy, The Princess of Cleve, inspired by Mme. de Lafayette's romance of the same name.

THOMAS OTWAY in The Orphan (1680), and Venice Preserved (1682), revived the spirit of Shakespearean Tragedy. He also composed another drama, Titus and Berenice, on the model of Racine's Bérénice ; and a comedy, The Cheats of Scapin, taken from Molière's Fourberies d Scapin. Otway further plagiarised from Romeo and Juliet, under the title, The History and Fall of Caius Marius.

THOMAS SOUTHERNE is again the author of a good tragedy, The Fatal Marriage (1694), which, with The Orphans and Venice Preserved, figures among the rare plays of the Stuart period that have remained in the repertory. It may be remarked, in passing, that English Tragedy gained nothing from its foreign models ; its writers did not under-stand the spirit of the classical theatre, and, as a general rule, they debased the heroic passion of Corneille and the chivalrous sentiments of Racine to the level of vulgar passion.

It was in Comedy, properly so called, that the dramatists of the Stuart age shone more particularly.

SIR GEORGE ETHEREGE, who painted the manners of society at the close of the seventeenth century, wrote She Wou'd, if She Cou'd, and two other light comedies of the type that was to gain such popularity in England.

SIR CHARLES SEDLEY is the author of The Mulberry Garden (1668), a prose comedy adapted from Molière's L'École des Maris, and several other plays appreciated by his contemporaries.

JOHN LACY borrowed from Le Médecin malgré Lui, of Molière, the subject of his comedy, The Dumb Lady, or The Farrier made Physician (1669). His plays are coarse and realistic.

THOMAS SHADWELL (1640-1692) wrote some amusing, though coarse - grained, comedies of manners. One of his best pieces is The Sullen Lovers, or The Impertinents (1668), founded on Les Fâcheux of Molière.

JOHN CROWNE is the author of The English Friar (1689), suggested by Molière's Tartufe, and The Married Beau, the only comedy of the Restoration period that is entirely written in blank verse.

High Comedy shone with peculiar éclat between. 1670 and 1714, thanks to the four celebrated morality so grievously outraged on the stage : these are Steele and Addison.

SIR RICHARD STEELE, the initiator of the sentimental comedy, wrote The Lying- Lover (1703), The Funeral, or Grief â-la-Mode, The Conscious Lovers (1722), and other designedly moral plays.

JOSEPH ADDISON is the author of a once famous national tragedy, Cato (1713), in which, by subjecting the English Drama (that had been free and independent in its nature as well as by tradition) to the exigencies of the ` classical rules,' he signalled the end of its glorious career and its entry on the epoch of decay.

In the plays of NICHOLAS ROWE, however, romantic tragedy flashes up for a brief moment in the fine dramas of Jane Shore (1714) and Lady Jane Grey (1715). Rowe was the author of another play, The Royal Convert, which is superior to most of the tragedies of Christian Martyrdom existing in English literature.

The influence of the Restoration Comedies is perceptible, between 1768 and 1778, in the works of the two illustrious dramatists Goldsmith and Sheridan.

OLIVER GOLDSMITH is the author of The Good-Natured Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), plays which still remain in the repertory.

RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN, one of the greatest names in English dramatic literature, and the heir to Congreve's genius (though not to his immorality), is the author of two immortal comedies, The Rivals (1775) and The School for Scandal (1777), which still command the stage. With Sheridan ends the history of High Comedy, faithful to the literary traditions of the Congreves and the Wycherleys.

Between 1780 and 1820, there was not one single dramatic work deserving of the name. The new plays were mere sentimental comedies, melodramas, and farces. On the other hand, Shakespeare's plays occupied the stage triumphantly, in the hands of Kemble and Garrick, along with the comedies of Brinsley Sheridan.

At last in 1820, an Irishman named Sheridan Knowles created the social tragedy, with characters taken from Roman history. The style caught on with the public, and his principal play, Virginius Romanus, was acted with enormous success for nearly twenty-five years consecutively. The most important of his other plays are The Hunchback and Alfred the Great.

In 1838, the talented poet, Bulwer Lytton, inaugurated an original dramatic type, in a mixture of prose and verse, historical elements, and the realistic note, which may be designated an historical tragi-comedy.

His three principal plays, Richelieu, The Lady of Lyons, and Money, held the stage along with Shakespeare's tragedies, until Macready's final retirement in 1851.

After 1850, for a period of five - and - twenty years, Shakespearean Tragedy was very generally neglected. Its place was taken, till about 1865, by a number of plays translated or adapted from second- and third - rate French plays, by Tom Taylor's historical melodrama, and Dion Boucicault's sentimental Irish productions.

A dramatic type of a more serious and elevated character reconquered the London stage between 1865 and 1885: this was the middle-class comedy of Tom Robertson. His plays, Society (1865), Ours (1866), Caste (1867), School (1869), all fine studies of observation, and moderately realistic, still take an important place in the repertory of the English theatre.

During this same period, Gilbert's comedies, which are a satire, perhaps veiled, but no less bitter, of the hypocrisies and egoisms of society, such as The Palace of Truth (1870), Pygmalion and Galatea (1871), Engaged (1876), Broken Hearts (1876), shared with Robertson's plays in the favour of the London public.

In 1875, the Poet-Laureate Tennyson, who was already weighted with the burden of years (he was then almost seventy), undertook to inspire English Drama with the spirit of Shakespearean Tragedy. His Queen Mary appeared in that year, and Harold in the year following. In 1881, he wrote The Cup, The Falcon, and his last play of Becket, all of which obtained a merely complimentary success.

As was said in chapter x., the distinguished actor Sir Henry Irving in 1874 inaugurated the definite revival of Shakespeare's tragedies. And along with the Romantic Drama, Melodrama, and the ever-popular Farce, Modern Comedy has, since 1872, held . its own on the boards, owing to the talent of three deserving authors : Messrs. Sydney Grundy, Henry Arthur Jones, and Pinero.

The earliest comedies of Sydney Grundy were for the most part adaptations of French plays, such as Mammon (1877), taken from Montjoye, by Octave Feuillet ; The Snowball (1879), an adaptation of Delacour's comedy of Oscar ; In Honour Bound (1880), suggested by Scribe's Une Chaîne.

Among his original plays the most remarkable are, An Old Jew (1894), in which he analyses a false situation arising out of adultery ; The New Woman (1894), another study of manners, turning on the position of the man who marries beneath him.

Henry Arthur Jones has assumed the mission in several of his plays of unmasking the hypocrisies of the middle classes and the Puritan caste. His plays, Saints and Sinners (1884), The Middleman (1889), Judah (1890), The Crusaders (1891), The Liars (1897), are all interesting studies and observations of modern life, which have made and still obtain a great success.

Pinero has written the best psychological plays in England, and determined the success of this genre in the principal theatres in London and the provinces. His early plays, The Squire (1881), The Magistrate (1885), The Profligate (1889), The Cabinet Minister, and Lady Bountiful, which betray great talent for observation, were received with applause by the public. I t was, however, in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (1893) that Pinero expressed with most force the spirit of contemporary drama, as inspired by the school of Augier and of Dumas. The success of this comedy was remark-able, and still endures. In the opinion of the best critics, it is the most striking production of the English Theatre in the second half of the nineteenth century. Pinero has since written The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith, as well as Trelawny of the Wells (1898), the realism of which is perhaps even more marked than it is in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.

The plays of Pinero, H. A. Jones, and Sydney Grundy are constantly reappearing on the play-bills, and find admirable interpreters in George Alexander, Forbes - Robertson, Beerbohm - Tree, Wyndham, John Hare, and Martin Harvey, who are ably seconded by actresses like Mrs. Kendal and Mrs. Patrick Campbell.

The `society play' is perhaps the most in vogue at the moment : but there are signs of revival in the direction of the romantic drama, as exemplified by the brilliant success of Herod, by Stephen Phillips, which Mr. Tree produced in the autumn of 1900 at Her Majesty's Theatre. This play, moreover, differs from most of its contemporaries, in that it is written throughout in blank verse.

Considerable interest has been evinced in London n the contemporaneous drama of foreign authors. Ibsen's plays were acted frequently between 1889 and 1896 ; while other foreign dramatists (Hauptmann, Sudermann, Maeterlinck, d'Annunzio, Echagaray) have been represented on the boards by the Independent Theatre, the Stage Society, and Mrs. Patrick Campbell ; as well as by Madame Sarah Bernhardt, Signora Duse, and the German Companies.

Home | More Articles | Email: