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Origin of drama and renaissance - RESTORATION, THE XVIII CENTURY: NEO-CLASSICISM

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Origin of drama and renaissance.

The origin of drama. Greek and Roman theatres were closed because they were accused to be immoral, so the mimes became medieval minstrels. The only forms of play took place inside the churches in occasion of the most important festivities, and represented sacral themes like Gospels and Biblical scenes. Often the plays took too much time to be represented inside the church, during the holy Mass, so the plays became to be represented outside the churches. For the first time some actors worked in the plays, and often the plays were performed on eants. 

The plays became soon not only religious, so we can find three types of plays in this period. The 1st type is the mystery play, that is a play full of mystery and supernatural events; the 2nd type of play is the miracle play, so called because they dealt with the life and the acts of Saints, and finally the 3rd type is the morality play, a play where actors play the role of vices and virtues.

Renaissance drama was characterized by the introduction of the interlude and the Elizabethan drama. The interlude was similar to the morality play, but unlike the former, the actors played the role of real people with a complex and problematic personality. The Elizabethan drama, instead, was characterized by the plays which reprised classical authors (like Plautus and Seneca), played often by pupils and students. The plays were seldom represented by professional actors because they were not recognized by the Queen, and so they were took as vagabonds. For this reason theatres were built outside the city, in the poorest areas.

One of the greatest authors of this period was surely Thomas Kyd, which imported from Seneca the soliloquy and many round characters with a full personality and well developed. Another great author was Christopher Marlowe who had a turbulent and short life. He wrote dramas like Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta, where the characters represented vices and matters of all men.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) is the greatest English author of all times. He had a turbulent and untidy life, he was several times suspected to work against the Queen herself. He became his career with sonnets (14 lines divided by an octave, ABBA - ABBA). His works were never allowed to be written, so we have only not original copies called quartos or first folio editions (not very valuable).

His works are very various, the plots are fully developed into a lot of situations well studied, the characters are round and well studied. One of the greatest abilities of the playwright is the extraordinary use of the language.

Shakespeare wrote only 2 original plots: A midsummer night's dream and The tempest, for the rest of his works, Shakespeare referred himself on some sources:

  1. Novels by Boccaccio or Vandello;
  2. Historical chronicles;
  3. Plutarc's Lives;
  4. his contemporary plays and others.

The untidy life of this playwright is mirrored into the difficult division of his works. Anyway, we can divide Shakespeare works in four different periods. The first period (1590 - 1596) is the apprenticeship of the author; we can find several kinds of plots. The second period (1596 - 1600) is the period of the chronicle plays more successfully. The third period (1600 - 1608) is the most interesting. In this period Shakespeare wrote his greatest works, which fell in two groups: the roman tragedies, which focused on the life of a great character (e.g. Julius Caesar), and the more important human or problem tragedies, dealing with feelings belonging to every time and every place (e.g. simple mindedness, sacrifice responsibility, . ). The story is played by characters with a deep psychological insight, with the idea that is the man who is the maker of his destiny. The characters create themselves through speech, soliloquies and instants of pure action. The fourth period (1608 - 1612), is the last period of the romances and the tragicomedies, ended with The tempest (maybe Shakespeare last work).

After Shakespeare, the drama became very important, there were tens of theatres in the cities, offering a large choice of spectacles. This period is called Jacobean drama.

Unfortunately, the politic and the social events in England, stopped this great period. The theatres began to be closed and with the closing of the theatres, the renaissance drama closes too.

The drama began to took new importance under the kingdom of Charles II, at the end of an unstable period. The new period which opened is called Restoration.


The restoration period is characterized by a strong freedom of thought inside a new society more interested in science and culture. The great wars and the civil war are far away, so the theatres could be re-opened: it is the beginning of a new dramatic and poetic period.

Restoration poetry. The poet who had major importance in this ages was John Dryden. His prose works are very innovative and very balanced in the expression of feelings and emotions through a rigid use of language.

Restoration drama. The Puritanism in England, under the government of Cromwell, determined a strong reduction of the dramatic events, so there were fewer and fewer theatres. After the come of Charles II, the drama reborn with satirical representations of the merchant class and with heroic play, a kind of play coming from France dealing with plots pervaded by passion, honour and love. Some important authors were Dryden himself, Nat Lee and Thomas Southern.

Anyway, another important point of restoration drama is the Restoration comedy: a comedy very rich in plots and use of language, with a deep sense of humour and realism. An important playwright of Restoration comedy was William Congreve, who had an extraordinary brilliancy in the use of dialogues and in disposing situations. It is frequently said that the great Oscar Wilde took up from Congreve his amazing ability.

Restoration prose. Restoration prose is animated by diaries of life dealing especially with life pleasures like women, food, wine and music.

The XVIII century: Neo-Classicism.

This century, very rich of events and characterized by the dominance of the middle class people in England, is divided in literature into two main blocks: the Neo-classicism and an anticipation of Romanticism. Let's start from the first of those two blocks, and let's talk about the principles of the neo-classical literature.

the imitation of nature not only as realism, but also as adherence to its principles; 2. the faith in nature which is identified with the concepts of good, true and beautiful; 3. the educative vision of art and literature, conceived not only as a pleasure; 4. the new conception of simplicity, as a careful balance.

Neo-classical poetry: there were a lot of poets working in this century, but the most productive, and the most important was certainly Alexander Pope. He was Catholic and he had a wide classical instruction. In his career he wrote satires, literary critics and lyrical poems. His critical works are all essays dealing with the works of other authors, we can remember in this field the Essay on Criticism. Pope works are all characterized by a clean use of language and a very deep use of the verse. Anyway, the common theme to the poets who worked in contemporary with Pope is the love for nature, landscapes and for the clean moral of a pure natural life. A second set of poets, like Thomas Gray and Edward Young, was called graveyard poets, because their poems dealt with the idea of death and macabre details. We can remember, in this case, the Elegy written in a country churchyard, a poem by Thomas Gray.

Journalism: the neo-classicism introduced a strong freedom in expressing ideas, so the newspapers could be able to be diffused. The first newspaper in absolute was The Review by Daniel Defoe, which contained political and economical articles. More interesting are the newspapers written by Steele and Addis called The Tatler and The Spectator. This last newspaper dealt with good behaviours and manners, morality and a clean satire in the respect of religion. Those themes are dealt because The Spectator was read by the middle class people, who held the most important place into society of the time. The idea of the authors was to build a good society based on solid principles. The same authors wrote another journal called The Guardian who had not the same success of The Spectator.

Daniel Defoe was the first journalist. He had an untidy career spent among the hts between Thories and Whighs, the misunderstood of his works by the Church and the Politic, and the tricks of his activities of merchant. He was a middle class man, so, in 1719, he wrote a story for the middle class people called Robinson Crusoe. The success of this work is given by some factors. For example the protagonist is not an hero, but a common middle class man, who makes his destiny on a desert island, with faith in human capacities, practical sense, good manners, hope in God's virtues. In other words, Robinson represents the ideal middle class man, able to bring his own ideas anywhere, and to adapt himself to any landscape. The sense of reality is given not only from Robinson's actions, but also from the verisimilitude of Defoe who convinces the reader that what he writes is absolutely true.

Defoe wrote also other novels, all dealing with characters not usual (as prostitutes, adventurers, . ), which gave an example to the persons who read the story, and finally he wrote a journal of 1665 plague.

Jonathan Swift (1667-l745) was another great author of the time. He had a long career, which began with some works dealing with the hts between England and Ireland, and between the Roman and the Lutheran Church. Swift's career continued with his most important work: Gulliver's Travels. It narrates the voyages of Gulliver, which has, during the story different rapports with the people around him. This differences evidenced all Swift's pessimism into the man's manners and mankind. In other words, Swift expresses all his frights for the injustice of the man. His literary career ends with a better mood with the Journal to Stella.

The rise of the novel: Defoe and Swift's works prepared the way to another great period, associated with some great authors, called novelists. The three authors we are going to analyse are Richardson, Fielding and Smollet.

Samuel Richardson introduced a psychological form of narration in which the moral problems of the characters are presented and fully developed, with the aim to address the reader through the character's thoughts and feelings. Some important works are Pamela and Clarissa. 

Henry Fielding began his career as a satiric writer, writing parodies of other authors' works. Then he, considering also Congreve works, fell into a deep kind of narration where all were object of a deep study. The plot is developed in every single situation with accuracy, the characters are in a continue state of evolution: it seems that Fielding wants to make the reader aware in every single moment of what is going on in the action and in the thoughts of the characters. Fielding denounces often with his characters the English social system, in particular into his Tom Jones.

Tobias Smollet enriched the clime with a fresh breeze of humour and laughter. His adventurous works has also a burlesque and humoristic dimension that makes them very cool. It is important to remind that this author uses also the epistolary to express his plots.

Toward the end of Neo-classicism: it is a preparation period, in which there were questions and matters to solve, for example the fright for the nature with the coming of industries. The French sentimentalism, just as the Roman and Greek myths were slowly abandoned, in order to leave space for a new explosion.

An outstanding writer was certainly Dr. Samuel Johnson who had an enormous knowledge of all the English culture. He started writing a drama called Irene, and a poem The vanity of human wishes, but he continued his work of writer as a critic and prose-writer. He wrote the Dictionary of the English language (1755), where he made a lexis and political situation study. He wrote down Shakespeare's plays, apologizing his failure to the world of the time. Johnson wrote also for two periodical essays (The rambler and The idler), a moralistic story (Rasselas), and further more the diary of a journey to the Western Islands. His last work was an essay dealing with the life and the careers of many poets his contemporary. Johnson's style is appreciated for its strength and its elegance.


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