The First English Comedy and Tragedy in Drama

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        The first Comedy written in English literature was 'Ralph Roister Doister' by Nicholas Udall. The first English tragedy composed was 'Gorboduc' written by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Nortan, and inspired by 'Senca', a Latin dramatist.

      Ralph Roister Doister is the first comedy on classical models. The plays of Plautus and Terence, the comedy of Italy disturbed the regular native development from the Interludes. The study of Plautus and Terence gave English comedy a sense of pattern which it had not previously possessed. Ralph Roister Doister was written by Udall, probably about 1553 and perhaps played by Westminster boys while Udall was headmaster of that school. In the play, a rhymed doggerel represents the courting of the widow Christian Cunstance who is betrothed to Gawin Goodluck, an absent merchant, by Roister, a swaggering simpleton instigated there by the mischievous Matthew Merrygreek. Roister is repulsed and beaten by Cunstance and her maid; and Goodluck after being deceived by false reports is reconciled to her. The play shows similarities to the comedies of Plautus and Terence.

      In this play as in Gammer Gurton's Needle, the Latin five-act comedy appeared, complete in all its parts and wholly domesticated. In these plays the characters and setting are wholly English, the structure wholly Latin. Each observes precise unity of time and place. Roister Doister depicts middle-class life in London. The conventional character types of the Greek and Roman city comedy are most observable in Roister Doister, which has a braggart soldier and a parasite, but the leading figure in the play, Dame Christian Cunstance is as English as the Wife of Bath.

First English Tragedy:

      Gorboduc is the first English tragedy written on classical models. It is also the first English tragedy in blank verse. It was acted in 1562. The first three acts were written by Thomas Norton and the last two by Sackville. The play is constructed on the model of a Senecan tragedy, and the subject is taken from the legendary chronicles of Britain. Gorboduc and Videna are king and queen; Ferrex and Porrex are their two sons, and the Dukes of Cornwall, Albany, and Cumberland are the other chief characters. Ferrex and Porrex quarrel over the division of the kingdom. Ferrex is killed by Porrex and Porrex is murdered by his mother. The Duke of Albany tries to seize the kingdom and civil war breaks out. The people get angry, rise in rebellion, and put the father and mother to death. Anarchy, usurpation and the death of the usurper ensue.

      In spite of the violence and crimes, the play is cold and lacks movement and drama. Its authors did not have the genius of putting life into characters. They had a didactic aim which is very prominent in the play. Each act opens with a pantomime in which the lesson it conveys is illustrated. It has the melodrama, violence and morality of a Senecan tragedy. However, the play introduced the idea of fatality in the English tragedy. Secondly, the authors handled blank verse forcibly and with dignity, but were incapable of giving it the flexibility necessary for the stage. The chief merit of the play is that though it is not successful, it is the forerunner of the English tragedies which culminate in the works of Kyd, Marlowe and Shakespeare.

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