Foreign Influences on Native English Drama

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      The growth of English drama out of native elements and foreign influences is a fascinating study. The cradle of the drama rested on the altar. In early times the stories of the Bible were illustrated by a series of living pictures. At the next stage several plays were written by priests and these plays were known as Mysteries and Miracles. The term Mysteries was applied to the stories taken from the Bible, while the name 'Miracles' was given to plays dealing with incidents in the lives of saints and martyrs. At first these plays were staged in the church and then they came out of the church in the market places. Four cycles of plays have been preserved - those of Chester, Coventry, York, Towneley. These plays contain religious instructions, taken from the Bible and some crude jokes or comic elements in the Biblical scenes. In the Second Shephered's Play there is a Cunning scamp, named Mak who steals a sheep and conceals it in the bed of his wife and passes it oft as a baby in the cradle. This blending of the comic and the tragic, the light and the serious in a play is a great legacy of the Mysteries to the Elizabethan drama.

the evolution of the drama was the Morality which flourished in the fifteenth century.
Native English Drama


      The next stage in the evolution of the drama was the Morality which flourished in the fifteenth century. Moralities may be called "dramatised allegories"; they replaced the Biblical personages of the Miracle plays by personified abstractions. There is an attempt at characterisation, however crude. Vice is a favourite comic character in these plays and the comedy provided enough mirth to the audience. There was also an attempt at plot-construction and securing a unity of story. The best example of a Morality play is Everyman. The story, although is an allegorical one seems to be the story of an ordinary journey. Though the characters in 'Everyman' are abstract figures, they have more variety than the individual persons derived from Biblical narratives. The abstract qualities are sharply defined individuals and in their portrayal the dramatist has shown admirable skill and understanding. There is a gradual development to the climax which is built by mounting moments of suspense and despair. From the point of view of structure and characterisation, Everyman shows a distinct development in the dramatic art.


      The next stage in the development of drama is the Interludes. The Interludes had several peculiar features: it was a short play that introduced real characters usually of humble rank such as citizens and friars; there was an absence of allegorical figures; there was much broad farcical humour and there were set Scenes - a new feature in the English drama. Thus Interludes mark a further advance upon Morality plays. John Heywood raised the Interlude to the distinct dramatic form known as comedy. The Four P's (1569) i.e., the Palmer, Pardoner, Pothycary and the Pedlar is the best known of all Interludes. It is written in doggerel verse. It describes a lying match among these four to find out which of them can tell the greatest lie. The palmer wins the race. The underlying satire is thus expressed with fun and mirth. Another Interlude which deserves mention is Fulgens and Lucres by Henry Medwall. A Roman senator has a daughter Lucres who has two suitors, one of humble birth and the other a noble. She asks her father what to do and her father asks the senate. The two suitors plead before the senate and nothing is decided. This play is an indication of what could be done already in the 15th century, independently of Italian models. The plays like Calisto and Malebea and Fulgens and Lucres are the basis on which was created the pure romantic comedy of Greene, Lyly and Shakespeare.


      Thus Moralities and Interludes built up the native tradition of English drama. There had been a sudden and spectacular development of English drama between 1530 and 1580. For 1530 is the probable date of Calisto and Malebea, while by 1588 audiences were already familiar with Tamburlaine. New influences came in the wake of the Renaissance as a result of translation and imitation of classical works. The plays of Plautus and Terence, the comedy of Italy and in tragedy the influence of Seneca disturbed the regular native development from the Interlude to Elizabethan drama. The new forms were far more ambitious and captured the elated imagination of the Elizabethan's. The impact of humanism consequent on the works of humanists was making itself felt on the primitive drama of the 15th century and it is out of these humanistic movements that the first true tragedy and comedy sprang.


      Not until 1550 did the influence of classics make itself felt. In comedy first and as was natural in scholastic circle, the study of Plautus and Terence gave to English comedy a sense of pattern which it had not previously possessed. The first comedy on classical model is Ralf Roister Doister produced towards 1553 by Nocolas Udall. The aim of this comedy is to amuse although it has a moral design. Another effective comedy is Gammer Gurton's Needle written by a Master of Arts of the university. The author of this comedy had learnt something from Latin drama although in character, scene and plot it is native and original.


      The influence of Seneca, the Latin tragedian is conspicuous in tragedy. The first English tragedy, Gorboduc by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville was acted before Queen Elizabeth in 1562. It was the first drama written in blank verse. Gascoigne's Jocasta, an adaptation of Euripides Phoenissae was acted in 1566. Many other blank verse tragedies followed and they preserved the peculiarly English feature in the exhibition of the comic vice and the blending of the comic and serious, a legacy of the Miracles and Moralities and which passed to the Shakespearean drama.


      Along with the classical plays was the native breed of historical plays. 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. Early historical plays were The Famous Victories of Henry V, The Troublesome Raigne of King Join. These plays are the predecessors of the historical plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare.

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