Romanticism Drama: Definition and Analysis

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      Romanticism, though it had achieved much in the field of poetry and Drose had failed miserably in drama. Of course, the dramatic activity was not ahcent Even the great poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley essayed the drama. Lamb, the master or prose attempted one drama. But the greater parts of this drama are either not literary or mere literary exercises which were not in the fullest sense stage plays. Romanticism tailed to bring out any dramatic talent. The poets were mainly subjective and lyrical. They had the richness and charm of the Elizabethan playwright, no doudt, but they lacked the necessary equipment of the successful dramatist, namely the power of creating character alien to their own humour and mastery of the stagecraft.

Romanticism, though it had achieved much in the field of poetry and Drose had failed miserably in drama.
Romanticism Drama

      In the drama, spirit of Romanticism had entered no doubt, but it looked alien in the theatrical tradition that prevailed in the age. Stage drama in the last decade of the previous century had ceased to be literature. The masterpieces of the great masters like Goldsmith and Sheridan were still fresh and were acted. But no new standard in the drama was erected by the professional playwrights. Their plays were mainly imitations or caricatures of the comedy of Moliere and Congreve. Mannerisms, cheap sentiment and pun became habitual. The dramatic style is a mixture of rhetoric and slang with none of the brilliance of the prose of Sheridan's plays. Comedy thus degenerated into farce. The most notable of such dramatists were George Colman and Thomas Holcroft. Their stock-in-trade is "nothing but gentlemen in distress and hard landlords, and generous interferers, and fathers who got a deal of money and sons who spent it", as Leigh Hunt has summed it. The attack of the press was severe.

      There was also the German influence on the contemporary stage. The plays of Goethe, Schiller, Lessing and particularly Kotzebue were translated and acted. Literary readers read them more than they saw them staged. It is only the vulgar populace who crowded the theatres. The German drama was steeped in the romantic spirit-interest in the remote and the visionary, in holy Nature and lastly in the democratic ideals of Rousseau, while the stage reproduced these in the crudest forms, the Romantic poets gave utterance to these in the loftiest poetry.

      Wordsworth wrote a drama, The Borderers but it was rejected by the managers of the playhouses, as it was not 'stageable'. It showed powerful poetry, insight into human nature and power to reveal the depth of passion. But the situations were too sensational. Coleridge's play Remorse was produced in the Drury Lane Theatre and was somewhat of a successful but as literature it is of little importance. Miss Joana Baillie attempted to create the poetic drama but she had no dramatic talent. James Sheridan Knowles who was descended from Sheridan on the mother's side produced some plays, which show some merit. His play William Tell is full of Elizabethan reminiscences. It has less rhetoric but whatever rhetoric is there, is of a lower quality. His characters are drawn from life but he cannot make them living and vital. His domestic dramas are lively pictures of contemporary life, in the fashion of the Elizabethan comedians.

      The younger of the Romantic poets Byron, Shelley and Keats attempted the drama with more or less success. Byron's dramas were all blank-verse tragedies. The chief are Manfred, Cain and The Deformed Transformed. They all have a hero of the Byronic type, who is a projection of the author's personality. Byron had little ot dramatic poetry. The blank verse has power and dignity but lacks higher poetic inspiration. Shelley's Prometheus Unbound is a 'lyrical drama' as the poet preferred to call it. It deals with the Greek story of Prometheus who defied the gods ana suffered for his presumption. His Cenci is a genuine and great tragedy and is regarded by the admirers of the poet as his masterpiece. It deals with a grim family affair. In intensity of passion and tragic power it is a remarkable performance. But in characterisation and plotting it is decidedly inferior. Keats wrote Otho the Great but it is of little importance as a drama.

      From this account it is evident that a passion for drama was very strong in the period and every writer of consequence wrote plays. But it was essentially an of lyric poetry. That objectivity and impersonality which are essential for dramatic genius were lacking in the period. Lyrical impulse predominated in drama and clogged the movement of action. The writers could not develop characters through action and the march of action is retarded by the lyrical cries as in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound and Byron's Manfred. As a matter of fact, lyrics loud and abundant completely put into shade prose fictions and plays that were produced during this age.

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