Summary of An Essay of Dramatic Poesy

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The Setting

      On the memorable day of 3rd June 1665 two nations—the British and the Dutch—engaged themselves in a decisive naval confrontation. Both of them had the best appointed fleets and both of them disputed the command of the greater half of the globe in their rivalry for success in overseas commerce and exploitation of raw materials from far-off lands. In this decisive battle the British navy defeated the Dutch fleet. There was alarm all over the city of London as the guns boomed. The hearts of the citizens were excessively concerned about the Duke of York who commanded the British navy. There was dreadful suspense. People gathered together at various points eagerly awaiting the outcome of the naval fight Three well-known personalities of the city whom the author has decided to hide in the borrowed names of Eugenius, Crites and Lisideius along with Neander (who apparently was the author himself) took a barge for enjoying an excursion on the river Thames. There were many small and big boats blocking their passage towards Greenwich. They steered clear of these boats, after which they ordered the waterman to row very leisurely. The thundering sounds of the guns and the cannons gradually diminished in volume and ultimately died away. All of them naturally observed this phenomenon and gladly became conscious of the implication. It was Eugenius who gave an ardent expression of the sense of relief felt by all in as much as it was evident that the Dutch fleet had been defeated and, driven out of the English coast The others concurred and then the friendly debate on some literary topics was inaugurated by Crites (Sir Robert Howard, Dryden’s brother-in-law, co-author of some plays and the author of “The Great Favourite or the Duke of Lerma” wherein a preface appeared criticizing Dryden’s views in this Essay).

Crites’s Thesis—Deterioration In Modern Poetry

      When Eugenius congratulates his friends for the glorious victory of the English nation, Crites pronounces his note of dissent. This Crites is a man of sharp judgment. His taste for intellectual resourcefulness and cleverness of ideas is a bit too delicate. Hence some of his contemporaries mistook it for ill-nature. He smiles at his friends and says that had it not been for the fact that this particular naval fight was an issue of their national honor and prestige he would not have been so eager to have this victory because he was sure that he will be obliged to pay a greater price for it, namely the obligation to read and hear a number of ill-composed verses of poetasters. These inferior poets devoid of imaginative resources were in the habit of watching battles more diligently than vultures and beasts of prey! The greater the inferiority of the poet the more eager will he be to pounce upon his quarry. The abler poets would observe greater modesty. On hearing Crites making this deprecatory remark Lisideius (identified with Sir Charles Sedley, 1639-1701) agrees with him and adds that these impertinent people would have already composed two sets of poems, one set panegyrizing the nation and its navy for the victory and the other set elegiac in form and melancholy in tone. In the latter they would have crowned the Duke with laurels and concluded the piece with the expression that his courage deserved a better destiny. This remark provokes a smile in his friends. Crites gets encouraged and begins his criticism of modem (i.e. seventeenth century) writers. He wants the magistrates to promulgate laws forbidding these impertinent people from composing poems to the detriment of peace and quiet of many honest people on the model of the Conventicle Act of 1664 prohibiting secret assemblies of seditious preachers.

      In this context Eugenius expresses his disagreement to a certain extent. He is a great lover of poetry. He wants to encourage the composition of poems whether good, bad or indifferent. He wants all types of poets rewarded deservedly. He also refers to the anecdote concerning the Dictator Sylla (or Sulla) who awarded a poetaster who had composed an epigram eulogizing the dictator but in an unmetrical manner, with this stipulation that he should never write again! Engenius adds that even the worst of poets should not be treated in a worse manner than in the case of that poet. Crites immediately says that he wishes with all his heart that many of these contemporary poets also were treated with such bounty so that they would cease to trouble them. He expresses his great fear that two such poets would descend on them with their unpoetical poems on this great victory of British fleet Thereupon Lisideius mentions that he could guess who those two poets were. He describes the faults of one of them who is identified with Robert Wild (1609-1679) the author of An Essay upon the Late Victory (1665). As explained by Lisideius the faults of this poet are the use of puns described by Dryden himself as the lowest and most groveling kind of wit, indulgence in a kind of clownish banter, frequent use of catachresis, i.e. improper use of words, vain attempts at satire; inability to strike but intention to hurt and therefore meriting being hanged like witches. On hearing this, Crites gave a description of the other poet and his foibles. This poet is identified with Richard Flecknoe (1620-78) who had some advantages of education and converse but remained a dull poet. Many of his faults are mentioned in detail. He is a leveler in poetry. He creeps along with ten little words in every line introducing a number of expletives. There is want of thought and expression. His poetry has neither wit nor does it seem to have it. His highest flight of fancy is some miserable antithesis.

      One hearing this, Eugenius raises his objection that although he and some other persons like him may listen to them patiently there are many others in the town who will consider them malicious and poor poets injured and insulted. Cleveland and Wither (1588-1667) were poets with many admirers. Wild’s poem Iter Boreale had been published in many editions. People admired him and listened to the readings from the poem. Thereupon Crites concludes his criticism of modem poets by saying they neither rise to the dignity of the last age, i.e. Elizabethan age, nor to any of the Ancients, i.e. classics. They have corrupted the true old poetry so much that Nature, which is the soul of poetry, does not find any place in their writings.

      Points of disagreement. Now Eugenius comes out with a clear-cut proposition clarifying the points of disagreement. He adores the Greeks and the Romans no doubt but he does not think contemptibly of the present age in which they live or their motherland. In this context he quotes two lines from Horace: “I am angry when any work is censured, not because it is thought to be coarse or inelegant in style but because it is modem”. In Eugenius’s opinion modem poets surpass the classic authors in some types of poems. Then he reminds his friends that the realm of poetry is very vast and both ancients and modems have contributed brilliant works. Hence it will be better if they confine their discussion to one particular branch of poetry lest they should waste their evening on aimless discussion. Again he wants Crites to specify whether he wants a discussion on the comparative merits of the Elizabethan Age with their own era (i.e. 16th versus 17th centuries). Crites thereupon suggests the topic ‘Dramatic Poesy’ wherein he is prepared to justify his contention that (1) the ancients are Superior to the modems and (2) the last age (16th century) was superior to | their age (17th century). This particular choice of the subject surprises Eugenius because, in his opinion, the plays of the Greek or Roman poets do not come anywhere near English Drama. He admits that many of the contemporary plays are far inferior to the Elizabethan work, yet his comfort is that, if at all defeated, they are defeated by their own countrymen and not by outsiders. Further, in the field of epic and lyric poetry, the supremacy of the 17th century over the 16th century cannot be disputed. Sir John Suckling, who died in 1642, had produced “courtly written” poems expressing the conversation of a gentleman. Mr. Waller (1606-1687) had a sweet and flowing style. Sir John Denham (1615-69) had a majestic and correct style and Mr. Cowley (1618-1667) produced works elevated, copious and full of spirit. The contemporary dramatists far surpass the Italian, French, and Spanish writers of plays. The other friends agree with Eugenius. Even Crites does not oppose much. All of them admit that English poetry has improved in the 17th century. (Students should note that Paradise Lost of Milton was published only in 1667). The general opinion is: “The poets then living taught us to mold our thoughts into easy and significant words, to retrench the superfluities of expression and to make our rhyme so properly a part of the verse that it should never mislead the sense but itself be led and governed by it.”

      Drama defined. Eugenius continues his exposition but Lisideius interrupts him with the suggestion that it is necessary to take a standing measure of their controversy before proceeding further. One must know what a play is before attempting to decide who wrote the better plays. A proper definition of “Drama” will enable the contending parties to prove their own advantages or to discover the failures of their opponents. The others immediately support his proposals because neither Aristotle nor Horace the exponents of the theory of poetics has given a clear-cut definition of Drama. At first Lisideius hesitates but in the end gives them what he calls a description or his notion of what a Drama should be. This can be utilized when one wants to make a judgment of what others write. Lisideius conceives that a play should be, “A just and lively image of human nature representing its passion and humor and the changes of fortune to which it is subject for the delight and instruction of mankind.” Crites raises a logical objection against it because it is only “a genre and fine” that is, the so-called definition gives only an idea of the type of composition and its ultimate end. Hence it cannot be called perfect. But the others receive it well. Thereafter they give instructions to the waterman to turn their barge and row softly so that they could take the coolness of the evening breeze in their return. The friends then request Crites to initiate further discussion by advancing his arguments for his contention that the ancients were superior to the moderns.

      Crites defends the ancients in his exposition. Crites begins his exposition with a jocular remark at the expense of Eugenius. Wishful thinking and over-confidence about Qne’s own power cannot be equated with the ability to attain victory. But this is what Engenius is doing. He takes it for granted that the moderns have gained supremacy over the ancients.

      (a) Actually the ancient dramatists like Thespis (who flourished in the sixth century B.C. and wrote tragedies) and Aristophanes (who flourished in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. and wrote, comedies) had been models in the technique of dramaturgy. Later writers built upon their foundations. This is the first reason for saying that the ancients were superior.

      (b) Every age has a kind of universal genius or a prevalent tendency. Some particular branch of studies is specialized upon by the people. Being pushed on by many hands it necessarily proceeds ahead smoothly. In the 16th and 17th centuries, medicine, anatomy, astronomy and other branches of natural sciences were cultivated assiduously. Hence these people have surpassed Abelard, Aquinas, Duns Scotus etc. collectively called “Schoolmen” and have detected their errors. They have discovered noble secrets which lay hidden from the vision of all those old people beginning with Aristotle and ending with the scholastic philosophers and theologians. On the other hand the ancients cultivated the particular branch of poetry, viz. Drama, and reached perfection in it so as to excel all the later generations up to and including the contemporaries of these friends. This is the second reason.

      (c) Crites cites a passage from the work Historia Romana which means Emulation is the spur of wit, and sometimes envy and sometimes admiration quickens our endeavors. Healthy rivalry and the spirit of competition contribute to abundant production of good poetical works. Historians have diligently recorded this sort of ardor in excelling one another in the “wars of the theatre” found in Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles of the 5th century B.C. They were given prizes also. But in modem times no reward or honor encourages the writers to produce excellent dramas. Direct malice has replaced virtuous emulation. Attempt to do better necessitates more pains and the present-day poets are too slothful to turn their attention to greater labour and longer study. They confine their activities to condemning and crying down on others without striving to excel others. This is the third reason.

      (d) Another reason for the supremacy of the ancients is their wise observance and faithful imitation of Nature. Nature has been tom and ill-represented in the modem plays. While the ancients have handed down a perfect resemblance of Nature the moderns have been too negligent of it to avoid disfiguring it and rendering it monstrously. The modems ought to be ashamed in as much as they have ill requited the Masters to whom they are indebted. Aristotle in his work Poetics has expounded the theory of tragedy and Horace in his excellent commentary thereupon called Art of Poetry has expounded the theory of comedy. All the rules that even modem poets, abide by, have been framed by these two leading writers on poetics after their detailed study of those stalwarts who lived before them or were contemporaneous with them. None of the modem critics has added anything to them. Still, the moderns have the confidence to say that their wit is better! In this connection Crites deals at length with what is called “the three Unities to be observed in Regular plays namely (i) Unity of Time (ii) Unity of Place and (iii) Unity of Action’’.

      Unity of time. A natural day comprises twenty-four hours. Hence the action of the play should fall well within this period of time. Since no play staged in a theatre can in all conscience go beyond a few hours, that play is to be thought the nearest imitation of nature the plot or action of which is confined within that period. This period of time should be proportionately divided among the various acts. None of the acts should be unduly representative of longer duration than any of the other acts. The ancients scrupulously observed this unity of time by portraying the principal action, leaving the earlier part to be delivered by narration. The audience need witness only what happens at the goal post where the race is to be concluded. Why should they tediously witness the entire process of the coursing sequence? This strict adherence to the Unity of time contributes to the supremacy of the ancients.

      Unity of place. By this phrase it is sought to be implied that the same scene should be continued throughout the play from the beginning till the end. How can the same stage be considered to represent different places far off from one another? Variation of painted scenes may give some appearance of probability. Still it is better to consider the different places located in the same city or town. Greater distance is incompatible with the shortage of time at the disposal of the dramatist. The French people scrupulously abide by this rule concerning the Unity of place in the same manner as the ancients. If an act begins in a garden, a street or a chamber, it is ended only there. The stage is never empty, he who enters second transacts his business with the first one, replaces him while a third comes in, transacts business with him and replaces him. So on it goes till the end. Corneille (1606-1684) a noted French dramatist exerted great influence on Dryden. What he calls liaison des scenes is rendered by Dryden as “an order and connection of all the scenes” later. In this essay he renders it as “the continuity or joining of the scenes”. A well contrived play should inevitably have this.

      Unity of action. That which is first in intention and last in execution is the central action in a play. One great and complete action should be aimed at by the dramatist. All the other actions should be subservient to this principal action. Even obstacles and hindrances should be aimed to subserve this action because two different actions will destroy the unity of the poem. There is no bar to many actions provided all of them serve the main action as subordinate ones. Under-plots and subplots should enhance the Unity of action.

      The ancients had been assiduous in observing all these Unities. Unfortunately the modem plays violate these rules of Unities. Actions embracing periods of longer duration and independent of one another are portrayed with impunity. Instead of one spot of ground one is taken to more countries than the map can show. Modern plays therefore tend to become unnatural. They are not faithful representations of Nature.

      (e) Crites now concludes his advocacy of the supremacy of the ancients by citing a number of examples from the classical works. He lists many noble works of great merit. With those great works in his hands, Crites asserts, that he will never be eager to witness the modem plays. The greater the flaws in modem plays the greater was his admiration for the ancients. He concedes that we must comprehend the ancient classics better than we do now, to facilitate our admiration of the ancients. The difficulty of the dead classical language, its phraseology, the antiquated customs of those far off days and such other things may cause us some difficulty in understanding and appreciating and therefore admiring the ancients. But Ben Jonson, a leading poet of the Elizabethan Age, whom Eugenius venerates, was a great admirer of the classical authors and had freely drawn upon them all for his own compositions. He was a learned plagiarist. There are few serious thoughts which were new in him. He loved their fashion because he wore their garments. Furthermore, Jonson was dressed in all the ornaments and colors of the ancients and so he must be the guide in the act of admiring the ancients. The bad plays of the 17th century and the best plays of the 16th century can instruct them to admire the ancients. After saying this Crites pauses a little when Eugenius who has been waiting impatiently begins his speech in defense of the superiority of the modems.

      Eugenius’s Advocacy of the Better Performance and Excellence of the Moderns

      Eugenius is an ardent lover of the modem poets. While Crites is speaking in praise of the classical authors he is very impatient As soon as Crites concludes he takes up the lead and enunciates his reasons in justification of the superiority of the modem poets.

      Greatness thanks to labor. A big torch can be lighted from a small candle taper. The modems learned many things from the ancients. This cannot be denied. But they exerted themselves and added many things more. This was the first reason for the superiority of the modems over the ancients. Veneration and gratitude to the ancients does not mean becoming blind to the success of the modems in excelling the ancients. If they had only imitated they would have lost newer and more important things. The excellence in philosophical pursuits by the modem age is conceded by Crites. This argument is in favor of Eugenius. Poesy and fine arts too can attain perfection by means of strenuous effort. Thus Eugenius justifies the superiority of the moderns; thanks to their greater labor. He denies that he envies the ancients or wants to detract from them what is due to them. Living persons were not going to lose fame or profit by the reputation of the dead. The general tendency was to regard the present with envy and past with admiration. But it should not be overdone. That praise or censure was really sincere which unbribed posterity accorded the artist.

      Deficiencies of the ancients, (i) Distinction of plays into acts was not adequately known to the ancients. Even if they had known it they had not intelligibly conveyed it to posterity. If the entrance and exit of the chorus is considered to demarcate them this is seen to occur as many as five times. Hence there is uncertainty. Aristotle’s division of plays into four parts viz. protasis, epitasis, catastasis, and catastrophe may deliver the image of a play. From the time of these authors much light has been derived to form a play into Acts and Scenes. It was not clear which poet for the first time limited the number of Acts to five. It was the Latin-poet Horace who evolved the rule regarding the number of five Acts in a comedy (or even tragedy). He says: “Let no play be either shorter or longer than five Acts”. Thus it is proved that the Greeks cannot be said to have consummated the art of dramaturgy. They had only an undigested notion of a play. They were not aware of the means whereby to bestow the particular graces to it. The Spanish and Italian dramatists had three acts in their plays. This ract did not diminish the excellence of the plays, hence the condemnation of the ancients by Eugenius is not based on the fact that they were not confined to five Acts but because they did not confine themselves to a fixed number. If even after writing without a plan they could succeed in writing and presenting a good play that success could only be a matter of chance and not the result of the blessings of the Muses.

      Another deficiency of the ancients is the fact that the themes of all their plays are so hackneyed as to lose all charm. Before it came to the stage the theme was already known to the audience who sat with a bored expectation. The appetite of the audience becomes cloyed with the same dish. Novelty is gone; so pleasure vanishes. According to the definition put forth by Lisideius, a drama had to delight the audience. This was conspicuous by its absence in regard to the drama of the ancients.

      Deficiency in characterization. Imitation of nature which is desired in good poetry and so in drama also, was narrow and partial in the case of the ancients and so they were inferior to the moderns in this respect also.

      The three Unities of time, place and action were not perfectly observed by the ancients. The Unity of place did not find a place in the works of Aristotle, Horace and other ancients. It was to the credit of the French poets that they first made it a precept of the stage. As for the Unity of time it was neglected even by Terence (2nd century B.C.) who was considered to be the best and most regular of all the classical authors. One of his plays depicted the incidents of two days and there was no proportionate division of the time also because the first two Acts covered one day and the remaining three Acts covered the second day. Euripides (5th century BC) observes the limitation of a single day but some absurdities were found in his plays. Thus he traveled a distance of forty miles (sixty kilometers) within the time for singing 36 verses of the chorus not making the correspondence of a verse to every mile! Similar absurdities can be quoted as examples from all the extant tragedies. It may be said to the credit of the ancients that they kept the continuity of the scenes called liaison des scenes better than the modem dramatists but this was because they seldom had above two or three scenes for each Act. The plots of their plays were narrow and the number of persons in them very limited, so much so that an entire act was shorter than one of the scenes in a well written modem play.
In a well written drama dialogues should be preferred to monologues. But Terence and others made a single character speak directly to the audience to acquaint them with what was necessary to be known. If, as a result of this, the plays became monotonous and tiresome, could not this be considered as a deficiency of the ancients?

      Failure to instruct and edify the audience was another deficiency in the ancients. It has already been explained that the ancients did not delight the audience because of their failure in laying of the plots and their proper management. They misrepresented nature to the audience and they broke their own rules. Now there was another deficiency, namely, failure to instruct the audience. They violated the principle of poetic justice by depicting prosperous wickedness and unhappy piety. This type of indecorum and impropriety abounds in all classical works so much so that no impropriety in a modern drama was wanting a precedent in one of the ancient classics. Of the ancient authors Aristophanes, Plautus, Terence etc. wrote only comedies. Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Seneca etc. wrote only tragedies. Even after specializing with great care to excel in one type of composition they miscarried in it and so could not be pardoned. This is another reason to conclude that they were inferior.

      (vii) Now Eugenius wants to examine the reasoning power and intelligence of the ancients. He explains how infinitely bold they were in their metaphors and coinage of words to the detriment of wit. Horace condemns Plautus (latter half of 3rd century BC and early 2nd century) for his excessive stupidity in this respect. Eugenius concedes the point of Crites that the language of the classic authors being dead one must be very careful before pronouncing judgment. Their customs, habits etc. have become lost to the present. But Eugenius avers that a thing well said will be wit in all languages although it may lose something in translation. He who reads these works in original has an idea of their excellence. Horace was very cautious to introduce new and abstruse words to his readers. He made custom and common use the best measure of receiving new words into writings. He said: “In the hands of usage lies the judgment, the law and the rule of speech”. In expressing things in hard and unnatural ways like Cleveland, a modem writer was to be condemned. Wit was best conveyed in the most easy language. A great thought dressed in words commonly used can be understood even by ordinary persons of lesser power of comprehension. It must be the aim of the poet to give his readers deep thoughts in common language and not common thoughts in abstruse words.

      (viii) There are many excellent thoughts in Seneca but it was Ovid who had a genius most proper for the stage. His way of writing was fit to stir up a pleasing admiration and concernment. If he had had all the advantages of the modem writers he would have produced very outstanding works surpassing everyone. “Tragedy surpasses every style of writing in elevation” (Ovid’s Tristid). Ovid’s Metamorphoses contains very good poems. But they (the ancients) did not deal with soft passions. They elaborated cruelty, ambition and all the bloody actions these passions produced. They could have reduced the horror in their works by introducing love scenes. Still, they have never attained a position superior to that of Shakespeare and Fletcher. Love is the most frequent of all the passions. It is the private concern of every person. In the comedies of the ancients there were love scenes no doubt but nothing beyond “My life, my soul” etc. mentioned by the lovers. Although the ecstasy of love cannot be better expressed than in a word and a sigh breaking one another yet the thousand other concerns of lovers, such as jealousies, should be openly expressed—that is the expectation of the audience. The movement of the minds should be portrayed by the poet and the changes of their fortunes can be understood from the history texts. Eugenius would have continued in this manner but Crites interrupts him there.

      Crites’s interruption and counsel of moderation. Crites begins his summing up with an avowal of the difference in the views held by himself and Eugenius. Between them the question cannot be decided once for all. Eugenius maintains that the modems have acquired a new perfection in writing. But Crites says that the maximum that he can concede is that the modems have just altered the manner of writing. Homer described his heroes as men of great appetites. But the modem writers did not make their heroes either gluttons or persons who sleep long. Virgil made his hero boast of himself. But the modem writers would rather want them to avoid the vanity of telling their own virtues. The ancients were more hearty in their love-making whereas the modems are talkative. There is a change in cultural values. If the old writers had lived in this age their mode of writing too would have undergone a similar change. One should not rashly criticize those great men. One must accord them the honor that is due to them in the same way as one expects honor from posterity.

      This plea is liked by the friends in the barge. Therefore they put a stop to further discussion on the matter of the comparative merits of the ancients and the modems. Eugenius who had advanced better arguments earlier does not want to speak. Lisideius admits that he agrees with Eugenius as far as the superiority of the modems was concerned. But in the matter of the superiority of the English writers over the French writers he says that he would dispute it. He wants Eugenius to substantiate his statement. Eugenius says that he could justify his contention that the modem English people could vanquish the French with the pen in the same manner as their ancestors had vanquished them with their swords. Yet he does not want to speak at length on that topic because his friend Neander would do it as his opinion on that subject tallies with his own. Further, Crites and himself have had their orations on the stage and to reenter it all too suddenly was against the laws of comedy.

Lisideius on the Superiority of the French

      Rapid advance of the French. At the outset, Lisideius admits that a few decades before their present discussion i.e. till the first quarter of the 17th century the English dramatists had held sway in the realm of dramatic writing. Beaumount, Fletcher and Jonson who did yeoman service to the cause of English drama were no more in the scene. The writers thereafter had become bad men and so ceased to be good poets. Wit and milder studies of humanity appeared to have no place in an age of great horror with violence and bloodshed. The great Cardinal of Richelieu patronized Corneille and other writers in France and reformed the French theatre. Till that period the French writers were inferior to the English counterparts but thereafter they have begun to surpass everyone.

      He then lists a number of reasons whereby he is able to justify the superiority of the French over the English and others.

      (a) Strict adherence to the Rule of the three Unities is the main reason. Crites has already narrated that the modems have borrowed many rules of the stage from the ancients. Thereby he has anticipated what Lisideius has to say. After the borrowing it was the lot of the French to have observed them the best. Aristotle had given the dictum that the scope of a play was to be restricted to the events of a day. The French poets interpreted this to mean that Aristotle had in view only the artificial day of twelve hours and not the natural day of twenty-four hours. For more than two decades just before them the French poets had not written any drama that had events extending even to thirty hours.

      Thus in the observance of the Unity of time the French writers were very scrupulous. Literary critics had laid down the rule that the Unity of place should be preserved by not exceeding the compass of the same town or city. This, the poets carefully observed and some limit the actions from beginning to the end to the one spot of ground. Unity of action was adhered to by not burdening themselves with under-plots like the English writers.

      Many scenes of the tragi-comedies in English had nothing to do with the main plot. With two or more distinct webs in a play the English drama appeared to be twin-plays as it were. The audience sat confounded. By the time they were able to appreciate one portion their attention was distracted by the other; so much so that they ceased to have any interest in either. The different dramatis personae became unacquainted with one another till the end when all of them met together on the stage. The result was that the English tragi-comedy had become utterly absurd. Mirth, sadness, passion, honor, duels, etc. were rolled together to create a Bedlam. Aristotle laid down that a tragedy should beget admiration and compassion, but mirth and compassion cannot go together smoothly. If a physician first prescribes a purge and immediately orders a dose of astringents he will be considered mad. Similarly, the introduction of mirth and compassion in one and the same play was a folly of which the English alone were guilty and not the French.

      (b) Horace laid down a rule regarding the plotting of tragedies. He says: “My aim shall be to create from familiar matter”. Tragedy is to be grounded upon some known history with suitable modification for dramatic purposes. They mix truth with fiction, historical facts with products of their own imagination, thereby mending the intrigues of Fate and dispensing with the severity of History. Thereby there is scope for poetic justice by rewarding virtue and punishing vice. It is the privilege of the poet to take whatever suits admirably with his design. We are kind to virtue and we take it up as the general concernment of mankind.

      The historical plays of Shakespeare encompass events of thirty or forty years cramped into a representation of two and a half hours. This is not imitating nature but drawing her in miniature. The images are less than the reality in life and consequently they are infinitely more imperfect than life. Instead of making the play delightful it renders it ridiculous. Horace therefore says in Ars Poetica: “Whatever you thus show me I disbelieve and abhor”. Spirit of man cannot be satisfied except with truth and verisimilitude. Homer says in his Odyssey: “If not the truth yet resembling the truth”. The French plays possess this verisimilitude to a great extent.

      (c) The French dramatists were scrupulous in avoiding in themselves and their works the unhealthy paellera of cumbersome plots. They represented only that much of the story which constituted one full and independent action. The fact that the English dramatists did not adhere to this expedient had resulted in making a single drama the assorted assemblage of many plays. The pursuit of a single argument had enabled the French to gain more liberty for their verses; the attention to one passion obviated the necessity to hurry through many passions. They therefore depicted that passion very well. The Spanish writers like Calderon and those English writers who imitated him were also guilty of the defect of unnatural mixture of tragedy, and comedy and producing an ‘Oleo’ of a play. (Olla podrida is a Spanish stew made of several kinds of meat and vegetables.) The divided attention cannot but weaken the dramatic effectiveness. In the tragedies of Ben Jonson namely Sejanus and Catiline there are many admirable scenes such as pleasant satire on the artificial helps to beauty, the portrayal of the envious feelings of one woman towards another etc. but these scenes do not mingle with the other scenes. The farcical scenes bring about a loss in the tragic intensity.

      (d) Thomas Sprat the author of ‘Observation on M. de Sorbier’s Voyage into England’ has said thus: “The French for the most part, take only one or two great men and chiefly insist on someone remarkable accident of the story; to this end they admit no more persons than will serve to adorn that”. Lisideius criticizes this statement. If the idea is that one person in the drama is of greater dignity than the rest there is no cause for complaint at all. In ancient classics as well as in the best of English plays the case is so and he must criticize them as well. It is impossible not to allot greatest share in the action to the hero. In life too one cannot escape this state of affairs where someone will be superior to the rest either in his abilities, or in fortune or in his interest or in some glorious exploit This must necessarily mean that the greatest share in the action of the play must be borne by the hero. If, on the other hand, the author wants to convey the idea that the French authors have neglected the other characters by exalting one character and denying others some share in the action of the play, Lisideius is emphatic that it is not a fact. All the tragedies of Corneille for example, gave some assignment to every character which was necessary for the development of the plot somewhat like the allotment of suitable work to the different servants in a well-governed family. In the ancient dramas there was the system of introducing protatic (introductory) characters whose duty was confined to mere narration (called by Dryden, ‘Relation’). But the French dramatists made use of the other subordinate characters in the process of relation or narration.

      (e) The French made use of this ‘relation’ with better judgment and more appropriateness than the English. There are two types of narrations. One is confined to the events antecedent to the play and the other is concerned with the events happening in the course of the action of the play often supposed to be done behind the scenes. The former ruins the play because it is seldom listened to with attention by the audience and if it is once allowed to pass without attention the persons in the theatre can never recover themselves. It is unreasonable to tax the patrons of the drama with events that had happened ten or twenty years before. The latter arrangement is very pertinent to represent duels, battles and the like. Bloodshed, violence, tumultuous riots etc. were represented by the English directly on the stage. This was against aesthetic sense and sensibilities of ordinary persons. It is absurd to represent an army with a drum and five men behind it. In English drama, duels were shown wherein blunted swords were used. The villain was represented as being killed with two or three thrusts with those blunted swords whereas even an hour of fighting with those may not kill him in actual life.

      (f) In English dramas death was depicted on the stage. It was comical and absurd because no one believed that the man was dead then. Dying is an action which can never be imitated to a just height. Passions can be lively represented if the author has written the play well and the actors have a good voice and agility of limbs. It is better to omit the actual dying scene.

      The French were sensible enough to do so. Representation of death by narration makes a deeper impression. The description of a beautiful garden by a gifted poet is more pleasing to the imagination than the place itself. Narrations of earlier events are made as though in cold blood but narrations of these events of current importance give us the warmth of concern and rouse our sympathies. The soul is moved with the character and fortunes of the imaginary persons. Descartes has explained the principle with regard to motion: “Each individual thing continues as it is and never changes except by encountering other things which may retard or stop it”

      (g) One can object: “If one part of a play may be related, then why not all?” The answer to this objection is that some parts of the action are more fit to be represented and some to be narrated. Proper selection is necessary. What appears with the greatest beauty either by the magnificence of the show or the vehemence of passions which it produces or some other intrinsic charm can be actually represented on the stage. The other things which are likely to excite our aversion, horror or disbelief should be merely narrated. The opinion of Horace is worth noting: “Do not bring on the stage what should be performed behind the scenes. Keep much from our eyes which an actor’s ready tongue will narrate before us. Medea must not butcher her boys in front of the audience”. The plot can thus be reduced to a more reasonable compass of time. Ancient classics and some of Ben Jonson’s excellent dramas made use of this device. In the excellent play King and No King, Fletcher unravels the whole plot in the fifth Act by narration. It moves the audience. Instances can be multiplied, but ill-management of narration must be avoided. The French dramatists were aware of this.

      (h) The French had other excellences not found in the English works. No French play ended with a conversion or change of will as was usual in English dramas. The poet should convince the audience that the motive is strong enough. The joint work of Beaumont and Fletcher, namely The Scornful Lady published in 1616 has some instances of injudiciousness in this respect. The avarice of Morecraft the usurer is emphasized throughout the play but in the fifth Act, he suddenly renounces his extortionate practices. It astonishes the other characters as well as the audience. The reason given is that he has been duped by the wild young fellow which actually should have made him still more stingy. It is not the judgment of God or any other power so that he should repent. This can be justifiable in the case of a Church where sermons change the hearts of people. We cannot endure it in a play. Another excellence of the French dramatists is their care in making entrances and exits of the dramatis personae. According to Corneille it is absurd for an actor to leave the stage only because he has nothing more to say. Entrances and exits must be logically and naturally accounted for. In this respect the English dramatists often show lapses. The beauty of the rhyme in French plays is remarkable. Tragedies must have rhyme and not blank verse as in the case of the English. Great and judicious poets have written and spoken against rhyme as being unnatural on the stage. This is to be regretted. Inability is no excuse for asserting that something is unnecessary. Lisideius then quotes an apt passage from Historia Romana by Velleuis Paterculus: “But as in the beginning we born with the ambition to overtake those whom we regard as leaders so when we have despaired of being able either to surpass or even to equal them our zeal wanes with our hope; it ceases to follow what it cannot overtake and leaving aside that in which we cannot be pre-eminent we seek for some new object of our efforts.”

Neander’s Spirited Defence of the Supremacy of the English Writers

      Conceding Lisideius’s contention that the French contrived their plots more regularly and observed the laws of comedy and decorum of the stage with more exactness than the English and also admitting that there were some irregularities in the English drama, Neander (i.e. Dryden himself emphatically maintains at the very outset that neither the faults of the English nor the virtues of the French were considerable enough to place the French above the English.

      Lively imitation of nature. In the definition of Drama adumbrated by Lisideius it had been mentioned that there must be lively imitation of nature in a play. It could be conceded that there was some auty in French poetry but akin to the beauty of a statue and not a man with liveliness and warmth of blood. Humour and passions constitute the life of poetical creation. These were miserably wanting in recent French plays, even in those of Corneille their major poet. They could not come anywhere near the works of Fletcher and Ben Jonson.

      Mixing of the serious and the gay. It was Lisideius’s contention that the mingling of the serious and the gay in English tragi-comedies was a drawback. But these quick turns and graces of the English stage were imitated by Moliere who was reputed as a younger Corneille. French plays had their foundation in Spanish plays and novels and have nothing to please and entertain. There was more variety in Ben Jonson’s work than in all of theirs together. Of course the French writers, on the groundwork of the Spanish plays, made regular what was pleasant already. But the different plays of different writers were too much alike to please often. Neander had nothing against their new way of mingling mirth with serious plots but he did not approve their manner of doing it.

      In defence of tragi-comedy. Tragi-comedy can be justified for various reasons. (1) It was the contention of Lisideius that after a scene of great passion and concernment one cannot speedily recollect oneself and pass on to another scene of mirth and humor with relish. Neander repudiates this on the ground that the. soul of man cannot be considered heavier than the senses. The eye passes from an unpleasant object to a pleasant object in a trice. The unpleasantness of the former heightens the beauty of the latter. (2) Contraries when placed near set off each other. (3) Continued gravity keeps the spirit subdued. Gravity should be lessened by mirth. (4) While traveling a long distance one halts now and then to refresh oneself. Similarly severe stress and strain should be mollified by occasional mirth. (5) Mirth mixed with tragedy has the same gladdening effect as the introduction of music between acts consisting of speeches (6) Compassion and mirth in the same subject need not destroy each other. Therefore Neander asserts that the invention of what is called tragi-comedy had exalted the status of modem English writers far above that of the ancients or the modems of any other nation.

      Copiousness of the English plots. Lisideius and others held up the barrenness of French plots against the copiousness of the English plots. The French plots were single, one design being pushed forward by all the actors, while the English plots were coordinated with under-plots or by-concemments on the analogy of the movements of fixed stars and the planets influenced by the motion of the Primum Mobile. (This Ptolemaic astronomy was of course rejected by Dryden in favor of the theory of Copernicus). It was not difficult to imagine that the under-plot which was only different and not contradictory to the great design may naturally be conducted along with it. Equality in rank was dangerous in a play as well as in a state. If imperfect action i.e. sub-plots were conducive to the main design, unity of action was well-preserved. Hence the variety and copiousness of the English plots, being well-ordered, afforded a greater pleasure to the audience.

      Long speeches a drawback in French plays. To Neander the French verses were the coldest he had ever read. Their speeches were declamations that tired the audience with their length. If one is troubled by vexatious visitors one is in trouble till they are gone. Similarly the introduction of long harangues by Cardinal Richelieu may justify the gravity of a churchman but could not entertain the audience. French actors speaking for hours like parsons may entertain the French audience, because they were of cheerful temperament and they visited the theatre to make themselves more serious. On the other hand the English people were usually sullen and they visited the theatre for diversion. This difference in temperament accounted for the English preference for tragi-comedies. Whatever that may be it is a general rule that short speeches and replies can move passions and beget sympathy. Grief and passions are like floods raised in little brooks by a sudden rain. This unexpectedness causes overflowing whereas a long sober shower gives them leisure to run out as they come in without troubling the ordinary current. Repartee is the chief grace of the comedy. Chase of wit kept up on both sides and swiftly managed generates greatest pleasure in the audience. Fletcher’s plays contained all these items.

      Giving greater prominence to one character. The French writers made one person very prominent in the plays and all the other characters subordinate. Thereby the design of the whole drama chiefly depended on it. On the other hand the English writers introduced many persons of a second magnitude so that greatness may be opposed to greatness. The more the persons the greater the variety of the plot. The audience find it infinitely pleasing to be led in a labyrinth of design where some part of the way is seen before, yet the end is not discerned till it is arrived at. Thereby curiosity and suspense are aroused. There should be no confusion or perplexity. The plays of Ben Jonson viz., The Alchemist and The Silent Woman can be cited as examples of such splendid plays.

      The insistence of the French on the necessity of hiding parts of the actions occasioning much tumult. In this matter, the French were correct in their procedure. These things were made known by narration. They were also for removing all incredible actions. In this connection Neander observes that by the compulsion of the customs as well as due to intrinsic nature the English people did not relish it if combats and other objects of horror were taken away from a play. The indecency of tumult is all that can be objected to. As for the incredible things referred to, the imagination of the audience should be such as to acquiesce in their probability. The blows and thrusts of swords must be considered to have been given in earnest. Corneille’s play Andromede contains many incredible objects far removed from all appearances of truth. Of course even Ben Jonson was guilty of some lapses in his play Catiline such as removal of the scene in the same Act from Rome to Catiline’s army (stationed a long distance away) and from there again to Rome though he was a painful observer of decorum of the stage. Neander then concludes this part of his exposition by saying that the English writers showed too much of the action; the French were faulty because they discovered too little of it; in his opinion the golden mean between these two should be observed by the judicious writers. The audience should not be left unsatisfied by not seeing the beautiful. They should not be shocked by being compelled to behold what is incredible and also what is indecent. Neander supports Lisideius’s view that death should not be shown directly on the stage. Ben Jonson studiously avoided it in his tragedies Sejanus and Catiline.

      Laxity in the Rule of the three Unities inevitable. In Neander’s opinion the English writers excelled the French ones despite the fact that they were not as punctual as the French in observing the laws of comedy. The errors of the English were very few. Their strong points were so considerable that it would not do to blame them for a few lapses. Further, Corneille and others were of the opinion that there should be laxity in the insistence of the observance of the three Unities. Experience had shown that the writers are unduly limited, curbed and constrained by these rules. They had to banish many beauties of the stage because of unnecessary adherence to these rules. The servile observance of the Unity of time, Unity of place and integrity of scenes had resulted in the dearth of plot, narrowness of imagination etc. Beautiful events cannot be expected to happen within the short duration of less than an hour. Maturity of design requires some passage of time for its fruition. If unbroken scenes be insisted upon the writers, they will be compelled to omit some beauties and introduce absurdities as well. The fear that the stage has to be cleared compelled the writers to make the meanest man enter the king’s chamber rather than transact his business in the courtyard. In Corneille’s play The Amorous Gallant there were many absurdities in regard to the entrances and exits of persons by keeping the stage never empty. It would appear as though the street, the window, the closet etc. were made to walk about and the persons to stand still. It is easier to write a regular French play than an irregular English play.

      Superiority of the English writers confirmed. When the English writers introduced complicated and copious plots they could not but write irregularly. They attempted to cover it with a surface beauty alone. French plays when translated into English did not attract the English audience. The plots of English authors were full of variety; the writing more quick and full of spirit. In writing plays in verse the English had not imitated any one, least of all the French. Shakespeare and Fletcher have been the models for modem dramatists. There were rhyming lines in many places besides Chorus, Monologues etc. These examples showed that the English writers did not imitate in a servile manner any of the French writers. Dryden is thus actuated by the spirit of cultural nationalism.

      To sum up, Neander boldly affirms two things on English Drama: (i) the English had many plays as regular as any of the French plays but with more variety of plot and characters; (ii) in most of the irregular plays of Shakespeare and Fletcher there was a more masculine fancy and greater spirit in the writing. A great many plays of even Shakespeare and Fletcher were exactly formed, such as Merry Wives of Windsor, Scornful Lady etc. Shakespeare did not perfectly observe all the laws of comedy, Fletcher did commit some faults due to carelessness. Hence the critic i.e. Neander enunciates that he is going to review a perfect play from Ben Jonson who was a careful and learned observer of the dramatic laws. That play is Epicoene or The Silent Woman.

      Homage paid to Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher. When Neander concludes his justification of the superiority of the English over the French writers, Eugenius requests him to give the friends assembled there a character of Jonson franldy tendering his opinion on the general feeling that both English and French writers ought to give place to him. Neander fears that there will be ill-will towards him if he obeys Eugenius’s command. Therefore, he first wants to pay his homage to Shakespeare and Fletcher before speaking in praise of Jonson; the earlier poets were definitely equal to Jonson and Shakespeare perhaps his superior. Among all poets Shakespeare had the largest and most comprehensive soul. He drew from Nature all images because he was naturally learned. Artificial learning he lacked and so all the more he deserves commendation. He never needed the spectacles of books because he looked inwards. Of course many times (and in many places) he was flat and insipid. His comic wit degenerated into cliches; his serious remarks swelled into bombast or tall talk. But whenever he had a fit subject he raised himself far above others. All the contemporaries of Shakespeare never deigned to consider themselves above him. They set Shakespeare far above Fletcher and Jonson even at the time when Jonson was the Court-poet. What Shakespeare lacked Fletcher and Beaumont had in plenty. Natural gifts within them had Veen improved by study. Jonson himself submitted his plays to Beaumont for approval with accuracy of judgment. The play Philaster jointly produced by Beaumont and Fletcher brought them great esteem. They were very skillful in portraying gentlemen of the day and their conversation, wild debaucheries, quickness of wit in repartee etc. They represented all passions, especially love, with remarkable success. According to Neander, English language arrived at the highest perfection in them. More plays written by them were staged at that time. Their popularity was greater than that of Skakespeare because of the gaiety in their comedies and pathos in the serious plays. Shakespeare’s language had become obsolete and Jonson’s wit fell short of theirs.

      Reference to Jonson. Some salient general features of Jonson are dwelt upon by Neander. He was the most learned and judicious writer that any theatre ever had. In his works there was little to retrench or alter. Something of art was wanting in the drama till his advent. His genius was too sullen and saturnine (sluggishly gloomy) to portray love and kindred passions gracefully. Humour was his proper sphere and he represented the common people remarkably. He was well versed in the classics and he borrowed freely from the classic writers. He did his robberies so openly as to be considered fearless. He invaded the classic treasure-house like a monarch and so what would be theft in other poets was a successful victory in respect to him. Shakespeare was the father of English dramatic poetry and Jonson the pattern of elaborate writing. Shakespeare was the greater wit and Jonson a more correct poet. Neander admires Jonson but loves Shakespeare. In his book Discoveries Jonson had laid down many rules for the purpose of perfecting the stage.

      Examen of Jonson’s play ‘The Silent Woman’ or Epicoene. Neander then examines the play, The Silent Woman thoroughly. The excellences are enumerated. At the outset, the Unity of time is extolled. The time for staging a play is about three and a half hours and the length of the action (in the plot of the play) is also about that much. Thus the ancient dictum regarding Unity of time is preserved in this play. In Tuke’s translation “Adventures of Five Hours” one finds this type of limiting the action of the play but not in many other plays. As for the Unity of place, it has also been strictly observed because it lies all within the compass of two houses and after the first act in one of them. The continuity of scenes is not broken more than two or three times in the whole comedy. The action of the play is entirely one. The aim of the play is settling of Morose’s estate on Dauphine. The intrigue for that is the greatest and noblest of any pure unmixed comedy in any language. There are many characters of diverse humor, everyone of them being delightful. Neander takes the chief character Morose, an old man disliking every noise excepting his own voice. Some professed literary critics said that this humor was forced. It is no serious objection because he is naturally of a delicate hearing and hence sharp sounds are unpleasant to him. The very name suggests this peculiarity of feeling. The same can be justified as due to the peevishness of his age and also to the wayward authority of an old man insisting that he must be obeyed by all. Neander had been assured by several persons that Ben Jonson was personally acquainted with such a man. There were some critics who maintained that it was not enough if one such man with such a humor was found. The more common the humor the more natural it became. They cited Shakespeare’s Falstaff who is old, fat, merry, cowardly, drunken, amorous, vain and lying, as the best example of a comic character. In Neander’s opinion Falstaff is a miscellany of humor. Humour is the ridiculous extravagance of conversation wherein one man differs from all others. If it is shared by many there is no question of differing from others. Singularity of humor alone causes it to be ridiculous. What is singular in Falstaff is his wit or those things he says unexpectedly. His quick evasions when one imagines him surprised can be diverting to the audience. Further the very sight of such an unwieldy old debauched fellow is a comedy in itself.

      What is humor? As something relevant to the context Neander wants to enlarge upon this subject of humor which he has already defined as some extravagant habit, passion or affection. The oddness of this idiosyncrasy distinguishes one from the rest of men. He examines some plays of the ancients and the French and substantiates his contention that they are wanting in the representation of humor in their comedies as well as tragedies. The “ludicrous” of the old comedy (of Aristophanes) was not so much to imitate a man as to make the people laugh at some odd conceit which had commonly something unnatural or obscene in it. In the new comedy, the poets sought indeed to express the “character” or “disposition” as in their tragedies the “emotion” or “transient passion” of mankind. This ‘character’ contained only the general characters of men and manners. All the people such as old men, lovers, courtesans, parasites, serving men etc. were made alike—’’ One exact image of the other”. Their custom in the tragedies was also not different. The French people have the word “humor”. Yet they make little use of it in their comedies, or farces. With regard to English it was otherwise. When humor is lively and naturally represented it begets malicious pleasure in the audience which provokes laughter. Everything which is a deviation from custom aptly produces laughter. Pleasure is essential to it as the imitation of what is natural. Neander concludes the digression with a telling sentence. The description of this humor, drawn from the knowledge and observation of particular persons was the peculiar genius and talent of Ben Jonson.

      Variety of characters and humor in ‘The Silent Woman’. In addition to Morose the play has nine or ten different characters. All these have their own individual aims and characteristics but the poet uses them to perfect the main design. There is more wit and acuteness of fancy in this play than in any other play of Ben Jonson. The conversation of the ‘gentlemen’ represented by the character Truewit and his friends is described with more gaiety and freedom than in other comedies. The contrivance of the plot is extremely elaborate, yet it is carefully concealed till the end when the poet himself unravels it; the untying of the knots is natural and proper, done in an admirable manner. The excellent contrivance is all the more admirable in a comedy where persons are of very common rank, without the elevation of passions and concernments as in serious plays. Nothing is presented in a comedy but what an ordinary man does and talks every day. As a consequence all faults can be easily detected and no critic considers them pardonable. Horace has remarked: “It is thought that comedy, drawing its themes from daily life, calls for less labor but it calls proportionately for more as the indulgence allowed is less”. Ben Jonson was not unaware of the difficulties of a writer of comedies. Just like a man who wants to make a great jump is sure to take his rise from the highest ground so Jonson makes use of all advantages laid down by Corneille such as making a choice of a long-expected day on which the action of the play is based. That day was the same as designed by Dauphme for settling his uncle’s estates upon him by marrying him. From what he tells his friend Truewit it is clear that he has been plotting for it for a long time.

      A clever artifice of the poet An artifice of Jonson is the way in which he recommends for our observation a character or humor wherein he could show his highest skill. He gives a pleasant description before the person makes his appearance. For example, the details of Sir John Daw, Sir Amorous La-foole, Morose and the collegiate ladies are described before they come to the stage. The audience begin to have a longing expectation for them and so receive them favorably. Nothing of their humor is lost on them.

      Rising upward movement in the acts. The second Act is greater than the first, the third than the second and so on till the fifth. New difficulties arise to obstruct the action of the play, the discovery of the plot to the ultimate denouement is made only when there is abject despair on the part of the audience regarding the business being effected. In order to entertain them with more variety the poet reserves new characters to show them on different occasions. Along with the characters, underplots or episodes have been introduced as diversions to the main design, to prevent it from being tedious. They are subservient to the main plot and so they cannot interfere with it. In this manner like a skillful chess player, little by little, he draws out his men and makes his pawns of use to his greater persons.

      Controversy to be decided by translations. Neander then throws up a challenge. He says that even the French people themselves cannot but admit the superiority of the English plays once they read them in French translations. Thus the controversy between the two nations can be decided once for all. Prose plays are not new to the French because Moliere had written Dorn Juan, his first five-act play in 1665 and some one-act plays before that. Further, the English need not rely solely on their greatest playwrights. Even other writers had brought the honor of the English to the fore-front. They were able to dispute the Empire of wit with any people in the universe. The recent period of twenty years when the Puritan Roundheads reigned over the land, the Muses had to be buried under the ruins of monarchy. But in 1660, monarchy was restored. Now poesy had begun to lift up its head and shake off the rubbish which lay so heavy on it. Many recent dramatic poems did not yield to those of any foreign nation.

      Neither flattery nor envy. It could not be said that there was no blemish at all in the recent English plays. In fact the English themselves had been quick to discern them and reluctant to pardon them. As Horace said, when the beauties in a poem are numerous none shall take offence at a few faults. Another writer also said that betwixt the extremes of admiration and malice it is hard to judge uprightly of the living. One must set aside flattery and envy. It is not beneath one’s dignity to acknowledge that some plays are inferior to others which were produced during the Elizabethan age. Nor can this fact bring any additional credit that many of the present poets had far surpassed all the ancients and the modem writers of other countries.

The Question of Rhyme and Blank Verse

      Crites’s interposition. When Neander concludes, Lisideius is about to reply when Crites interposes thus. All the material things that can be said had been urged on either side. Even if that be not the case, it was better than Lisideius deferred his reply till another suitable occasion. Crites then says that he has joined dispute with both the sides because they had concluded without offering reasons that rhyme is proper for the stage. It is admitted that the practice of introducing rhyme is very ancient. Even Shakespeare, Fletcher and Ben Jonson used it in their pastorals and plays frequently. There is no necessity to consider whether the practice of rhyming was indigenous to England or whether it was learned from the French. At the time of the recent plague some people began to argue whether it was due to the malignity of the native air or due to transportation of the infection from Holland. What was the benefit in this type of argument because the duty of the people was only to provide against the disease? The case of the tracing of the origin of the practice of rhyming was also on the same footing.

      Crites’s assertion of the suitability of rhyme in only comedies. People’s inclinations should be admitted and favored. Many excellent serious plays written by Shakespeare, Fletcher and Jonson had no rhyme at all. If Neander wanted to plead the cause of rhyme he must point out plays written by persons of the status equal to that of these poets, insisting on the use of rhyme. The unanimous consent of an audience was very powerful. Even Julius Caesar the dictator could not balance it on the other side because he said “O Liberius, in spite of the fact that I favored you, you have been overcome.” Publilius Syrus the other poet was so powerful.

      Crites’s arguments against rhyme. At the outset Crites says rhyme is unnatural in a play. The dialogue in a play is assumed to be the effect of sudden thought. No man without premeditation speaks in rhyme. It is true that men of excellent and quick parts may speak noble things extempore but those thoughts should not be fettered with the numbers or sound of verse. It cannot but be unnatural to present the most free way of speaking in that which is the most constrained. Another reason against rhyme is Aristotle’s dictum that it is best to write tragedies in that kind of verse which is nearest prose i.e. iambic and the blank verse. In an epic poem blank verse is not suitable and rhyme is improper for the drama. It is unreasonable to imagine that a man should light upon the wit as well as the rhyme on the spur of the moment although quickness of repartee in argumentative scenes receive an ornament from verse. How can we suppose the persons of the play to be born poets? They cannot boast (like Ovid) that whatever they tried to express was poetry. If they lack the power, the answer will be the design of two and not the answer of one. Actors cannot be considered to perform their tricks by the confederacy. It is the greatest perfection of art to keep itself undiscovered. A play is an imitation of nature. No one can allow a gross lie to be fastened on him. Scenes which represent cities and countries are painted on boards and canvas. Hence crudeness in painting or designing should be avoided. They are to be presented with great labor and more diligence and exactness to help the imagination. The nearer anything comes to the imitation of the truth the more it pleases.

      Rhyme is incapable of expressing greatest thoughts naturally and the lowest thoughts gracefully. It is absurd to ask a servant to shut the door in rhyming verse. Some say that verse circumscribes a quick and luxuriant fancy. The labor that is necessary to fashion a polished rhyme sets a limitation and boundary to the fancy. This argument can be refuted by saying that ability to write better verse does not mean we are writing naturally. He who is devoid of judgment to curb his fancy in blank verse will equally fail to do so in rhyme also. Ovid’s fancy was not limited by verse and Virgil needed not verse to bind his. Ben Jonson confined himself to what ought to be said in the liberty of blank verse. Corneille the French poet varied the same sense in a hundred ways though confined by rhyme. Crites then concludes by saying that he has other arguments also but wants Neander to answer these arguments.

      Neander’s reply. Neander says that he is ready to confess that the rhyming lines he himself had composed fall short of that perfection which is required. Neander has high respect and deference for the person from whom Crites has borrowed the arguments (i.e. Howard) and he will submit to his judgment after enumerating all his arguments. Neander asserts his standpoint thus. He excludes all comedy from his defense. He is not against the use of blank verse but he is of the emphatic opinion that rhyme is natural and more effectual than blank verse in serious plays. In these plays the subject and the characters are great The plot is unmixed with mirth. The arguments that Crites advances against rhyme do not go beyond pointing out faults in ill-fashioned rhyme. If some poets blunder in using blank verse, it is no argument against Fletcher’s blank verse that contains many excellences. It is ridiculous to accuse the stubbornness of blank verse instead of the stiffness of the poet who blunders in blank verse. No other condition is necessary to make rhyme natural than well-chosen and duly placed words. Selection of apt words and a right disposition of them—this alone is the criterion. Due choice of words expresses the sense naturally; due placing of them adapts the rhyme to them. The necessity of a rhyme never forces any but bad or lazy writers to say what they would not otherwise. A good poet never establishes the first line till he has sought out such a rhyme as may fit the sense already prepared to heighten the second. English poets can do what Virgil did in Latin by breaking off in the hemistich and beginning another line. Variety of cadences is the best rule, the greatest help to the actors and refreshment to the audience. If one asserts that no man in ordinary conversation speaks in rhyme, another can equally assert that no man speaks in blank verse too i.e. measure without rhyme. The difference between these two is the sound and the sweetness of it and all the resulting advantages. (In the preface to the Rival Ladies Dryden has elaborated on this.)

      Aristotle’s dictum. Aristotle has said that plays should be written in that kind of verse which is nearest prose. Blank verse is measured prose and measure alone does not constitute verse. Greek and Latin verses consisted in quantity of words and a determinate number of feet. When new languages were introduced and barbarously mingled with Latin a new method of poesy was practiced.

      This new way consisted in measure, or number of feet and rhyme. The sweetness of rhyme and observation of accent could not be observed by the Barbarians who did not know the rules regarding this. Further the rhyming system is not suitable to the barbaric languages. The Spanish, French and German writers do not acknowledge what is called blank verse. In comedies it can be used. In fact Neander considers rhyming improper in comedy. The advantage of the ancients of changing the kind of verse with the change of scene cannot be despised. The custom of the modem nations confirms the use of rhyme.

      Poets need not constrain themselves at all times. It is enough that it is accepted as a general rule. On occasions there may be greatness in placing the words otherwise. If one cannot find six natural rhymes together it will be as hard to produce as many lines in blank verse.

      The objection of audience being unfavorable. One more contention of Crites is that there will be unfavorable reaction among audience if they cannot produce good plays with rhyme on an equal footing with the good plays of Shakespeare, Jonson etc. where there is no rhyme. Neander says that no one can be presumptuous of themselves as to contend with the departed authors. While conceding that modems can never equal them he says that even if the famous dead authors rise up and write again they could never equal themselves. It is as though they have ruined their estates before the assets passed on to posterity. Thereby Neander means that they have used up all kinds of humor, character, plot etc. Nothing more is left to be exploited. This kind of situation necessitates either the compulsion of not writing at all or attempting another way. As Virgil says, “I must venture a theme which will exalt me too from the earth.”

      Genius of every age is different It is no wonder that betwixt the shaking off of an old habit and the introducing of a new one there should be difficulty. If the general public is identified with the multitude, it is no matter what they think, they are sometimes in the right and sometimes in the wrong. Horace has condemned the multitude thus: “Where the crowd think they are right, it is there that they are wrong”. But if the general public means a mixed audience with a greater part of the nobility among them they are already favorable to verse-writing. (Many of Dryden’s plays have been favorably received.)

      Nearness to nature explained. No man spoke any kind of verse extempore. Hence what is nearest to nature has to be preferred. Nearness to nature in a comedy and that in a serious play is not the same. It has to be distinctly understood. Comedy is the imitation of common persons and ordinary speech. Tragedy is nature wrought up to a higher pitch—the plot, the characters, the wit, the passions, the descriptions are all exalted above the level of the common. Of course there must be proportion to verisimilitude. Heroic rhyme is necessary to portray the minds and fortunes of noble persons in a manner nearest nature. Horace has said that tragedy scorns to babble trivial verses and that the language of daily life is appropriate to comedy alone. If blank verse is too low for a poem, or even an ordinary sonnet, all the more is it too low for a tragedy.

      Epic poem-dramatic poem. Aristotle has ranked tragedy far above the epic poem. The epic poem is interlaced with dialogues and discoursive scenes. If one admits that rhyming is suitable in an epic poem why should it not be suitable in a dramatic poem. Although tragedy is preferred to epic poem there is an affinity between the two. There is a just and lively image of human nature in its actions, passions and traverses of fortunes in both of them. The end or aim of these two is the delight and benefit of mankind. Only the manner of acquainting us with the actions, passions, etc. is different in an epic poem and in a dramatic poem. Tragedy performs it viva-voce whereas the epic poem does it by narration. If rhyme is proper for one it must be proper for the other as well. Sudden thought can be represented in verse because those thoughts are higher than nature. A play can be like nature if it is set above it. Statues which are placed high are made greater than life that they may descend to the sight in their just proportion.

      Rhyme in short repartee. Crites says that rhyming is unnatural in short replies or repartee. The man who speaks in the first instance does not know what reply the other gives. Therefore the earlier part of the verse is incomplete. This, together with the sudden repartee may therefore look like the confederacy of two rather than the answer of one. This objection, Neander says, is the objection of a person who is prejudiced against rhyme. In blank verse also the same objection holds good. In the Greek tragedies when the scene grows up into the warmth of repartees the latter part of the trimeter is supplied by the person who replies. Yet it was never observed as a fault in them by any of the ancient or modem critics. Rhyme to the modem poets is like quantity in ancient poets. We cannot ask a poet to follow nature by asking him to follow on foot A dance which is well contrived will not be displeasing. There the united design of many persons makes up one figure. There is confederacy in it, yet there is nothing that shocks our sight. Similarly, the quick poignant brevity mingling with art in a repartee, joined with the cadence and sweetness of the rhyme leaves nothing to be desired further. When a poet has found the repartee, the last perfection he can add to it is to put it into verse.

      Mean household conversation. The objection raised earlier, namely, that the majesty of a verse suffers when a servant is called or asked to shut a door in rhyming lines may be a good observation but it is no argument. Such thoughts should be waived by the address of the poet. He need not use rhyme there. Of course choice should be made of the best words and the least vulgar to express such thoughts. John Taylor’s output of popular doggerel verse was remarkable (Neander calls him water poet) and he was popular though there is no poetic beauty in his poems. On this account English poetry should not be condemned as ridiculous. Neander emphatically says that English language is noble and significant A clever poet should use diligence in his choice of words. Cicero says that the choice of words is the foundation of eloquence. Even ordinary idea as unlocking a door has been expressed by Seneca to sound high and lofty in his Latin “Set wide the palace gates”. In plays occasions necessitating the use of vulgar thoughts do not come more than twice or thrice and the necessity may excuse them. Further, the eagerness and precipitation with which they are spoken makes us mind the substance rather than the dress. Something of more consequence depends on these vulgar expressions.

      Circumscribing over-fruitful fancy. Crites wants to overthrow the argument for verse by saying that easiness of blank verse renders the poet too luxuriant but the labor of rhyme bounds and circumscribes an overfruitful fancy. Crites’s contention was that the dispute was not which way a man may write best, but which is most proper for the subject on which he writes. If the supposition that to write in verse was more proper for serious plays is granted it naturally asserts that this way of writing is a help to the poet’s judgment by putting bounds to a wild over-flowing fancy. He who has judgment will avoid errors and he who has it not will commit them in all kinds of writing.


      Dryden makes it clear in the last two paragraphs that it is the opinion of Robert Howard that Crites advances and so the arguments are weighty. Yet he asserts that he who has judgment that is so profound, so strong and so infallible as to require no help to keep it always poised and upright, will commit no faults either in rhyme or out of it. He who has weak judgment, which no help can correct or amend, will write scurvily out of rhyme and worse in rhyme.

      The poet requires many things other than the best judgment. He must have many tools to assist him. Verse is the rule and line by which the poet keeps his edifice (i.e. the poem produced) compact and which otherwise lawless imagination would raise either irregularly or loosely. Ben Jonson might have written exactly without the help of rhyme. But since rhyme is only an aid to a luxuriant fancy Ben Jonson whose fancy was not so luxuriant did not require its help. Further, verse was not so refined during his age as it is in the modem age. Second thoughts are usually the best because they receive the maturest digestion from judgment. Artful and labored verses are the last and most mature products of those thoughts. Thus verse is a great help to a luxuriant fancy.

      The barge stands still because they are at the foot of Somerset stairs where they had decided to land. Walking from that place they go up through a crowd of French people who are merrily dancing there and part company. Eugenius and Lisideius go to some pleasant spot and Crites and Neander to their several lodgings.

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