The traditional origin of drama as the chorus in Dionysian festivals in pre – Socratic Greece has led to the primal form of the drama to be poetry. Such verse drama was seen not only in plays of these Greek masters like Aeschylus and Sophocles , but was continued by English masters such as Marlowe , Shakespeare and Ben Jonson during the Renaissance of English literature in the Elizabethan period . The belated efforts of the romantics like wordrworth with The Borderers, Shelly with the Cenci and Byron with his Manfred were unable to remain no more than closet plays. It was only in the 20th century, when stalwarts like Yeats and Eliot made a serious foray into the genre, the poetic drama regained some of its lost status. They attempted to revive poetic drama, which had fallen out of fashion with the rise of realism. 

 The Irish poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats began by writing dreamy plays on Irish mythological plays, and from the beginning showed a symbolic power in both action and imagery which suggested levels meanings the drama had not reached for a long time. Yeats's plays were designed more for small, appreciative audiences in aristocratic drawing rooms than for the middle-class public in commercial Dublin theaters. He derived much of his innovative technique, such as the use of ritual, masks, chorus, and dance, from the nō drama. In these plays Yeats brought poetry back to theater, from which it had long been absent, and fused strict realism with mythic vision to create poetic dramas as spare and pregnant with mysterious meaning as the images of a dream.  He looks on the heroic cycles of Cú Chulainn, principal hero of the Ulster Cycle of early Irish Gaelic literature, of about the 1st century bc. As a youth, Cú Chulainn (or Cuchulainn) was renowned for his great strength and heroic deeds. He was educated by the outstanding warriors and poets of the time at the court of his uncle, Chonchobor, king of Ulster. on Bolie’s stand (1904) Yeats searches for a tragic instance of a challenge between father and son. As in Sohrub and Rustum , this led to Cuchulainn’s slaughter of his son . Gaelic legend was again used in Deirdre. The countess Cathleen is the story of the Irish countess who sold her soul to save her people, but reached heaven after all. It is significant that most of Yeats plays were influenced by the Noh plays employing a bare stage, masked dance rhythmic instruments and a chorus which is not part of the action.

But the true resurgence of poetic drama was initiated by T.S. Eliot whose poetic plays restore ritual drama in quite a different way from that of Yeats: His study of the martyrdom of St. Thomas – a – Becket at the instigation of Henry ii in Murder in the cathedral is more than a historical play in that Thomas’s temptation and sacrifice are made symbolic of every man’s vocation to surrender to the divine will. The historical meditation Murder in the Cathedral (1935), a verse play, deals with the martyrdom of Saint Thomas à Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.  In this play one notes the influence of Greek tragedy, of Samson Agonistes and of the medieval morality. In his later plays Eliot moves away from the obviously ritualistic mode and tries to achieve overtones of myth and ritual in realistic plays of modern upper class life. In the cocktail party estrangement between Edward and his wife, Havana, is averted by the guidance and wisdom of the unidentified stranger and this is again symbolic of divine assistance. The other plays of Eliot include the confidential clerk, The Elder statesman and the family Reunion.

After Eliot, Christopher Fry has been the biggest stimulus to poetic drama. His first play The Boy with a cart (1939) presents the life of a saint who pushes his mother about in a cart until he finds a place to fulfill his aim and build a church, In The Lady’s Not for Burning (1949), the hero is determined to be hanged for murder in spite of not having committed any crime. Fry’s Venus observed, a comedy, is play no true to his genius, for his verbal exuberance and playfulness finds its full expression.

Murder in the cathedral (1935) led to a good deal of religious and poetic drama. The old man of the mountains by Norman Nicholson presents the story of Elijah and the story is winy and disciplined. The zeal of Thy House, a play by Dorothy Sayers, deals with events at the time of the construction of the cathedral of Canterbury and explores the theme of divine and human creativity.  Ronald Duncan’s this way to the Tomb is a masque presenting 14th century martyrdom. Anne Ridler’s Nativity play, The Shadowy Factory, has a distinctly contemporary tone.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Encerta


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