Journey of English Drama in late 18th century: From Emotional, Sentimental and Moralistic to Reality

The Time of Satire: Johnson's friend Oliver Goldsmith was a curious mixture of the old and the new. His novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) begins with dry humor but passes quickly into tearful calamity. His poem The Deserted Village (1770) is in form reminiscent of Pope, but in the tenderness of its sympathy for the lower classes it foreshadows the romantic age. In such plays as She Stoops to Conquer (1773) Goldsmith, like the younger Richard Sheridan in his School for Scandal (1777), demonstrated an older tradition of satirical quality and artistic adroitness that was to be anathema to a younger generation-a play about gossip, hypocrisy, and false sentimentality. 



The drama remained at a low level of production: In England, after Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), the drama remained at a low level of production. English playwrights were few and their work was uninteresting. When, in 1843, the theatre became open to public enterprise, this, instead of making for higher quality, rather confirmed it in its insignificance by turning it, mainly, into nothing better than a coarse form of popular entertainment. All serious matter it studiously avoided, contenting itself with heavy punning, laborious jesting, and vulgar intrigues that generally involved ridiculous pairs of lovers. Side by side with these farcical plays, there existed melodramas of the worst type, historical and others. The influence of the French post-revolution plays and romantic dramas was no doubt, partly responsible. This genre was long in dying out, and still flourished between the years 1880 and 1890 and even afterwards, when the Surrey-side continued to offer to opprobrium the wicked lord and the vampire-lady. During the whole of that time, very few serious writers turned to the theatre. The dignified form of fiction was the novel. The only plays reduced, worthy of any notice, were those of Robertson, who, by choice of characters, scenic details, and even seriousness of purpose, aimed at creating the illusion of life on the stage. 



A Realistic Current in English Literature: There had always been a realistic current in English literature, and with Robertson and with the cup and saucer comedy of the seventies, this realism coloured the drama. Thanks to it, the stage was purged from some of its theatricality, stage-production showed definite improvement, and dramatic literature began to gain in verisimilitude and humanity. The influence of Robertson was not entirely lost; it was to show some years later, even in the plays of Pinero and of Henry Arthur Tones. But the works of his immediate followers lacked vigour and literary quality, the incites given soon exhausted itself, and Robertson’s own attempt at mild realism did not compete very successfully Nevertheless, Robertson and Henry Irving were already unmistakable signs that the drama would soon begin to recover from the low condition into which it had fallen. And there were others too, more and more apparent as time went on, besides the newly born taste for reality and for Shakespeare. 


The Reasons such offshoot: One of the reasons for this low level of taste was, besides laziness of mind, a form of religious complex, which made it repellent to many, to see serious questions thrashed out in as frivolous a place as theater; this puritanical attitude was perpetuated by the censorship which, originally created to deal with political attacks against Walpole, had come to exercise on literature as a whole. 


Conclusion: Throughout the centuries, dramatists made conscious decisions to break with earlier traditions. A tendency toward realism and the depiction of situations and characters with whom audiences could identify accelerated over the course of the coming 19th century.

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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