lunedì 11 ottobre 2010

Restoration Drama

'Wycherley and his confreres were the first Englishmen to depict mankind as leading an existence with no moral outcome. It was their sorry distinction to be the first of English authors to present a world of unscrupulous persons who entertained no special prejudices, one way or the other, as touched ethical matters."

FROM 1642 onward for eighteen years, the theatres of England remained nominally closed. There was of course evasion of the law; but whatever performances were offered had to be given in secrecy, before small companies in private houses, or in taverns located three or four miles out of town. No actor or spectator was safe, especially during the early days of the Puritan rule. Least of all was there any inspiration for dramatists. In 1660 the Stuart dynasty was restored to the throne of England. Charles II, the king, had been in France during the greater part of the Protectorate, together with many of the royalist party, all of whom were familiar with Paris and its fashions. Thus it was natural, upon the return of the court, that French influence should be felt, particularly in the theatre. In August, 1660, Charles issued patents for two companies of players, and performances immediately began.

The great indignation aroused among the English by the appearance of French actresses in 1629, was overcome and the innovation later accepted, when in one of the semi-private entertainments given during the Protectorate at Rutland House, the actress Mrs. Coleman took the principal part in The Siege of Rhodes, a huge spectacle designed by Davenant in 1656. This play also offered a display of machinery never seen before.

From the reopening of the English theatres, English playwrights tended to be influenced by French and Spanish authors. This later brought to a time when every European nation was influenced by, and exerted an influence upon, the drama of every other nation. Characters, situations, plots, themes--these things travelled from country to country, always modifying and sometimes supplanting the home product.

With this influx of foreign drama, there was still a steady production of the masterpieces of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. The diarist Samuel Pepys, an ardent lover of the theatre, relates that during the first three years after the opening of the playhouses he saw Othello, Henry IV, A Midsummer Night's Dream, two plays by Ben Jonson, and others by Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton, Shirley, and Massinger. It must have been about this time that the practice of "improving" Shakespeare was begun, and his plays were often altered so as to be almost beyond recognition.

From the time of the Restoration actors and managers, also dramatists, were good royalists; and new pieces, or refurbished old ones, were likely to acquire a political slant. The Puritans were satirized, the monarch and his wishes were flattered, and the royal order thoroughly supported by the people of the stage.

The Restoration writers were content to portray repeatedly a few artificial types and the were clever and ingenious in so doing. The Restoration dramatists were steeped in the sophistication of the fashionable world. The drama of Wycherley and Congreve was the reflection of a small section of life: it had polish, an edge, a perfection in its own field; but both its perfection and its naughtiness sometimes seem unreal.

The heroes of the Restoration comedies were lively gentlemen of the city, profligates and loose livers, with a strong tendency to make love to their neighbours' wives. Husbands and fathers were dull, stupid creatures. The heroines, for the most part, were lovely and pert, too frail for any purpose beyond the glittering tinsel in which they were clothed. Their companions were busybodies and gossips, amorous widows or jealous wives. The intrigues which occupy them are sufficiently coarse. Over all the action is the gloss of superficial good breeding and social ease. Only rarely do these creatures betray the traits of sympathy, faithfulness, kindness, honesty, or loyalty. They follow a life of pleasure, bored, but yawning behind a delicate fan or a kerchief of lace. Millamant and Mirabell, in Congreve's Way of the World, are among the most charming of these Watteau figures.

The national taste was coming into harmony, to a considerable extent, with the standards of Europe. Eccentricities were curbed; ideas, characters, and story material were interchanged. The plays, however, were not often mere imitations; in the majority of them there is original observation and independence of thought. It was this drama that kept the doors of the theatre open and the love of the theatre alive in the face of great public opposition.

Soon after the Restoration women began to appear as writers of drama. Mrs. Aphra Behn, both a novelist with Oroonooko and a playwright, soon followed by Mrs. Manly and Mrs. Susannah Centlivre, always in the same spirit as the plays written by men.

Although the Puritans had lost their dominance as a political power, yet they had not lost courage in abusing the stage. The most violent attack was made by the clergyman Jeremy Collier in 1698, in a pamphlet called A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, in which he denounced not only Congreve and Vanbrugh, but Shakespeare and most of the Elizabethans. Three points especially drew forth his denunciations: the so-called lewdness of the plays, the frequent references to the Bible and biblical characters, and the criticism, slander and abuse flung from the stage upon the clergy.

The king, James II, was so wrought up over it that he issued a solemn proclamation "against vice and profaneness." Congreve and Vanbrugh, together with other writers, were persecuted, and fines were imposed on some of the most popular actors and actresses. The public buzzed with the scandal set forth in The Short View, but did not stay away altogether from the playhouses. The poets answered the attack not by reformation, but by new plays in which the laughter, the satire, and the ridicule were turned upon their enemies.

1.Read the above information about Restoration drama and complete the items below:





2.Make a list of the most important authors of the Restoration Drama with their  most representative works.
3.Find information on the Net about the structure of the new theatres and compare them with the Elizabethan ones.
4.What were the three most important innovations of the Restoration theatre?

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