English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

FARQUHAR.—­George Farquhar was born in Londonderry, in 1678, and began his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, but was soon stage-struck, and became an actor.  Not long after, he was commissioned in the army, and began to write plays in the style and moral tone of the age.  Among his nine comedies, those which present that tone best are his Love in a Bottle, The Constant Couple, The Recruiting Officer, and The Beaux’ Stratagem.  All his productions were hastily written, but met with great success from their gayety and clever plots, especially the last two mentioned, which are not, besides, so immoral as the others, and which are yet acted upon the British stage.

ETHEREGE.—­Sir George Etherege, a coxcomb and a diplomatist, was born in 1636, and died in 1694.  His plays are, equally with the others mentioned, marked by the licentiousness of the age, which is rendered more insidious by their elegance.  Among them are The Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub, and The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter.

TRAGEDY.

The domain of tragedy, although perhaps not so attractive to the English people as comedy, was still sufficiently so to invite the attention of the literati.  The excitement which is produced by exaggerated scenes of distress and death has always had a charm for the multitude; and although the principal tragedies of this period are based upon heroic stories, many of them of classic origin, the genius of the writer displayed itself in applying these to his own times, and in introducing that “touch of nature” which “makes the whole world kin.”  Human sympathy is based upon a community of suffering, and the sorrows of one age are similar to those of another.  Besides, tragedy served, in the period of which we are speaking, to give variety and contrast to what would otherwise have been the gay monotony of the comic muse.

OTWAY.—­The first writer to be mentioned in this field, is Thomas Otway (born in 1651, died in 1685).  He led an irregular and wretched life, and died, it is said, from being choked by a roll of bread which, after great want, he was eating too ravenously.

His style is extravagant, his pathos too exacting, and his delineation of the passions sensational and overwrought.  He produced in his earlier career Alcibiades and Don Carlos, and, later, The Orphan, and The Soldier’s Fortune.  But the piece by which his fame was secured is Venice Preserved, which, based upon history, is fictional in its details.  The original story is found in the Abbe de St. Real’s Histoire de la Conjuration du Marquis de Bedamar, or the account of a Spanish conspiracy in which the marquis, who was ambassador, took part.  It is still put upon the stage, with the omission, however, of the licentious comic portions found in the original play.

NICHOLAS ROWE, who was born in 1673, a man of fortune and a government official, produced seven tragedies, of which The Fair Penitent, Lady Jane Grey, and Jane Shore are the best.  His description of the lover, in the first, has become a current phrase:  “That haughty, gallant, gay Lothario,”—­the prototype of false lovers since.  The plots are too broad, but the moral of these tragedies is in most cases good.

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