Dryden’s Defends of English Drama
Dryden praises highly in English Drama and tries to establish its superiority over French by offering many arguments some of which are as follows-
1. Lively imitation of nature: The French dramatists managed their plots with greater skill and they observed the loss of comedy and the decorum (rules/norms) of the stage with greater exactness than the English. But a play is expected to be a just and lively imitation of nature.
In his opinion the beauties of the French Drama may be compared to the beauties of a statue whereas those of the English drama may be compares to the beauties of a living man.
2. Imitation of humors and passions: True dramatic poetry is an imitation of humors and passions. The English plays fulfill this condition much better than the French in respect of the humors represented in their comedies and characters portrayed in their serious plays.
3. Introduction of under plots (subplot/additional plot): The French plays have single plots while the English plays have subplots in addition to the main plot. So the English plays offer much greater variety as far as their plots are concerned. In fact, variety if well-managed, affords a greater pleasure to the audience.
4. Tiresomely (disgustingly) long speeches in French Plays: The speeches in French plays are tiresomely long. The French dramatists think that long speeches lend grace to their plays but the fact is that short speeches and short replies are more likely to move the passions and to produce anxiety and pity in the audience. A character under the stress of passions is not capable of making a long speech; nor is it possible for an audience to listen patiently to a long speech expressive of passions.
5. Defends of English Tragi-Comedy: Tragi-comedy means a mixture of tragedy and comedy. It was a type of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama which mingled (circulated, mixed) both the subject matter and forms of traditional tragedy and comedy.
Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is a tragi-comedy both because it mingles people of high and low degrees and because the developing threat of death to Antonio is suddenly reversed at the end by Portia’s Verdict (decision, result) in the trial scene. The French did not mix comic and tragic elements, but the mixer is psychologically justified. A continued seriousness would begin to weigh heavily on our spirits. So it is necessary to relieve the effect of the seriousness through the introduction of comic scenes.