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Limits of the First Period The greatest literary activity during the Restoration is to be found in the sphere of the theatre, and the authors of comedy form, perhaps, the most brilliant group of writers in their epoch, and one which best illustrates its moral features.
On the other hand, they outshine their immediate successors. Therefore histories of literature usually take the Restoration dramatists as a centre for the study of the English theatre at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, the classical age being, so to speak, in this domain, a weaker continuation of that which precedes it.
If one looks at the subject from the point of view of the evolution of kinds, there may be some advantage in not separating the successive phases of a movement which extends over some fifty years, and which, taken altogether, forms a natural whole.
Comedy in particular—that of Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar—would appear to represent an unbroken series of connected works. But if the history of literature is brought into close contact with that of thought, a nd looked upon as an aspect of the total development of a society, this linked succession must be broken up, leaving room for a division that is more logical, and historically better founded.
In reality a generation separates Wycherley from Congreve. The break, in the interval, is marked by the Revolution ofwith the moral changes which accompany it. In every respect English literature between and forms a period of transition; both in inspiration and in style, it then bears the stamp of a special character; and each literary kind reveals the influence of a spirit akin, no doubt, to that of the Restoration itself, but still different from it.
In order to understand this period, it will be useful to view it as a whole. The dates and therefore, for the time being, limit the field of this survey. No doubt the dramatic career of Dryden is not wholly contained within those years, but the five plays with which his career ends, between andmay be connected quite naturally with the twenty-three which have preceded them. The works of Dryden, Etherege, Wycherley, Lee, Otway, together with those of their immediate contemporaries, constitute properly speaking the theatre of the Restoration.
Foreign Influences and National Tradition The Puritan Revolution had closed the playhouses in ; for fourteen years, no regular performance was given, save in private, or under the menace of the law. In fact, the life of the theatre was suspended. The silence of the stage most certainly was impatiently borne by many; but the supporters of an austere code of morals had thus satisfied an ancient grudge, and the severity they displayed in their control of manners made any protest futile in advance.
Inthe secret lassitude of all wills was growing patent enough, or the rule—however glorious—of the Protectorate was tending plainly enough to a political and social relaxation, for a skilful man to turn the obstacle which no one dared attack openly. Sir William D'Avenant, the author of plays staged before the Civil War, Poet Laureate under Charles I, closely associated with the royal cause, obtained permission to open to the public an 'allegorical entertainment by declamation and music, after the manner of the ancients' The First Day's Entertainment at Rutland House.
This first and discreet attempt—rather hazardous, however, if one stops to ponder over certain remarks of Aristophanes, the advocate of theatrical art—was followed the same year by a more ambitious show, The Siege of Rhodes.José de Ribas
One of the main influences that are preparing a new phase in dramatic art is here clarly apparent. D'Avenant had resided in France; he had come into contact there with an artistic and literary atmosphere rich in suggestions: To England he brought back many confused ideas and preferences, the product of which is a hybrid work, of still uncertain character.
And mingling with these elements, we find memories of the national theatre, under the form in which it was being kept alive, aboutby the degenerate disciples of Fletcher. The first part of The Siege of Rhodes is divided into 'entries,' like the ballets of Benserade, which were the rate at the court of the young Louis XIV.
It is written in rhymed verse, in a very free and variable measure, adapted, as the author tells us, to the demands of the recitative, then a novelty in England. As for the subject, it is 'heroic, and destined to recommend virtue 'under the forms of valour and conjugal love.
It can be regarded as the germ both of English opera and of heroic tragedy. While the scenic displays, the wealth of accessories, the striving after great picturesque effects, the 'machines' —on a narrow stage the town of Rhodes, the port, the fleet and the camp of the Turks had to be presented either together or successively were not unknown in English dramatic art beforeit is none the less true that through its material figuration also the play caused a sensation, and marks a date.
Lastly, if it is not a fact that an actress, appeared in it for the first time in England, it is certain that an English actress played one of the leading parts, and that this daring and almost unprecedented step became a common feature of the Restoration theatre. BeforeD'Avenant wrote two other plays of the same kind, and tried, by selecting national themes, to prevent the possible revival of Puritan susceptibility.
When the king's return brought with it the liberty of the theatre, he with Thomas Killigrew was given charge of one of the two troupes of actors, and one of the two playhouses, which were authorised by letters patent. In order to understand the development of dramatic art under the Restoration, one must imagine these two companies, that of the king and that of his brother the Duke of York, gathering together talented actors, such as Betterton, and actresses, such as Nell Gwynn, whose charm as much as their stage gifts make them the idols of the public.
Greedily attracted to long-forbidden pleasures, elegant society crowded to the plays, which very often were honoured by the favour and the presence of the king; the theatre now became, for the young noblemen, both a fashionable amusement and a daily occasion for meetings and intrigues.
The brilliant house, frequented also by the wealthy and cultured part of the middle class, and where Pepys, a citizen of London, liked to rub shoulders with the upper world and to catch a glimpse of the king's favourites, is one of the main social centres of this age, just as it is morally its most complete symbol.
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By this moral reaction, this psychological release, the Restoration theatre is an outcome of the movement itself of national life; it is an aspect of the new age. But in the dramatic form whith which it invests the common spirit of the time, it shows itself wholly impregnated with foreign influences. No other literary kind reveals to the same degree the range and the variety of the suggestions which, coming from the Continent, are spreading at this moment over intellectual England.
It is with France that these contacts are most numerous and easily established. Exiles like D'Avenant, Waller, and Denham bring back with them a taste which has been made more precise and strengthened along its own spontaneous lines; in addition, models, images, and rhythms.
The king and the court have a more superficial but just as decided instinct for the same refined, noble, correct art, for the same elegant and luxurious existence; an all-powerful and universal magnetism makes the Paris and the Versailles of Louis XIV the centre whence politeness and culture radiate, and towards which the desire for a more perfect civilization converges from every side.
Their prestige is strengthened by that of kindred or similar forms, such as the romance, the opera, and the ballet. If the influence of France on the dramatic literature of the Restoration has been exaggerated, or expressed in too simple terms, it is because other influences, and notably that of national tradition, have been sometimes neglected, or examined too cursorily.
But the precise examples, the definite traces of imitations and borrowings, are so numerous; so strong is the general sense of a diffused suggestion, of an analogy of atmosphere, which the relative parallelism of the contemporary developments of the two peoples do not sufficiently account for, that one cannot hesitate in locating at this point one of the most certain international transfers of influence in European literature.
With D'Avenant and The Siege of Rhodes, there opens a phase in the history of English drama characterized by the ascendancy of the French model; and this phase, despite some interruptions, was to last for a whole century.
In borrowing from Corneille something of his romantic pride, and of his rhetoric of feeling—while not the serious, Cartesian doctrine underlying all his drama, his theory of will, his notion of love founded on esteem and reason—it is a little of the spirit of Spain that D'Avenant found in the French writer; and Spanish influence whether direct, or derived through the literature and genius of France, is an element of the original character of the Restoration theatre.
This influence, like a recognizable vein, had run through the English drama since the time of the Renascence; but it remained superficial, and generally speaking, influenced scarcely anything save the plot or the exterior delineation of the characters, not the deeper substance of the works. Afterthe tastes of the court and of the king tend to favour plays which are full of movement, in the manner of those shows where the 'comedia de capa y espada' had triumphed in Spain; and a definite Spanish origin can be assigned to plays such as Sir Samuel Tuke's Adventures of Five Hours, or George Digby's Elvira.
Elsewhere, the derivation is only partial, and limited to some episodes, as in Wycherley's Gentleman Dancing-Master; but it is most often indirect, and still points to the popularity of the French model.
Leaving out France, it is to national tradition that one must look for the true sources of the new English theatre, and indeed for the main sources. Restoration drama and comedy are the outcome of a state of manners and of a state of mind; and these manners just as this mind, however strong may be the stamp of foreign influence, are the issue of an inner original rhythm of the English genius.
It seems preferable to say only that this rhythm calls for and permits, aftera widespread and sometimes profound action of the literary or social impulses that come from France: For the theatre in particular, it is possible to retrace the stages of the development which leads from the last years of the Renascence to the Restoration. Before the banning of plays, the life of Drama, weakened by an inward exhaustion, had already sought refuge in the complication of the incidents of the plot itself.
The outcome of Beaumont and Fletcher's art was tragi-comedy. At the same time, a kind of romantic infection, a fashion of adventure, of high-sounding and complacent heroism, had spread all over Western Europe.
The spirit animating the French Fronde, the romances of chivalry, the epic poems, the plays of Hardy, Rotrou, and the young Corneille, is like a sort of second youth, proud and somewhat quarrelsome, on the eve of classical maturity and balance.
Already the signs of this spirit had appeared before at the court of Charles I: King Charles II, on his accession to the throne, installs it in favour; among the courtiers, the court ladies, the men of fashion, the poets and authors, a chivalrous gallantry, the love of great exploits, a language strewn with hyperboles, a lofty tone, and a rather hollow pretension to heroism as to tender love, in their contrast to the deep cynicism of this age form an organic group of moral traits, and an essential part of the phyiognomy of the time.
The reason is that England, like France, then lives through a period of disturbed intellectual exuberance, when the Romanticism of intellect, of style and imagination replaces that of feelings, which is becoming exhausted, and that of will, which is condemned by the century in its progress towards reason and order.
During this transition which goes from Fletcher to Dryden, the daring refinements of the metaphysical poets, and the lyricism of the Cavalier poets, well show in what direction the inner trend of contemporary thought is setting. Thus, heroic tragedy itself is not exclusively the result, in England, of French examples; it has its true roots in the evolution of the national mind.
He had written dramas in which the exalted inspiration of honour and love made itself felt Love and Honour,etc. The courtiers of Charles II, besides, do not only look with favour upon the plays written to flatter their preferences, but extend a welcome to the repertory of the English Renascence.
No doubt, it is partly through necessity that, from onwards, Fletcher and his predecessors are again taken up: On the other hand, it is only too certain that the taste of the epoch judges and classifies the masterpieces of the great dramatists from a strange angle of vision.
Beaumont and Fletcher are favourites with the public: Ben Jonson, the particular idol of scholars, and praised on every occasion by the critics, follows them very closely. Shakespeare, whose greatness is only felt by a few, pleases the crowd by the secondary aspects of his genius; he is disconcerting to an average though educated mind, such as that of Pepys, more often than he is a delight 1.
The limits of incomprehension seem to be reached when theatrical managers and authors rival one another in adorning Macbeth with ballets, or transforming The Tempest into an opera.
Dryden himself calmly shared in these profanations. The successes won by the Elizabethan drama under the Restoration seem due, very often, to the superficial resemblance of its Romanticism with the cheaper fanciful instincts of the time; to the appetite of a public eager for sensations, rather than to a sincere understanding of its inherent qualities. But when all is said, this drama was there, revived again and again, recalling itself to the eye and ear alike; the soundest sensibilities were able to feel its incomparable radiance; and the continuity of a national art forced itself upon all as a living tradition.
By the very fact of its assertion, it became, in large measure, a reality. If he is not the creator of it, he raises it higher than anyone else, and leaves it at the moment when, after a very brilliant vogue, it has ceased to please. It is difficult exactly to determine the origin of this dramatic kind; many threads go to compose its texture, and many hands have woven it. In one sense, it represents the completion of a long development, and unites the most diverse influences—those that have just been enumerated.
On the other hand, the writer who best knew how to manage this form—Dryden—attributes its most direct parentage to Sir William D'Avenant, in The Siege of Rhodes 2. But D'Avenant, he says, has not had the ability or the courage as yet to pursue his effort to its end; he has not given his play all the wealth of incidents, the boldness of plot, the variety of characters, which an heroic poem permits and demands; now, heroic tragedy is nothing else than a poem which has been made manifest to the eye.
Love and valour will therefore be its mainsprings, just as with Ariosto; the sentiments, and the style, will freely attain to a grandeur quite beyond the actual mediocrity of human life. And the measure of the play will be the rhymed couplet, which has won a place for itself on the stage, and will henceforth rule over tragedy. It has been said that rhyme is unnatural, and distant from actual conversation: No doubt it has its difficulties, but no one is forced to express himself in rhyme; and such as have been refused this gift will be wise if they abstain from attempting its beauties or incurring its risks.
The Siege of Rhodes, revisited, increased by a second part, and staged magnificently inbetter merits in its more developed form the historic honour which Dryden assigns to it. But other authors can advance their claims; for example, Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery, whose Henry V, Mustapha, and Black Prince, written in rhymed couplets, were played at uncertain dates between and ; and Sir Robert Howard, Dryden's own brother-in-law, with whom he collaborated in in a play which some regard as the first really complete heroic drama The Indian Queen.
Already in Dryden himself had produced an example, though not of the same kind, yet of the most closely related, tragi-comedy, in The Rival Ladies.
He was to come back to this on several occasions in the course of his career, and even down to his last years The Maiden Queen, ; The Spanish Friar, ; Love Triumphant, ; but for a time, it is upon heroic tragedy, properly so called, that his effort is almost exclusively concentrated; and in this we find his most brilliant work: The Indian Empress, It is easy enough to judge these dramas, provided one examines them in themselves, and avoids comparing them with the very different ideal of French classical tragedy.
They are, first and foremost, Romantic; in this sense, they would approximate to the English theatre of the Renascence; but their Romanticism is impoverished by the exclusive preoccupation of producing a single kind of effect, just as it does not escape being shackled, for all that, by a the new attention to rules 3. If one had to look for analogies in Elizabeth's time, they would be found in the Tamburlaine of Marlowe, rather than anywhere else.
The aim of these plays is to give to sensibility, imagination, and the senses strong impressions of a surprising and superhuman grandeur.
In France, Corneille also, it is true, had based tragedy upon admiration; but he had put all the intellectual quality of his Cartesianism into the emotion of a soul overwhelmed by the beauty of noble sacrifices; esteem, with him, was the fruit of a reason sublimated into moral passion, and in this way it bound up the desires of the heart with the decisions of conscience.
And if the hero merited our entire sympathy, it was because his nobleness was a conquest, the reward of a cruel struggle against himself. All this subtlety and, it must be said, this idealism, are absent from Dryden's notion of heroism; this, no doubt, does not resolve itself completely into mere physical courage and great strokes of the sword; but its spiritual value seems to depend chiefly upon the lack of any struggle, and upon a victory immediately won over nature and the flesh.
Such a shifting of the centre of gravity gives back predominance to imagination and sensibility; and even with an Aureng-Zebe, the most inward of Dryden's heroes, the one in whom virtue is endued with the most distinctly psychological quality, one can say that generosity is the inborn and purely impulsive gift of temperament.
It is not certain but that this view may be after all the truest and the deepest: Other consequences are of a still more serious nature.
If heroism has its way without a struggle, it is always equal to itself, with the result that there is a fatal resemblance between the heroes. This dramatic kind was so soon exhausted, because it is afflicted with an unconquerable monotony. Excluded from the core of the work, as from the characters, the element of variety seeks refuge in the incidents; the plot, and the material devices—exoticism, staging, machines, etc.
Finally, the style has to suffice for effects of intensity, which the purely moral force of conflicting sentiments cannot any longer supply; so that nobleness tends towards bombast, and vigour towards frenzy. This inner degeneration of false grandeur, on the stage, is so constant, and such a commonplace, that it is unnecessary to dwell upon it. Nothing is easier than to underline the defects of Dryden's heroic tragedies.
Let it suffice to say that they are great, and such as one would expect. But their outer and, as it were, surface Romanticism has the qualities of its defects.
A certain imaginative infection emanates from these dramas; they transport the mind into a domain of superiority that is somewhat unreal, but where it is not unpleasant to let one self be persuaded that one actually penetrates; life there has splendour and beauty; the suggestion of generosity which radiates from it may very well be hollow: A sincere Romanticism is never entirely a question of words; the reader of these plays finds himself moved at times, and moved in a manner that is inspiring.
Lastly, the diction is almost always sonorous, often firm and nervous, with a dense, concentrated power which is evocative, just as much as it is expressive; it has even at times those sudden flashes of poetry which, lighting up the drama, reveal vast glimpses at one stroke. This style is by no means pure; it still drags along many a trace of bad taste—conceits, affected tricks of all kinds. But it is the style of a great writer, who, if he has not yet mastered his best form, is already himself.
The brilliant success of these dramatic ventures, in which he had no rival, despite the account to which his competitors turned some ephemeral stage triumphs, seems to have inspired Dryden with a feeling of confidence in his own powers, which at times got the better of the sureness of his critical judgment.
The dedication of The Rival Ladies to Lord Orrery not only justified the use of rhyme in tragedy, but even went to the length of recognizing in it a useful and necessary check on the exuberance of the poet's imagination. No doubt, the celebrated Essay of Dramatic Poesyin dialogue form, of never-flagging interest, brings to the discussion of the problems of drama the breadth of view which Corneille had exemplified in his Examens and Discours. Here Dryden shows the most original and permanent groundwork of his thought; that realistic understanding of the special qualities and claims of the English national art, in which his incertitudes were finally to find rest.
He explains here very skilfully the diverse aspects of the truth; the advantages of the ancients, and those of the moderns; the foundation of the unities and of the rules in nature, and the eminent virtues of the French theatre. While he borrows something from all those theses, including the last, he pays a warm tribute to Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Jonson, and praises them, not only for their substantial accord with the rules, but also for the free genius which has permitted them to find these in themselves.
Nor is his justification of rhyme in any way dogmatic; it was not necessary, he says, to our fathers, if we prefer it to-day; and its relative constraint answers to the self-ruling emotion of a more conscious art; the rhythmic scheme, besides, must be free, varied by enjambments and half-lines. But the epilogue to the second part of The Conquest of Granada flatters the public at the expense of the just claims of the past: These remarks having called forth some epigrams, Dryden repeated his argument in the Essay on the Dramatic Poets of the Last Agein which the superior merits of the present are established by means of a too facile enumeration of the faults which spoil, for example, the 'vulgar' diction of Measure for Measure or The Winter's Tale.
Thus, at the summit of his dramatic career, and championing a form of art which, he affirms, is 'the most pleasing that the ancients or the Moderns have known,' Dryden does not rise above the common thought of his time. Such a success, however, had in it something artificial. The taste for the 'heroic' is still very strong at the beginning of the Restoration; but it is contradicted by the cynicism and the critical spirit of a rational age; while the first tendency, here rather superficial, is a survival of the past, the second is in deep harmony with political and moral realities, and has the future on its side.
Great sentiments and paraded virtues form a strange accompaniment to the mockery of Hudibras. The frivolous, skeptical public which relished Butler, without always understanding him, and which applauded the light comedy of the Restoration, could not raise itself for long, even were it through a complacent imagination, to the sublimity of Almanzor Conquest of Granada.
Early enough, the dry irony of the period revolted against a dramatic kind, which, stiffened in an attitude of affected pretentiousness, offered itself as a broad and defenseless target for ridicule. Soon after George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham 4formed the project of writing a satirical play in which the bragging note of the new drama would be scoffed at; he had collaborators, among whom, it is said without any solid proof, was Butler himself.
D'Avenant or Sir Robert Howard was, at first, to be parodied, but the repeated triumphs of Dryden pointed him out as a fitter object for attack, and it is he especially, under the name of Bayes 5whom The Rehearsal assails. The hero, Drawcansir, is a replica of Almanzor: A work of rather mediocre fancy, devoid of any moral bearing or deep artistic motives, the play is often witty and amusing; some hints have the direct accuracy which results from a sharp perception of exaggerations or incongruities; and the harmony of the thesis with a certain average good sense lends it a force that it does not owe fully to its merit.
Hateful and ridiculous, the portrait of Bayes is too scathing to harm Dryden, who was wise enough not to see himself in it. But despite its scurrility, the comic vein in The Rehearsal sprang from the very nature of things, and served its purpose. It did not kill heroic drama. For ten years, said Buckingham, we have listened to rhyme, and not to reason: This play, it is true, already marks a transition towards another ideal.
In it the tragic element is purer, and one has been able to discover in it a distant influence of the sober art of Racine. Despite its numerous shortcomings, the style has often a classical restraint; the versification shows more freedom, and blank verse even reappears in places.
The character of Aureng-Zebe, with its nobleness and gentleness of a knight without reproach, is almost a fine thing.
On the other hand, the comic elements are developing, less, it seems, in the direction of tragi-comedy, than towards the unconsciously imitated model of Shakespearian drama; the happy ending decidedly takes us away from heroic tragedy.
Finally, in the prologue, Dryden says that he is tired of rhyme, confesses that he is full of shame 'at Shakespeare's sacred name,' and marks his own place between two periods of poetry, 'the first of this, and hindmost of the last. The decisive proof was not long in coming All for Love, But in a dramatic species akin to that which he abandoned from now onwards, Dryden was still going to produce an interesting work.
His career, moreover, folows a sinuous line, full of such turns. The Spanish Friar has all the characteristics of tragi-comedy; two plots are combined in it, one principal and tragic, the other comic and secondary this latter, in fact, being here the better part of the play, as it is the more developed ; and Dryden justifies this mixture in principle Dedication of the work by arguments in which is expressed the innate preference of English genius for the mixed forms of dramatic art.
Besides, he upbraids the turgidness of a style that is falsely heroic, and makes no exception in the case of his own Conquest of Granada. Lastly, the piece is written in blank verse and in prose.
Thus the evolution of his taste is leading him to greater sobriety, as to a deliberate independence of 'rules. Heroic tragedy, meanwhile, was reaching the final stage of decay, dying from an inner exhaustion which Buckingham's satire does not seem to have much hastened.
The Empress of Morocco by Settle had been very successful; The Destruction of Jerusalem by Crowne did not reawaken the languishing interest of the public. While the influence of the heroic kind is still to be felt in Otway and in Lee, it is with them permeated by a very different spirit, which leads us back towards older and deeper elements of English dramatic tradition. Etherege, Wycherley, Shadwell, etc. It was no less a natural issue of the general influences of the time, and it was still better able to satisfy contemporary tastes.
The spirit of comedy is essentially a social thing; it develops through the reciprocal observation of characters, the refining of the critical sense, the fixing of conventional values.
A court, a society that prided themselves upon their intellectual elegance, would make mockery fashionable: All the circumstances which favoured satire, also favoured the satirical notation of manners; and the stage offered the easiest as well as the most pleasing field for the collective exercise of ridicule. So that from onwards there is a revival of Ben Jonson's 'humours,' as much as of Fletcher's dramas.
After several tentative efforts, Etherege and Wycherley create, in different but analogous moulds, the new type of comedy. Before them, some attempts had been made, where most often is still felt the paramount influence of Ben Jonson, but where other traits are discernible, called into being by the new circumstances. During the first years which followed the Restoration, one satirical theme dominates all others: Such was the trend of the deep reaction of the national spirit; and the playwrights, who had been silenced by their adversaries, were even less inclined than others to pardon them.
Therefore, a whole group of plays, with or without the accompaniment of orthodox Royalist sentiments, give vent to a sconrful condemnation of religious and moral hypocrisy 6.
Among them is to be noted the work which reveals the vigorous talent of John Wilson The Cheats, Here is a full-flavoured, realistic commentary on the great Puritanic fraud, which makes one think of Butler.
As in Hudibras, the pious pretence of the preacher, Scruple, is bound up with other vices or other lies which group themselves naturally round it: Dryden, meanwhile, turns first of all his versatile talent to comedy The Wild Gallant, ; the play is mediocre, and this first dramatic attempt does not even hold much promise for the future.
This was not the field in which he was to win his triumphs; but one must not take him at his word when, in his critical treatises, he declares that he is incapable of achieving any success in it A Defence of an Essay of Dramatic Poesy, ; the comic scenes of The Spanish Friar show that he knew how to imbue such work with racy verve and a quality of genuine invention 8.
However the case may be, in the intervals of drama-writing, Dryden managed to pen several comedies. Immediately after Dryden's earliest attempts, the first play of Sir George Etherege 9 was staged; and a truly new note was struck this time. Restoration society, with its cynical, frivolous elegance, bore in itself the suggestion and at least the confused ideal of a light and witty art, where comedy, freed from all moralizing realism as from all doctrinal intention, was no longer anything else than the mocking image of a carefree life.
To catch these manners in their actual colouring, to attribute to them only the character that is essentially theirs, and to diversify their immorality with the lively variations of fancy, was at the same time to give a picture of them, to extract their philosophy, and to satirize them in the only way that was fit.
In order to have the intuitive sense of this attitude, and of the resources it offered to art, a poet must possess a personal experience and the love of fashionable life, the keen perception of finer shades, the gift of expression. Etherege has all the sprightly ease, and intimate knowledge of the elegant world, called for in this type of the comedy of manners. A born writer, he sojourns in France, where he steadies and still further sharpens his faculty for irony and epigram.
This has not been proved. But in the vivacity of turn, the easy dialogue, a certain sober precision, his work bears the very evident mark of french influence. The originality of Etherege comes, above all, from his temperament; still, his temperament could but be encouraged, developed in a literary atmosphere with which it offered such complete affinities. The perfection of this type, however, is not reached at one stroke.
The Comical Revenge is an unequal play, still encumbered by an admixture of tragi-comedy; the parts written in rhymed verse are feeble, but the prose moves with a very pretty deftness.
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The work is already quite artificial, without substance, but animated by a felicitous touch of gay cynicism and lightheartedness; while the character of Sir Frederick Frollick is the first sketch of the impertinent young fop who is destined to be the favourite hero of Restoration comedy.
She Would if She Could marks a decisive progress; the writer has found himself, and is conscious of what he wants and of what he can do. It is entirely and unreservedly the piquant mockery of fashionable vices, the occasion for a satire that is evidently working hand in hand with what it pretends to be engaged in condemning. The tone is still more cynical, the liberty of language more light and witty.
Although the dissimulated coarseness only breaks out in sudden and brutal sallies, the abdication of all moral exigencies will never be more complete. The Man of Mode is the example of an art that has reached the perfection of its form, and in which the poverty of the matter, of observation, is revealed in a somewhat dry precision of outline.
In contrast with Sir Fopling, the exquisite infatuated with French fashions, Dorimant represents a more subdued and more national replica of the same type; for already the reaction of patriotic instincts against the excess of foreign influence is here perceptible, as in the theatre of Wycherley also.
But the coxcomb is buoyed up by a disdainful gaiety of ridiculous spirit, and impudent liveliness, which blunt the edge of comedy; and the satire is lost in the entertainment of a fastidious irony. The resemblance to the brilliant, fine art of Congreve is striking; and one would be tempted to over-emphasize the fact, if one did not notice in Etherege a more forward note of disrespect, a more pronounced debauchery in thought, something younger, and also a less sustained brilliance.
There is also a suggestion, in certain words, of a secret sense of the validity of cynicism, and, as it were, of an ill-satified longing of the heart. But this is only in a kind of farther background, and scarcely perceptible. Congreve was to take up the comedy of Etherege, and enrich it, raising it still higher. The inspiration which animates the robust and biting plays of Wycherley 10 is quite different. With him, satire remains just as far from an austere ideal, and and lets itself be carried away by the enthusiasm of a gay immorality; but the game is no longer self-satisfying.
The elements of an inner protestation show themselves: In the realism of Wycherley there is a violence in which can be seen, not an exasperated cynicism, but the impetuosity of a scorn, all the more frank in that it has no apperances to save, and does not except itself from what it condemns.
It is the elementary moral reaction of a nature that is not wholly bereft of all sense of a moral life. To venture farther would be hazardous; nothing in Wycherley reveals a romantic sensibility; and his gaiety is not the ironical mask that would serve to conceal a secret melancholy. But one has too often erred in the opposite direction: The coarseness of his plays is at once due to the observation of manners, to the desire to please public taste, and to the insulting mockery of that taste as of those manners.
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