restricted access The Development of English Drama in the Late Seventeenth Century, and: The Revels History of Drama in English, Volume V: 1660-1750 by Robert D. Hume (review)
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Books THE DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH DRAMA IN THE LATE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY BY ROBERT D. HUME (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1976. xx + 526 pages, $37.50.) THE REVELS HISTORY OF DRAMA IN ENGLISH, VOLUMEV: 1660-1750 BY JOHN LOFTIS, RICHARD SOUTHERN, MARION JONES, AND A. H. SCOUTEN (General Editor, T. W. CRAIK) (London: Methuen, distributed in America by Barnes and Noble, 1976. xxxii + 332 pages, illus., $37.50 hardbound, $17.50 paperback.) These two books present the results of work by some of the most important critic-scholars now laboring in the field of English drama of the later seventeenth century. Their publication establishes the parameters for the future study of the subject, indicates some of the shortcomings of previous studies, and, I fear, reveals some of the problems which current and future researchers will continue to encounter. At the simplest level, the prices of these volumes is cause for concern. Hume's volume is available only in hardback and retails for $37.50. The composite volume which I will refer to as Revels History sells for $37.50 in hardback and $17.50 in paper. We all realize that the cost of books is rising, but at these prices, the student of literature is going to have to be wary of what he selects for his personal library or for the library of his college or university. Hume's volume must find its way into the collection of anyone who professes a serious interest in the drama of this period, while the Revels History is a bargain which can easily be passed up by most potential buyers. That two such substantial volumes should appear in such proximity to each other is a sign of the current interest in later seventeenth-century drama, which probably stems from parallels between that period three hundred years ago and our own. The amount of sexual activity on and just off die stage in London has only reached the level of the decade of the 1670's in the 230BOOKS decade of the 1970's, and therein lies food for a great deal of thought. In a recent review of Terence Frisby's It's All Right If I Do It, John Walker complains that the cast "appear uncertain whether they are playing farce, sophisticated drawing-room comedy, or something more tragic." This statement might as well be about the seventeenth-century predecessors of the play as about the current example of "let it all hang out" drama. The question of convention and genre is foremost in trying to understand plays and the responses of audiences to them in either period. I have been avoiding the familiar epithet "Restoration" for the earlier period in part because both of the titles manage to omit it and because both of the volumes are at some pains to undo some of the damage which die sloppy use of broad terms has done in the past. Both books unblushingly use "Augustan Age" for the period after 1700, though that term has also raised some problems. Hume argues for the use of the term "Carolean" for the drama of the 1660's and the 1670's, but I doubt that this coinage will remain current long. Hume lists some 680 plays in his index, including modern ones, and also notes most of the critical studies which have appeared since the plays originally came out. It is possible to follow the interest in the drama of that exciting earlier period from the denigrations of Steele in the first quarter of the eighteenth century through the pioneering work of Montague Summers, Bonamy Dobrée, Kathleen Lynch, and Allardyce Nicoll right up to 1974, but that is not the focus of Hume's work, and rightly so. His attention is not on the critical history, the second remove from the plays, as it were, but on the plays themselves. It is necessary for him to clear away some of the misconceptions caused by the former in order to do justice to the latter. I should let Hume speak for himself on his aims: "Only a tiny number of 'Restoration' plays are often read or discussed: this study is meant to help provide a more...