In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

278 Comparative Drama has been seized with political or philosophical business. He is an old salmon swimming upstream, finding out the place where he began. RUSSELL FRASER University of Michigan Robert D. Hume. The Development of English Drama in the Late Seven­ teenth Century. London: Oxford University Press, 1976. Pp. xx + 525. 15 pounds in UK, $37.50 in USA. R. D. Hume’s clear-sighted and corrective survey of the theatrical scene is the most important book on Restoration drama in fifty years. Not since Allardyce Nicoll has anyone attempted to examine the entire corpus of Restoration theatrical fare with anything like Hume’s funda­ mental and comprehensive approach. And probably no one has brought to this broad and unwieldy subject more sense and less bias than Hume does. The book is refreshingly innovative, at least in terms of more recent criticism, because it treats Restoration drama as what it was, and not as what modem sensibility and ingenuity can make of it. To Hume, the plays were entertainments; they were not disquisitions, manifestations, reflections, or ritualized social confrontations. As entertainments, the plays were intended to delight or move their audiences, which, under the difficult circumstances of Restoration theatrical entrepreneurship, were always being inveigled to return for tomorrow’s bill. One would think that such an obviously sensible perspective could hardly be revo­ lutionary, and, strictly speaking, it is not. But one can search through most of the criticism of Restoration drama since Nicoll without finding anyone proffering it. (One can find some practical and realistic criticism from Wilson, Smith, Leech, and Scouten, all of whom Hume admires.) Hume does more than advocate a critical perspective; he persuades us of its validity. We are inclined to accept his ideas because he is at once authoritatively thorough and scrupulous in method and rational and uncontentious in manner. He quietly informs us in his preface that he has read all of the extant plays performed in London from 1660 to 1710, including the five hundred “new” plays which comprise his central concern. He draws convincing evidence from a great many of these plays to support his generalizations. Such assiduity commands our attention and respect, especially as we have had to listen to tenuous pronouncements from a series of myopic commentators before Hume, the majority of whom seem to have read only Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve. Hume’s manner is level-headed and tactful, never denigrating, overbear­ ing, or self-congratulatory, and this makes especially Part I of the book engaging. Part II is inevitably dull, as it is largely taken up with synopses stnmg together mechanically between brief generalizations, much in the manner of Summers’ tedious The Playhouse of Pepys. Hume’s simply stated but substantial goal is to determine just what Reviews 279 it is that defines the Restoration period in dramatic history. However, he doesn’t intend to conclude with any neat theory of the drama’s evo­ lution. After close examination of a large number of plays and a decadeby -decade study of the course of theatrical development, Hume ends with a consideration of what he sees as the period’s two major eras: an am­ bitious, confident, golden period which he labels Carolean (fl. 1665-85) and a defensive, insecure, failing period which he calls Augustan (c. 1697-1710). The former mocks and questions in its strength, while the latter preaches and reassures out of weakness. Such a characterization shows that Hume is quite capable of seeing the critical forests of the period as well as the trees. But the discussion of these two kinds of Restoration drama seems more like an addendum than a thesis which informs the book. Of greater importance and interest are Hume’s general remarks in chapters 1 and 3. The latter, entitled, “The Nature of the Comic Drama,” provides a valuable concise recapitulation of the more recent criticism of Restoration comedy as well as a delineation of the multifarious dramatic constituents and play types. The former, entitled “What is ‘Restoration’ Drama?” attempts to determine chronological subdivisions of the Restoration, to summarize the theatrical context out of which the drama grew, and to justify the whole concept of literary development. In this...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 278-281
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.