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Augustan drama

Augustan drama can refer to the dramas of Ancient Rome during the reign of Caesar Augustus, but it
most commonly refers to the plays of Great Britain in the early 18th century, a subset of 18th-century
Augustan literature. King George I referred to himself as "Augustus," and the poets of the era took this
reference as apropos, as the literature of Rome during Augustus moved from historical and didactic
poetry to the poetry of highly finished and sophisticated epics and satire.
In poetry, the early 18th century was an age of satire and public verse, and in prose, it was an age of the
developing novel. In drama, by contrast, it was an age in transition between the highly witty and sexually
playful Restoration comedy, the pathetic she-tragedy of the turn of the 18th century, and any later plots of
middle-class anxiety. The Augustan stage retreated from the Restoration's focus on cuckoldry, marriage
for fortune, and a life of leisure. Instead, Augustan drama reflected questions the mercantile class had
about itself and what it meant to be gentry: what it meant to be a good merchant, how to achieve wealth
with morality, and the proper role of those who serve.
Augustan drama has a reputation as an era of decline. One reason for this is that there were few
dominant figures of the Augustan stage. Instead of a single genius, a number of playwrights worked
steadily to find subject matter that would appeal to a new audience. In addition to this, playhouses began
to dispense with playwrights altogether or to hire playwrights to match assigned subjects, and this made
the producer the master of the script. When the public did tire of anonymously authored, low-content
plays and a new generation of wits made the stage political and aggressive again, the Whig ministry
stepped in and began official censorship that put an end to daring and innovative content. This conspired
with the public's taste for special effects to reduce theatrical output and promote the novel.
As for prose and poetry, there is no clear beginning to the "Augustan era" in drama, but the end is clearly
marked. Augustan-era drama ended definitively in 1737 with the Licensing Act. Prior to 1737, the English
stage was changing rapidly from Restoration comedy and Restoration drama and their noble subjects to
the quickly developing melodrama.
George Lillo and Richard Steele wrote the trend-setting plays of the early Augustan period. Lillo's plays
consciously turned from heroes and kings toward shopkeepers and apprentices. They emphasized drama
on a household scale rather than a national scale, and the hamartia and agon in his tragedies are the
common flaws of yielding to temptation and the commission of Christian sin. The plots are resolved with
Christian forgiveness and repentance. Steele's The Conscious Lovers (1722) hinges upon his young hero
avoiding fighting a duel. These plays set up a new set of values for the stage. Instead of amusing or
inspiring the audience, they sought to instruct the audience and ennoble it. Further, the plays were
popular precisely because they seemed to reflect the audience's own lives and concerns.
Joseph Addison also wrote a play entitled Cato in 1713, but it did not inspire followers. Cato concerned
the Roman statesman who opposed Julius Caesar. The year of its premire is important for
understanding why the play is unique, for Queen Anne was seriously ill at the time, and both the Tory

ministry of the day and the Whig opposition (already led by Robert Walpole) were concerned about the
succession. Both groups were in contact with Anne's exiled brother James Francis Edward Stuart.
Londoners sensed this anxiety, for Anne had no surviving children; all of the closest successors in the
Stuart family were Roman Catholic. Therefore, the figure of Cato was a transparent symbol of Roman
integrity. The Whigs saw in him a Whig refusal to accept an absolute monarch from the House of Stuart,
while the Tories saw in him a resistance to rule by a triumphant general (John Churchill, the Duke of
Marlborough, whose wife Sarah was rumored to control Anne). Further, Cato's claim that Caesar profited
by illegal war echoed the Tory accusations against Marlborough. Both sides cheered the play, even
though Addison was himself clearly Whig and had meant the play as something near propaganda. John
Home's play Douglas (1756) would have a similar fate to Cato in the next generation after the Licensing
As during the Restoration, economic reality drove the stage during the Augustan period. Under Charles II
court patronage meant economic success, and therefore the Restoration stage featured plays that would
suit the monarch and/or court. The drama that celebrated kings and told the history of Britain's monarchs
was fit fare for the crown and courtiers. Charles II was a philanderer, and so Restoration comedy featured
a highly sexualized set of plays. However, after the reign of William and Mary, the court and crown
stopped taking a great interest in the playhouse. Theaters had to get their money from the audience of
city dwellers, therefore, and consequently plays that reflected city anxieties and celebrated the lives of
citizens were the ones to draw crowds. The aristocratic material from the Restoration continued to be
mounted, and adaptations of Tudor plays were made and ran, but the new plays that were authored and
staged were the domestic- and middle-class dramas. The other dramatic innovation was "spectacle":
plays that had little or no text, but which emphasized novel special effects.
The public attended when they saw their lives represented on the stage, but also attended when there
was a sight that would impress them. If costumes were lavish, the sets impressive or the actresses
alluring, audiences would attend. The Restoration spectacular had seen the development of English
opera and oratorio and a war between competing theaters to produce the most expensive and eyepopping plays. However, these blockbuster productions could mean financial ruin as much as security,
and neither of the two main playhouses could continue the brinksmanship for long. After these battles
between the playhouses, and these were multiple,[1] the theaters calculatingly sought the highest appeal
with the lowest cost. If the cost of rehearsal time, in particular, could be shortened, the theater's
investment would be reduced. Rehearsal time cost a playhouse its cast, its property masters, and its
stages, and a long rehearsal meant fewer plays put on. Additionally, dramatists received the money from
each third night of box office, and this could be dangerous to a house that needed every farthing to defray
costs. Star dramatists could negotiate for more than one benefit night and might have terms for benefits
on revival, while new, unknown, or dependent authors could be managed. The solution for the theatrical
producers was to cut the costs of plays and actors while increasing the outright spectacle, and there were
quite a few plays that were not literary at all that were staged more often than the literary plays.
John Rich and Colley Cibber dueled over special theatrical effects. They put on plays that were actually
just spectacles, where the text of the play was almost an afterthought. Dragons, whirlwinds, thunder,
ocean waves, and even actual elephants were on stage. Battles, explosions, and horses were put on the
boards (Cibber). Rich specialized in pantomime and was famous as the character "Lun" in harlequin
presentations. The playwrights of these works were hired men, not dramatists, and so they did not
receive the traditional third-night author's profits. A pantomime, after all, required very little in the way of a
playwright and much more in the way of a director, and with John Rich and Colley Cibber both acting as
star players and directors, such on-demand spectacles did not necessitate a poet. Further, spectacles
could be written quickly to answer to the public's whims or the rival theater's triumphs, rarely risked
offensive political statements, and did not require paying benefits to a playwright. In other words, they
gave the managers more profit. The plays put on in this manner are not generally preserved or studied,
but their near monopoly on the theaters, particularly in the 1720s, infuriated established literary authors.
Alexander Pope was only one of the poets to attack "spectacle" (in the 1727 Dunciad A and, with more
vigor, the Dunciad B). The criticism was so widespread that Colley Cibber himself made excuses for his
part in the special-effects war, claiming that he had no choice but to comply with market pressures.

If vacant, subliterary spectacles were not enough of a threat to dramatists, opera, which had crossed over
to England in the Restoration, experienced an enormous surge in popularity with Italian grand opera in
England in the 1710s and 1720s. In The Spectator, both in number 18 and the 3 April 1711 number, and
many places elsewhere, Joseph Addison fretted that foreign opera would drive English drama from the
stage altogether. These early fears followed the sudden rage for the Italian singers and operas that took
over London in 1711 with the arrival of Handel. Inasmuch as opera combined singing with acting, it was a
mixed genre, and its violation of neoclassical strictures had made it a controversial form from the start.
Addison, damning opera's heterogeny, wrote, "Our Countrymen could not forbear laughing when they
heard a Lover chanting out a Billet-doux, and even the Superscription of a Letter set to a Tune."[2] This
type of opera not only took up theatrical rehearsal time and space, it also took away dramatic subject
matter. Straight playwrights were at a loss. As John Gay lamented (see below), no one could use music
in a play unless it was as an opera, and Englishmen were nearly forbidden from that. To add insult to
injury, the casts and celebrated stars were foreigners and, as with Farinelli and Senesino (the latter of
whom was paid two thousand pounds for a single season in 1721), castrati. Castrati were symbols, to the
English, of the Roman Catholic Church. The satirists saw in opera the non plus ultra of invidiousness.
High melodies would cover the singers' expressions of grief or joy, conflating all emotion and sense under
a tune that might be entirely unrelated. Alexander Pope blasted this shattering of "decorum" and "sense"
in Dunciad B and suggested that its real purpose was to awaken the Roman Catholic Church's power
("Wake the dull Church") while it put a stop to the political and satirical stage and made all Londoners fall
into the sleep of un-Enlightenment:
"Joy to Chaos! let Division reign:
Chromatic tortures soon shall drive them [the muses] hence,
Break all their nerves, and fritter all their sense:
One Trill shall harmonize joy, grief, and rage,
Wake the dull Church, and lull the ranting Stage;
To the same notes thy sons shall hum, or snore,
And all thy yawning daughters cry, encore." (IV 5560)
Furthermore, grand opera had a high degree of spectacle in it. In the 17th century, when opera first came
to England, it prompted enormously complex theatrical stagings to present illusions of ghosts,
mythological figures, and epic battles. When Handel's arrival in England spurred a new vogue for English
opera, it also caused a new vogue for imported opera, no matter the content, so long as it would create
an enormous visual impact. Although some of the "Tory Wits" like Pope and John Gay wrote opera
librettos (the two combining for Acis and Galatea with Handel), opera was a spectacular form of theater
that left too little room for dramatic acting for most of the playwrights. Pope argued in The Dunciad that
Handel's operas were "masculine" in comparison to Italian and French opera. While this is a musical
commentary, it is also a commentary on the amount of decoration and frippery put on the stage, on the
way that Handel's operas concentrated on their stories and music rather than their theatrical effects.
It was not merely the fact that such operas drove out original drama, but also that the antics and vogue
for the singers took away all else, seemingly, that infuriated English authors. The singers (particularly the
sopranos) introduced London to the concept of the prima donna, in both senses of the term. In 1727, two
Italian sopranos, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, had such a rivalry and hatred of each other
(the latter had been paid more than the former) that the audiences were encouraged to support their
favorite singer by hissing her rival, and during a performance of Astyanax in 1727, the two women
actually began to fight on stage (Loughrey 13). John Gay wrote to Jonathan Swift on 3 February 1723,
"There's nobody allow'd to say I sing but an Eunuch or an Italian Woman. Every body is grown now as
great a judge of Musick as they were in your time of Poetry & folks that could not distinguish one tune
from another now daily dispute over different Styles of Handel, Bononcini, and Aitillio. People have now
forgot Homer, and Virgil & Caesar...."
These operas were spectaculars in every sense. The personalities of the stars were before the stage, the
stars were before the music, and the music before the words. Additionally, opera brought with it new
stage machines and effects. Even Handel, whom Pope values as restrained and sober, had his heroine
brought on stage by "two huge Dragons out of whose mouths issue Fire and Smoke" in Rinaldo in 1711.
The "problem" of spectacle continued in the 1720s and 1730s. In 1734, Henry Fielding has his tragedian,
Fustian, describe the horror of a pantomime show:
"...intimating that after the audience had been tired with the dull works of Shakespeare, Jonson,

Vanbrugh, and others, they are to be entertained with one of these pantomimes, of which the master of
the playhouse, two or three painters, and half a score dancing-masters are the compilers. ...I have often
wondered how it was possible for any creature of human understanding, after having been diverted for
three hours with the production of a great genius, to sit for three more and see a set of people running
about the stage after one another, without speaking one syllable, and playing several juggling tricks,
which are done at Fawks's after a much better manner; and for this, sir, the town does not only pay
additional prices, but loses several fine parts of its best authors, which are cut out to make room for the
said farces." (Pasquin, V i.)
Fustian complains as well that authors are denied stagings because of these entertainments, and, as
well, that playhouse managers would steal plays from their authors. As Fustian says earlier, a playwright
could spend four months trying to get a manager's attention and then "he tells you it won't do, and returns
it to you again, reserving the subject, and perhaps the name, which he brings out in his next pantomime"
(Pasquin IV i.).
The reemergence of satirical drama, and the Licensing Act[edit]
Toward the end of the 1720s, the behavior of opera stars, the absurdity of spectacle productions, and an
escalation of political warfare between the two parties led to a reclamation of the stage by political
dramatists. During the later years of King George I, who favored Robert Walpole, there was a scramble
for the favor of the future King George II, his wife, and his mistress, and this combined with a shattering of
public confidence in the government after the South Sea Bubble and revelations of corruption in the trial
of Jonathan Wild, Charles Hitchen, the Earl of Macclesfield, and others.
John Gay and comic inversion[edit]
John Gay parodied the opera with his satirical Beggar's Opera (1728) and with it delivered a satire of
Robert Walpole's actions during the South Sea Bubble. Superficially, the play is about a man named
Macheath who runs a gang for a criminal fence named Peachum, whose daughter, Polly Peachum, is in
love with him, and who escapes prison over and over again because the daughter of the jailor, Lucy
Lockitt, is also in love with him. Peachum wishes to see Macheath hanged because Polly has married
Macheath, unlike Lucy Lockitt, who is merely pregnant by him (and neither woman is concerned with
Macheath's sexual activity, but only with whom he marries, for marriage means access to his estate when
he is eventually hanged). Peachum fears that Macheath will turn him in to the law, and he also feels that
marriage is a betrayal of good breeding, that prostitution is the genteel thing. Gay announced his intention
to create the "ballad opera" with the play. The music for the songs came from tunes already popular, and
ten of the tunes were from the satirist Tom D'Urfey, whose Pills to Purge Melancholy was a collection of
coarse, bawdy, and amusing songs on various topics. The ballad was associated with folk songs and folk
poetry, and so Gay's choice of using ballads (although ballads written by a well-known author) for his
music was itself an attempt to deflate the seeming pomposity and elitism of the opera.
For most of the audience, the central entertainment of the opera was the love triangle between Macheath,
Polly, and Lucy, but satirically, the centre of the opera was the Peachum/Macheath story. This story was
an obvious parallel with the case of Jonathan Wild (Peachum) and Jack Sheppard (Macheath). However,
it was also the tale of Robert Walpole (Peachum) and the South Sea directors (Macheath). Robert
Walpole was one of the most divisive ministers in British history, and his control of the House of
Commons ran for over two decades. Until Margaret Thatcher, no other Prime Minister (the office would
not exist in name until later) had as adversarial a relationship with authors, and he had ruthlessly
consolidated power and jealously guarded it against all threats. During the South Sea Bubble, Walpole
was accused of being "the screen," protecting the moneyed directors of the corporation from prosecution
and of cashing in his own shares for full value before the collapse of the stock. Further, during the life and
career of the actual Jonathan Wild, Walpole's Whig ministry was suspected of protecting and supporting
the master "thief-taker."
Additionally, Gay's opera was a strict parody and inversion of the opera. Gay has his thieves and
prostitutes speak like upper-class gentlemen and ladies. Implicitly, he suggests that the nobles are no
better than the thieves even as he suggests that thieves have their own mock-monarchies, senates, and
religion. He has his Beggar (the putative author of the opera) explain that the two female leads have
equal parts and therefore should not fight (a joke that witnesses of the diva battle would understand). The
supernaturally lofty settings of opera are, in Gay's hands, the warrens of St Giles parish. For palace
settings, he has prisons. For throne rooms, he has taverns. For kings, he has criminal fences. For knights

errant/shepherd lovers, he has a highwayman. For goddesses drawn about on gilded chariots, he has a
ruined maid, a chorus of prostitutes, and Polly (who is perversely chaste). The arias also use the same
metaphors that were common in opera, and Gay's songs are themselves parodies of the predictable lyrics
in opera. In each case, high and low trade places and Gay's suggestion of an essential likeness of the
ministry with its most famous thief extended also to a suggestion that high opera is essentially like tavern
songs and rounds. The play was a hit, running for an unheard-of eighty performances. Subsequently, the
songs, as well as the play, were printed up and sold.
Robert Walpole, who had some personal animosity to John Gay, attended the play and enjoyed it.
However, upon learning from a friend that he was one of the targets of the satire, he tried to have the play
stopped. When Gay wrote a follow-up called Polly, Walpole had the play suppressed before performance.
The suppression was without precedent, although it was soon to be used as a precedent, for there had
been no actual attack on the ministry. The anti-ministerial (Tory) sentiment was entirely derived from
Playwrights were therefore in straits. On the one hand, when the playhouses were not running operas
imported wholesale from the continent, they were dispensing with dramatists by turning out hack-written
pantomimes. On the other hand, when a satirical play appeared from a literary source, the Whig ministry
suppressed it even though it came from the most popular dramatist of the day (i.e., John Gay).
Furthermore, the grounds of the suppression were all implicit comparisons, and nothing explicit. Gay had
not said that Walpole was a crook as bad as Wild, although he had suggested it.
The new Tory wits, escalating satire, and the creation of the Licensing Act[edit]

Frontispiece to Fielding's Tom Thumb, a play satirizing plays (and Robert Walpole)
Robert Walpole's personal involvement in censoring entertainments critical of him only fanned the flames
of the antagonism between himself and the stage. Henry Fielding, among others, was not afraid to
provoke the ministry, and anti-Walpolean plays spiked after the suppression of Polly. Fielding's Tom
Thumb (1730) was a satire on all of the tragedies written before him, with quotations from all the worst
plays patched together for absurdity, and the plot concerned the eponymous tiny man attempting to run
the kingdom and insinuate himself into the royal ranks. It was, in other words, an attack on Robert
Walpole and the way that he was referred to as "the Great Man" and his supposed control over Caroline
of Ansbach. As with Gay's Beggar's Opera, the miniature general speaks constantly in elevated tones,
making himself a great hero, and all of the normal-sized ladies fight each other to be his lover. The
contrast between reality, delusion, and self-delusion was a form of bathos that made the audience think of
other grand-speaking and grandly spoken of people. If a ridiculously tiny figure could be acclaimed a hero
because of his own braggadicio, might other great leaders be similarly small? Were they titans, or
dwarves like Tom Thumb? Fielding announced, essentially, that the emperor had no clothes, the prime
minister no greatness. Walpole responded by suppressing the performance of the play. Fielding was a
justice of the peace by profession, and so he knew that the ministry could only control the stage and not
book publication. Therefore, he tapped into the market for printed plays, and his revision of the play was
solely in book form. It was written by "Scribblerus Secundus," its title page announced (a reference to the
Scribblerus Club of Jonathan Swift, Gay, Pope, Robert Harley, Thomas Parnell, John Arbuthnot, and
Henry St. John), and it was the Tragedy of Tragedies, which did for drama what Pope's Peri Bathos: or
The Art of Sinking in Poetry had done for verse. Fielding placed a critical apparatus on the play, showing
the sources of all the parodies, and thereby made it seem as if his target had all along been bad tragedy
and not the prime minister. (Fielding's later novel, Jonathan Wild, makes it clear that such was not the
case, for it used exactly the same satirical device, "the Great Man," to lambaste the same target, Robert
Henry Fielding was not done with ministry satire. His Covent-Garden Tragedy of 1732 was set in a brothel
amongst the prostitutes. Although the play was only acted once, it, like Tom Thumb, sold when printed.
Its attacks on poetic license and the antirealism of domestic tragedians and morally sententious authors
was an attack on the values central to the Whig version of personal worth. Two years later, Fielding was
joined by Henry Carey in anti-Walpolean satire. His Chrononhotonthologos takes its cue from Tom Thumb
by outwardly satirizing the emptiness of bombast. However, it also encoded a very specific and
dangerous satire of King George II and his statutory wife. The king and queen never meet in the play, and
the subject is the former's wars with personal discomfort and the latter's desire for adultery. In particular,
the Queen herself is implicitly attacked. However, the play also appears to be a superficial work of fancy

and nonsense verse, and it delighted audiences with tongue twisters and parody. However, Carey worked
The Dragon of Wantley into a play in 1734. Fielding and Carey, among others, picked up the cudgels
where the Tory Wits had set them down and began to satirize Walpole and Parliament with increasing
ferocity (and scatology). Although a particular play of unknown authorship entitled A Vision of the Golden
Rump was cited when Parliament passed the Licensing Act of 1737 (the "rump" being Parliament, a rump
roast, and human buttocks simultaneously), Carey's Dragon of Wantley was an unmistakable attack on
tax policy and the ever-increasing power of the London government over the countryside. Notably,
Fielding's and Carey's plays made allowances for spectacle. Indeed, their plays relied upon a burlesque
of spectacle and by spectacle, for the effects of TopsyTurvy armies in Chrononhotonthologos (stacked
atop each other instead of in ranks) and the titular dragon of Wantley, as well as the miniaturizing of Tom
Thumb and the lurid scenery of the Covent Garden brothel, were part of the draw and part of the humor
for these plays.
The Licensing Act required all plays to go to a censor before staging, and only those plays passed by the
censor were allowed to be performed. Therefore, plays were judged by potential criticism of the ministry
and not just by reaction or performance. The first play to be banned by the new Act was Gustavus Vasa
by Henry Brooke. The play invoked the Swedish Protestant king Gustav Vasa to castigate the purportedly
corrupt Parliament of Walpole's administration, although Brooke would claim that he meant only to write a
history play. Samuel Johnson wrote a Swiftian parodic satire of the licensers, entitled A Complete
Vindication of the Licensers of the Stage (1739). The satire was, of course, not a vindication at all but
rather a reductio ad absurdum of the position for censorship. Had the licensers not exercised their
authority in a partisan manner, the Act might not have chilled the stage so dramatically, but the public was
well aware of the bannings and censorship, and consequently any play that did pass the licensers was
regarded with suspicion by the public. Therefore, the playhouses had little choice but to present old plays
and pantomime and plays that had no conceivable political content. One consequence was that William
Shakespeare's reputation grew enormously as his plays saw a quadrupling of performances, and
sentimental comedy and melodrama were the only "safe" choices for new drama. Dramatists themselves
had to turn to prose or to less obvious forms of criticism, such as puppet shows that Charlotte Charke
would invest in.
Effects of the Licensing Act[edit]

Othello "strikes" Desdemona in Othello from the 1744 Thomas Hanmer deluxe edition of William
Shakespeare. Hanmer's was one of the "improved" editions that was roundly hissed by textual critics.
In comedy, one effect of the Licensing Act was that playwrights began to develop a comedy of sentiment.
This comedy was critically labeled as "high" comedy, in that it was intended to be entertaining rather than
actually funny, and brought about its entertainment by elevating the sentiments of the viewer. The plots
also relied upon characters being in or out of sympathy with each other. Very late in the Augustan period,
Oliver Goldsmith attempted to resist the tide of sentimental comedy with She Stoops to Conquer (1773),
and Richard Brinsley Sheridan would mount several satirical plays after Walpole's death, but to a large
degree the damage had been done and would last for a century. Both of these playwrights were taking
advantage of a loosening of the censorship and popular weariness with "refined" comedy. Goldsmith's
play reintroduces the country bumpkin character who outwits the sophisticated would-be rakes who are
engaged in a plot to marry well. Sheridan, on the other hand, very consciously turned back to the
Restoration comedy for his models but carefully toned down the dangers of the sexual plots.
As mentioned above, another effect of the Licensing Act was to send the playhouses to old plays. Since
any play written before 1737 could be staged without permission, theaters had a great deal to choose
from. However, they sought out Shakespeare, in particular, as the one author whose name alone could
generate an audience as large as those formerly provided by leading poets. Shakespeare's stature had
been rising throughout the 18th century, and textual criticism, particularly of Shakespeare, had resulted in
reliable texts (see Shakespeare's reputation for details). Further, many of the expurgated and "improved"
versions of Shakespeare were falling from favor. Actors such as David Garrick made their entire
reputations by playing Shakespeare. The Licensing Act may be the single greatest factor in the rise of
"Bardolatry." However, other, less sparkling, plays were also revived, including multiple versions of Lady
Jane Grey and The Earl of Essex (including one by Henry Brooke that had been written before the Act).
Each of these could be used as a tacit commentary on the politics of the contemporary court and as a

political gesture. Therefore, when playhouses wished to answer the public's political sentiment, they could
quickly mount a performance of Cato or one of the Lady Jane Greys or, if the mood was otherwise, one of
Aphra Behn's royalist plays, and some of the Restoration plays such as William Wycherly's The Plain
Dealer and William Congreve's The Way of the World were always promising comedy. However, when
they needed to fill the house reliably, regardless of political season, and show off their actors, they staged

David Garrick, a celebrity actor, starring as King Richard III in Colley Cibber's revision of Shakespeare's
play six years after the Licensing Act
Finally, authors with strong political or philosophical points to make would no longer turn to the stage as
their first hope of making a living. Prior to 1737, plays were de rigueur for authors who were not
journalists. This had to do with the economics of booksellers. A bookseller would purchase a book from
an author, whether that book was Gulliver's Travels or Collected Sermons, and would calculate his
chances of making money off of sales. He would pay the author according to the money he expected to
make. (For example, Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield was famously sold to pay a single rent
installment, whereas John Gay had been paid 1,000 pounds for his Poems on Various Occasions, which
was more than seven years of salary for his government job.) That would be the only money an author
would see from the book, and therefore he or she would need to produce a new version, new book, or a
serial publication of the next work to have hopes of more income. Prior to 1737, novelists had come from
the ranks of satirists (Jonathan Swift) and journalists (Daniel Defoe), but these novels had in common
wide changes of scenery, long plots, and often impossible things (such as talking horses)all features
that made the works unsuitable for the stage. The exception was Aphra Behn, who was a dramatist first
and a novelist second. Her Oroonoko seems to have been written as a novel simply because there was
no time for staging, as it was a political commentary on ongoing events, and she could not have another
play on the boards at the time. Her Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, like Gulliver's
Travels and Moll Flanders, was inappropriate for the stage. However, after 1737, novels began to have
dramatic structures involving only normal human beings, as the stage was closed off for serious authors.
Additionally, prior to 1737 the economic motivations for dramatists were vast. A playwright received the
house take of the third night of a play. This could be a very large amount of money, and it would be
renewed with each season (depending upon arrangements). Thus, John Gay grew wealthy with The
Beggar's Opera. In 1726, Leonard Welsted's indifferent success, The Dissembled Woman, was acted at
Lincoln's Inn Fields. It netted him 138 for the author's benefit but only 30 for the printing rights. After the
Licensing Act closed off hopes for serious authors on the stage, the novel was the next logical path. In
particular, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa was published in serial form and made the author a substantial
amount of money from subscriptions. The novel became a potentially lucrative form of publishing, and
booksellers began to pay more for novels as novels began to sell more. From being a form of exigency,
the novel became a form of choice after the stage was shut down by the Licensing Act. Therefore, the
Licensing Act had the unintended effect of increasing rather than decreasing the power of dissenting
authors, as it put a stop to anti-Walpolean sentiments and anti-ministry arguments on the stage (which
could only reach audience members in London) and sent these messages instead to the novel form,
where they would remain in print, pass from hand to hand, and spread throughout the kingdom.


century questions
Cheif Characteristics of the Age
1. The French RevolutionThe French Revolution of 1789 was only

the climax to a long and deeply diffused unrest. Revolutionary ideas gave birth
to democratic and humanitarian feelings. The period is characterised by the
rapid growth of democracy. People became familiar with the notion of equality,
liberty and brotherhood.
2. Age of TransitionOn the one hand we have poets like Dr. Johnson
and Oliver Goldsmith, who slavishly follow the Augustan tradition, and, on
the other hand, we have poets like William Blake and Burns who herald the
New Age of Romanticism and have nothing in common with Augustan School
of poetry. Between these two extremes, we have poets like Thomas Gray and
Collins, who are both romantic and classical.
Poetry in the Age of Transition
(A) The Augustan Poets
(1) Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-84)London, The Vanity of Human
(2) Churchill (1731-64)His best work is The Rosciad.
(B) The Transitional Poets
1. James Thomson (1700-48)Season (1726), The Caste of Indolence
(1748), Liberty (1735).
2. Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74)The Traveller (1764), The Deserted
Village (1770), The Hermit, On the Death of a Mad Dog.
3. Thomas Gray (1716-71)The Alliances of Education and
Government, Hymn to Adversity. To Spring, On a Distant Prospect of Eton
College, The Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, The Progress of Poes
The Bard, The Fatal Sisters, The Descent of Odim.
4. William Collins (1721-59)Oriental Eclogues (1742), Ode to Evening,
Ode to the Popular Superstitions of the High Lands, Ode To Simplicity, To
Fear, To the Passion.
5. William Cowper (1731-1800)The Progress of Error, Truth, Table
Talk, The Task (1785), Olney Hymes.
6. George Crabbe (1754-1832)The Library (1781), The Village (1783),
The Borough (1810), Tales (1812).
7. Mark Akenside (1721-1770)An Epistle to Curio, The Pleasures of
the Imagination (1744).
8. William Shentone (1714-63)Levities or Pieces of Humour, The
School Mistress.
9. Robert Burns (1559-96)The Cotters Saturday Night, Tamo Shanter,
Address to the Unco Guid, The Holy Fair.
10. William Blake (1757-1827)Poetical Sketches (1783), Songs of

Innocence (1789), The Book of Thel (1790), The French Revolution (1791),
The Visions of the Daughter of Abbion (1793), America (1793), Europe (1794),
Songs of Experience (1794), The First Book of Urizen (1794), The Book of
Ahamia (1795), The Book of Los, The Song of Los (1795).
Prose in the Age of Transition
1. Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-84)The Gentlemans Magazine, The Life
of Savage, The Lives of Poets, Dictionary of the English Language, Reasselas,
Princes of Abyssina, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.
2. Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)He started the periodical The Bee
(1759), The Citizen of the World, On the English Clergy,The Popular Preachers.
Other Prose Writers
Edward Gibbon (1737-94) wrote History of the Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire (1776).
David Hume (1711-76) wrote a History of England in six volumes, A
Treatise of Human Nature, Essays, Moral and Political.
Edmund Burke (1729-97) wrote philosophical writings like. A
Vindication of Natural Society (1756), APhilosophical Inquiry into the Origin
of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756), American Taxation (1774),
On Condiation with the Colonies (1775).
Warren Hastingsfamous pamphlets are Thoughts on the Cause of Present
Discontent (1770), Reflections on the Revolution of France (1790), A Letter
to a Noble Lord (1795), Letters on Regicide Peace (1797).
Adam Smith (1723-90) wrote the Wealth of Nations (1776).
Boswell (1740-95) wrote the famous biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson
named Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).
Novel in the Age of Transition
Malorys Morte DArthur is a romance. Nashs The Unfortunate Traveller
or the Life of Jack Wilton (1594) is an early source of the realistic novel of
today. Byrons The Pilgrmis Progress and The Life and Death of Mr. Badman
The Age of Transition (1750-1798)
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come nearer to modern novel. Daniel Defoes Robinson Crusoe can be
considered the real beginning of the English novel. Addison and Steele
contributed much to the evolution of realistic novel. Richardsons Pamela (1740)

can be considered the first true novel.

1. Samuel Richardson (1689-1761)Pamela (1740-41), Clarina or the
History of AYoung Lady.
2. Henry Fielding (1707-54)Joseph Andrews, A Journey From This
World to the Next, Jonathan Wild the Great, Tom Jones, Amelia, Voyage to
Lisbon, SirWalterScotthas called Henry Felding the father of English novel.
3. Tobias Smolett (1721-71)The Adventures of Roderick Random
(1748), The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1750), The Expedition of Humphry
Clinker (1771).
4. Laurance Sterne (1713-1768)The Life And Opinions of Trister and
Shandy (1760), A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy.
5. Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74)The Vicar of Wakefield (1766).
6. Henry Mackenzie (1745-1831)The Man of Feeling (1771).
7. William Godwin (1756-1836)Caleb William or Things As They
Are (1794).
8. Miss Fanny Burney (1752-1842)Evelina (1778), Cecilia (1782),
Camilla (1796), The Wanderer (1814).
9. Horace Walpole (1717-1797)Caste of Otrants (1764).
10. Mrs. Ann Radcliffe (1764-1832)She was the most popular of terror
novelists, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), The Italian (1794).
11. William Beckford (1760-1844)The History of the Caliph Vathek
12. Matthew Lewis (1775-1818)The Monk.
Drama in the Age of transition
The Sentimental Comedy
This type of comedy had two main featuresfirst, an excessive display of
sensibility by the chief characters and secondly, the strong homiletic strain in
their utterances. The famous critic ANicoll observes, In the place of laughter,
they sought tears, in the place of gallants and witty damsels, pathetic damsels
and serious lovers.
1. Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74)In his essay The Present State of
Political Learning he attacked the sentimental dramatists. In the preface of his
anti-sentimental comedy, The Good Natured Man (1768), Goldsmith exposes
the hollowness of the sentimental comedy. She Stoops to Conquer (1773).
2. R.B. Sheridan (1751-1816)Rivals (1774), St. Patricks is Day or
The Scheming Lieutenant (1775), The Duenna (1775), The School For Scandal
(1777), The Critic or ATragedy Rehearsed (1779) was an attack on the popular
sentimental drama.

Tragedies of this Period

Dr. Johnsons Irene (1749), John Homes Douglas (1756), Joanna Bailles
Count Basil (1798), De Monfort (1798).
Q. 1. What were the cheif characteristics of The Age Of Transition?
Ans. The Age of Transition showed a double tendency, the writers of this
period adhered to the classical rules but their spirit was towards romanticism.
Q. 2. What are the chief features of the poetry of the Romantic Revival
during the eighteenth century?
Ans. The chief features of the poetry of the Romantic Revival during the
eighteenth century are : (1) There was a reaction against the poetic forms of
the Augustan Age, (2) There was a re-admission of emotion into poetry, (3)
There was a renewed appreciation of Nature.
Q. 3. What is the significance of James Thomsons poems?
Ans. James Thomson showed the appreciation of Nature. In his poems,
The Seasons, Winter, Autumn, he showed a genuine love for Nature which
was unknown to the poetry of 18th century.
Q. 4. What do you understand by the Graveyard School of Poetry?
Ans. In the eighteenth century, some of the pre-Romantic poets showed
an inclination towards melancholy and the graveyard. The line of these poets
begins with Edward Young (1638-1765) and his famous work Night Thoughts.
Thomas Gray has also written An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.
Which has remained popular to this day.
Q. 5. Name the poetic works of Dr. Johnson.
Ans. The important poetic works of Dr. Johnson are London (1738), The
Vanity of Human Wishes (1749).
Q. 6. What is the significance of Percys Work Reliques?
Ans. Percys Work Reliquesis of great importance because this wrok
quickened the impulse towards Romanticism by virtue of their native feeling
and simple passionate expression.
Q. 7. Name important poetical works of Oliver Goldsmith.
Ans.The important poetical works of Oliver Goldsmith are, The Traveller
(1764), The Deserted Village (1770).
Q. 8. What are the chief characteristics of The Elegy Written In A
Country Churchyard?
Ans. The poem An Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard describe
the simple lives close to the soil and expresses deep sympathies. It is
The Age of Transition (1750-1798)

Page 28
characterized by the humanitarian and the democratic sentiments of the great
romantic poets.
Q. 9. Clarify the statement Gray never spoke out.
Ans. Thomas Gray was born in the age of Classicism in which there was
on place for romanticism. Gray tried to create on atmosphere of romanticism
but his poems were nipped in the bud by the cold winds of the classical ideals.
Q. 10. How can you prove that Thomas Gray was a precursor of the
Ans. Dr Johnson has called Thomas Gray a romantic snake on a classical
grass. Grays poems The Elegy,The Bard and The Progress of Poesy have the
characteristics of Romanticism. Grays poetry has love for Nature, a feeling of
melancholy and a sense of historical past.
Q. 11. Trace out the mystical elements in the poetry of William Blake.
Ans.William Blakes world was the world of thoughts, ideas and visions.
Like all mystic poets, he emphasised the momentariness of the body and the
immortality of the soul. His works Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of
Experience show his mysticism.
Q. 12. What is the different types of prose in the Age of Transition?
Ans. The following types of prose were written in the Age of Transition.
1. Periodical EssaysThe Rambler, The Idler by Dr. Johnson and
2. Critical ProseLives of Poets and Preface to Shakespeare by Dr.
Samuel Johnson.
3. NovelsRichardson, Henry Fielding, Smolett and Sterne wrote novels.
4. Biographical ProseLife of Dr. Johnson by Dr. Johnson.
Q. 13. What is the importance of Dr. Jonsons The Lives of the Poets
in the history of English Criticism?
Ans.This work of Dr. Johnson marks the beginning of biographical-cumcritical criticism. Dr. Johnson has presented fifty two poets in three volumes.
Q. 14. What the limitations of Dr. Johsnon as a critic?
Ans. Dr. Johnson judged everything from set principles of his own and in
this way his judgements are sometimes narrow and superficial. He has several
prejudices. He judged poets only against the background of the eighteenth

Q. 15. What do you know about The Citizen of the World?
Ans. Goldsmiths famous book of prose is The Citizen of the World
(1759). This book has series of imaginary letters from a China-man.
Q. 16. What do you know about Life of Dr. Johnson?
Ans. Life of Dr. Johnsonis related to famous literary figure, Dr. Johnson
written by boswell.
Q. 17. What do you know about the rise of Sentimental Comedy in
the 18th century?
Ans. Sentimental comedy was a type of pathetic play which reflected the
false sensibility of the rising 18th century middle class. It showed the weakness
of mankind in such a way as to enlist the sympathy of the audience and to
appeal to their bitter instincts and nobility of heart. Sentimental comedy was
first introduced by Sir Richard Steele and developed by Colley Cibber, Hugh
Kelly and and Richard Cumberland.
Q. 18. What were the main defects of the Sentimental Comedy?
Ans. In sentimental comedy they atmospere is sombre and it lacked the
atmospheree of humour and gaiety.
Q. 19. What were the reactions against the sentimental comedy during
the 18th century.
Ans. Goldsmith and R.B. Sheridam revived the true comedy containing
humour and laughter. Oliver Goldsmith criticized the sentimental comedy in
his Essays on the Theatre or A comparison between Laughing and Sentimental
Comedy (1772). Sheridan also showed his reactions by writing such plays like
The Rivals and The Critic.
Q. 20. Name some important plays of Oliver Goldsmith.
Ans. The important plays of Oliver Goldsmith are The Good Natured
Man and She Stoops to Conquer.
Q. 21. In which play of Goldsmith appear these characters Mr.
Honeywood, Sir William Honeywood, Miss Richard and Leontine?
Ans. The name of the play is the Good Natured Man.
Q. 22. In which play of Sheridan appear such characters like Mrs.
Malaprop and Sir Anthony Absolute?
Ans. These two characters Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Anthony Absolute
appear in Sheridans play The Rivals.
Q. 23. Which play of R.B. Sheridan is a satire against the sentimental
Ans. The Criticis a satire against the sentimental comedy.

Q. 24. What were the reasons responsible for growth of novel in the
eighteenth century?
Ans. The decline of drama was the major factor responsible for the growth
of novel in the 18th century. The Periodical Essays written by Addison and
steele contained the origin of the novel because these papers created a taste for
domestic novels. The rise of the common people and the middle class was also
responsible for the growth of novel in the eighteenth century.
Q. 25. Name some women novelists of the eighteenth century.
Ans. The important woman novelists of the eighteenth century were Mrs.
Radcliffe, Fanny Burney and Maria Edworth.
The Age of Transition (1750-1798)
Page 29
Q. 26. Tell us about Pamela or Virtue Rewarded.
Ans. The novel Pamela written by Richardson marks the beginning of
epistolary fiction in English. It is written in the form of letters.
Q. 27. Whom do you consider the father of the English novel?
Ans. Henry Fielding can be considered the father of the English novel.
Q. 28. Who has defined novel as a comic epic in prose?
Ans. Henry Fielding has defined novel as a comic epic in prose.
Q. 29. What is Henry Fieldings contribution to the English novel.
Ans.Henry Fieldings chief contribution lies in the field of realism, homour,
characterisation and plot construction. He constructed plots according to the
principles of dramatic action. His characters form a complete picture of human
life and the workmanship of his plot-construction is cxcellent.
Q. 30. Name some important novelists of the Gothic Tradition.
Ans. The important novelists who wrote Gothic novels wereHorace
Walpole (1717-97), Mrs. Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), Mathew Gregory Lewis
(1775-1811), Charles Robert Maturin (1782-1824), Mary Shelley (1797-1851)
and Miss Clara Reve (1729-1807).
Q. 31. What are the important characteristics of the Gothic Novel?
Ans. The scenes of the Gothic novel are invariably laid in haunted castels
and ruined buildings and they produce an impression of terror and fear. In this
way Gothic and novel is full of mysteries, supernaturalism and out of the way

Q. 32. Name the main novels of Mrs. Ann Radcliffe.

Ans. The main novels of Mrs. Ann Radcliffe areA Sicilian Romance,
The Romance of the Forest, The Mysteries of Udalopho and The Italian.
Q. 33. What are the important works of James Thomson?
Ans. The important works of James thomson are The Season, Winter and
the Castle be of Indolence.
Q. 34. Who is the prominent novelist of the Terror School?
Ans. The prominent novelist of the Terror school is Matthew Gregory
Lewis. His main work is The Monk (1795).
Q. 35. Who has written the novel The Castle of Otranto?
Ans. Horace Walpole has written the novel The Castle of Otranto.
Q. 36. Name some other important novelists of the Terror School.
Ans. The other important novelists of the Terror School areMIss Clara
RevesThe Old English Baron, Mary ShelleysFrankenstein, Robert
BagesMan as He is, Charles Robert MaturinsMelmoth the Wanderer.
Q. 37. What do you understand by the term Oriental Romance?
Ans. The Oriental Romance deals with the stories of eastern countries.
Eastern countires had a great attraction for the English people. Addison and
Steele were the writers, who presented oriental sketches in the periodical The
Spectator. Dr. Johnson presented the story of an Abyssinian prince in search of
happiness in Rasselas.
Q. 38. Name the Pindaric Odes written by Thomas Gray.
Ans.The Progress of Poesry and The Bard are the Pindaric Odes written
by Thomas Gray.
Q. 39. Trace out the shortcomings of Thomas Garys poetry.
Ans. The shortcomings of Thomas Grays is poetry are obscuirty, lack of
imaginative heart, lack of inspiration, and artificiality of style and artificial
poetic diction.
Q. 40. What has Saintsbury to say about William Collins?
Ans. Saintsbury has commented about Collins, That almost everything
that is good in Collins belongs to the men, almost everything that is not good
belongs to the time.
Q. 41. What has Dr. Johnson to say about Metaphysical Poets?
Ans. Dr. Johnson said that metaphysical poetry was wanting in emotional
effect for the treatment of these poets was impersonal. Their courtship was
void of founders and their lamentations of sorrow.They attained the heights of
sublimity of thoughts that filled the mind with rapture and astonishment.
Moreover what they lacked in was greatness of thought, they attempted to

supply by means of hyperbole which gave to the work an air of excess and