Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part One > Early English Tragedy > Diminishing attention paid to classical models and increasing appeal to popular sentiment and national tradition; the legacy of the Classics in Tragedy
  The relations between Locrine and Selimus  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One.

IV. Early English Tragedy.

§ 20. Diminishing attention paid to classical models and increasing appeal to popular sentiment and national tradition; the legacy of the Classics in Tragedy.


It is remarkable that, at this late date, when new and potent influences had begun to work upon English tragedy, a writer for the popular stage should retain characteristic features of the type of tragedy which the dramatists of the inns of court had founded upon the model of Seneca and his Italian imitators. Some of these features—the ghost and the revenge motive, sensational horrors and rhetorical exaggerations, philosophical reflections and highly polished lyrical or descriptive passages—became permanent characteristics, for good or ill, of Elizabethan tragedy. Other elements were taken from other sources; and, no doubt, it is well to keep in mind that, after the establishment of public theatres, writers of tragedies and historical plays gave their main attention to popular taste and national tradition, not to the classical authorities held in esteem in the universities and the inns of court, from which English tragedy had received its first bent. But, in theory, at any rate, the playwrights still honoured classical precepts and example; and their practice, though it departed widely from classical models, was not so lawless as it would have been without this restraining force. The valuable part of the Elizabethan inheritance from the classics in tragedy was, indeed, not that which lies on the surface—such mechanical devices as the use of the chorus and the division into five acts, the ghost and other exaggerated horrors; it was something more subtle and difficult to trace—the conception of a real, though not a formal, unity of interest, dignity of persons and decorum of style.   32

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The relations between Locrine and Selimus  
 
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