thumbnail of Metaphysical roots of the drama; The Climate of Stuart Drama
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
From Cincinnati we present the fourth in the 1968 series of six Frank L. Weil Institute lectures delivered at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. The lecture is Dr. Robert Bruce Dean Dean of the Yale School of Drama who is general topic is the metaphysical roots of the drama. These lectures are released through the University of Cincinnati station WG you see the title of this program is the climate of Stuart drama. Here is Dr. Robert Bruce. I'm going to try and sketch for you the background of a place we'll be dealing with by talking in general about the roots of the stew with Gramma and by Stuart drama I should quickly say we mean the drama produced in England between 16 of three and sixteen forty two when the Puritans revolted. We had it was the first concert up there.
Government for a period of about 18 years. The steward drama itself is divided into two different periods one is called the Jacobean drama which means the drama produced and the octopus or James the First from 16 0 3 until 16 25. He was on the phone with his Queen Anne and the second part of Stewart drama is called Caroline drama Carolus or Charles the First who was on the throne from sixteen twenty five until Sixteen forty two. Now this period tickly the Jacobean is the period of Shakespeare's tragedies and in fact it's the period of all those masterpieces we commonly but mistakenly call of this A B and they are really Jacobean almost two hours in fact with the exception of Christopher Marlowe and possibly Thomas Kidd. All of the great so-called Elizabethan dramatists produced the works of their
maturity during this Stuart period. Now it's important to know that both comedy and tragedy undergoes a radical transformation particularly in its tone. During this period in fact this transformation begins to show itself over the last few years of Elizabeth and say from 59 she dies in sixty three and James takes over and we see entering the drive can be defined very quickly as a as a new emphasis on decay and corruption. And darkness and back and intensified awareness and concentration that mortality was so obvious arising in Marlowe's work and reaches its full to fruition during this period. A sense of the encroaching limitations of mankind after what is romantic we call the boundless aspiration of the Elizabethan period.
We think of Jacobean period as being a period of intense pessimism and Samarian gloom if Marlowe's characters tend to lead with sad black streamers in the firmament to signify the slaughter of the gods. The signifying a sense of his own superhuman powers and his desire to war with deities. The characters of John Webster for example are generally in a mist. They look up to heaven and confound as they say knowledge with knowledge they don't know what's up there they can't pierce through the gloom they can't pierce through the mist to discover what those absolutes might be. Now this new tone and atmosphere which I would describe as we go along is due to many causes psychological causes social causes economic causes moral philosophical religious and literary. And I'm going to try and outline some of these in order to provide a background for the plays we will be talking about and to give a general impression of this extraordinary
spirit which produces an extraordinary body of drama. First of all the psychological cause there is during this period a growing prevalence of a malady called by contemporary melancholy. Now melancholy begins as an affectation. The melancholy Jake in Shakespeare's As You Like It is an affected character a little pretentious. He's been to Italy as a traveler. He's learned that you behave in a certain way. You assume certain airs if you want to impress people with your learning and with your addition and with your wide travel and one of these areas is the air of melancholy with him. As I say it's an affectation it's not real but it soon grows into a pathological state effect in great numbers of people both in life and in literature. In a book called The Elizabethan ballad by Lawrence Babbitt.
The type is the scribe describes it this way. The melancholy man is dark lean hollow sluggish of movement abstracted in manner and very taciturn. He is subject to fears and sorrows without apparent cause. Sometimes he has a criminal bias. Sometimes he is a bit of a misanthrope. We're here because you have your description of Hamlet was indeed a melancholy of precisely this type. But it's also a description of a great number of malcontents in Stuart Brown. Every play of this period will however have its now content it will either be a hero or a villain. But whatever he is will be sharing these qualities of taciturnity meditation discontent feeling that he's lost his place in the universe he's lost his preferment and what now. In fact by sixteen twenty one melancholy has become such a formidable disease that Robert Burton publishes a book of some 800 pages
called the Anatomy of Melancholy precisely focusing on something and in this book he car lights all that has been thought and said on the subject of melancholy and ADO says a number of causes for it. And Happened time melancholy is generally assumed to be not a psychological complaint but rather a physiological one relating to the body. Fact it's one of the four humors and you may know about these humors they're very much like medieval sin so I suppose they ultimately derived from medieval sins but now they are physical rather than spiritual in nature. They reflect the same allegorical approach to human nature as the seven deadly sins they are in so far as mankind is attended by by one single quality alone. But the humors theory which I describe in a moment is more sophisticated than the seven deadly sins because it's much less moral.
Let's not postulate a moral premise but rather a rather philosophical one. I say also a physiological one. And it's this. Elizabeth believed that there were four elements only now we have one hundred three hundred five keeps going up every time you look. But then there were only four and they were fire water and air and these four elements were represented not only in the life but in the body as well. And when fire came into the body it found its form as bile. When Earth came into the body it found its form is black bile when water came into the body in the form of lamb and air came into the body in the form of blood. Now these four elements or humors in balance created normal moderate man a well-adjusted man. We call them today but they were out of balance. You get a character a humorous character so that an excess of bile will
produce a choleric man an angry man an excess of phlegm will produce a sluggish dull individual like the country bumpkins and shakes the excess of black bile will produce the melancholia character the Cheval morose taciturn reflective and an excess of blood produces the sanguine man who is sunny and also because the Elizabethans believe that sperm was dried blood lecturers. Claudius. Is a sanguine man. He's a humorous character as it were Claudius and Hamlet. Lecherous and sanguine now English melancholy also has a historical source and it's directly related to an expectation of disaster. Most of us believe in this bill to be coming upon the death of Elizabeth. There was a general expectation of the end of the world was very near Elizabeth as you know had no. She
was the Virgin Queen and so there was no direct line of descent. Who in God's name was going to happen from when she died nobody knew. And to judge by Shakespeare's plays there is an assumption among was of the Finns that if there is not some provision made for an inheritance from a royal family then civil was a result because a number of factions will begin fighting for power as the factions of the in the War of the roses between the House of York and Lancaster fight for power because there was no suitable heir to claim the throne. Now this expectation of civil war and chaos was of course the very expectation that was to what was assumed by there was a belief and upon the death of Elizabeth and Thomas Dekker a playwright of the time and a pamphleteer in a pamphlet called The Wonderful year which he published in 16 of 3 speaks of the time in these words the Great in past you
of the realm was drawn even to us the multitudinous spawn was the corruption which did make it swell with hope sedition the burnt seed of hell who did expect the ruin of blood and death to share our kingdom and divide our breath. So is drawing here an image of a growing tank which is going to burst and send for sedition along with ruined blood and death. Well the end of the world didn't come with Elizabeth's death we have yet to experience that momentary moment in history. But something terrible did come during that 16 0 3 was the of the great play the worst play that the English had ever known. And the charnel house imagery of the drama where we find skulls and skeletons and pistols and all kinds of ugly disease images is directly will derive from the experience of this plague
decade again describes the plague in this way. What an unmatchable torment word for a man to be buried up every night in a vast silent charnel house the bare ribs of a father that begat him lying there. Here the chap was hollow skull of a mother that bore him round about him a thousand corpses some standing bolt upright in their knotted winding sheets. Others have molded in rotten coffins which had suddenly yawned wide open filling his not nostrils with noisome stench and his eyes with the sight of nothing with crawling worms and even such a formidable shape did the disease appear in. For he that Durst in the dead hour of gloomy Midnight have been so valiant as to have walked through the still and melancholy streets. What think you should have been his music. Surely the loud groans of raving sick man struggling pangs of souls departing servants crying out for their master's wives for
husbands parents with children children for their mothers bells heavily tolling in one place and ringing out of another the dreadfulness of such an hour is on from now this is the same Thomas Dekker who wrote that Merry romp of a play called The Shoemaker's holiday in an earlier time during a happier time as well. A merry bustling play which gives no indication that this sort of thing is roiling around in his head. And we might ask DECA as Hamlet asks of the skull of Yorick the very skull that seems to be described in this passage. Where be your gibes now. Your songs your gambles your flashes of merriment will DECA will no longer write jibing merry robust plays and the Jacobean period. In fact you'll fall in with the atmosphere of the time. And write such horrible plays as the honest whore. And this intensified sense of the varied such a play
is already clear enough in this hamper. What should become of such a coward. He says being told the self-same body of his which is now so pampered with superfluous. So perky and in Baden odoriferous waters and so gaily apparelled in variety of fashions must one day be thrown like stinking carrion into a rank and rotten grave where his goodly eyes that once did full of such amorous glances must be beaten out of his head. But be assured that tomorrow there must be tumbled into a mucky pit and suffer the body to be bruised and pressed with threescore dead men lying slovenly upon thee and thou to be on the most of all. Now this notion this assumption of the body is mapped and the earth itself this goodly firmament is nothing but an excremental Nakheel is again a pervasive notion that comes through this and indeed the sound of deck is powerful it is a very sound that you hear and
hammer that you hear as it were in the Puritan sermons of the time. And I would like to emphasize that this whole movement has a strong evangelical Puritans as well as being possessed of a lot of Lutheran excremental ism and indeed the Puritan theology does seem to have a tremendous influence on the literature of the period even though the Puritans themselves remain as always the arch enemies of the feared the arch enemies of play and the arch enemies of various dramatists who would lose their livelihood if the Puritans had their way to have their way and 642 and do away with drama and play houses all together. Now the Pauline Spain of Christianity the strain that comes directly from St. Paul always emphasized the vanity of worldliness and the inevitability of that. Why strive. Why puff yourself up. Just prepare yourself for death. Do good
works and hope for the past and Calvin picks this up in his institutes where he teaches contempt this Monday contempt for the world. If Heaven is our country says Calvin What can the earth be but a place of exile if departed from the world as entrance into life. What is the world over the separate and what is residence in it with immersion in it to be freed from the body is to gain possession of freedom. What is the body but a prison. Now it was still promises like power and like so many Puritans unlike our nations and unlike the Puritans of the time I'm not convinced of an afterlife at all. But they are certainly convinced of the vanity of worldliness. They are possessed with the same contempt as they have the same violent reactions to physical pleasures and worldly goods superfoods for handsome Raman's and they have the same strong pervasive sense of human
evil and omni present sin. Now it's important to remember the various Puritan movements from the Anabaptists are satirized by these promises especially by Johnson. He hates them and finds them intensely hypocritical which indeed many of them were. And indeed the puritan movement in England this time was extremely subversive. These were the revolutionary time and they were eventually going to overthrow the crown and the whole social structure of English society. But it is also important to remember that the Dramatis happens cysteine the same philosophical and spiritual animus against the things the Puritans hated against the court against lust and especially against flattery. So we can say there was also a religious reason for the new tone of Stewart drama westcoast and skeletons are so
pervasive and and the drama itself becomes a kind of dance of death with the characters of the drama stare into empty heavens or into a vast abyss and where we find Renaissance aspiration climaxed with this sense of defeat and the K and the and the how finest value is the stoical value of a kind of courage in the face of death. Now by the time of Hamlet around fifteen or sixteen hundred before Lisbon there is still a double attitude possible towards man and the universe Hamlet's melancholy. Maybe the nowaday of a sick individual. There is still a sense of annoyance here from which to judge that melancholy and there is still a certain anticipation of a humanist possibility. Even Hamlet has it in his famous speech when he goes as it were BOTH sides of the question. They go so heavily with my disposition that this goodly
frame the earth seems to me a star our prominence or is most excellent. Can it be the end of this brave or firmament this majestical roof fretted with golden fire. Why it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of what a piece of work is man noble in reason how infinite in fact in form and moving how Express and admirable. In Action how like an angel in apprehension how like a god the beauty of the world paragon of animals and yet to me what is this quintessence of. So here we have the most beautifully written for the greatness of man followed by Hamlets own and he thinks highly subjective sense of man being a piece of dust quintessential dust. But as this period goes are the vision of Hamlet gives way to the vision of Lear and mankind is no longer the
paragon of animals but simply an object subject to Will and appetites. A pool of their forked animal. The Renaissance as it were is now being counted with the count of renaissance. The humanist point of view is being put down by the naturalist point of view. Where nature is all. And you look into nature and you see birds preying upon each other beasts preying upon each other like monsters from the deep. And that too is the way of man. In fact by 16 the 11 man is no longer a paragon a beauty or a god at all. Hamlet's view has triumphed all together. That is his melancholic view. In most of the imaginative literature of England and John Donne in his first anniversary if man were anything he's nothing now. And now with springs and Summers which we see like sons of women after fifty and new philosophy
calls all in doubt. The element of fire is quite put out. The sun is lost and the earth no man's with well direct where to look for it and freely men confess that this world spent one of the planets in the firmament. They seek so many new they see that this is crumbled out again to his atoms is all in pieces all coherence gone all just supply and all relations. Well it's a picture of a decaying in the sense a grating world where the new philosophy the new rationalism the new and curious ism of bacon and looking for new planets looking through telescopes and what have you. Calling everything in doubt that was inherited from the past and as a result we have the essential Stuart pessimism where the world is the child of tired Laing's like sons of women after fifty a world which is aging poverty stricken hopeless or
as James Joyce is to put it in Ulysses and he calls it an age of exhausted whoredom groping for its God. A world in which there are only two alternatives possible violent evil action like the action of an arc of the action of an admin than Leah or Stark resignation. Courage in the face of death. Folding her arms and holding your breath until you die. Then there are economic causes for this melancholy as well. The first quarter of the 17th century is the period of greatest economic confusion in English history up to that time where the English are experiencing the transition from a subsistence economy to an economy of plenty of affluence an economy based for the purse for the first time the purchasing power of money.
Now as a result of this the importance of money. There is a spread of luxury sumptuous attire excessive purchases conspicuous consumption buying things you don't need just to impress your neighbor and with it while the bank with its orgies even these come into being and begin to be the means by which the court is identified. And this new economy is in direct conflict with the old pulp condition the old medieval tradition which held as we've seen that the worldly life was merely a preparation for the life to come. Now we have a mercantile tradition which is fiercely materialistic fiercely secular putting its emphasis on the here and now and let the devil take the hindmost. So we see here a conflict of two strong traditions each of them powerful. The medieval tradition which was fiercely anti acquisitive against piling
up wealth and money which attacked avarice with greed and miserliness as a deadly sin and opposed to this is the mercantile tradition which puts acquisition of wealth at the very center of its morality. It's our tradition isn't. And which is now taking on a doctrine and ideology call Puritanism which will adjust itself to justify this newfound wealth to justify middle class gain. As you may know the Puritans of the time were assuming that if you had a happy and lucky and lucky life it was a general sign that you were a member of the elect and would be zipping up to heaven after you died. And in this way the sin of avarice is turned into a virtue of thrift. And. An acquisition is justified
as a result of this we have the rise of a new class the new man the projector who grows rich to monopolies to Pappy's to systems of plunder and we also have the rise of the upstart and the carpet knife because money can now buy anything even nobility. You can even buy your way into the aristocracy and James the First was always looking for more money to shore up his kingdom is now passing out knighthoods if you give him a hundred pounds will make you a knight. In fact he was known to have made twenty eight nights in one sitting. Picked up twenty hundred pounds as a result. So up starts from the middle class us. We're moving into the building. And they're like most upstarts the new nobles are exaggerating the vices of the nobility. Exaggerating their affectations it doesn't come naturally when they imitate their manners as Rick in
Hamlet has ripped the water supply is bread and Mark is a mushroom has come up overnight become an aristocrat as war in Lear is another form of this carpet knight or upstart mushrooms who come out of nowhere to live to Florida to murder and to bring the court into disrepute. And this leads us to the social causes of the new discontent and melancholy causes which are located right in the court itself. Now the court is traditionally a source of discontent and complaints in English literature. And there's a long tradition of anti court satire which dates in the medieval period and intensifies in the beginning of the 16th century. But now the worst fears of the satirist seem to have come true because James's court is truly the poached and it is purely dominated by oily flatterers carpet nights and those who get into the
king's good graces by telling them how marvelous he is every day. Now the degeneration of the court is partly thought at the time to be attributable to two causes. First the Italian isolation of the court. What's happened is a lot of aristocrats and the women have gone to Italy. Place to go and use that as London now is for us as France was for the Russians of the 19th century. The Garda wittily and copied all the things that are going on there and as a result the general populace has thought the court to become Italian I asked. They read Castille Yoni who wrote a book called The cottage on of the cornea telling you how to behave in polite company how to hold your fork how to make love to a woman how to behave in society and presumably they read Macchiavelli too. According to the satirists which is taught in how to poison a flat out of the symbol how to get inside with your king.
Metaphysical roots of the drama
The Climate of Stuart Drama
Producing Organization
University of Cincinnati
WGUC (Radio station : Cincinnati, Ohio)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-qr4nqk5m).
Series Description
For series info, see Item 3751. This prog.: The Climate of Stuart Drama
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: University of Cincinnati
Producing Organization: WGUC (Radio station : Cincinnati, Ohio)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-44-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:44
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Metaphysical roots of the drama; The Climate of Stuart Drama,” 1968-11-29, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 28, 2023,
MLA: “Metaphysical roots of the drama; The Climate of Stuart Drama.” 1968-11-29. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 28, 2023. <>.
APA: Metaphysical roots of the drama; The Climate of Stuart Drama. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from