chapter  I
15 Pages

Shakespeare the dramatist

In speaking today of Shakespeare the dramatist I propose, with your permission, to consider one question: To what degree and in virtue of what quality in his genius is Shakespeare a dramatist? What, in other words, constitutes the specifically dramatic quality in his writing and how nearly is that the native habit of his mind? For it is evident that, in the Elizabethan period, when conditions fostered the art of drama, many writers became practising dramatists who in another age would have sought another medium; Ben Jonson was almost certainly one of these and so in some degree was Marlowe on one hand and Webster on the other. Just so, during the nineteenth century, many poets as evidently diverted their imaginations from the drama, which offered them only an incomplete and inhibited form of artistic communication. Was dramatic expression, then, partly induced in Shakespeare, as it was in Marlowe, Jonson, and Webster, by the favourable conditions, the prevailing mood of the age? Or was it essential to his genius, innate in him, profiting no doubt by the coincidence of man and moment, but not prompted, as in some of his contemporaries, by the demands of that moment? May we, as a first step towards answering this (and so my initial question), look for a moment at the nature of drama, or, more precisely, at the nature of dramatic genius?