Shakespeare: A Romantic Playwright

The establishment of romantic drama in England was the work of Shakespeare's immediate predecessors known as the university wits (Kyd, Lyly, Greene, Peele, Marlowe, etc.) Shakespeare's plays follow the example set by these men. In other words, he is a romantic dramatist as distinguished from the classical dramatists of ancient Greece and Rome.

The Principles Behind the Ancient Classocal Drama:
Briefly speaking, the classical drama of antiquity was supposed to observe the following principles:
(1) It rigorously maintained a unity of subject and tone. As a result, it kept the spheres of tragedy and comedy entirely separate. A tragedy had to be a tagedy from first to last; it had to maintatin the proper tragic pitch and no humorous episode was permitted in it. A comedy, on the other hand, had to be a comedy from first to last, and no tragic element was allowed to enter into its composition.
(2) There was little or no dramatic action on the stage. The incidents composing the plot took place off the stage and were reported to the audience in dialogue.
(3) The three unities of time, place, and action controlled the writing of drama. The entire story of a play had to be confined to a single day; the scene of the entire play remained the same throughout; the plot was to be one, and no sub-plots or minor episodes were permitted.

Main Features of the Elizabethan Romantic Drama:
The Elizabethan drama of Shakespeare and his immediate predecessors departed from all the above principles.
(1) Romantic drama makes free use of variety in theme and tone, often mixing tragic and comic scenes in the same play.
(2) Romantic drama, again, is essentially a drama of action, nearly every incident of the play being exhibited on the stage. Romantic drama violates also the three unites. It allows the story to extend over months, and even years. It changes the scene as often as necessary, sometimes from one town or country to another. It employs sub-plots and under-plots, besides the central theme.

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