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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.



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 55–60)
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 55–60)
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 55–60)
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
  • Addison, Joseph and Richard Steele. The Spectator. Retrieved 19 August 2005.
  • Cibber, Colley (first published 1740, ed. Robert Lowe, 1889). , . London. This is a scholarly 19th-century edition, containing a full account of Cibber's long-running conflict with Alexander Pope at the end of the second volume, and an extensive bibliography of the pamphlet wars with many other contemporaries in which Cibber was involved.
  • Davis, Caroline. "Publishing in the Eighteenth Century: Popular Print Genres". Retrieved 22 June 2005.
  • D'Urfey, Tom. Wit and Mirth: or Pills to Purge Melancholy. 6 vol. London: Jacob Tonson, 1719–1720.
  • Gay, John and Alexander Pope. Acis and Galatea London: 1718. Retrieved 12 July 2005.
  • Fielding, Henry. 1734. Pasquin: A Dramatick Satire on the Times Being The Rehearsal of Two Plays Viz. A Comedy Called The Election and a Tragedy Called The Life and Death of Common Sense. New York: Kessinger, 2005.
  • Gay, John. The Beggar's Opera. Bryan Loughrey and T. O. Treadwell, eds. London: Penguin Books, 1986.
  • Greene, Donald. The Age of Exuberance: Backgrounds to Eighteenth-Century Literature, 1660–1785. New York: McGraw Hill Companies, 1970.
  • Munns, Jessica. "Theatrical culture I: politics and theatre" in The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1650-1740 Ed. Steven Zwicker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Pope, Alexander. The Poetic Works of Alexander Pope. John Butt, ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 1968.
  • Shesgreen, Sean, ed. Engravings by Hogarth. New York: Dover Publications, 1975.
  • Trussler, Simon, ed. Burlesque Plays of the Eighteenth Century. Clarendon: Oxford UP, 1969.
  • Ward, A.W., A.R. Waller, W. P. Trent, J. Erskine, S.P. Sherman, and C. Van Doren. The Cambridge history of English and American literature: An encyclopedia in eighteen volumes. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921.
  • Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Los Angeles: U California Press, 1957.
  • Winn, James "Theatrical culture 2: theatre and music" in The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1650-1740 Ed. Steven Zwicker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
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