The Origin & Growth of English Drama up to Christopher Marlowe
The drama is that form of composition that is designed to be performed on stage. In this form of composition the actors play role for certain characters. They perform certain action and utter certain dialogues.
The drama is deeply rooted in the religious instincts of man. It never lost its kinship with religion. In almost all the countries it has been cradled by religion. This is true about England too. In England drama developed in the courtyard of the church. The church began to use dramatic elements as the part of their services in the certain festival or ritual. The purpose behind this use was to give deep understanding of the religion to the believer. The stories of such plays were written by the clergy and performed by them using Latin language. Only in certain cathedrals and monasteries such plays were performed. It was difficult to understand these plays because they were in Latin. So in most of the plays the performers acted without dialogue. Only with the help of their actions they tried to convey the message.
The Mystery and the Miracle Plays: The next step of the development came when the actors started to speak their dialogues. These early plays were called Mystery plays and Miracle plays. They came into being in the 14th century. The mystery plays were based on the stories from the Bible. Even in the 10th century these mystery plays existed. These plays were performed by the priests in the church. These plays became popular and the number of the themes increased.
The Miracle plays were based on the lives of the saints. This type of play attracted the attention of numerous people. That is why its popularity increased fast. Perhaps these Miracle plays became more popular due to their variety, human characters and urbane style. These plays were both serious and comic. They prepared the ground for the Elizabethan drama.
The Morality plays and the Interludes: The third stage of the development is remarkable. At this stage we find the advent of the Morality plays and Interludes. In the earlier plays the serious and comic elements were mixed. Now they parted. The Morality plays had serious tone and didactic purpose. The Interludes were comic and amusing. The Morality plays showed the struggle between good and evil in human soul. The characters were allegorical and aimed at teaching. The aim of Interludes was amusement and entertainment. They were full of humour which was generally coarse. It was a short play which introduced real characters. It was far superior to Morality plays. Heywood was the most gifted writer of the Interlude.
The First English Tragedy: The next stage was the beginning of the English tragedy. The first tragedy in English literature was Gorboduc. It was written by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton. First of all it was staged by the Gentlemen of the Inner Temple in the presence of Elizabeth on January 18, 1561. It earned praise from Sidney. It was followed by other tragedies like The Misfortunes at Arthur and Tancred and Gismunda.
The First English Comedy: The next stage was the beginning of English comedy. In 1541, Nicholas Udall, the headmaster of Eton, produced Ralph Roister Doister. It was the first regular English comedy. By writing this comedy Udall earned the title of the father of English comedy. This play was not the adaptation of any particular play. Here humour was not coarse. The characters had been taken from real life. The next notable comedy was Gammer Gurton's Needle. It was written about 1560 by Mr. S. This comedy is a great landmark in the history of English drama. These comedies were written on the classical model.
The University Wits: The drama found its full-flowing with the dramatists called the University Wits. Marlowe was the central sun of this group. Others were Lyly, Peele, Greene, Lodge, Nash and Kyd. Lyly was a comic playwright. He is well known as the author of Euphues. Peele’s work has great variety. His The Old Wives’ Tale is the first English play of dramatic criticism. Green was an expert in the art of plotting. The English tragedy moves on its way with Kyd. With Marlowe the drama reaches the highest point of its glory. His contribution is memorable. In many ways he showed a path to Shakespeare.
The English drama has a very long history. It passed through various stages. In the age of Shakespeare it reached the highest point of its glory.