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Robert Huntington Fletcher

For the sake of clearness we have reserved for a separate chapter the discussion of the drama of the whole medieval period, which, though it did not reach a very high literary level, was one of the most characteristic expressions of the age. It should be emphasized that to no other form does what we have said of the similarity of medieval literature throughout Western Europe apply more closely, so that what we find true of the drama in England would for the most part hold good for the other countries as well.

[Footnote: George Eliot's 'Romola' gives one of the best pictures of the spirit of the Renaissance in Italy. Tennyson's 'Queen Mary,' though it is weak as a drama, presents clearly some of the conditions of the Reformation period in England.]

THE RENAISSANCE. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are the period of the European Renaissance or New Birth, one of the three or four great transforming movements of European history. This impulse by which the medieval society of scholasticism, feudalism, and chivalry was to be made over into what we call the modern world came first from Italy.

THE INFLUENCE OF CLASSICAL COMEDY AND TRAGEDY. In Chapter IV we left the drama at that point, toward the middle of the sixteenth century, when the Mystery Plays had largely declined and Moralities and Interlude-Farces, themselves decadent, were sharing in rather confused rivalry that degree of popular interest which remained unabsorbed by the religious, political, and social ferment. There was still to be a period of thirty or forty years before the flowering of the great Elizabethan drama, but they were to be years of new, if uncertain, beginnings.

(For political and social facts and conditions, see above, page 141. [Footnote: One of the best works of fiction dealing with the period is J. H. Shorthouse's 'John Inglesant.'])

(For the political events leading up to the Restoration see above, pages 141-142.) [Footnote: This is the period of Scott's 'Old Mortality' and 'Legend of Montrose.']

 [Footnote: Thackeray's 'Henry Esmond' is the greatest historical novel relating to the early eighteenth century.]

POLITICAL CONDITIONS. During the first part of the eighteenth century the direct connection between politics and literature was closer than at any previous period of English life; for the practical spirit of the previous generation continued to prevail, so that the chief writers were very ready to concern themselves with the affairs of State, and in the uncertain strife of parties ministers were glad to enlist their aid.

THE GREAT WRITERS OF 1798-1830. THE CRITICAL REVIEWS. As we look back to-day over the literature of the last three quarters of the eighteenth century, here just surveyed, the progress of the Romantic Movement seems the most conspicuous general fact which it presents. But at the, death of Cowper in 1800 the movement still remained tentative and incomplete, and it was to arrive at full maturity only in the work of the great writers of the following quarter century, who were to create the finest body of literature which England had produced since the Elizabethan period.

GENERAL CONDITIONS. The last completed period of English literature, almost coincident in extent with the reign of the queen whose name it bears (Victoria, queen 1837-1901), stands nearly beside The Elizabethan period in the significance and interest of its work.

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