‘Scarce a good One Play'd’: Tragedy, 1695–1700
The comic revival of the late 1690s had no counterpart in tragedy, which continued its general decline into cliched political complacency and aimless sensationalism. As in the earlier part of the decade, the greatest artist in the sphere of serious drama was not a playwright at all, but Henry Purcell, whose last opera, an adaptation of the John Dryden-Robert Howard The Indian Queen, was performed by the Patent Company, probably late in 1695. This is the first tragic semi-opera, though the tragedy is simplified by the idealization of Montezuma. The only spoken tragedy that could possibly merit modern revival, however, is Thomas Southerne's long-popular Oroonoko, his most ambitious and complex study of moral and cultural dislocation. The dislocation is explicitly given a moral and symbolic quality, for Oroonoko's ancestral sun-worship is interpreted as hunger for a guiding light, and his perplexing sufferings bring a diminishing sense of guidance and direction.
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