‘A Slough of Despond in the wide well-tilled field of English Literature’. That was how one of the period’s best playwrights, Henry Arthur Jones, described Victorian drama up to 1891. For him plays were primarily pieces of literature, and ‘the worst and deadliest enemy of the English drama [was] — the English theatre’. For a history of literature this seems an appropriate criterion. All the plays mentioned in this chapter acted well enough to succeed in the theatre: the only question asked will be how well they read. To start with ‘theatrical rubbish’, a popular melodrama in the 1830s was Maria Marten; or, the Murder in the Red Barn. This anonymous dramatisation of a real-life murder illustrates two of the most pervasive influences on early Victorian drama: those of William Shakespeare and of an illiterate, working-class audience.
Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.