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Mikeharvey

'On Dramatic Method' by Harley Granville-Barker (1931)

Quite by chance I picked up my copy of Harley Granville-Barker's 'On Dramatic Method' (The Clark Lectures for 1930) and read him on Restoration Drama.  This is so interesting, and GB makes so many good points about English Drama after Shakespeare, that I'd have to quote the entire lecture to do him justice.
He doesn't have too good an opinion of Restoration Comedy in general and he does something of a demolition job on William Wycherley and his play 'The Plain Dealer' in particular.  GB is especially scathing about WW's prose and its tortuous lack of clarity. Occasionally WW uses blank verse and HGB quotes a line - And I must yet keep out of his sight not as a fair contentender for the worst blank verse line ever written.  
HGB makes the good point that good dialogue cannot travel direct from the playwright's brain to pen, but must travel by ear and mouth too. I agree totally.  JB Priestley maintained that a playwright ought always to read his dialogue out loud to see how it fits the mouth.  
HGB is also good on the reasons for the decline in English Drama after the Restoration.  Dryden, being the virtual head of the playwriting fraternity (and sorority if we include Aphra Behn), seems to have had some influence on the general trend of playwriting. He believed that Shakespeare and his contemporaries had virtually used up all the possibilities of the blank verse medium so the writers of his Age were bound to search for other styles. To be different. Hence the Heroic Couplet.  There was also the influence of the French Drama, writers like Corneille, with their adherence to Classical modes. English writers decided to wear a dramatic straitjacket. HGB talks interestingly about the flexibility of the iambic line which he says is superbly fitted to the expression of individual character and emotion, a flexibility that the rhymed couplet just doesn't have.  Hence the flatness of Dryden's Antony and Cleopatra play 'All For Love' and Otway's 'The Mourning Bride' about which HGB is especially scathing.  In so many Restoration plays there are not so much living characters as Attitudes In Costume. Compare Nahum Tate's 'King Lear' with Shakespeare. It's in this period too that Sentimentality lifts its inspid head.  HGB makes the point that it was the genius of the actors which was responsible for the theatre's survival.  Actors who could spin gold out of base material.  It was ever so.
My own opinion is that writers in the 1600s were probably, and understandably intimidated by Shakespeare.  By his genius and his wondrous ear that no English playwright since has matched or come near to matching.  
Harley Granville-Barker was writing from a position of some authority being a succesful playwright himself. His most well-known plays being 'The Marrying of Anne Leete', 'The Voysey Inheritance', 'Waste' and 'The Madras House', all of which revive well and which I've been fortunate enough to see.  And he had a great influence on 20thC Shakespearean production with his several volumes of 'Prefaces to Shakespeare' and his own stage productions.

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