Poetic Drama and Its Revival in 20th Century in English Literature: A Brief Analysis of Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning
Poetic drama, having had its roots in the Elizabethan Age in England with the great playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe who breathed into the English drama the life spirit of poetry by means of their mighty lines, struggled a lot to revive in the nineteenth century and succeeded in the first half of the twentieth century with playwrights such as E. Martin Browne, T. S. Eliot and Christopher Fry. There were obstacles for this artistic form to find a place in the modern world which was in the turmoil of social and political alterations. With an emphasis on these obstacles for “poetic drama”, this paper will try to explain the new form based upon the ancient and to analyse Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not For Burning in the framework of poetic drama with the writer short biography.
In the nineteenth century, almost all the Romantic poets attempted to poetic drama. Since these poets took Shakespeare as the ultimate example for verse drama, they encountered some obstacles due to the fact that they wrote their plays in the “Elizabethan blank verse dialogue” (Savidge vi). Thus, the verse transformed into “a rhetorical vehicle, not a poetic one” (Black 155). Rather than reviewing their techniques to continue to the poetic form in drama, these Romantic poets decided that they could not trust to the actors for the reflection of true senses of verses and eventually set into writing closet dramas; therefore, “the place and function once occupied by poetic drama was . . . abandoned to opera” (Trewin 12). In the 1930s, the poetic drama gained impetus with the redefining of techniques of T. S. Eliot to compose plays and Christopher Fry was one to use them in his plays successfully.
In order not to fall into the situations of playwrights who were unable to comprehend the relationship between the qualities of verse and the characteristics of drama, Eliot needed to define qualities of poetic drama in the sense of his term “objective correlative”. As can be understood at first sight, “poetic drama” is not merely a drama written in verse. Eliot presents his own opinion in his essay “The Possibility of a Poetic Drama”, “to create a form is not merely to invent a shape, a rhyme or rhythm, it is also the realization of the whole appropriate content of this rhyme or rhythm” (444). Poetry becomes a natural part of the play and its plot, characters and atmosphere, as well as dramatic elements are to have the capacity to maintain the elevated character, depth and grace of poetry. Since drama is strictly connected with stage, the playwright must generate poetic devices together with dramatic elements according to the needs of dramaturgy. Thus, as an emphasis on the intermingling of poetic and dramatic aspects in a harmonic union, Jones states that the purpose of verse drama is not only “to excite with the action”, but also “to reveal the significance of the action” (17).
When we look at the modern age and its issues raised following the World War II, the more prosaic and conversational plays of experimentalist writers were staged on theatres and gained impetus among spectators and literary circles since the new plays’ modern spectators were much different from the Elizabethan audience who desired to see direct representations from life on stage and upper-class characters with elevated manners and eloquence suited to the form of poetic drama. In order to indicate the fall of the poetic drama in this “unfavourable climate” of the contemporary world, Sean O’Brien states that “there seem to be fewer actors with the training and experience” to handle these kind of verse drama and “likewise fewer directors and literary managers seem trained or inclined to read verse drama with appropriate understanding and to discriminate between good and bad examples of the form. . ....