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Home » » What do you mean by "decadent play"? Bring out the features of decadent play with reference to the plays of the Jacobean Age
We know that the term "decadence" means "decline" which is evident in the tragedies after William Shakespeare. It usually describes a period of art or literature in comparison with the excellence of the former age. Decadence has often been applied to the period after the death of Augustus (14 A.D.) and of the Alexandrine Period (300 B.C.30 B.C). In modern times, it is used for the late 19th century Symbolist Movement in France. Declination in the development of drama is also marked in the Jacobean Period (1603-1625). During the Elizabethan Age (1558-1603) tragedy, comedy and tragi-comedy are produced spontaneously. This period is the period of emotion and impulse. It is the Golden Age of drama and the heyday of Shakespeare and Marlowe. But the spirit of the age declines in the Jacobean Age. So in drama, the conception "decadent play" emerges. It is generally applied to the tragedies of Webster, Marston, Tourneur and Ford.

James-I ascended the throne of England in 1603. The early decades of the 17th century may be called the Age of Transiton. By this time, the Renaissance impulses exhausted itself. The Elizabethan zest for life, exuberance and optimism are succeeded by a mood of disillusion, defeat and bitterness. Queen Elizabeth was popular and tactful. But James was unpopular and ignorant of English language. His court was extravagant and immoral criticism of the court and the church became vocal and widespread. The critical temper is reflected in the literature of the age. The writers of the age wrote with the themes of decay, death and disease.

In the Jacobean Age, The Prince by Machiavelli was widely studied. He provided a materialistic and satanic interpretation of the world order. Under the impact of this theory, the hero turned into villain on the Jacobean stage. Diabolism and ruthlessness became the dominant theme of even such writers as Webster and Tourneur. In the Post--  Shakespeare Age, the sense of decay and disorder permeates the dramas of the writers.

John Webster is the greatest playwright and a subtle observer outside Shakespeare. He is a very able and clever dramatist. He is almost equal in power with Shakespeare in the matter of creating profound and intense fragile emotions. The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi are the most famous tragedies on which his fame rests. The Duchess of Malfi is a greater play than The White Devil. It is a decadent play, because it has the elements of a play like this. Webster shows that physical horrors are made to reveal the spiritual anguish of the heroine. In his revenge tragedies, sympathy is drawn in favour of the victims. The revengers are villains. This is a pervasive atmosphere of gloom and corruption. But at the end of his both the plays, moral order is asserted. Webster's tragedies turn on revenge. There is crude horror and melodrama in them. Antonio and Mallida and Antonio's Revenge are two best---- known dramas of John Marston. They are lurid essays in the tragedies of blood and thunder. Marston has written another revenge play, The Malcontent. About him, Rupert Brooke says, "He loved dirt for the sake of truth, also for its own. Filth, horror and wit were his beggary". Cyril Tourneur wrote two tragedies-The Revenger's Tragedy and The Atheist's Tragedy. The tragedies are of blood and thunder. They are crude and melodramatic. The Revenger's Tragedy recalls Hamlet. Because the hero of the play has a mission to punish the guilty. No other play of the time has a more intense dramatic effect and so clear and rapid a style.

The decadence of Post-Shakespearean drama belongs also to John Ford. His fame depends on his three tragedies. They are Love Sacrifice, It is Pity,  She is a Whore and The Broken Heart. Warbeck is his interesting and thoroughly well-made historical play. In The Broken Heart, passion is dominant over all else in life and death. Ford's sensationalism, his love of forbidden themes and his moral antinomianism are commonly cited to his disadvantage.

From the discussion above, we can say that English tragedy after Shakespeare begins to decline. Shakespeare's plays please all the count and the public. After Shakespeare, the dramatists show a morbid taste for horror. Because they indulge in crude horror, bloodshed and violence. The Duchess of Malfi is a burning example of the decadent play. It shows the climax of the heroine in the 4th Act. in 5th Act, the revenger's tragedies are shown. This is totally unconventional to the Elizabethan plays. The dramatist of the Post-Shakespearean Period or the Jacobean Period are pre-occupied with the themes of decay, incest and despair. Sensationalism, morbidity and immorality pervade their plays. So Webster, Beaumont and Fletcher, John Marston, Cyril, Tourneur, Ford and other playwrights are not able to maintain the convention of the Elizabethan Age in writing tragedy. From their tragedies, dec
Cyril, Tourneur, Ford and other playwrights are not able to maintain the convention of the Elizabethan Age in writing tragedy. From their tragedies, decadence becomes obvious and they turn into revenge plays


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