The mermaid series of Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists (1887-1909): a literary and critical history

Park, Cynthia Ann (1980) The mermaid series of Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists (1887-1909): a literary and critical history. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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The Mermaid Series (1887-1909) edited by Havelock Ellis was a major watershed in appreciation of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Before it appeared plays were available to general readers in scattered anthologies, large expensive collected editions or in expurgated selections which included only the more lyrical speeches and memorable scenes. Criticism of the drama followed suit; the majority of critics concentrated on the sections which appealed to the romantic and sentimental tastes of nineteenthcentury readers. The two men who conceived the Mermaid Series, John Addington Symonds and Havelock Ellis, approached the drama differently from their contemporaries; Symonds studied a play as a whole work of art and Ellis concentrated on its view of life. Both were unsatisfied with the "select beauties", fragmented approach and wanted readers to have the best plays in their entirety easily available in handy, inexpensive editions. Symonds's awareness of the drama as theatre was combined with a historical perspective allowing him to judge the drama in relation to its own time. He made a lasting but hitherto underestimated contribution to study of Beaumont and Fletcher, Dekker, Marlowe, and Ford. Ellis's work on the drama is overshadowed today by his studies of sex but his concentration on ideas and appreciation of unconventional behaviour enabled him to formulate new views on Ford, Middleton and Chapman. The two other major editors to work on the series, A. C. Swinburne and Arthur Symons had more conventional nineteenth-century approaches. Both were impressionistic critics who were most attracted to the l~nguage of the drama. Swinburne, however, occasionally transcended his fragmented approach and offered significant interpretations of Tourneur, Massinger; 'The .Changeling, Heywood. Symons's range was more limited but his form of impressionism was valuable for its concentration on the aesthetic experience at the heart of a work of art. His most important contributions were the study of Middleton and Massinger. Besides these four major critics numerous lesser writers worked on the series. Their editorial work was valuable and some, notably Ernest Rhys, c. H. Herford and Thomas Dickinson offered criticism of enduring importance. In my first chapter I consider the general availability of texts of the Elizabethan and Jacobean drama in the nineteenth century, the general attitudes towards the drama, and the critical approaches of each of the editors. The subsequent chapters are organized around the volumes of the series. I consider the climate of opinion in which each appeared, assess its critical and editorial contribution and evaluate the work of the other Mermaid editors on the dramatist included in the volume. My study shows that the concept of the Mermaid Series and the work of its editors helped to revolutionize study of the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists by providing good texts and by pointing the way to our present view of the plays as whole works of art.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 12140
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 240-257).
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: November 1980
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Mermaids in literature; Women in literature; English drama--Early modern and Elizabethan, 1500-1600; English drama--18th century

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