Article Title

Byron's "Mental Theatre" and the German Classical Precedent


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

British Romantic drama, and that of Byron in particular, is usually a victim of condescending treatment-an understandable, if unsatisfying critical fact. On the practical side, there can be no doubt that stage performances of the nineteenth century were not conducive to the production of a serious modern English drama; Byron himself was disgusted by the almost complete predominance of spectacle, what Aristotle calls the most obviously incidental tragic element. Revivals of dramatic classics and the flawed attempts of young playwrights were alike designed to satisfy the public desire for passion, glitter, and sheer magnitude. Aesthetic theorists declare the nineteenth century devoid of meaningful dramatic production because of the predominance of a "lyric norm." Working from Croce, modern critics claim that poets of the Romantic period, completely devoted to personal, lyrical expression, simply could not write exoteric, stageworthy plays. This view, though incomplete in itself, is a first step in any attempt to deal fully and meaningfully with the dramas of Byron and of the nineteenth century in general. Treated as unique literary phenomena, conforming only to their own self-evolved structural and generic identities, these works provide insight into the entire Romantic tendency to experiment with and redefine traditional literary types for purposes of unique expression. The age was indeed dominated by a "lyric norm," but this domination did not omit attempts by various writers to manifest that norm in several types of literary art.

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