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date: 26 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the theory of the passions in relation to early modern theatre. It first considers the reception of Aristotle’s Poetics and particularly how the writings of ancient critics located the essence of tragedy in the passions that it imitated and aroused. It then turns to John Dryden and John Milton, who both regarded the passions, not ‘character’, as the most important objects of imitation, and reconstructs a critical and poetic world in which the ‘personation’ of passion was thought to be essential to the formal capacities of theatre and the source of the profound collective experiences it made possible. It also explores the passions in dramatic poetry and on stage, along with the emergence of character as a more important unit of dramatic meaning than passion. The chapter concludes by suggesting that William Shakespeare also sought to represent and sway the passions, and therefore did not lie outside the mainstream of early modern theatre.

Keywords: passion, drama, tragedy, John Dryden, John Milton, dramatic poetry, stage, character, William Shakespeare, early modern theatre

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