- The Rehearsal (play)
"The Rehearsal" was a satirical play aimed specifically at
John Drydenand generally at the sententious and overly ambitious theater of the Restoration tragedy. The play was staged in 1671 and published anonymously in 1672, but it is certainly by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckinghamand others. Several people have been suggested as collaborators, including Samuel Butler of " Hudibras" fame, Martin Clifford, and Thomas Sprat, a Royal Societyfounder and later Bishop of Rochester.
The play concerns a
playwrightnamed Bayes attempting to stage a play. The play he is going to put on is made up almost entirely of excerpts of existing " heroic dramas". The name "Bayes" indicates the poet laureate. The previous poet laureate had been William Davenant, and Davenant did stage spectacles and plays with exceptionally bombastic speeches from the heroes (e.g. "The Siege of Rhodes"). However, the poet laureate at the time of the play was Dryden, and most of the excerpts in the play-within-a-play are liftings from Dryden. In particular, Dryden's " The Conquest of Granada", which had been his most popular play (and the one whose preface had defined "heroic drama"), is the play Buckingham parodies. Dryden had written other heroic drama aside from "The Conquest of Granada." In fact, he had been so prolific in that vein that Martin Clifford accused him of "stealing from himself." The reason that "The Conquest of Granada" was such a target, however, is the "Preface" to the printed version of "The Conquest of Granada." There, Dryden scolds his fellow dramatists for having immoral heroes and low sentiments, and he proposes a new type of theater, the heroic drama. Buckingham's play is, in a sense, the old theater biting him back. In "The Rehearsal," a director/author attempts to put on a new play, and he lectures his actors and critics with impossible and absurd instructions on the importance of what they are doing.
"The Rehearsal" infuriated Dryden, and it is not possible to see the satire without some political cause or effect. (Dryden would not forget the satire, and he made Buckingham into the figure of
Zimriin his " Absalom and Achitophel".) However, for readers and viewers what was most delightful was the way that Buckingham effectively punctures the puffed up bombast of Dryden's plays. By taking Dryden's own words out of context and pasting them together, Buckingham disrupts whatever emotions that might have gone with them originally and exposes their inherent absurdity.
The play is credited with putting an end to heroic drama, but, in the long run, it did not. If "heroic drama" is understood only as the writings of Dryden in an heroic vein, then perhaps "The Rehearsal" was a success. Dryden was unable or unwilling to pursue heroic drama for long after "The Rehearsal" came out. Whether "The Rehearsal" or the
she-tragedymade popular by the acting of Elizabeth Barrydid it, there "was" a turn away from the Classical heroes of Dryden's heroic drama. However, new plays with exaggerated heroes who mouth impossibly high-sounding moral sentiments and accomplish impossibly extravagant actions continued to be written through to the 1740s (see, for example, Henry Carey's " Chrononhotonthologos"). In fact, the trend toward absurdly lofty bombast and sentiment was so strong that Richard Brinsley Sheridanreworked "The Rehearsal" for his play, "The Critic" (1779), where the target was the inflated importance and prose of theater criticism. To some degree, the parodic form of a play-within-a-play goes back to Shakespeare's satire of pantomime plays in " A Midsummer Night's Dream" and forward to the contemporary Mel Brooksplay, "The Producers".
Eighteenth-century editions of "The Rehearsal" contained a Key that identified the Restoration plays to which Buckingham and his collaborators allude in their work. The Key was originally attributed to Buckingham himself, but is actually the work of Morphew Briscoe. Briscoe's Key contains some accurate information, but also has deficiencies. Later commentators have worked to improve upon it. [George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham, "The Rehearsal", Edward Arber, ed., London, 1869; pp. 18-20.]
* [http://www.bartleby.com/218/0111.html The Cambridge History of English Literature]
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