Vol. 9 No. 6 1942 - page 460

speech is much more direct in dramatic poetry than in any other.
In most kinds of poetry, the .necessity for its reminding us of
contemporary speech is reduced by the latitude allowed for per–
sonal idiosyncrasy: a poem by Gerard Hopkins, for instance, may
sound pretty remote from the way in which you and I express our–
selves-or rather, from the way in which our fathers and grand–
fathers expressed themselves: but Hopkins does give the impres–
sion that his poetry has the necessary fidelity to his way of
thinking and talking to himself. But in dramatic verse the poet
is speaking in one character after another, through the medium
of a company of actors trained by a producer, and of different
actors and different producers at different times: his idiom must
be comprehensive of all the voices, but present at a deeper level
than is necessary when the poet speaks only for himself. Some of
Shakespeare's later verse is very elaborate and peculiar: but it
remains the language, not of one person, but of a world of persons.
It is based upon the speech of three hundred years ago, yet when
we hear it well rendered we can forget the distance of time-as
is brought home to us most patently in one of those plays, of which
is the chief, which can fittingly be produced in modern
dress. By the time of Otway dramatic blank verse has become
artificial and at best reminiscent; and when we get to the verse
plays, by nineteenth century poets, of which the greatest is prob–
The Cenci,
it is difficult to preserve any illusion of reality.
Nearly all the greater poets of the last century tried their hands
at verse plays. These plays, which few people read more than
once, are treated with respect as fine poetry; and their insipidity
is usually attributed to the fact that the authors, though great
poets, were amateurs in the theatre. But even if the poets had had
greater natural gifts for the theatre, or had toiled to acquire the
craft, their plays would have been just as ineffective, unless their
theatrical talent and experience had shown them the necessity for
a different kind of versification. It is not 'primarily lack of plot,
or lack of action and suspense, or imperfect realization·of charac–
ter, or lack of anything .of what is called 'theatre,' that makes
these plays so lifeless: it is primarily that their rhythm of speech
is ilomething that we cannot associate with any human being except
a poetry reciter.
Even under the powerful manipulation of Dryden dramatic
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