Joseph Addison Drama Analysis
Joseph Addison’s three plays indicate important trends in eighteenth century British theater. Rosamond attempts to combine music and drama as a domestic alternative to Italian opera, an ambition not realized until two decades later, with the success of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (pr., pb. 1728). Cato represents a strain of classical tragedy that produced much declamation and little worth, “immortal in the closet” (as the saying went) but stale on the stage. The Drummer is an early sentimental comedy whose primary virtue was in being less maudlin than its successors.
None of Addison’s plays is a landmark of drama—except Cato, by political accident—but none is bad. In fact, each play has its interesting aspects. All of them suffer from a common flaw, the lack of a central character whose plight engages the audience’s sympathy, and each play suffers individual minor difficulties. Yet each play has distinctive virtues. Rosamond and The Drummer have enough comic characters and dialogue to justify, in conjunction with Addison’s humorous papers in The Spectator, Samuel Johnson’s observation: “If Addison had cultivated the lighter parts of poetry, he would probably have excelled.” Cato’s blank verse, while no rival to Christopher Marlowe’s or William Shakespeare’s, is a solid achievement and is the best poetry that Addison ever wrote.
(The entire section is 2825 words.)
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