John Drinkwater Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Starting in 1903 with Poems, John Drinkwater published a number of volumes of poetry, the most significant of which are Poems, 1908-1914 (1917), Poems, 1908-1919 (1919), Selected Poems (1922), New Poems (1925), and The Collected Poems of John Drinkwater (in three volumes, two published in 1923 and one in 1937). His most important critical and biographical studies are William Morris: A Critical Study (1912), Swinburne: An Estimate (1913), Lincoln, The World Emancipator (1920), The Pilgrim of Eternity: Byron—A Conflict (1925), Mr. Charles, King of England (1926), Cromwell: A Character Study (1927), Charles James Fox (1928), Pepys: His Life and Character (1930), and Shakespeare (1933). His autobiographical volumes are Inheritance (1931) and Discovery (1932); they cover only the period to 1913.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

For three decades, from early in the twentieth century until he died in 1937, John Drinkwater was a consummate man of the theater—a playwright, actor, producer, director, and critic. Foremost among his achievements was his role in the organization and development of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre , one of Great Britain’s most innovative and influential companies. In addition, the popular success of his verse dramas encouraged other playwrights to work in the same genre, and his prose play Abraham Lincoln was the most notable historical-biographical play of its time. Both it and the earlier verse drama X = O were important expressions of antiwar sentiment, to which audiences responded enthusiastically, and Abraham Lincoln enjoyed long runs in London and New York. Active as he was in the theater, Drinkwater was also a prolific man of letters. He wrote critical studies of Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Morris, and William Shakespeare; biographies of such famous men as Abraham Lincoln, King Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Pepys, and Lord Byron; a novel; essays; and film scripts. He also was a major poet in the Georgian movement. Although he was a popular poet, critics did not regard his poetry favorably, labeling it derivative, unimaginative, and sentimental.

Though public and critical interest in him had faded by the time of his death, and he and his work have been largely ignored in the decades that followed, Drinkwater merits at least a footnote in studies of modern English drama for his attempts to revitalize poetic drama in the twentieth century and to develop the chronicle play into a viable modern dramatic form. More than most playwrights, he brought to his craft (as Arnold Bennett put it) “a deep, practical knowledge of the stage.”


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Abercrombie, Lascelles. “The Drama of John Drinkwater.” Four Decades of Poetry, 1890-1930 1, no. 4 (1977): 271-281. Abercrombie was a fellow dramatist who also wrote one-act verse plays in the 1920’s. This article, an edited version of a previously unpublished 1934 lecture, contains a discussion of verse drama and the possibilities for its acceptance by twentieth century audiences and analyses of Drinkwater’s plays.

Berven, Peter. “John Drinkwater: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Him.” English Literature in Transition: 1880-1920 21 (1978): 9-66. Introduced by a two-page biographical-critical statement, this comprehensive work contains almost five hundred annotated entries, covering the full range of Drinkwater’s career as playwright, poet, critic, biographer, and anthologist.

Clark, Keith. The Muse Colony: Rupert Brooks, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and Friends: Dymock, 1914. Bristol, England: Redcliffe, 1992. A look at the Dymock group of poets, to which Drinkwater belonged. Bibliography and index.

Gale, Steve H. “John Drinkwater.” In Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century British Literary Biographers, edited by Steven Serafin. Vol. 149 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: The Gale Group, 1995. A concise overview of the life and works of Drinkwater.

Parker, Rennie. The Georgian Poets: Abercrombie, Brooke, Drinkwater, Gibson, and Thomas. Plymouth, England: Northcote House in association with the British Council, 1999. A look at the poets Drinkwater, Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, and Edward Thomas. Provides insight into Drinkwater’s dramatic works. Bibliography and index.