Jeremy Collier

Definition

Theater

  • (1650 - 1726) English clergyman, who in 1698 published a bitterand influential condemnation of the Restoration theater. His Short View ofthe Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage accused such leadingplaywrights as Dryden, Vanbrugh, and Otway of mocking the Church and usingprofane language.

    The outburst touched a nerve with the public and several ofthe accused were goaded into publishing defences of their work; theresulting controversy lasted for more than 10 years. Dryden was obligedto print a 'confession' of his faults and d'Urfey and Congrevewere prosecuted. The actor Thomas Betterton and the actress Mrs Bracegirdlewere fined and the protests of all the victims were swept away ona tide of public indignation. Perhaps the chief sufferer was Congrevewho, after issuing a reply to Collier's criticisms in which he describedplaywriting as "a difficult and thankless study", wrotevirtually nothing more for the stage. Collier's attack, and the ensuingcontroversy, helped to bring about the demise of the Restoration traditionand to usher in a new era of timid gentility on the stage. Over acentury later Byron was to lament in Don Juan:

    The days of comedy are gone, alas!
    When Congreve's fool could vie with Molière'sbête:
    Society is smooth'd to that excess,
    That manners hardly differ more than dress.
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