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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XIII. Prosody from Chaucer to Spenser

§ 9. The drama

In one department only, by a singular contrast, does anarchy hold its ground almost to the last: and that is the drama. The fact can hardly be quite unconnected with the other fact that the pure medieval drama had been rather remarkable for prosodic elaboration and correctness, its vehicles being, in the main, either fair octosyllabic couplets or more or less complicated lyrical stanzas—often quite exact in construction and correspondence. But doggerel had broken in early and was, no doubt, encouraged by the matter of moralities and interludes, when these came to take the place of the miracle plays. At any rate, by the end of the fifteenth century and throughout the first two-thirds, if not the first three-fourths, of the sixteenth, the drama was simply overrun with doggerel—doggerel of all sorts and shapes and sizes. Yet, even here, the tendency to get out of the welter at last made itself felt. First, the doggerel tried to collect and solidify itself back into the fourteener from which it had, in a manner, “deliquesced.” Then it tried couplet or stanza in decasyllables. And then, the stern standard of the Gorboduc blanks at last reared itself, too stern and too stiff to draw many followers round it at first, but destined to undergo transformation till it became one of the most wonderful of metres past, present, or even, perhaps, to come—the rimeless, rhythmful, Protean-Herculean blank verse of Shakespeare.