Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 4. Faint influence of the Classical Drama

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

I. The Origins of English Drama

§ 4. Faint influence of the Classical Drama

Of that which was carried over from classical dramatic literature, very few grains, in this early period, impregnated the medieval ground, or even so much as fell by the wayside, now and then producing a stray flower. In insular England, more especially, little or no influence was exercised by the scant dramatic writings of the earlier Middle Ages which imitated Attic examples. Whatever may have been the contemporary knowledge of the tragedies and comedies said to have been modelled on Euripides and Menander by Apollinaris (who has been held identifiable with a Laodicean bishop of the later part of the fourth century) the Suffering Christ (X[char]), which, after being long attributed to St. Gregory the Nazianzene in the fourth century, is now on sufficient grounds assigned to a Byzantine writer of the early part of the twelfth, and which may be described as a religious exercise in the garb of Euripidean diction, was composed for the closet, and probably remained unknown to western readers till the sixteenth century. For students of English literature, the chief interest of this much-mentioned play lies in the fact that, among many others, its subject commended itself, for dramatic treatment to the one English poet capable of addressing himself to it in a spirit corresponding, in some sense, to the sublimity of the theme. Milton at one time thought of a drama to be entitled Christus Patiens, on the scene of the Agony in the Garden.