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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

VIII. Ford and Shirley

§ 14. Originality of his plots

Of the originality of Shirley’s plots, it is at present somewhat hazardous to speak. In the foregoing pages, we have been able to indicate sources for only about one-fourth of his plays, and it has been customary to credit him with a greater share of inventiveness than most of his fellow dramatists. But Stiefel, who proved the Spanish origin of the plot of The Opportunitie, named another for The Young Admirall, and stated that The Wedding, The Humorous Courtier, The Example and The Royall Master are, also, from Spanish sources. If this can be made good, it is clear that it is too soon to pronounce on the question of invention in this sense. But, from those plays whose sources are known, we can draw inferences as to his skill in treating a source; and our evidence is sufficient to justify us in crediting to him a high degree of ability in making over a story for stage purposes, in leading the interest up to a well prepared climax and in arranging effective situations. This last power had, indeed, distinguished most of his predecessors in the seventeenth century, but he does not so often as, say, Beaumont and Fletcher, sacrifice the unity of impression of the whole play, or the consistency of character, for the sake of single sensational scenes.