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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

§ 15. Conventionality of his style

In characterisation as in theme, he had both the advantages and disadvantages of the situation described at the beginning of the present chapter. Fifty years of drama lay behind him of which to follow or avoid the example. Could we read half a dozen of the best plays of Shirley without any knowledge of his predecessors, we should, doubtless rank him much higher in the literature of the world than we do; but he is usually read, as he wrote, at the end of the series, and we are thus obliged to recognise constant echoes, reminiscences and imitations of the giants who went before. It was, perhaps, hardly possible for any writer of his date to avoid the familiar types and situations which had been often employed. A dramatist of the time of Charles I had to walk through a field honeycombed with pits, and it was futile to seek to follow a straight course and avoid them all. If frequent conventionality in these matters implies decadence, then Shirley was undoubtedly decadent.