The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

VIII. Nineteenth-Century Drama

§ 11. W. G. Wills

In the field of historical drama, Taylor’s eminence was shared by William Gorman Wills. For Wills, historical truth had no charms. His caricature of Oliver Cromwell in Charles I (1872) must strike anyone who has seen or read that play not only as ridiculous, but as a sacrifice of dramatic for theatrical effect; and, to judge from contemporary criticism, his treatment of John Knox in the unpublished Marie Stuart (1874) was no better. As a deviser of theatrical scenes and situations, Wills had power. His taste was thoroughly commonplace, his language trivial or extravagant. But he could fit eminent actors with telling parts, and was useful as librettist to the scene-painter and stage-manager.

Thus, drama grew up to take the place of tragedy. For the most part, it was melodrama: at first, violent and coarse; later, somewhat refined, and crystallised into a definite form. The stage grew more insistent in its demands, and less suitable either to poetical or to naturalistic drama. Character was sacrificed to situation, and art to artifice. With the exception of certain respectable historical plays, and a moderate amount of domestic drama contributed by Taylor (with or without Charles Reade), Marston and Phillips, little survives in print that is likely to tempt anyone to read it except for the purposes of historical study.