Home  »  Volume XIII: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part One The Nineteenth Century, II  »  § 13. John Poole; Box and Cox; J. R. Planché; Shirley Brooks; H. J. Byron

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

VIII. Nineteenth-Century Drama

§ 13. John Poole; Box and Cox; J. R. Planché; Shirley Brooks; H. J. Byron

Meanwhile, there was very great activity in another branch of comic drama, the farce. The lavish playbills of the time always concluded with a dash of fun, the original object being to relieve the horror inspired by the violent drama; and the fun chiefly enjoyed by the new public of theatre-goers was farcical fun. The demand brought into being an innumerable number of short comic pieces of broad and bustling humour. Adelphi “screamers” became, under J. B. Buckstone, as famous as Adelphi dramas. In many of these plays, the imagination of the reader can still supply the personal drollery of some comic actor and the ceaseless physical movement which were necessary to their effect. One of the earliest and best of the farcewriters was John Poole, most famous as author of Paul Pry (1825). Several actors have found in Paul Pry a fine field for their talent or their peculiar personality. From the reader, the play cannot draw a smile, unless his imagination endow the figure of Paul with the voice and face and personality of some comic actor whom he has seen. Granted this effort, the fun of the thing is still fresh; and so is that of Twixt the Cup and Lip (1827) and of Lodgings for Single Gentlemen (1829). Among the most eminent of other writers of farce were Pocock and Moncrieff, who both wrote farces for music, Stirling Coyne, who betrays in farce a genuine sense of fun, and James Robinson Planché and no one produced more successful or more amusing farces than John Maddison Morton, a son of the dramatist Thomas Morton, and an industrious adapter of plays from the French. His most famous work, Box and Cox (1847), was founded upon two French vaudevilles; but it still reads like an original and single creation. These farces all depend upon some marked and simple oddity in the chief character, upon complicated misunderstandings or broadly ridiculous situations. There is very little comedy in them; but their hearty fun is clean and seldom absolutely silly. Early in the second half of the century, the popularity of farce waned, to some extent, under the increasing taste for burlesque. The example had been set chiefly by Planche, a dramatic author with a wide knowledge of drama, ancient and modern, a lively sense of humour and a wit that was by no means merely verbal. Those were days in which the gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome were more familiar to the public than they are now; and Planche liked to make them characters in his various and spirited dramatic work. Mythology and fairy lore were generally in favour; Shirley Brooks wrote a burlesque, The Exposition (1851), in which the Scandinavian gods pay a visit to the great exhibition. Planche’s principal successor in this field was Henry James Byron, a prolific author of dramatic pieces of many kinds. To judge from contemporary estimates, Byron’s wit consisted chiefly of puns; and of puns there are plenty in his published comedies and plays.