“Smuttiness of Expression”: Collier’s “Short View of the Immortality and Profaneness of the English Stage”

February 15, 2007

Hmm… what is there to say about Collier’s “Short View of the Immortality and Profaneness of the English Stage”? Well, it is basically an anti theatre pamphlet which attacks every convention of Restoration drama. Sounds intriguing does it not? Essentially, the provided excerpts critically scrutinize common Restoration theatrical traditions. Collier begins by expressing his personal thoughts of what a play should do:

 

            The business of plays is to recommend virtue, and discountenance vice; to show the uncertainty of human greatness, the sudden turns of fate, and the unhappy conclusions of violence and injustice: it is to expose the singularities of pride and fancy, to make folly and falsehood contemptible, and to bring every thing that is ill under infamy, and neglect (Collier, introduction).

 

According to Collier, these theatrical expectations are not upheld by Restoration drama. Collier argues that Restoration Comedies lack “morality”. He suggests that Restoration dramatists sacrifice morality for entertainment value. Instead of depicting “human greatness”, Restoration Comedies display “intolerable […] smuttiness of expression” through explicit profanity and by emphasizing the crudeness of life (Collier, introduction).  To Collier, the immortality of Restoration drama enforces such lewd behavior and consequently corrupts the audience: “it does in effect degrade human nature, sinks reason into appetite”(Collier). The reference to reason and appetite is Platonic; to Plato, a balance of appetite and reason is required to achieve the form of the good. Collier argues that the activities depicted by Restoration dramatists corrupt reason and emphasize appetite.

 

While I could comment further on Collier concerning his view on Restoration theater and religion, and the theatre and woman, I should probably be focusing my time on my group presentation for tomorrow’s class. I will most like comment more on this matter then, and post something on Congreve.

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