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profaneness

Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage

Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage is an anti-theatre pamphlet written in 1698 by the Non-juror bishop and divine Jeremy Collier. Collier attacks the most popular recent comedies on the London stage, notably Love For Love (1695) by William Congreve and The Relapse (1696) by John Vanbrugh.

The target of Collier's "Immorality" charge is the lack of poetic justice and exemplary morality in the plays discussed. Collier performs detailed readings to demonstrate that all the characters are wicked and immoral and denounces the playwrights for failing to punish them, indeed for even, in many cases, rewarding them.

Collier's charge of "Profaneness" is also supported by quotations from the plays, containing exclamations of "Heavens!" and accusations against Providence and Fortune which must seem comparatively mild to modern playgoers. Collier does not provide examples of downright oaths or frank blasphemy, which were not tolerated on the stage or in print at the time.

Collier's tactics of packing the Short View with selected quotations from recent plays were innovative and effective, especially compared to the earlier English tradition of nonspecific anti-theatre rants such as William Prynne's Histriomastix (1633). A pamphlet war for and against Collier's case broke out, where Congreve attempted to refute Collier in a lengthy reply, Amendments of Mr. Collier's False and Imperfect Citations. Vanbrugh, by contrast, refused to take the attack on his plays seriously, and his response, A Short Vindication of The Relapse and The Provok'd Wife From Immorality and Prophaneness, is brief and jocular, charging the clergyman Collier with being more sensitive to unflattering portrayals of the clergy than to real profanity.

In popular accounts, the Short View is often credited with changing public taste and starting a wave of outrage against the sexual explicitness of Restoration comedy. However, the tide had already turned against Restoration comedy when Collier wrote. In the view of modern Restoration scholars, the Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage serves rather to illustrate the fact that the tolerance of respectable Londoners for Restoration comedy had run out at this time, eroded by demographic change, by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, by the Society for the Reformation of Manners (founded in 1692), and by William and Mary's cold dislike of the theatre.

References

  • Collier, Jeremy (ed. Kaneko, Yuji ) (1996; first published 1698). A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English stage. London: Routledge.
  • Cordner, Michael.(2000) "Playwright versus priest: profanity and the wit of Restoration comedy." In Deborah Payne Fisk (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to English Restoration Theatre, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Vanbrugh, John (1698). A Short Vindication of The Relapse and The Provok'd Wife From Immorality and Prophaneness, in Bonamy Dobrée and Geoffrey Webb (eds.) (1927), The Complete Works of Sir John Vanbrugh, vol. 1, Bloomsbury: The Nonesuch Press.

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