1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Peele

Thomas Campbell, in "Essay on English Poetry" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1841) lviii-lix.



In the last twenty years of the sixteenth century, we come to a period when the increasing demand for theatrical entertainments produced play-writers by profession. The earliest of these appears to have been George Peele, who was the city poet and conductor of the civil pageants. His Arraignment of Paris came out in 1584. Nash calls him an Atlas in poetry. Unless we make allowances for his antiquity, the expression will appear hyperbolical; but, with that allowance, we may justly cherish the memory of Peele as the oldest genuine dramatic poet of our language. His David and Bethsabe is the earliest fountain of pathos and harmony that can be traced in our dramatic poetry. His fancy is rich and his feeling tender, and his conceptions of dramatic character have no inconsiderable mixture of solid veracity and ideal beauty. There is no such sweetness of versification and imagery to be found in our blank verse anterior to Shakspeare.