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A critical study of Thomas Otway's plays

By Jessica Munns


The later tragedies of Thomas Otway have frequently been\ud regarded as forerunners of the pathetic mode. Such a view has\ud rested in part on neglect of the comedies which are acknowledged to\ud be unsentimental and harsh. The analysis of all his known plays\ud undertaken in this thesis reveals that although the comedies are\ud works of lesser density than the tragedies they are related to the\ud tragedies in terms of common thematic concerns, plot structures,\ud character types and imagery.\ud Here it is further argued that Otway intimates an absolute\ud morality which is registered through depictions of moral violations\ud and conveys a pessimistic view of man's ability to live in terms of\ud a moral framework. A profound sense of disorder permeates his\ud works which show man regressing down the Chain of Being towards\ud primitive and animal states of existence. This Otway diagnoses as\ud stemming from fallen man's divided nature and a destructive interaction\ud between physical and rational impulses. The plays illustrate this by\ud depictions of the erosion of man 1s rational faculties and the collapse,\ud mockery or misuse of the institutions, ceremonies and rituals which\ud enshrine a common morality.\ud Otway began working within the heroic mode but gradually\ud liberated himself from its assumption of human potential for greatness.\ud His later works are broadly based examinations of human nature in\ud terms of the individual and society as a whole. It is suggested that\ud his work as a comic writer provided him with a wide range of literary\ud techniques and social concerns. Otway is seen as combining the\ud literary styles and some of the philosophic ideas of his period into\ud a uniquely flexible whole Which produced emotionally and intellectually\ud satisfying drama

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