A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage
By Jeremy Collier
First published in 1698 in London
Collier sees no better way to spend his time than to speak out against the stage-poets.
“For to compliment vice, is but one remove from worshipping the devil.”
Collier must save the world from the moral corruption of the stage.
Chapter I: The Immodesty of the Stage
Collier wants to show the “rankness and indecency” of the language used on the stage:
He stresses the ill effects of smutty language on everyone, particularly women.
Primarily focusing on characters’ language and thought, he gives examples of how the ancient Greek and Roman plays demonstrated greater modesty and restraint than do the English plays performed before a Christian audience. .
Chapter II: The Profaneness of the Stage
Cursing and Swearing
Abuse of Religion and the Lewd Application of Scripture
“Even if you don’t believe in God, there is the LAW as well as the GOSPEL against swearing.”
Chapter III: The Clergy Abused by the Stage
“And are these fit to correct the Church that are not fit to come into it?”
Chapter IV: The Stage-Poets Make Their Principal Persons
Vicious and Reward them at the End of the Play
“To sum up the evidence, a fine gentleman is a fine whoring, swearing, smutty, atheistical man. These qualities it seems complete the idea of honor.”
Collier attacks Dryden’s confession in his preface to The Mock Astrologer is not sincere; Dryden says he is to blame for making debauched persons his protagonists….and for making them happy in the conclusion of the play, against the law of comedy, which is to reward virtue, and punish vice.
Chapter V: Remarks upon Amphytrion, King Arthur, Don Quixot,
and The Relapse
“For you are to observe that Mr. Dryden and his Fraternity have helped to debauch the Town…”
Collier says that stage-poets think they can keep themselves from censure by the “excess of lewdness,” since those who would censor would hesitate to do so since they’d be too embarrassed to deal with such smut!
Chapter VI: The Opinion of the Pagans, of the Church, and
State, concerning the Stage
Collier makes reference to the opinions of the ancients, Plato and Aristotle.
Plato says that plays raise the passions and pervert the use of them and, by consequence, are dangerous to morality.
Aristotle says the “law ought to forbid young people the seeing of comedies. Such permissions not being Safe till Age and discipline had confirmed them in sobriety, fortified their virtue, and made them as it were proof against Debauchery.”