closet drama, a play that is meant to be read rather than performed. Precursors of the form existed in classical times. Plato's Apology is often regarded as tragic drama rather than philosophic dialogue. The dialogues of Cicero, Strabo, and Seneca were probably declaimed rather than acted, since only the comic theater survived transplantation from Greece to Rome. Closet dramas were particularly popular in the early 19th cent. when melodrama and burlesque dominated the theater, and poets attempted to raise dramatic standards by reviving past traditions. Byron's Manfred (1817) and Shelley's The Cenci (1819) imitate Shakespeare, and Goethe's Faust (Part I, 1808; Part II, 1832) draws in part on the Elizabethan tradition. Milton's Samson Agonistes (1671) and Shelley's Prometheus Unbound (1819) are based on Greek tragedies. Notable among other closet dramas are Robert Browning's Strafford (1837) and Pippa Passes (1841).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.