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Principles of dramatic composition supposedly derived from Aristotle's Poetics. Aristotle states that a play should have the unity of a living organism, and that the action it represents should last, if possible, no longer than a single revolution of the sun. It was from these hints that 16th‐cent. critics, most notably Castelvetro, developed the rule of the three unities: action, time, and place. The exclusion of sub‐plots became the rule in France only after the controversy over Corneille's Le Cid (1637). The time allowed for the action of a tragedy was extended by common consent to 24 hours. The place the stage represented was allowed to shift from one point to another within a larger area: a palace or even a city. Moreover, dramatists learnt to circumvent the limitations of the unities by avoiding the mention of specific times and places. The impact of neo‐classicism on English tragedy was delayed by the disturbances connected with the Civil War and was weakened by the taste for exciting action that was a legacy from the Jacobean stage. Dryden's essay Of Dramatick Poesy (1668) offers the unities only half‐hearted support, and in spite of the efforts of French‐inspired critics like Rymer and Dennis, and the success of Addison's Cato (1713), neo‐classical drama never took firm root in England.

Subjects: Literature — Theatre.

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