It is well known that John Keats was a great Romantic poet. We can also say that he was a genius who got inspirations from nature. During 1816 to 1820 he has produced several masterpieces. We can say that his literary career was brief but his output and literary taste was astounding. The great odes he wrote have become world classics. Jack Stillinger has remarked about him that-
“Keats had the shortest writing career of any of the major poets in English, and without question the fastest development.”1
If Keats would not have died young then it is certain that he could have taken English Literature to a new height. It is wonderful that his power of creating a five act tragedy has excelled the great Elizabethan dramatists. In the Elizabethan age writing was bread and butter for several writers. It is one of the reasons that we can find large number of plays written during that period. In the early nineteenth century the story was different. There were several laws and regulations which restricted the presentation of drama. There were two play houses namely Covent Garden and Drury Lane which reflected monopoly in their business to regulate and perform serious drama. Eventually the inclination of people towards play houses also got declined. Even in such circumstances several plays have been written by poets. One of those poets is John Keats who understood that dramatic poetry was the soul of the art. Wordsworth has judged it rightly that it was very tough “to write”2. Wordsworth and Coleridge were not so popular in the theatre with their plays Borderers and Remorse respectively. Byron has also reflected his dramatic talent in his Manfred and Cain. The blending of drama and poetry was noticeable in this period. Shelly in his Cenci and Prometheus Unbound has tried to blend poetry and drama. Such writings were not successful because it hardly attracted the popular taste of the time. The time was demanding Gothic tales and horror themes because people wanted some mysterious happenings to overcome their boredom.
John Keats was attracted towards drama after writing Endymion, Hyperion, Lamia, The Eve of St. Agnes and the great Odes. Keats was a mature genius and he decided to write for the stage. Keats has written to B.Bailey that-
“It was the opinion of most of my friends that I should never be able to write a scene. I will Endeavour to wipe away the prejudice.”3
Otho the Great was his play which was not so welcomed by the critics. Critics viewed this form of writing of Keats differently because he was a poet. In spite of all such prejudices Keats was optimistic because he loved to accept challenges in life. This is one of the reasons that he wrote to George and Georgiana Keats that-
“ I have finished a tragedy which if it succeeds will enable me to sell what I may have in manuscript to a good advantage.”4
At Drury lane the play was accepted with a promise of next season. The poet was motivated with this prospect and thus he wrote to Fanny Keats that-
“My hopes of success in the literary world are now better than ever.”5
In Otho the Great, Keats has tried to come up with a gothic story. It deals with the revolt against the tenth century Roman emperor Otho. Conrad, Duke of Franconia is the antagonist. He along with Prince Ludolf, son of Otho, revolts against the emperor. Later we find that he is reunited with Otho in friendship by defeating Otho’s enemy Gersa, the price of Hungary. This tragedy is the tragedy of intrigue. The incidents in form of action are depended upon the intrigues hatched by the ambitious brother and sister, Conrad and Auranthe. The emperor is a man of good heart but he is deceived by them. He forget and forgive Conrad’s past rebellion and as a sign of friendship offers to get his son Ludolf married to Conrad’s sister, Auranthe. The story becomes complex when we find that Auranthe has an affair with Albert, a knight favoured by Otho. But, learning from her brother that the emperor wants her to be his daughter-in-law , she is willing to give up Albert for becoming the future queen of the country. In order to appear pure and chaste before everybody she has by a contrivance, made Erminia, niece of Otho, appear to have been involved in the affair in which, in reality she herself is involved. But, as ill luck would have it, her secret design against Erminia accidentally comes to be known by the latter from a letter in which Auranthe discloses the matter to her brother, Conrad. Erminia seeks the help of Albert to bring the matter to the notice of the emperor by carrying the letter secretly written by Auranthe to her brother.
Erminia herself comes to Otho in the company of Ethelbert, an abbot, who charges Auranthe, who is now already married to Ludolf, with contriving the plot to stain the honor and good name of the noble and pure Erminia. Ethelbert wants to present a sound proof of his accusation through Albert. Now, Albert is called. But, instead of corroborating the statement of Ethelbert, he exclaims that nobody has right to defame a noble lady. This becomes possible because he still loves Auranthe and so he does not want to harm her by disclosing her secret letter. Later when he meets her he says that he has bought her safety that day. He gives her a chance to escape a horrible end by eloping with him. But, if she doesnot agree , her fate will be in his hand. As he goes out, the brother and the sister plan to get rid of this canker. Conrad thinks that if Albert is kept alive, there is no safety for them, and so he must be killed. But, Auranthe is against the murder. Yet both decide to meet Albert in the woods where Albert said he would be waiting for Auranthe. At night Auranthe escapes. Ludolf who has been keeping a strict vigil over his newlywed wife, learns from his page that both Conrad and Auranthe have secretly left the castle. Gersa, the prince of Hungary, who is present there , informs that Albert, too, has left. Ludolph now burns with rage. He rushes out to meet Auranthe and takes revenge for the betrayal. He cries out that the witch should be burnt. In the forest he finds Albert wounded. Albert says that he has been wounded by Conrad. Soon Auranthe comes there and laments for Albert. Albert dies and Auranthe is taken home by Ludolph. Then in a short scene we are informed through conversation of some officers of the court that Conrad is dead and that prince Ludolph has gone mad. The play ends with the deaths of Auranthe and Ludolph in a mysterious manner. Ludolph loved Auranthe’s true nature that kills him and Auranthe dies probably being unable to bear the mental strain for the apprehended punishment that may be meted out to her for practicing deception on Otho and Ludolph.