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Modern Drama - Major Playwrights


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Title: Modern Drama - Major Playwrights

Modern Drama - Major Playwrights
  • Part I Europe
  • Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Wilde, Shaw, Synge,
  • Course Modern British and American Plays
  • Date March 2010

Extracts from each play text
  • Ibsens A Dolls House (1879)
  • Strindbergs Miss Julie (1888)
  • Chekhovs The Cherry Orchard (1904)
  • Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
  • Shaws Pygmalion (1912)
  • Synges Riders to the Sea (1904)
  • Pirandellos Six Characters in Search of an
    Author (1921)

Henrik Ibsen(?? ??, 1828-1906)
  • Norwegian playwright, poet
  • the father of modern drama
  • the prose social dramas dramas of protest
    against social conditions, inquiry into the
    conditions of life and issues of morality
  • domestic dramas
  • realistic plays ? naturalistic plays ? symbolic

Henrik Ibsen Notable Works
  • A Dolls House (1879) 1889 UK perf. a
    realistic play, a criticism of the acceptance of
    traditional roles of men and women in Victorian
  • Ghosts (1881) a naturalistic play, commentary
    on Victorian morality
  • The Wild Duck (1884) - Ibsens finest and the
    most complex work
  • Hedda Gabler (1890) psychological conflicts
  • The Master Builder (1892) symbolic plays,
    psychological conflicts

Ibsens contributions to the modern theater
  • Ibsen was a very important influence in opening
    up the discussion of the position of women in
    society . . . Nora in A Dolls House started a
    discussion about the position of women in
    Victorian marriage Mrs Alving in Ghosts drew
    attention to the double standards of morality for
    men and women and Hedda Gabler ultimately
    constitutes a plea to allow women to develop
    their creativeness. (Martin Esslin, 1976 98)
  • endowing his work with a double-leveled
    perspective (Robert Brustein, 1991 49)

Ibsens contribution to modern British drama
  • Ibsen has been called the father of modern
    drama because he was the first to use the stage
    to debate contemporary social dilemmas, as in his
    best known play, about a claustrophobic marriage,
    A Dolls House.
  • Ibsens plays offers Lessons on the hypocrisy
    and dual standards of society
  • He took for his subjects, for example, the role
    of women in society (A Dolls House and Hedda
    Gabler) and the consequences of inherited
    syphilis (Ghosts).

Ibsens contribution to modern British drama
  • When A Dolls House was first performed in London
    in 1889 it triggered a major debate on the
    inadequacies of the commercial theatre.
  • The Theatre of Ideas Ibsenites young
    enthusiastic intellectuals for the new plays
    inspired by Ibsen seized on the idea of theatre
    as a political force.
  • Social comment, drawing audiences with realistic
    controversial drama concerning ordinary people

August Strindberg ???? ?????? (1849-1912)
  • Swedish playwright
  • naturalistic drama expressionistic drama ?????,
  • Miss Julie (1888) a one-act naturalistic
    tragedy ???? ???
  • A Dream Play (1901) a symbolist and mystic

  • . . . was a movement, initiated by Emile Zola
    the application of the new positivist, scientific
    spirit of the age to literature.
  • Zola not only wanted a realistic representation
    of everyday life, he rejected the idea which had
    infused the classical, the romantic and even the
    realistic theatre of his period, that art should
    strive to show the beautiful, heroic, uplifting
    and inspiring. (Martin Esslin, 1976 60)

Naturalism (continued)
  • Zola wanted the artist to uncover the truth about
    society in the same spirit of objective inquiry
    as that of a natural scientists approach to
  • It was in this spirit that Ibsen in Ghosts
    brought a hitherto taboo subject like venereal
    disease into the theatre and caused an enormous
    scandal. (Martin Esslin, 1976 60-61)

Naturalism (continued)
  • The basic impulse behind the naturalistic
    movement was a determination to capture the whole
    of human experience, however sordid and ugly, to
    leave nothing unsaid. It did this by an
    accumulation of significant detail. In romantic
    drama, the heroes talked in lofty poetic terms
    about love or glory . . . By concentrating on the
    concrete detail rather than on abstract
    sentiments, naturalism tended to transform itself
    into a style in which objects increasingly became
    symbols, embodiment of ideas. So naturalism
    merged into symbolism. (Martin Esslin, 1976

Naturalism (continued)
  • Strindberg . . . who had started out as
    naturalist, took a slightly different path.
  • In his determination to represent experience
    exactly as it really was, he soon discovered
    that depicting the external world tells only half
    the story you also had to include the way that
    world was experienced by an individual, and that
    meant his internal world. (Martin Esslin, 1976

Expressionist drama
  • Hence Strindberg wrote a number such plays The
    Ghost Sonata, To Damascus and the Dream Play
    itself which, quite in the spirit of naturalism,
    tried to depict a dream. (Martin Esslin, 1976
  • In expressionist drama the characters frequently
    do not even have names (in Ghost Sonata the Old
    man, the Student, the Mummy, the Colonel, etc.).

Bertolt Brechts epic theatre (????? ???)
  • Bertolt Brecht rejected naturalism as well as
    the classical and romantic theatre . . . although
    he took many ideas from them. His favourite term
    . . . was epic theatre.
  • Brecht wanted an undramatic- an epic-theatre .
    . . in which the audience watch the play in a
    detached, critical frame of mind. This is the
    famous Verfremdungseffekt . . . translated as
    alienation effect. It really means strange-making
    effect. (Martin Esslin, 1976 64-65)

Bertolt Brechts epic theatre (????? ???)
  • Brechts theatre therefore is anti-illusionist
    that is, no effort is made to create an illusion
    of reality. Instead the stage becomes something
    of a lecture platform, a laboratory in which
    models of human behaviour are examined, tested
    and evaluated.
  • Whereas the naturalists and Brecht concentrate on
    social reality, the external world, other
    playwrights, following Strindberg and also
    novelists of dream states like Kafka and Joyce,
    turned towards the representation of the world of
    fantasy and dream. (Martin Esslin, 1976 65)

Theatre of the Absurd (??? ?)
  • Theatre of the Absurd or Absurdist theatre
  • . . . an absurdist play uses concretised poetic
    images which gradually unfold and disclose their
    deeper meaning.
  • In the conventional realistic play, the main
    emphasis is on plot and character in the
    Brechtian epic play it is on the demonstration of
    human behaviour patterns in the absurdist play
    the main means of conveying significance and
    effect are image and metaphor. (Martin Esslin,
    1976 66)

Anton Chekhov(?? ??, 1860-1904)
  • Russian playwright
  • Four-act realistic plays
  • The Cherry Orchard (1904) ??? ???
  • Three Sisters ?????
  • Uncle Vanya ??????
  • The Seagull ?????

Chekhovian drama
  • Chekhov uses the drama neither as a vehicle for
    individualistic self-realization (Ibsen) nor as a
    means of exorcistic self-expression (Strindberg)
    but rather as a form for depicting that fluid
    world beyond the self, with the author
    functioning only as an impartial witness.
  • His plays reflect both his sympathy for human
    suffering and his outrage at human absurdity,
    alternating between moods of wistful pathos and
    flashes of ironic humor which disqualify them
    from being mere slices of life.

Chekhovian drama (continued)
  • For if Chekhov is a detached realist, permitting
    life to proceed according to its own rules, he is
    also an engaged moralist, arranging reality in a
    particular way in order to evoke some comment on
  • . . . his conviction that life as it is is life
    as it should not be. (Brustein, 1991 138, 139)

Chekhovian drama (continued)
  • Chekhov will introduce political, social, and
    philosophical discussions into his work, because
    these are threads in the fabric of reality. But
    he is careful neither to take sides nor to hint
    at solutions.
  • It is the duty of the judge to put the questions
    to the jury correctly, he observes, employing
    his favorite courtroom metaphor, and it is for
    members of the jury to make up their minds, each
    according to his taste. (Brustein, 1991 145)

Chekhovian drama (continued)
  • Chekhovs impersonality is a surface
    characteristic and beneath this surface is a
    satiric, admonitory moralist . . .
  • Chekhov the realist pretends to have no other aim
    than the faithful representation of reality but
    Chekhov the moralist is always conscious of a
    higher purpose than mere imitation. (Brustein,
    1991 147)

Chekhovian drama (continued)
  • Chekhovs revolt is directed against the quality
    of contemporary Russian life. (Brustein, 1991
  • The conflict between the cultured upper classes
    and their stupefying environment between the
    forces of light and the forces of darkness
    provides the basic structure of most of Chekhovs
    plays (Brustein, 1991 149-150)

The Cherry Orchard (1904)
  • premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre, directed by
    Constantin Stanislavski
  • Chekhov intended this play as a comedy however,
    Stanislavski directed it as a tragedy ? the dual
    nature of the play
  • has become a classic work of dramatic literature
  • the plays influence on many dramatists including
    Eugene ONeill, Bernard Shaw, and Arthur Miller

The Cherry Orchard (1904) synopsis
  • The play concerns an aristocratic Russian woman
    (Madame Ranevskaya) and her family (including her
    17-year old daughter Anya) as they return to the
    familys estate (which includes a large and
    well-known cherry orchard) just before it is
    auctioned to pay the mortgage.
  • While presented with options to save the estate,
    the family essentially does nothing and the play
    ends with the estate being sold to the son of a
    former serf (Yermolai Lopakhin), and the family
    leaving to the sound of the cherry orchard being
    cut down.

The Cherry Orchard (1904)
  • Act One opens in May when the cherry trees in the
    Ranevskaya orchard are blooming.
  • Trofimov a young student who acted as tutor to
    Ranevskayas son, Grisha, who drowned five years
    prior to the beginning of the play

The Cherry Orchard (1904) themes
  • the effect social change has on people, the theme
    of identity, the themes of cultural futility
    both the futility of the aristocracy to maintain
    its status and the futility of the bourgeoisie to
    find meaning in its newfound materialism.
  • In reflecting the socio-economic forces at work
    in Russia at the turn of the 20th century,
    including the rise of the middle class after the
    abolition of serfdom in the mid-19th century
    (1861) and the sinking of the aristocracy, the
    play reflects forces at work around the globe in
    that period.

Oscar Wilde(??? ???, 1854-1900)
  • Irish-born English playwright, poet
  • comedy of manners (drawing-room comedy)
  • a spokesman for the late 19th-century Aesthetic
    movement (Aestheticism) in England, which
    advocated art for arts sake
  • the object of celebrated civil and criminal suits
    involving homosexuality and ending in his
    imprisonment (189597).

Oscar Wildes Works
  • his only novel
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
    ??????? ????
  • comic masterpieces
  • Lady Windermeres Fan (1892) ???????? ???
  • An Ideal Husband (1895) ????? ???
  • The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

Aestheticism (art movement)
  • late 19th-century European arts movement which
    centered on the doctrine that art exists for the
    sake of its beauty alone, and that it need serve
    no political, didactic, or other purpose.
  • The movement began in reaction to prevailing
    utilitarian social philosophies and to what was
    perceived as the ugliness and philistinism of the
    industrial age.

Aestheticism (art movement)
  • Its philosophical foundations were laid in the
    18th century by Immanuel Kant, who postulated the
    autonomy of aesthetic standards, setting them
    apart from considerations of morality, utility,
    or pleasure.
  • It was popularized in France, and the philosopher
    Victor Cousin, who coined the phrase lart pour
    lart (art for arts sake) in 1818.

Aestheticism (art movement)
  • the movements ideal the cultivation of refined
  • In England, the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite
    Brotherhood (Dante Gabriel Rossetti, etc), from
    1848, had sown the seeds of Aestheticism, and
    their work exemplified it in expressing a
    yearning for ideal beauty through conscious
  • The attitudes of the movement were also
    represented in the writings of Oscar Wilde and
    Walter Pater

Aestheticism (art movement)
  • Contemporary critics of Aestheticism included
    William Morris and John Ruskin, who questioned
    the value of art divorced from morality.
  • Aestheticism shared certain affinities with the
    French Symbolist movement, fostered the Arts and
    Crafts Movement, and sponsored Art Nouveau.

  • a slogan translated from the French lart pour
    lart, which was coined in the early 19th century
    by the French philosopher Victor Cousin. The
    phrase expresses the belief held by many writers
    and artists, especially those associated with
    Aestheticism, that art needs no justification,
    that it need serve no political, didactic, or
    other end.

  • (Britannica Online Encyclopedia)

The Dandy
  • The original meaning of the word was a fop,
    someone ostentatiously well-dressed, and it
    tended to extend to smart ways of behaving and
    talking. A dandy looked elegant, was socially
    sophisticated, and knew it. On the other hand he
    showed no interest in matters of conscience or
    morality. (Jim Hunter, 2000 18)
  • In matters of grave importance, style, not
    sincerity, is the vital thing (Gwendolen in
    Earnest, p. 34569)

George Bernard Shaw (GBS) (?? ??? ?, 1856-1950)
  • Irish-born English playwright
  • Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925

George Bernard Shaw(1856-1950)
  • Shavian play of ideas or thesis drama (???)
    ??? ??? ??
  • The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1890)
  • plays unpleasant Mrs Warrens Profession (1902),
  • plays pleasant Arms and the Man (1894)
    farcical comedy, Candida (1897), etc.
  • three plays for puritans The Devils Disciple
    (1897), etc.
  • Other major works Man and Superman (1903), Major
    Barbara (1905), Pygmalion (1912) an antitype of
    the popular Cinderella story, etc.

Shaws contribution
  • Shaw, an Ibsenite, or a fervent apostle of
    Ibsens, grew to be the true colossus of the new
  • He began his literary career as a novelist,
    working also as a critic of music and drama.
  • The beginning of modern drama in England can be
    dated in 1890 when Shaw gave his lecture on The
    Quintessence of Ibsenism, which marks a
    watershed between traditionalism and new
    politicized forms of drama. (Innes, 2002 3)

Shaws contribution
  • Playwrights like Ibsen or Shaw attacked the
    social codes of their society conventional
    drawing-room comedy probably reaffirmed the
    social code of the upper classes that formed its
    audience. (Martin Esslin, 1976 29)
  • Shaws brilliant and amusing demonstration of his
    socialist point of view contributed much to the
    rise of left-wing thinking in Britain and
    elsewhere. (Martin Esslin, 1976 98)

Shaws contribution
  • Shaws campaign to promote the new drama
  • Transforming drama into a vehicle for ideas
  • His preface and sense of ethical purpose provide
    a model for Edward Bond
  • His intellectual comedy, and the verbal
    brilliance he shares with Wilde, look forward to
    Tom Stoppard (Innes, 2002 51)

Pygmalion (1912) My Fair Lady (1964)
  • an antitype of the popular Cinderella story

Pygmalion in Ovids Metamorphoses
  • ?????(Ovid)??????(Metamorphoses) ??? ??????
    ??? ???? ??? ??? ??? ???? ? ?? ???? ?. ??? ??? ??
    ??? ??, ? ?? ??? ???? ??? ?.

G. B. Shaws Pygmalion (1912) - synopsis
  • Based on Ovids tale of Pygmalion in
  • It tells the story of Henry Higgins, a professor
    of phonetics, who makes a bet with his friend
    Colonel Pickering that he can successfully pass
    off a Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, as a
    refined society lady by teaching her how to speak
    with an upper class accent and training her in
  • In the process, Higgins and Doolittle grow close,
    but she ultimately rejects his domineering ways
    and declares she will marry Freddy a young,
    poor, gentleman.

Pygmalion (1912) the first production
  • His Majestys Theatre, London on April 11, 1914
  • Starring Mrs Patrick Campbell as Eliza and Sir
    Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Henry Higgins
  • It was directed by Shaw himself.

J. M. Synge (? ??? ?, 1871-1909)
  • Irish playwright
  • Folklore collector, Irish Literary Revival,
    Co-founder of the Abbey Theatre
  • Riders to the Sea (1904) ????? ????
  • The Playboy of the Western World (1907) ??????

Riders to the Sea (1904)
  • A one-act tragedy, the play is set in the Aran
    Islands, and like all of Synge's plays it is
    noted for capturing the poetic dialogue of rural
  • Synge's plays helped set the Abbey house style
    for the following four decades.
  • The stylised realism of his writing and plays of
    peasant life were the main staple of the
    repertoire until the end of the 1950s.

Synges Legacy and Influence
  • Sean O'Casey, the next major dramatist to write
    for the Abbey Theatre, knew Synge's work well and
    attempted to do for the Dublin working classes
    what his predecessor had done for the rural poor.
  • Brendan Behan indebted to Synge.
  • Samuel Beckett was a regular audience member at
    the Abbey in his youth and particularly admired
    the plays of Yeats, Synge and O'Casey.

Riders to the Sea (1904) plot synopsis
  • Maurya has lost her husband, father-in-law, and
    five sons to the sea. As the play begins Nora and
    Cathleen receive word that a body that may be
    their brother Michael has washed up on shore in
    Donegal, far to the north.
  • Bartley is planning to sail to Connemara to sell
    a horse, and ignores Maurya's pleas to stay. As
    he leaves, he leaves gracefully. Maurya predicts
    that by nightfall she will have no living sons,
    and her daughters chide her for sending Bartley
    off with an ill word.

Riders to the Sea (1904) plot synopsis
  • Maurya goes after Bartley to bless his voyage,
    and Nora and Cathleen receive clothing from the
    drowned corpse that confirms it as their brother.
  • Maurya returns home claiming to have seen the
    ghost of Michael riding behind Bartley and begins
    lamenting the loss of the men in her family to
    the sea, after which some villagers bring in the
    corpse of Bartley, who has fallen off his horse
    into the sea and drowned.

Luigi Pirandello (??? ????, 1867-1936)
  • Italian playwright
  • Nobel Prize in Literature (1934)
  • Metadrama ????
  • Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921)
    ???? ?? 6?? ?????
  • Satirical tragi-comedy

Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921)
  • In modern drama, playwrights have become more
    conscious than ever of the potential of that
    tension between illusion and reality, fact and
    fiction, in the theatrical experience.
  • Pirandello used it in Six Characters in Search of
    an Author by going so far as to show us the
    actors as they really are as private individuals
    assembled for a rehearsal, then the characters as
    imagined by the author, and then these characters
    as portrayed by those actors. (Martin Esslin,
    1976 91)

Six Characters in Search of an Author
(1921) (continued)
  • a movement in the early 20th century called
    theatricalism or anti-illusionism.
  • rejected realist drama and substituted the
    dreamlike, the expressive, and the symbolic.
  • disapproved of realism because it had abandoned
    the defining tools of drama, such as poetry,
    interaction between actors and audience,
    soliloquies, asides and bare stages.
  • The theatricalists thought realism could not
    depict the inner life of human beings.

Six Characters in Search of an Author
(1921) (continued)
  • The play demonstrates these ideas in several
    ways. The focus of the play is on the
    interactions of the six characters with the real
    actors in the theater. This suggests that human
    beings cannot distinguish between the real and
    the apparent the distinction itself is
    illusory. Reality is merely what one happens to
    believe in at the moment.
  • The Father character argues that fictional
    characters are more real than living ones,
    since they are fixed eternally, while a living
    person is constantly changing and subject to