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Drama The Changing Historical Context of Theatre
The Middle Ages • origins of theatre: myths, rites • the Middle Ages: everyday theatre: mimes and minstrels • liturgical drama esp. at Easter (also other church festivals) • Mystery plays: religious theatre for the people from sacred drama to profane (pro fano = ‘before the temple’ from church to marketplace
Later medieval developments • Miracle Plays: Medieval plays treating the lives of saints, or Bible stories. • Morality Plays: Allegorical medieval plays, like Everyman, that depict the eternal struggle between good and evil that transpires in this world, using characters like Vice, Virtue, Wisdom
Commedia dell'arte Italian popular comedy of the 15 th to 17 th cc. Featured performances improvised from scenarios by a set of stock characters, and repeated from play to play and troupe to troupe. Scenario: in general, the prose description of a play's story. In the commedia dell'arte, the written outlines of plot and characters from which the actors improvised the particular actions of a performance.
Masque • Spectacular theatrical form, especially of the Renaissance and the Neoclassical periods (16 th to 17 th centuries) • Involved music and dancing, singing and acting • Emphasis on stage design, costumes and effects much music and dancing • Courtly entertainment, associated with court theatres or special events • Amateur actors frequently performed • Henry VIII, Charles I performed in the masques at their courts
Ben Jonson (1572– 1637) English playwright wrote several masques e. g. The Satyr, The Masque of Blackness William Shakespare (1564– 1616) used the genre or variants of it is some of his plays an interlude in The Tempest, in Romeo and Juliet the dumbshow in Hamlet
Inigo Jones (1573– 1652) English architect working in the Italian Renaissance style theatrical designer for several masques in collaboration with Ben Jonson A lady masquer and an Indian torchbearer
The London scene Bankside: medieval centre of dissipation brothels and bear baiting within the estates of the Bishops of Winchester in 1546 Henry VIII had brothels closed 17 th century - reopened, together with theatres
London theatres GLOBE (1598 -99) now Park Street. Sign: Hercules +World. Used only in summer: no roof except for stage & galleries In the winter: BLACKFRIARS THEATRE (1578) as private theatre for choir boys to practise; Richard Farrant (1525– 1580) English composer on ground floor, theatre upstairs Shakespeare: shareholder and player HOPE (1613– 1614) in Bear Gardens: former bear and bull baiting arena (modelled on Swan + movable stage)
Further London theatres ROSE (1586 -87, 1 st Bankside playhouse) in Rose Lane octagonal building of wood and plaster, partly thatched played Christopher Marlowe's (1564– 1593) plays SWAN (ó 1595) in Paris Gardens (flint stones and wooden columns) sometimes used for fencing matches
The Age of Restoration The term is applied to the decades from 1660 when Charles II was re-established as monarch to the end of the century. Between 1660 and 1700 over 500 plays were written in England, more than half of them comedies.
th century 17 1642: Puritans ban theatres - even demolish them - for moral reasons theatrical tradition was essentially broken upon his resumption of the throne in 1661 Charles II granted two patents, assigning the monopoly of London theatrical performances to the King’s Company and to the Duke of York’s Company.
The Age of Restoration In 1642, the Parliament closed theatres in England. Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, fiercely Puritan in religion and in administration. Until the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, there was very little of theatre in England.
Restoration Drama During the years of the Protectorate Charles II, the king, had been in France, together with many of the royalist party the influence of French theatre Italian notions of theatre architecture theatres were licensed and controlled by the court
Restoration Drama August 1660 – Charles II issued patents for two companies of players performances immediately began mechanics of scenery and spectacle masques were performed costume, dance and clever scenery and scene changes were more emphasized than acting and plot.
Restoration theatre New, the proscenium style of architecture the forestage still projected into the audience but was significantly cut; it remained the principal place where the acting took place the area behind the proscenium was reserved for the display of scenery changes (slid into view by means of panels on tracks) theatres began to be roofed in
Restoration theatre William Davenant (1606 -1668), head of the Duke of York’s Company abandoned the Renaissance English stage in favour of the French one the curtain was Davenant’s innovation also introduced painted backdrops
Restoration Drama The Actors limited patronage necessitated small professional Companies and plays with relatively few roles. performers obtained salaries boy apprentices vanished, the first actresses appeared on stage (a convention borrowed from the French) the very first was Mrs. Margaret Hughes, playing the role of Desdemona for the King’s Company in 1660
Restoration Comedy mostly male audiences - attracted by the idea of seeing women acting out seduction scenes clothes were often several sizes too small so as to emphasize the curves of their bodies.
Nell Gwynn (1650 -1687) was one of the first actresses (and the mistress of Charles II).
Restoration Drama The first professional woman playwright, Aphra Behn (1640 -1689).
Age of Restoration Language Renaissance period - to enrich vocabulary Restration - efforts at refinement and regulation of language the language of polite conversation emphasis on clarity and precision set as a standard
Heroic drama John Dryden (1631 -1700) exponent of the golden mean in art, politics and morality, Poet Laureate from 1668 Heroic couplet (a closed and balanced pair of rhyming iambic pentameters) against blank verse in much English drama works against dramatic illusion Italian and French influence audience face actors, rather than surround them: criticism presented outside the space of audience
Heroic Drama A form of tragedy fashionable at the beginning of the Restoration period. its themes were love and honour its mode grand, rhetorical and declamatory the chief influence was French classical drama, especially the works of Pierre Corneille (1616 -1684). staged in a spectacular and operatic fashion John Dryden’s All for Love 1677), based on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
Restoration Drama baroque: opera Restoration: she-tragedies with a woman in the leading role even Dryden's All for Love's Anthony: heart torn by feelings which he cannot control or understand male characters: unambiguous heroism: rather unconvincing
blank verse vs heroic couplet blank verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant (Shakespeare, As You Like It, II. vii. 139 -43)
Blank verse vs heroic couplet: 2 pair-rhymed iambic pentameters And since that plenteous autumn now is past, Whose grapes and peaches have indulged your taste, Take in good part, from our poor poet's board, Such rivelled fruits as winter can afford. (John Dryden, All for Love, “Prologue”) http: //poemshape. wordpress. com/2009/03/02/what-isheroic-couplets/
Restoration Drama The Audience The Restoration theatre - the court’s preserve. Charles II was the first English monarch who regularly attended the public theatre (even though he had his own private theatre at Whitehall).
Restoration Drama The Audience The spectators at the two theatres were exclusively courtiers and their hangers-on Performances started at three-thirty or four in the afternoon The aristocrats looked upon the playhouse as a social assembly where they had an opportunity to disport themselves Gradual broadening of theatre's appeal to layers of society
An Entry from the Diary of Samuel Pepys Monday 18 February 1666/67 Thence away, and with my wife by coach to the Duke of York’s play-house, expecting a new play, and so stayed not no more than other people, but to the King’s house, to “The Mayd’s Tragedy; ” but vexed all the while with two talking ladies and Sir Charles Sedley; yet pleased to hear their discourse, he being a stranger. And one of the ladies would, and did sit with her mask on, all the play, and, being exceeding witty as ever I heard woman, did talk most pleasantly with him; but was, I believe, a virtuous woman, and of quality. He would fain know who she was, but she would not tell;
Pepys, cont. yet did give him many pleasant hints of her knowledge of him, by that means setting his brains at work to find out who she was, and did give him leave to use all means to find out who she was, but pulling off her mask. He was mighty witty, and she also making sport with him very inoffensively, that a more pleasant ‘rencontre’ I never heard. But by that means lost the pleasure of the play wholly, to which now and then Sir Charles Sedley’s exceptions against both words and pronouncing were very pretty. So home and to the office, did much business, then home, to supper, and to bed.
Restoration Comedy Chief representatives and plays: William Wycherley: The Country Wife (1672 or 1673); The Plain Dealer (1674) George Etheredge: The Man of Mode (1676) William Congreve: The Double Dealer (1694); Love for Love (11695); The Way of the World (1700) John Vanbrugh: The Provoked Wife (1697) George Farquhar: The Beaux’ Strategem (1707) Thomas Shadwell: The Libertine (1676), The Volunteers, or Stockjobbers (1693)
Restoration Comedy comedy of manners - concerned with presenting a society of elegance and stylishness characters - gallants, ladies and gentlemen of fashion and ranks, fops, rakes, social climbers and country bumpkins tone - witty, urbane, licentious plot - dealt with the intricacies of sexual and marital intrigue, with adultery and cuckoldry
Restoration Comedy comedies of manners - to entertain and to mock Society - preoccupied with the codes of the middle and upper classes and is often marked by elegance, wit and sophistication the audience was supposed to laugh at themselves the endings are happy and the man invariably gets the woman, yet we see marriages without love, the game of love is not much more hopeful bawdy humour, witty dialogues, recursive cross dressing
Comedy of Manners Later examples of the genre Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Ernest (1895) Noël Coward: Private Lives (1930).
William Wycherley (1640 -1706)
The Country Wife Plot summary Horner is a predatory rake who wants to cuckold as many husbands as he can. He has a doctor (Quack) leak the news that he has been rendered impotent by venereal disease. Since he is “safe, ” Sir Jasper Fidget wants Horner to chaperone his wife as he goes about his business. But he also has an affair with Marjorie Pinchwife, the Innocent country wife who believes that two people who love each other should be together. She likes Horner better than her jealous husband is prepared to publicly declare Horner her lover and leave her husband for him. Thus she would reveal that he has been faking his impotence. The whole society is in danger of imploding. So they persuade the only truthful and non-cynical character to tell a lie so that society can continue on as before. The country wife has been trained to be corrupt like the rest of them.
William Congreve (1670 -1729)
The Way of the World based around the two lovers Mirabell and Millamant in order to get married (and receive Millamant's full dowry), Mirabell must receive the approval of Millamant's aunt, Lady Wishfort she is a bitter lady, who despises Mirabell and wants her own nephew, Sir Wilful, to wed Millamant
Mirabell and Millamant discuss in detail the conditions under which they would accept each other in marriage (known as the "proviso scene"), showing the depth of feeling for each other Mirabell finally proposes to Millamant and Millamant accepts
The love expressed in the play tends to be centred on material gain rather than the love of the partner. This can be seen in the scene where Millamant and Mirabell effectively carry out a pre-nuptial agreement, Millamant insisting on having all manner of liberties and powers, quite unusual for the time. None of the characters in the play can really be seen as 'good', and as such it is difficult to find a hero or heroine, or indeed anybody whom one would find deserving of sympathy.
William Congreve The Way of the World Act IV. – Scene V. Mrs Millamant, Mirabell
MILLA. […] My dear liberty, shall I leave thee? My faithful solitude, my darling contemplation, must I bid you then adieu? Ay-h, adieu. My morning thoughts, agreeable wakings, indolent slumbers, all ye DOUCEURS, ye SOMMEILS DU MATIN, adieu. I can't do't, 'tis more than impossible—positively, Mirabell, I'll lie a-bed in a morning as long as I please. MIRA. Then I'll get up in a morning as early as I please. MILLA. Ah! Idle creature, get up when you will. And d'ye hear, I won't be called names after I'm married; positively I won't be called names. MIRA. Names?
MILLA. Ay, as wife, spouse, my dear, joy, jewel, love, sweet-heart, and the rest of that nauseous cant, in which men and their wives are so fulsomely familiar— I shall never bear that. Good Mirabell, don't let us be familiar or fond, nor kiss before folks, like my Lady Fadler and Sir Francis; nor go to Hyde Park together the first Sunday in a new chariot, to provoke eyes and whispers, and then never be seen there together again, as if we were proud of one another the first week, and ashamed of one another ever after. Let us never visit together, nor go to a play together, but let us be very strange and well-bred. Let us be as strange as if we had been married a great while, and as well-bred as if we
MIRA. Have you any more conditions to offer? Hitherto your demands are pretty reasonable. MILLA. Trifles; as liberty to pay and receive visits to and from whom I please; to write and receive letters, without interrogatories or wry faces on your part; to wear what I please, and choose conversation with regard only to my own taste; to have no obligation upon me to converse with wits that I don't like, because they are your acquaintance, or to be intimate with fools, because they may be your relations. Come to dinner when I please, dine in my dressing- room when I'm out of humour, without giving a reason. To have my closet inviolate; to be sole empress of my teatable, which you must never presume to approach without first asking leave. And lastly, wherever I am, you shall always knock at the door before you come in.
These articles subscribed, if I continue to endure you a little longer, I may by degrees dwindle into a wife. […] MIRA. Then we're agreed. Shall I kiss your hand upon the contract?
Sentimental Comedy The Age of Neoclassicism the drama of sensibility it followed on from Restoration comedy a kind of reaction against what was regarded as immorality and licence in the latter Oliver Goldsmith (1728– 1774): in it “the virtues of private life are exhibited, rather than the vices exposed, and the distresses rather than the frailty of mankind”
Sentimental Comedy simple, one-sided characters Oliver Goldsmith: The Good Natured Man (1768) She Stoops to Conquer (1773) Goldsmith however continually mocks sentimental comedy, revealing sensiblity as hypocrisy
Neoclassicist comedy of manners Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan (1751– 1816) an exponent of neoclassicist comedy of manners owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane The School for Scandal (1777) attacks sentimentalism but also criticizes frivolous and fraudulent London high society.
Romanticism (mainly in German theatre): • need for historical consistency (no precision, though) for imaginative & plausible presentation (realism) • mid-19 th c. France: return to the tradition of middle class dramas • good acting: move with the natural elegance of gentry • touring companies disappear
Victorian Drama Theatre Act of 1843 broke the monopoly of London drama granted to Covent Garden and Drury Lane by the Act of 1737 expansion to a popular clientele, lower middle class and some of the working classes Victorian stage provided for them melodrama
Victorian Drama Plays were characterized by • suspenseful plot (characterization was subordinated to it) • pseudo-realism (contemporary setting, persuasive realism, elegant splendour) • stereotyped figures (valiant seamen, virtuous shopgirls, cruel mortgage holders, etc. ) • sentimentalism • naive moral concepts (the virtuous are rewarded) Stagecraft: electric lighting was first introduced in the Savoy Theatre in 1881
Oscar Wilde (1856 -1900) well-made play - neatly and economically constructed play which works with mechanical efficiency restored the sparkling comedy of manners (Sheridan) the dialogues move forward by rapid exchanges of witty statements The Importance of Being Ernest (1895) – Wilde termed it “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People”
Oscar Wilde and photographs from the first production of the play
Twentieth-Century Drama Strongly individualistic as opposed to the epochs of previous drama Emphasized sociological problems
Comedy of Ideas A term loosely applied to plays which tend to debate, in a witty and humorous fashion, ideas and theories. George Bernard Shaw is an outstanding exponent in Man and Superman (1905), The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906) and other plays.
George Bernard Shaw (1856 -1950) Comedy of Ideas - plays which tend to debate, in a witty and humorous fashion, ideas and theories Man and Superman (1905), The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906) to make people think by compelling them to laugh key technique - turning everything topsy-turvy and forcing the audience to see the other half of the truth lengthy speeches and prolonged stage conversations
G. B. Shaw
Mrs. Warren’s Profession Written in 1894, produced in 1902, privately. The censor put ban on the play that was not lifted until 1924. The satiric play is a dramatic representation of the Marxist contention that virtue is impossible in a capitalistic society. Vivie Warren, a modern independent girl is distressed when she understands that her mother had escaped from poverty by prostitution. She insists that her mother retire from her position as the head of an international chain of brothels, financed by a respectable gentleman, Sir George Crofts. Mrs. Warren refuses, and Vivie renounces her mother to live by honest work in London.
Verse Drama a drama written as verse to be spoken (another possible term is poetic drama) during the late 19 th and 20 th centuries verse drama fell out of fashion T. S. Eliots Murder in the Cathedral (1935) brought a revival of the form. a postmodernist example is Serious Money (1987) by Caryl Churchill
Post-War Theatre Reaction against the realist conventions dominating the stage. (The opening of the curtain seemed to remove the fourth wall of a fully furnished middle-class or upper middle-class sitting-room. ) The dialogues had to seem realistic. The English stage was ruled by the commercial theatre, management fulfilled their task of providing entertainment which had a proven saleability. There was no place for plays of questionably commercial values regardless of their artistic merits. By the mid-50 s 0 it seemed inevitable that English theatre was about to be transformed.
Post-War Theatre It was the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre that finally created opportunity for fresh talent and experimental performances. John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger was a breakthrough, and theatre added to their repertoire plays by Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and others. http: //youtu. be/vx. BS 2 GKRt 9 A
Angry Young Man Movement Kitchen-Sink Drama Middle and late 1950 s trend Main exponent on stage was John Osborne (1929 -1994) Look Back in Anger (1956) spoke for a generation of discontented young men often with working-class background, who were opposed to the establishment and disillusioned by post-second world war social situation. Jimmy Porter represents the anti-hero.
Look Back in Anger 1989 performance by the Renaissance Theatre Company with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, directed by Judy Dench
Kitchen-Sink Comedy A term which became popular in Great Britain in the middle and late 1950 s. Often used derogatorily, it applied to plays which, in a realistic fashion, showed aspects of working-class life at the time. The implication was that the play centred, metaphorically (or psychologically) and in some cases literally, on the kitchen sink. The works of John Osborne, Arnold Wesker were all so described. It is doubtful if the term derives in any way from Wesker's play The Kitchen because this was first presented in a production without décor in 1958, and not given a full production until 1961. (Cuddon)
Comedy of Menace A term denoting a kind of lay in which one or more characters feel that they are threatened by some obscure and frightening force, power, personality. The fear and menace become a source of comdey, albeit grim or black. Harold Pinter exploited the possibilities of such situation in his early plays.
Harold Pinter (1930– 2008)
Harold Pinter Comedy of Menace / Memory Plays Pinter's career as a playwright began with a production of The Room in 1957. His early works, such as The Birthday Part (1958), The Dumb Waiter (1959), and The Caretaker (1959) were described by critics as "comedy of menace". Later plays such as No Man's Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978) became known as "memory plays".
Memory Plays (1968– 1982) From the late 1960 s through the early 1980 s, Pinter wrote a series of plays and sketches that explore complex ambiguities, elegiac mysteries, comic vagaries, and other "quicksand-like" characteristics of memory.
The Theatre of the Absurd A term applied to many of the works of a group of dramatists who were active in the 1950 s: Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet and others. The phrase 'theatre of the absurd' was probably coined by Martin Esslin, who wrote Theatre of the Absurd (1961).
The Theatre of the Absurd The origins of this form of drama are obscure, but it would be reasonable to suppose that its lineage is traceable from Roman mime plays, through to aspects of comic business and technique in medieval and Renaissance drama and commedia dell'arte, and thence to the dramatic works of Alfred Jarry, August Strindberg and Bertolt Brecht. (Cuddon)
The Theatre of the Absurd The work of Jarry is vital and the possibilities of a theatre of the absurd are already apparent in Ubu Roi (1896). Almost certainly dadaism and surrealism influenced the development of theatre of the absurd, and so have Antonin Artaud's theories on theatre of cruelty. (Cuddon)
The Theatre of the Absurd An awareness of the essential absurdity of much human behaviour has been inherent in the work of many writers from Aristophanes to Cervantes to Swift to Dickens. (Cuddon)
The Theatre of the Absurd However, the concept of homo absurdas has acquired a rather more specific meaning in the last hundred years or so. This is partly, no doubt, owing to the need to provide an explanation of man's apparently purposeless role and position in a universe which is popularly imagined to have no discernible reason for existence. Mathematically, a surd is that which cannot be expressed in finite terms of ordinary numbers or quantities. Hence irrational rather than ridiculous. (Cuddon)
The Theatre of the Absurd The collection of essays The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) by Albert Camus and the existentialist philosophies of the mid-20 th century not independent of the two world wars gave an impetus to the vision of human life as a struggle with the irrationality of experience.
The Theatre of the Absurd The plays themselves lack a formal logic and conventional structure, so that both form and content support (while emphasizing the difficulty of communicating) the representation of what may be called the absurd predicament. (Cuddon)
Samuel Beckett (1906 -1989)
Samuel Beckett Plays of the Middle Period After World War II, Beckett used the French language as a vehicle. During the 15 years following the second world war years Beckett produced four major full-length stage plays: En attendant Godot (written 1948– 1949; Waiting for Godot), Fin de partie (1955– 1957; Endgame), Krapp's Last Tape (1958), and Happy Days (1961). These deal in a very blackly humorous way with the subject of despair and the will to survive in spite of that despair, in the face of an uncomprehending and incomprehensible world. http: //youtu. be/BMz 1 -Kgz_DI
Late Plays In the 1960 s and into the 1970 s, Beckett's dramatic works exhibited an increasing tendency towards compactness. He reduced his plays to the utmost essentials. These works are often described as minimalist. The extreme example of this Breath (1969) which lasts for only 35 seconds and has no characters.
Postmodernist Drama Tom Stoppard (1937) main features of his theatre • (1) brilliant language: verbal contests, verbal punning • (2) weird theatrical ideas: e. g. play around the action of another play (Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), double plot in Arcadia, the present researching the past • (3) an intellectual frame of reference: Wittgenstein language philosophy, Chaos theory, Newton’s physics, thermodynamics, both intellectually entertaining and with serious moral considerations
Tom Stoppard Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) The reverse of the play within the play scene in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Stoppard’s play is a play around a play. Stoppard places two miner characters from Hamlet into central position. Ros and Guil are no heroes, not even separate personalities. Taking two characters from a play, and testing their actions against a plot we all know well, Stoppard explores questions of predictability, i. e. determinism and free will. Also, explores questions of self-identity and possibilities of communication via language.
Tom Stoppard Arcadia (1993) brings together two time periods, 1809/12 and the present. The setting is Sidley Park, a large country house owned by the Coverly family. The scenes alternate until the very last one where the two time periods appear simultaneously on a divided stage. The present group of characters is doing research on the past group of characters and their activities, but their assumptions turn out to be almost wholly mistaken.