The Twentieth Century British Drama.
P r e l u d e t o M o d e r n D r a m a
> O. Wilde’s witty drawing-room comedies, with verbal play + serious reflections on social, political, even feminist issues beneath
> G. B. Shaw’s discussion plays, with a provocative paradox to challenge the complacency of the audience
I r i s h D r a m a :
- the 1st major theatrical movement of the 20th c. orig. in Dublin
- (I) The Irish Literary Theatre (1899) = founded by W. B. Yeats, A. Gregory, George Moore, and Edward Martyn; inaugurated by W. B. Yeats’s The Countess Cathleeen
>> (II) The Irish National Theatre (1902) = maintained a permanent all-Irish company
>> (III) The Abbey Theatre (1904) = moved to a building of that name
> J(ohn) M(illington) Synge’s use of the speech and imagination of Ir. country people; W. B. Yeats’s use of the themes from old Ir. legends; and Sean O’Casey’s use of the Ir. civil war as a background for plays combining tragic melodrama, humour, and irony
E n g l i s h D r a m a :
> T. S. Eliot’s ritual poetic drama, incl. Murder in the Cathedral + his plays combining contemporary social chatter with profound relig. symbolism, incl. The Cocktail Party > uneven
M o d e r n D r a m a H i g h l i g h t s
I b s e n i s m ( 1 8 9 0 s ) :
< the Norwegian dramatist H. Ibsen = then perceived as a critic of middle-class society x rather than now as a poetic dramatist experimenting with symbolic modes of expression
> a sentimental social comedy, highly pop. in its time: Noel Coward (1899 – 1973), J(ames) M(atthew) Barrie (1860 – 1937), & oth.
=> typically produced in the London West End Theatre
R a d i o D r a m a ( 1 9 4 0 s ) :
- wartime verse plays written for and commissioned by the BBC radio: Louis MacNeice, & oth.
A b s u r d D r a m a ( 1 9 5 0 s + ) :
< S. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1948 Fr., 1953 E), an apparent lack of plot > focus on language as ‘the main instrument of man’s refusal to accept the world as it is’
=> typically produced in the Royal Court Theatre
T h e A n g r y Y o u n g M e n ( 1 9 5 0 s – 6 0 s ) :
> John’s Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956), technically traditional x but: the novelty in its non-metropolitan setting and the emotional cruelty and directionless angst of Jimmy Porter, the prototype of the E rebel without a cause
> technically more adventurous: J. Osborne’s The Entertainer (1957), a challenging allegory of the protagonist’s declining fortunes as a music-hall artist and of the changes in E society; and his Luther (1960), a study of the historical rebel with a tangible cause
T h e K i t c h e n - s i n k D r a m a x S y m b o l i c D r a m a ( 1 9 5 0 s – 6 0 s ) :
- new challenges of cinema and TV > the response of the Br. theatre with changes
- new dramatists esp. from lower middle-class/working-class, educated on state grants, employed in odd jobs (kitchens, etc.), often jobs with the theatre (actors)
> (a) the naturalist kitchen-sink drama (1950s): Arnold Wesker’s trilogy Chicken Soup with Barley (1958), & oth.
> x (b) the drama of language and symbolism: Harold Pinter’s ‘comedies of menace’, incl. The Room (1957), a study of working-class stress and inarticulate anxiety; The Dumb Waiter (1960), a black farce; and The Homecoming (1965), a comic study of middle-class escape from working-class mores
=> typically produced in the Royal Court Theatre
B l a c k C o m e d y ( 1 9 6 0 s ) :
- self-conscious theatricality to show theatre as different from film and TV
> Joe Orton’s parodies of oth. forms of theatre, incl. What the Butler Saw (1969), a farce ending even with a deus ex machina, & oth.
> Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1968), a parodic homage to the verbal texture and theatrical technique of S. Beckett; his The Real Inspector Hound (1968), a pastiche of the murder mystery, blurring the gap btw proscenium and audience; his Travesties (1974), a study of the role of memory and imagination in the creative process, incl. time-slips and memory lapses; and his Arcadia (1955), an account of a Romantic poet and his modern critics occupying the same physical space x but: never reaching intellectual common ground
E n d - o f - C e n t u r y C o n d i t i o n o f D r a m a
- Lord Chamberlain’s abolition of the state censorship of plays (1968) > emergence of controversial political, social, and sexual issues in plays: Edward Bond’s Lear (1971), typical of new plays combining soaring lyrical language and realistic violence; & oth.
- a new trend of collab. and group development of plays
- women pushing their way onto mainstream stages: Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (1982), the discourse aspiring to reproduce the ebb and flow of normal speech; & oth.
- the opening of the new National Theatre Complex on London’s South Bank (1976) = a high-water mark > drama recession due to TV (1980s – 90s)
Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.
Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.
Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.