Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(24) Post-war Experimentation in Drama.

(H. Pinter, A. Wesker, J. Orton, and T. Stoppard).


T h e  T w e n t i e t h  C e n t u r y

[see "Background for Topics 12-27..."]


D r a m a  S i n c e  t h e  1 9 5 0 s

- London-based

- initially dominated by the realistic ‘kitchen sink’ drama

(1) the ‘National Theatre’ (1963 – 88) = the ‘Royal National Theatre’ (1988 +):

- a subsidised national theatre, home to the ‘National Theatre Company’

- its inaugural production of Hamlet produced in the ‘Old Vic’ [the name: from Princess Victoria]

- the Company moved to the new building on London’s South Bank only 13 y. later (1976)

- cautious in choice of plays and directors

- Sir Laurence Olivier (1907 – 89, directorship1963 – 73): the 1st director, a former actor

(2) the ‘Shakespeare Memorial Theatre” (1933 – 61) = the ‘Royal Shakespeare Theatre’( 1961 +):

- Statford-upon-Avon

- a subsidised theatre, home to the ‘Royal Shakespeare Company’

- establ. an enviable record of experiment in the 1960s – 70s

- worked on the principle of an authoritative director = ‘director’s theatre’

- startled audiences out of any sense of stability and complacency

(3) the ‘Royal Court Theatre’ (1956):

- a commercial theatre, home to the ‘English Stage Company’

- encouraged, commissioned, and produced the work of new dramatists

- the most experimental in choice of plays

‘ K i t c h e n  S i n k  R e a l i s m ’  ( l a t e  1 9 5 0 s – e a r l y  1 9 6 0 s )

= a distinctive E cultural movement in pictorial art, film, drama, and fiction

- sometimes regarded the successor of the ‘Angry Young Men’ movement

- the name: from an expressionist painting by John Bratby (1928 – 92) containing an image of a kitchen sink

- focused on social realism relevant to the audience of the time

- found new interest in domestic scenes with stress on the banality of life

D r a m a :

- a quarrelsome domestic drama epitomised by John Osoborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956)

- a more realistic repres. of social life: no more country houses and tennis courts x but: ironing boards and minor domestic squalor instead

- a reaction against Noel Coward (1899 – 1973; an E actor, playwright, and pop music composer) & co. style of dramatic setting

F i c t i o n :

- use of North En. situations, accents, and themes

- frankness about sex

- a more political content


H a r o l d  P i n t e r  ( b . 1 9 3 0 )

L i f e :

- son of an East End Jewish tailor

- an actor

- the Nobel Prize for lit. (2005)

W o r k :

< the ‘theatre of the absurd’ of esp. Samuel Beckett (1906 – 89, an Ir. dramatist) and Eugène Ionesco (1912 – 94, a Fr. dramatist)

= the most orig. and challenging of the new dramatists of the 1950s

- a sense of the dramatic effect of pacing, pausing, and timing (< his experience as an actor)

- a excellent ear for the rhythms of the colloquial, repetitive, London E

- language: striking and sometimes disturbing

- conc.: a dramatic repres. of a world of seeming inconsequentiality

= inconsequential conversation, dislocated relationships, and undefined threats

- setting: typically a room (refuge, prison cell, or trap)

= symbolic of the world of its occupants

- characters: their ritualised relationship with its rules and taboos disturbed by a stranger on to whom they project their deepest desires, guilts, and neuroses

- concl.: the final breakdown mirrored in the breakdown of language

=> a master of pauses and silences to communicate a secondary level of meaning often opposed to the 1st

The Room (1957):

= his 1st one-act play

The Dumb Waiter (1957)

The Birthday Party (1957):

- 2 articulate characters, a Jew and an Irishman, break an inarticulate man with their monstrous staccato barrage of unanswerable questions and half-associated ideas

The Caretaker (1959):

< S. Beckett’s Waiting For Godot (1952)

< F. Kafka > the air of menace

< T. S. Eliot > the dialogue pattern

> won him the 1st of his many prizes for drama

The Homecoming (1964):

- opens typically with a one-sided conversation in an undistinguished room in a London house

x but: shifts away from comedy = a turning point in his career

- characters: possibly a Jewish family, apparently with a tradition of unfaithful women

- the dead x but: adulterous mother <=> her living daughter-in-law, treated by the M members of the family as an adulteress

- everything in the play rendered unspecific: incl. inexplicit frictions btw generations and btw the uneducated family members x the homecoming son, an uni professor

> leaves a residual sense of sourness and negativity

Old Times (1971), No Man’s Land (1975), and Betrayal (1978):

- further develop the uncertainty and hints of menace and ominousness of his The Homecoming

- play with the disjunctions of memory and with unstable human relationships

> ad Old Times: an open triangle determined not only by its members, 2 women and 1 man, but also by its silences and indeterminacies

> ad No Man’s Land: the shifting relationship to one another of 2 elderly x 2 younger men

> ad Betrayal: a middle-class adultery in literary London

One for the Road (1984) and Mountain Language (1988):

- shift away from the repres. of uncertainty twd a more political drama:

(a) from indeterminacy twd moral definition

(b) from the individuals threatened by an unspecific menace twd the individuals threatened by the oppression of unnamed modern states

- conc. with language = the means of power to be defined and manipulated to suit the ends of those actually holding power [see also his The Birthday Party]

Also wrote:

- a number of screenplays: for John Fowles’s (1926 – 2005) The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), for his own play Betrayal, & oth.


A r n o l d  W e s k e r  ( b . 1 9 3 2 )

L i f e :

- son of an East End Jewish tailor (<=> H. Pinter)

W o r k :

The Kitchen (1959):

- master of visual theatre: alternates periods of action and inaction in a restaurant

- uses the kitchen and camp setting as a metaphor for an unfair and hierarchical society

Chicken Soup with Barley (1958), Roots (1959), and I’m Talking about Jerusalem (1960):

= ‘The Trilogy’

- an acute sense of place: captures distinctive ways of speaking (London Jewish, rural East E ) and distinctive rhythms of urban and rural domesticity

- relates his respect for working-class community to a social, historical, and political perspective:

(a) from the anti-Fascist protest in the Jewish East End (1936)

(b) through the failure of a project to establ. a New Jerusalem

(c) to a new idealist-socialist lifestyle in East En. (1950s)

Chips with Everything (1962):

< a fictional development of his own experience with ‘National Service’ [= army conscription]

- contrasts moments of concerted physical action by the group of recruits x the sense of conscription being no leveller, despite official pretensions to the contrary


J o e  O r t o n  ( 1 9 3 3 – 6 7 )

L i f e :

- distrusted the political system under which he lived, and, by extension, all systems of authority and control

- lead an active homosexual life (a criminal offence in his time)

- sent to prison on grounds of a relatively trivial charge of stealing and defacing library books

=> a sense of the potential of the state to oppress the citizen (<=> H. Pinter)

- brutally murdered by his long-term companion and collaborator

W o r k :

(a) fought back against authority with an anarchic verbal comedy calculated to outrage

(b) wrote to the press and theatre managers under a F pseudonym: parodied the bourgeois respectability and complained of his own work = an ‘endless parade of mental and physical perversion’

- structured his comedy not simply to expose the folly of the fool, the double standards of the hypocrite, etc. x but: to disrupt the very status quo

- made his villains no fools, his fools no innocents, and his innocents no wronged paragons: innocence can never be a defence

- used a sordid camp (see his The Erpingham Camp) or a private psychiatric clinic (see his What the Butler Saw) setting as a metaphor for an over-organised and explosively revolutionary state

=> exploited x but: also dangerously transformed the traditional forms of comedy and farce = made the old morality and the old social order vanish x but: left a space both amoral and, by extension, apolitical

- took an anarchist’s delight in fostering disorder x but: none in reclaiming order

> criticised for never exploring the consequences of the social questions he raises

Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964)

Loot (1966)

The Ruffian on the Stair (1967)

The Erpingham Camp (1967)

What the Butler Saw (1967)


T o m  S t o p p a r d  ( b . 1 9 3 7 )

L i f e :

- b. in Czechoslovakia

- accepted his step-father’s surname on his mother’s remarriage

W o r k :

- frequently used plays by oth. playwrights as launching pads for his own

- appealed to the pragmatic and speculative alike: delighted in parallels, coincidences, and convergences

x but: his carefully plotted plays systematically found their ends in their beginnings

- symmetrical and logical plays x J. Orton’s explosive, untidy, and unresolved ones

- also wrote for radio and TV: alternated a serious handling of political themes x arabesques of exuberant fantasy

The Dissolution of Dominic Boot and M Is for Moon among Other Things (both 1962):

= early short radio plays

If You’re Glad I’ll be Frank (1966):

= a short radio play

- a bemused husband desperately tries to reclaim his wife subsumed into a speaking clock

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1966):

< playfully rereads W. Shakespeare’s Hamlet accord. to Einsteinian laws, Eliotic negatives, and Beckettian principles

< S. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot x but: B. focuses on hopelessness x S. celebrates the gaiety and perverse vitality generated from despair

- renders everything relative, deheroises x but: never expels the sense of death of the title

- marginalises the Prince x makes the 2 attendant lords take on the weight of a tragedy they neither understand nor dignity

- transforms W. Shakespeare’s 2 toadying gentlemen into 2 prosy commoners with 20th c. sensibilities => their tragedy lies in their awareness of convergence, concurrence, and consequence of the inescapable pattern of Hamlet, necessarily ending with their death

The Real Inspector Hound (1968):

< rereads Agatha Christie’s (1890 – 1976) play The Mousetrap (1952) into a hilarious parody on the classic country house murder-mystery play

- the subplot satirises the pomposity of theatre critics whose lives become entangled with those of the characters in the play they are supposedly reviewing

=> brilliantly demonstrates the indistinct frontier btw life x art

Jumpers (1972):

- a moral philos. prepares a lecture on the existence of God and the problem of the objectivity of good x evil

- confronts him by the murder of an acrobat at a party in his own home => forces him to intellectual gymnastics suggested by the title, the making of mental and moral jumps

Travesties (1974):

< rereads O. Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest

- shapes the play around echoes, parodies, and inversions of:

(a) O. Wilde’s comedy above mentioned

(b) J. Joyce’s Ulysses, to a lesser extend

- analyses political and lit. history in a complex and totally speculative way

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977) and Professional Foul (1978):

= his excursions into explicitly political drama

- the persecution of intellectuals by Communist regimes of Eastern Eur.

> ad Every Good Boy Deserves Favour: a script for actors and symphony orchestra

> ad Professional Foul: a clever TV play

Hapgood (1988):

- suggests a return to his old whimsy x but: a singularly menacing whimsy

Arcadia (1993):

= his masterpiece

- a subtle, allusive, and brilliant fusion of complementary oppositions

- set in a country house room: remains constant for scenes set in Byron’s En. and his own time x but: the language shifts

- on nature, lit. history and historians, truth and time, and the disruptive infl. of sex = ‘the attraction which Newton left out’

Indian Ink (1993)

The Invention of Love (1997):

- on the conflicting strands in the life and culture of A(lfred) E(dward) Housman (1859 – 1936, an E poet)

- Housman brought together in 1 galaxy with O. Wilde and High Victorians


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.

Other Sources

Práger, Libor. Semináře: Britská literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.


© 2008-2015 Všechna práva vyhrazena.