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History of drama

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  • 1. CONTENTS: thousands of fine plays and films, but their form and often their content are based on thePROLOGUE: The Origins of Drama, The Cult of innovations of the ancient Athenians.Dionysus, Dithyramb. The Cult of DionysusTHE GOLDEN AGE OF GREEK DRAMA: Thespis,Athenian Drama. The theatre of Ancient Greece evolved from religious rites which date back to at least 1200Competitions, Amphitheatres, How Plays Were BC. At that time, Greece was peopled by tribesPerformed in Ancient Greece. that we in our arrogance might label primitive.TRAGEDY: Aeschylus: The First Playwright, In northern Greece, in an area called Thrace, aSophocles, Aristotles Poetics, Euripides. cult arose that worshipped Dionysus, the god of fertility and procreation. This Cult of Dionysus,COMEDY: Aristophanes and Old Comedy, New which probably originated in Asia Minor,Comedy and Menander. practised ritual celebrations which may have included alcoholic intoxication, orgies, humanEPILOGUE. and animal sacrifices, and perhaps evenTHE PHYSICAL SPACE: Stages, Properties and hysterical rampages by women called maenads.Costume. The cults most controversial practice involved, it is believed, uninhibited dancing and emotional displays that created an alteredPROLOGUE: mental state. This altered state was known as ecstasis, from which the word ecstasy isThe Origins of Drama derived. Dionysiac, hysteria and catharsis alsoTwenty-five hundred years ago, two thousand derive from Greek words for emotional releaseyears before Shakespeare, Western theatre was or purification. Ecstasy was an importantborn in Athens, Greece. Between 600 and 200 religious concept to the Greeks, who wouldBC, the ancient Athenians created a theatre come to see theatre as a way of releasingculture whose form, technique and terminology powerful emotions through its ritual power.have lasted two millennia, and they created Though it met with resistance, the cult spreadplays that are still considered among the south through the tribes of Greece over thegreatest works of world drama. Their ensuing six centuries. During this time, the ritesachievement is truly remarkable when one of Dionysus became mainstream and moreconsiders that there have been only two other formalised and symbolic. The death of a tragicperiods in the history of theatre that could be hero was offered up to god and man rathersaid to approach the greatness of ancient than the sacrifice of say, a goat. By 600 BC theseAthens - Elizabethan England and, perhaps the ceremonies were practised in spring throughoutTwentieth Century. The greatest playwright of much of Greece.Elizabethan England was Shakespeare, butAthens produced at least five equally greatplaywrights. The Twentieth Century produced The Dithyramb
  • 2. was located in a region called Attica. Greek and Athenian theatre are sometimes referred to asAn essential part of the rites of Dionysus was Attic Theatre.the dithyramb. The word means choric hymn.This chant or hymn was probably introduced Thespisinto Greece early accompanied by mimicgestures and, probably, music. It began as a In about 600 BC, Arion of Mehtymna (Corinth)part of a purely religious ceremony, like a hymn wrote down formal lyrics for the dithyramb.in the middle of a mass describing the Some time during the next 75 years, Thespis ofadventures of Dionysus. In its earliest form it Attica added an actor who interacted with thewas lead off by the leader of a band of revelers, chorus. This actor was called the protagonist,a group of dancers, probably dressed as satyrs from which the modern word protagonist is derived, meaning the main character of adancing around an altar. It was probablyperformed by a chorus of about fifty men drama. Introduce a second speaker and onedressed as satyrs -- mythological half-human, moves from one art, that of choric chant, tohalf- goat servants of Dionysus. They may have another, theatre. Tradition ascribes thisplayed drums, lyres and flutes, and chanted as innovation to one Thespis, and even gives him athey danced around an effigy of Dionysus. Some date; he is said to have performed Athens aboutaccounts say they also wore phallus-like 534 BC. Whether this is true of not, his name has achieved immortality in theatrical jargon -headgear. It was given a regular form and raisedto the rank of artistic poetry in about 600 BC. actors and Thespians are synonymous.Introduced into Athens shortly before 500 BC,dithyramb was soon recognised as one of thecompetitive subjects at the various Athenian Athenian Drama Competitionsfestivals. For more than a generation after its In 534 BC, the ruler of Athens, Pisistratus,introduction the dithyramb attracted the most changed the Dionysian Festivals and institutedfamous poets of the day. By this time, however, drama competitions. Thespis is said to haveit had ceased to concern itself exclusively with won the first competition in 534 BC. In thethe adventures of Dionysus and begun to ensuing 50 years, the competitions becamechoose its subjects from all periods of Greek popular annual events. A government authoritymythology. In this way, over time the dithyramb called the archon would choose thewould evolve into stories in play form: drama. competitors and the choregos, wealthy patrons who financed the productions. Even in ancient Greece, the funding of the arts was a way of taxTHE GOLDEN AGE OF GREEK THEATRE avoidance. In return for funding a production,By 600 BC Greece was divided into city-states, the choregos would pay no taxes that year.separate nations centred in major cities andregions. The most prominent city-state wasAthens, where at least 150,000 people lived. Itwas here that the Rites of Dionysus evolved intowhat we know today as theatre. Since Athens
  • 3. Amphitheatres religious lessons. Much like Biblical parables, tragedies were designed to show the right andDuring this time, major theatres were wrong paths in life. Tragedies were not simplyconstructed, notably the theatre at Delphi, the plays with bad endings, nor were they simplyAttic Theatre and the Theatre of Dionysus in spectacles devised to ‘make em laugh andAthens. The Theatre of Dionysus, built at the make em cry.’ Tragedy was viewed as a form offoot of the Acropolis in Athens, could seat ritual purification, Aristotles catharsis, which17,000 people. During their heyday, the gives rise to pathos, another Greek word,competitions drew as many as 30,000 meaning instructive suffering. They depictedspectators. The words theatre and the life voyages of people who steeredamphitheatre derive from the Greek word themselves or who were steered by fate ontheatron, which referred to the wooden collision courses with society, lifes rules,spectator stands erected on those hillsides. orsimply fate. The tragic protagonist is one whoSimilarly, the word orchestra is derived from refuses out of either weakness or strength tothe Greek word for a platform between the acquiesce to fate: what for us nowmight betterraised stage and the audience on which the be described as the objective realities of life.chorus was situated. Most often, the protagonists main fault is hubris, a Greek, and English word meaning false or overweening arrogance. It could be theHow Plays Were Performed arrogance of not accepting ones destiny (i.e. as in Oedipus Rex), the arrogance of assuming thePlays were performed in the daytime. The right to kill (Agamemnon), or the arrogance ofannual drama competitions in Athens were assuming the right to seek vengeance (Orestes).spread over several, entire days. Actors Whatever the root cause, the protagonistsprobably wore little or no makeup. Instead, ultimate collision with fate, reality, or society isthey carried masks with exaggerated facial inevitable and irrevocable.expressions. They also wore cothornos, orbuskins, which were leather boots laced up tothe knees. There was little or no scenery.Initially, most of the action took place in the The Culture That Created Tragedyorchestra. Later, as the importance shifted from Tragedy did not develop in a vacuum. It was anthe chorus to the characters, the action moved outgrowth of what was happening at the timeto the stage. in Athens. One hand, Greek religion (see Bullfinchs Mythology. It is in library) had dictated how people should behave and thinkTRAGEDY for centuries. On the other, there was a birth of free thought and intellectual inquiry. Athens inBetween 600 and 500 BC, the dithyramb had the fourth and fifth centuries BC was bustlingevolved into new forms, most notably the with radical ideas like democracy, philosophy,tragedy and the ‘satyr’ play. Tragedy, derived mathematics, science and art. It boastedfrom the Greek words tragos (goat) and ode philosophers like Plato, Socrates, Aristotle,(song), told a story that was intended to teach Epicurus, and Democritus. There were the first
  • 4. known historians Thucydides and Herodotus. instructive suffering) which has come to meanThe scientists and mathematicians like Thales, the quality in something that arouses sympathy.Hippocrates, Archimedes, and later Euclid Often used today to describe something sad but(euclidean geometry), Pythagoras (the not necessarily tragic. Satyrs, trilogies ofPythagorean theorem), Eratosthenes, Hero (the tragedies were interrupted by satyr playssteam engine!), Hipparchus and Ptolemy. In (which made fun of characters in the tragediesthese respects -- a blossoming of free thought around them). Hence the word tragedy.after years of religious dicta -- ancient Athens Comedy from Komodos which meansresembled Renaissance England, which not merrymaking, and singer.coincidentally spawned the next great era intheatre. In essence, the ancient Athenians hadbegun to question how nature worked, how Aeschylus, the First Playwrightsociety should work, and what mans role was inthe scheme of things. Tragedy was the poets Until 484 BC the Athenian drama competitionsanswer to some of these questions -- How consisted of a trilogy of dithyrambs and a satyrshould one behave? How can one accept the play. Their style of presentation was choralinjustices of life? What is the price of hubris? rather than dramatic. However, around 484 BCRead a soliloquy from a Greek tragedy, or from there appeared on the Athenian theatre scene aHamlet or Macbeth, and what you will hear is playwright named Aeschylus. Aeschylus turnedthese questions being asked. the dithyramb into drama. He added a second actor (the antagonist) to interact with the first. He introduced props and scenery and reducedThe Form of Tragedy the chorus from 50 to 12. Aeschylus Persians, written in 472 BC, is the earliest play inThe traditional tragedy in Aeschylus time (circa existence. Aeschylus crowning work was The475 BC) consisted of the following parts: Oresteia, a trilogy of tragedies first performed in 458 BC. They tell the legend of Agamemnon, the Greek war hero who was murdered by his 1. Prologue, which described the wife Clytemnestra, and the pursuit of justice bysituation and set the scene his children, Orestes and Electra. Thematically, the trilogy is about the tragedy of excessive 2. Parados, an ode sung by the chorus human pride, arrogance or hubris. This hubris isas it made its entrance required to murder a person for personal gain, as Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus do, as 3. Five dramatic scenes, each followed well as the hubris to in turn hunt down and killby a Komos, an exchange of laments by the them, as Orestes and Electra do. In the end, thechorus and the protagonist Furies, vengeful emissaries of the gods, 4. Exodus, the climax and conclusion themselves bring Orestes and Electra to trial. Aeschylus makes a point that has been echoedAristotle - arousing of fear and emotion, by historians and dramatists, psychologists andpurging (catharsis) - the unities: unity of time crime writers for centuries since: that the rootplace and character - Pathos (Greek for of evil and suffering is usually human arrogance.
  • 5. On a dramatic level, the plays convey the with him. Sophocles plays are about the folly ofsuffering of a family torn apart by patricide and arrogance and the wisdom of accepting fate.matricide. Sophocles believed in the Greek gods, but his plays are suffused with existential insights that have been voiced many times since. ForThe Periclean Age instance, compare this observation by Antigone: What joy is there in day repeatingAeschylus death in 456 BC coincided with the day, some short, some long, with death the onlybeginning of the Periclean Age, a period during end? I think them fools who warm their heartswhich Athens population grew to 150,000, its with the glow of empty hopes.government embraced democracy (althoughtwo-thirds of its population were slaves), andthe arts flourished. In a span of 60 years, With that of Macbeths famous speech:Thucydides and Herodotus wrote their histories,the sophists, Socrates and Plato expoundedtheir philosophies, and Sophocles, Euripides andAristophanes wrote some of the worlds best Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,plays. Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time;Sophocles And all our yesterdays have lighted foolsIn 468 BC, Aeschylus was defeated in the The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!tragedy competition by Sophocles. Sophoclescontribution to drama was the addition of a Lifes but a walking shadow; a poor player,third actor and an emphasis on drama between That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,humans rather than between humans and gods.Sophocles was a fine craftsman. Aristotle used And then is heard no more: It is a taleSophocles play, Oedipus Rex for his classicanalysis of drama, The Poetics. Sophocles plays Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,are suffused with irony. In The Oedipus Trilogy, Signifying nothing.Oedipus seeks the truth about his fathersmurder. The truth that awaits him, however, isthat he is the murderer. Click here for asummary of the Oedipus Trilogy. In Electra, the Euripideshunted murderer Aegisthus finds the identity of In all, Sophocles won 20 competitions, makinga body under a blanket is Orestes, the man who him the Carol Lewis of Greek dramatichas relentlessly hunted him and his lover, competition. Although far behind Sophocles inClytemnestra. He is relieved that he has the medal count with a mere five, Euripides hasescaped justice. However, when he lifts the since eclipsed both Sophocles and Aeschylus inblanket he discovers the body is that of his lover popularity. The modern attraction to him stemsClytemnestra. Orestes has indeed caught up
  • 6. largely from his point of view, which finds a New Comedy, whose main exponent wasstrong echo in modern attitudes. His plays were Menander. Aristophanes theatrical works werenot about Gods or royalty but real people. He presented at the Athenian festivals.placed peasants alongside princes and gave Aristophanes and Cratinus used three actors, atheir feelings equal weight. He showed the chorus that sung, danced, and sometimesreality of war, criticised religion, and portrayed participated in the dialogue. The Chorussthe forgotten of society: women, slaves, and address to the audience reveals the authorsthe old. Euripides is credited with adding to the opinion. In these speeches, he ridicules thedramatic form the prologue, which "set the Gods, Athenian institutions, popular andstage" at the beginning of the play, and the powerful individuals, including Aeschylus,deus ex machina, which wrapped up loose ends Sophocles and Euripides. Given the cultivatedat the close. Aside from those devices, there is and scholarly culture of its ruling elite, Athensless contrivance, fate or philosophy in Euripides invited satire. Aristophanes assumed the taskthan in either Aeschylus or Sophocles. There is with zeal, aiming his lampoonery at those whoinstead a poignant realism, such as in this scene stuck their heads above the crowd:from the anti-war Trojan Women, in which agrandmother grieves over the daughter andgrandson she has outlived. During his life, Take, for example, the Warriors, in Lysistrata:Euripides was viewed as a heretic and was oftenlampooned in Aristophanes comedies. First Speaker: For through mansExtremely cynical of human nature, he became heart there runs in flooda bookish recluse and died in 406 BC, two years A natural andbefore Sophocles. noble taste for blood--- Second Speaker: To form a ring andCOMEDY fight--Tragedy was not the only product of Athens Third Speaker: To cut off heads atflourishing theatre culture; comedy also thrived. sight--Not only did the Greeks produce many lasting All in Unison: It is our right!comedies; they also cast the moulds for manyRoman, Elizabethan and modern comedies. The Youth... Come, listenhistorical development of comedy was not as now to the good old days when children,well recorded as that of tragedy. Aristotle notesin The Poetics that before his own time comedy strange to tell,was considered trivial and common -- though were seen not heard, led a simple life,when it was finally recognised as an art form, in short werethe orphan suddenly had many fathers: brought up well.Aristophanes and Old Comedy See, too, the treatment of intellectuals, in TheGreek comedy had two periods: Old Comedy, Clouds:represented by Cratinus and Aristophanes; and
  • 7. Comedy, and its two main practitioners were Menander and Phlyates. Menander is the moreFather: (enrolling his son in a "school for significant of the two. Most of his plays are nowthinking") O Socrates! O--dear--sweet-- lost, but parts found their way into plays by theSocrates! Roman playwrights Plautus and Terence (whomSocrates: (meditating in a basket overhead) Julius Caesar called "a half-Menander"). FromMortal! Why call you on me? these works they were incorporated into Shakespeares Comedy of Errors, Stephen Father: Tell me, please, what are you doing up Sondheims A Funny Thing Happened on thethere in that basket? Way to the Forum, even the writings of St. Paul: "Bad messages belie good manners". In 1905 a Socrates: I walk on air while I contemplate the manuscript was discovered in Cairo thatsun. One cannot ponder cosmic matters contained pieces of five Menander plays, and inunless one mingles with theatmosphere, ones 1957 a complete play, Diskolos (The Grouch,ethereal spirit above ground. The ground 317 BC), was unearthed in Egypt. Menanders main contribution was to create a comedyis not a place for lofty thoughts. Gravity would model that greatly influenced later comedy.draw their essence down, as it does with Unlike Aristophanes, his characters were not celebrities but ordinary people. The chorus inwatercress. Father: Well, well. Thought draws Menanders plays resembled a modern chorus -the essence into watercress. - singers and dancers who provided fillerThe Athenian audiences were well versed in between acts; Menander sometimes portrayedtheir highbrow culture and must have enjoyed them as drunken audience members. Histhese in-jokes immensely. Aristophanes other characters were classic comedy archetypes,targets included Aeschylus and Euripides, whom such as the curmudgeonly old man in TheAristophanes portrayed variously as a windbag Grouch, who would become staples of comedy.and corrupter of youth with his heretical ideas. Most of all, the style of comedy that Menander created, with its emphasis on mistaken identity, romance and situational humour, became the model for subsequent comedy, from theNew Comedy Romans to Shakespeare to Broadway.Comedy developed along similar lines astragedy did, becoming more aimed at thecommon people and less concerned with itsreligious origins. By 317 BC, a new form had EPILOGUEevolved that resembled modern farces. The useof overt satire, topicality and the pointed By the time of Sophocles death in 406 BC, 128lampooning of celebrated characters to be years after Thespis victory in the first Athenianfound in Aristophanes style were replaced by drama competition, the golden era of Greekmistaken identities, ironic situations, ordinary drama was waning. Athens, whose freethinkingcharacters and wit. This period is called New culture had spawned the birth of theatre, would be overrun in 404 BC by the Spartans. It would
  • 8. later be torn apart by constant warring with the palace or house in front of which most playsother city states, eventually falling under the are set. At first, it must have been a temporarydominion of Alexander the Great and his building re-erected each year (skene meansMacedonian armies. Theatre continued, but it merely ‘tent’ or ‘hut’). The number of doors inwould not return to the same creative heights its facade is disputed; most tragedies requireuntil Elizabethan England two millennia later. only one, but it most likely that there were in fact three. Actors and chorus could enter by paths, called parodoi or eisodoi, to the right andTHE PHYSICAL SPACE: left of the skene. Chiefly they made these entrances on horse-drawn chariots. The roof of the building could be used as an acting area, for watchmen, gods and others. There is someStages and Styles of Presentation: oblique suggestion in two texts of the periodAccording to tradition, the first tragedian, that permanent screens with architecturalThespis, performed his plays on wagons with images were used, not ‘sets’ for specific plays,which he travelled, and seats were set up for but permanent fixtures. It is conceivable, too,performances in the agora or market place of that there was some rather undergroundAthens. By the end of the sixth century BC, passage, allowing ghosts to appear from below.however, a permanent theatron of ‘watching There have been many disputes as to theplace’, was set up in the precinct of Dionysuson existence of a stage (logeion) in front of thethe south slope of the Athenian Acropolis. Since skene, raising the actors above the orchestraat first any construction above ground was where the Chorus performed. The evidence ismade of wood, and since the theatre was later sparse, but is probable that this stage existed,rebuilt many times, the surviving remains of this although it will not have been so high as toearliest Theatre of Dionysus are extremely prevent easy interaction between actors andscanty. It has therefore to be reconstructed on Chorus. Other features of the orchestra were athe analogy of other Greek theatres and on the central altar several images of gods, whichevidence of the plays performed there. The only could be noticed in the plays, when required.features which necessarily existed in the earlyfifth century are wooden seats for spectators onthe hillside, and a level earth-floored orchestra,or ‘dancing area’ in the centre. The orchestra is The Theatre in Epidaurususually believed to have been circular, like a III. The Theatre in Stone.threshing floor. The orchestra at Epidaurus, forexample, has a diameter of just over 20 metres. Various items of stage machinery areIf the spot chosen necessitated another shape, mentioned by late authors, but the only devicesit could be rectangular like that at Thoricus. for which there is 5th century evidence are the ekkylema and the mechane. The former was aMost of the surviving plays also make use of a low platform on wheels, which could be pushedbuilding, the skene or scene building. This was into view to reveal, in the form of a tableau, theused as a changing-room for actors and as a consequences of events (normally killings)sounding board, but also served to represent
  • 9. within the palace. It is a quite artificial device, stonework crumbling, and fire blazing from abut it seems to be an accepted convention as nearby tomb.early as the Oresteia. This play contains strikingtableaux of Clytemnestra with the bodies of Dionysus (inside the palace) Spirit ofAgamemnon and Cassandra and of Orestes with Earthquake, rock, rock the floor of the Earth!the bodies of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Chorus I: Soon the palaceThereafter it is used in many tragedies and in of Pentheuscomic parodies of tragedies. Will be shakenThe mechane was a kind of crane that could to its fall.transport an actor through the air to give aneffect of flying. It seems to be little used in Dionysus issurviving tragedy, though there are a few over the house:examples. Fifth century tragedians probably did Bow downnot use it for epiphanies of gods, though the before him!‘god from the machine,’ the deus ex machinabecame proverbial at an early date. Though Chorus II. We bow beforesome simple effects like those mentioned here him.were occasionally used, it is very important toremember that all the real power of the drama See the stonelay in the author’s verse lines. The poetic effects lintelswere left to work upon the imagination. Crowning theThe character’s words alone established the pillarstime of day, just as they did the settings. Reeling andTherefore, it was with natural phenomena. In shakingtwo of Euripides’ plays, the Bacchanntes andMadness of Heracles, the plot demands an Bromios’ warearthquake which destroys the house, and the cry rings from within.Prometheus Unbound ends with Prometheusand the chorus swept down to Hades in a Dionysus: Kindle thestorm. To present such a spectacle realistically flaming torch of the light;would have been a technical miracle, though Burn, burnnot beyond Greek ingenuity. Yet, more down the palace of Pentheus.important, it would have been alien to everytradition of Greek theatre. As it was based so This is enough. Once the earthquake hasfirmly upon the power of the word upon the achieved its dramatic purpose, it can beimagination and emotion. In the ‘earthquake’ ignored. Characters entering subsequently doplays, the effect is conveyed by the speeches of not comment on the fact that the house lies incharacters and choral songs. The chorus of the ruins. This lack of observation would beBacchantes describe vividly what is happening incongruous if the effects of the earthquake hadto the palace -- the noise of the earthquake, the been shown realistically. Compare also the
  • 10. language in which Aeschylus paints the great ‘Farewell brother!’ ‘We split, we split, we split!’storm at the end of Prometheus Bound. "See, word is replaced by deed; The Elizabethan stage-manager could produce Earth shudders from the shock; the convincing thunder and lightening, but in thepeals scene the picture of a shipwreck is conveyed in words alone. I all these examples, the language Of thunder roll from the depths, and used is not that of realistic (illusionist) drama.lightening When the doomed Prometheus or the Master Flicker afire; the whirlwind tosses and Boatswain embark on their respective speeches, the audience knows that mighty Dust heavenwards, with the four winds tempests have erupted; they need no otherdancing indication. A giddy reel, challenging each other Lighting, Properties and Costume. To fight; sea and sky are as one." The sun provided lighting. Torches were used, more as properties in order to heighten theWe should remember, too, the way which power of the appearance of certain passages orShakespeare, without the doubtful benefit of characters, the furies, for example. The actorelaborate effects, gives the impression of storm was dwarfed by his surroundings. Tinyat the beginning of The Tempest. movements and the nuance of facial expression used by modern actors would have been invisible to the audience. Gestures had to be Master: Boatswain! large and sweeping and costumes had to be large and flowing in order to allow free, athletic Boatswain: Here, master! What movement, and to make a strong visualcheer! impression upon the audience. As facial Master. Good, speak to the expression would have been lost beyond themariners; fall t’it, yarely, or we run ourselves first few rows, masks were used. They wereaground: bestir, bestir. broadly and simply designed to be visible a long way off. The principal traits of the characters Boatswain: Heigh, my hearts! portrayed could be expressed in the mask, andCheerly, my hearts! Yare, yare! Take in the a simple convention arose whereby types oftopsail. Tend to the master’s whistle. character had their own types of mask. This convention of human types, a view of human Blow, till thou psychology in a way, continued to shapeburst thy wind, if room enough! theatrical presentation well into theAnd at the end of the scene: seventeenth century in Europe. In the tragedies, these types were few and simple. There was theA confused noise within, ‘Mercy on us!’ ‘We protagonist, the noble man/woman; thesplit, we split!’ ’Farewell, my wife and children!’ messenger; the sightless seer, and the serious
  • 11. or careworn man, the figure of respect and concerns, the celebration of local industry was not neglected.responsibility. More will be said of these maskselsewhere. Restoration And 18th-Century DramaHistory of Drama The theaters established in the wake of Charles IIs return from exile in France and the Restoration of the monarchy in England (1660)Ancient Drama were intended primarily to serve the needs of a socially, politically, and aestheticallyThe origins of Western drama can be traced to homogeneous class. At first they relied on thethe celebratory music of 6th-century BC Attica, pre-Civil War repertoire; before long, however,the Greek region centered on Athens. Although they felt called upon to bring these plays into lineaccounts of this period are inadequate, it with their more "refined," French-influencedappears that the poet Thespis developed a new sensibilities. The themes, language, andmusical form in which he impersonated a single dramaturgy of Shakespeares plays were nowcharacter and engaged a chorus of singer- considered out of date, so that during the nextdancers in dialogue. As the first composer and two centuries the works of Englands greatestsoloist in this new form, which came to be dramatist were never produced intact. Owingknown as tragedy, Thespis can be considered much to Moliere, the English comedy ofboth the first dramatist and the first actor. Of the manners was typically a witty, brittle satire ofhundreds of works produced by Greek tragic current mores, especially of relations betweenplaywrights, only 32 plays by the three major the sexes. Among its leading examples wereinnovators in this new art form survive. She Would if She Could (1668) and The Man ofAeschylus created the possibility of developing Mode (1676) by Sir George Etherege; Theconflict between characters by introducing a Country Wife (1675) by William Wycherley; Thesecond actor into the format. His seven surviving Way of the World (1700) by William Congreve;plays, three of which constitute the only extant and The Recruiting Officer (1706) and Thetrilogy are richly ambiguous inquiries into the Beaux Stratagem (1707) by George Farquhar.paradoxical relationship between humans andthe cosmos, in which people are made The resurgence of Puritanism, especially afteranswerable for their acts, yet recognize that the Glorious Revolution of 1688, had a profoundthese acts are determined by the gods. effect on 18th-century drama. Playwrights, retreating from the free-spirited licentiousness ofMedieval Drama the Restoration, turned towards ofter, sentimental comedy and moralizing domestic tragedy. The London Merchant (1731) byMedieval drama, when it emerged hundreds of George Lillo consolidated this trend.A proseyears later, was a new creation rather than a tragedy of the lower middle class, and thus anrebirth, the drama of earlier times having had important step on the road to realism, italmost no influence on it. The reason for this illustrated the moral that a woman of easy virtuecreation came from a quarter that had can lead an industrious young man to the gatestraditionally opposed any form of theater: the of hell.Christian church. In the Easter service, and laterin the Christmas service, bits of chanteddialogue, called tropes, were interpolated into Satire enjoyed a brief revival with Henry Fieldingthe liturgy. Priests, impersonating biblical and with John Gay, whose The Beggars Operafigures, acted out minuscule scenes from the (1728) met with phenomenal success. Their wit,holiday stories. Eventually, these playlets grew however, was too sharp for the government,more elaborate and abandoned the inside of the which retaliated by imposing strict censorshipchurch for the church steps and the adjacent laws in 1737. For the next 150 years, fewmarketplace. Secular elements crept in as the substantial English authors bothered with theartisan guilds took responsibility for these drama.performances; although the glorification of Godand the redemption of humanity remained prime
  • 12. 19th Century Drama and The generally lumped together as the avant-garde,Romantic Rebellion attempted to suggest alternatives to the realistic drama and production. The various theoreticians felt that Naturalism presented only superficialIn its purest form, Romanticism concentrated on and thus limited or surface reality-that a greaterthe spiritual, which would allow humankind to truth or reality could be found in the spiritual ortranscend the limitations of the physical world the unconscious. Others felt that theatre had lostand body and find an ideal truth. Subject matter touch with its origins and had no meaning forwas drawn from nature and "natural man" (such modern society other than as a form ofas the supposedly untouched Native American). entertainment. Paralleling modern artPerhaps one of the best examples of Romantic movements, they turned to symbol, abstraction,drama is Faust (Part I, 1808; Part II, 1832) by and ritual in an attempt to revitalize the theatre.the German playwright Johann Wolfgang von Although realism continues to be dominant inGoethe. Based on the classic legend of the man contemporary theatre, television and film nowwho sells his soul to the devil, this play of epic better serve its earlier functions.proportions depicts humankinds attempt tomaster all knowledge and power in its constantstruggle with the universe. The Romantics The originator of many antirealist ideas was thefocused on emotion rather than rationality, drew German opera composer Richard Wagner. Hetheir examples from a study of the real world believed that the job of the playwright/composerrather than the ideal, and glorified the idea of the was to create myths. In so doing, Wagner felt,artist as a mad genius unfettered by rules. the creator of drama was portraying an idealRomanticism thus gave rise to a vast array of world in which the audience shared a communaldramatic literature and production that was often experience, perhaps as the ancients had done.undisciplined and that often substituted He sought to depict the "soul state", or inneremotional manipulation for substantial ideas. being, of characters rather than their superficial, realistic aspects. Furthermore, Wagner was unhappy with the lack of unity among theRomanticism first appeared in Germany, a individual arts that constituted the drama. Hecountry with little native theatre other than rustic proposed the Gesamtkunstwerk, the "total artfarces before the 18th century. By the 1820s work", in which all dramatic elements are unified,Romanticism dominated the theatre of most of preferably under the control of a single artisticEurope. Many of the ideas and practices of creator.Romanticism were evident in the late 18th-century Sturm und Drang movement ofGermany led by Goethe and the dramatist Wagner was also responsible for reformingFriedrich Schiller. These plays had no single theatre architecture and dramatic presentationstyle but were generally strongly emotional, and, with his Festival Theatre at Bayreuth, Germany,in their experimentation with form, laid the completed in 1876. The stage of this theatre wasgroundwork for the rejection of Neo-Classicism. similar to other 19th-century stages even ifThe plays of the French playwright René better equipped, but in the auditorium WagnerCharles Guilbert de Pixérécourt paved the way removed the boxes and balconies and put in afor French Romanticism, which had previously fan-shaped seating area on a sloped floor,been known only in the acting of François giving an equal view of the stage to allJoseph Talma in the first decades of the 19th spectators. Just before a performance thecentury. Victor Hugos Hernani (1830) is auditorium lights dimmed to total darkness-thenconsidered the first French Romantic drama. a radical innovation.The Modern Drama Contemporary DramaFrom the time of the Renaissance on, theatre Although pure Naturalism was never veryseemed to be striving for total realism, or at least popular after World War I, drama in a realistfor the illusion of reality. As it reached that goal style continued to dominate the commercialin the late 19th century, a multifaceted, theatre, especially in the United States. Evenantirealistic reaction erupted. Avant-garde there, however, psychological realism seemedPrecursors of Modern Theatre Many movements to be the goal, and nonrealistic scenic and dramatic devices were employed to achieve this
  • 13. end. The plays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee characters and events, and language isWilliams, for instance, use memory scenes, fragmentary-much like everyday conversation.dream sequences, purely symbolic characters, The settings are indistinguishable from reality.projections, and the like. Even ONeills later The intense focus on seemingly meaninglessworks-ostensibly realistic plays such as Long fragments of reality creates an absurdist,Days Journey into Night (produced 1956)- nightmarish quality: similar traits can be found inincorporate poetic dialogue and a carefully writers such as Stephen Poliakoff. A gritty socialorchestrated background of sounds to soften the realism combined with very dark humour hashard-edged realism. Scenery was almost always also been popular; it can be seen in the verysuggestive rather than realistic. European drama different work of Alan Ayckbourn, Mike Leigh,was not much influenced by psychological Michael Frayn, Alan Bleasdale, and Dennisrealism but was more concerned with plays of Potter.ideas, as evidenced in the works of the Italiandramatist Luigi Pirandello, the French In all lands where the drama flourishes, the onlyplaywrights Jean Anouilh and Jean Giraudoux, constant factor today is what has always beenand the Belgian playwright Michel de constant: change. The most significant writersGhelderode. In England in the 1950s John are still those who seek to redefine the basicOsbornes Look Back in Anger (1956) became a premises of the art of drama.rallying point for the postwar "angry young men";a Vietnam trilogy of the early 1970s, by theAmerican playwright David Rabe, expressed theanger and frustration of many towards the war inVietnam. Under he influence of Brecht, manypostwar German playwrights wrote documentarydramas that, based on historical incidents,explored the moral obligations of individuals tothemselves and to society. An example is TheDeputy (1963), by Rolf Hochhuth, which dealswith Pope Pius XIIs silence during World War II.Many playwrights of the 1960s and 1970s-SamShepard in the United States, Peter Handke inAustria, Tom Stoppard in England-built playsaround language: language as a game,language as sound, language as a barrier,language as a reflection of society. In theirplays, dialogue frequently cannot be read simplyas a rational exchange of information. Manyplaywrights also mirrored societys frustrationwith a seemingly uncontrollable, self-destructiveworld.In Europe in the 1970s, new playwriting waslargely overshadowed by theatricalistproductions, which generally took classical playsand reinterpreted them, often in bold newscenographic spectacles, expressing ideas morethrough action and the use of space thanthrough language.In the late 1970s a return to Naturalism in dramaparalleled the art movement known asPhotorealism. Typified by such plays asAmerican Buffalo (1976) by David Mamet, littleaction occurs, the focus is on mundane