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Universitatea Dunarea de Jos din Galati

Facultatea de Litere

Main Trends in
Modern British Drama

Part One:
Realism and the Modern British Playwright

(An optional course in English literature
for 3
year students in English)

Course tutor:
dr. Ioana Mohor-Ivan

Galati 2009

Main Trends in Modern British Drama

Main Trends in Modern British Drama


1.1. Drama / Theatre 7
1.2. Genres of Drama 7
1.3. Elements of Drama 8


2.1. The nineteenth-century theatrical background 9
2.2. The naturalist movement 9
2.2.1. Zola: early theory 10
2.2.2. Ibsen: the modern drama 10
2.2.3. Antoine: a new production style 10
2.2.4. Stanislavski: a new acting style 11
2.2.5. Chekhov: the theatre of mood 11
2.3. Realism in Britain 12
2.3.1. Domestic realism 12
2.3.2. The late 19
-century stage 13
2.3.3. Henry Arthur Jones 14
2.3.4. Arthur Wing Pinero 14
2.4. Championing Ibsen: G.B. Shaw 15
2.4.1. Characteristics of Shavian drama 16
2.5. Shavian Influences 16
2.5.1. Haley Granville Barker 17
2.5.2. John Galsworthy 17
2.5.3. D.H. Lawrence 18
2.6. Postwar Developments 18
2.6.1. John Osborne 19
2.6.2. Arnold Wesker 19
2.7. Task 20


Main Trends in Modern British Drama


Aprofundarea cunostiintelor teoretice si a terminologiei de
specialitate privind interpretarea modelelor si structurilor dramatice;
Studierea principalelor directii ale dramaturgiei britanice moderne;
Rafinarea deprinderilor de analiz si evaluare a textelor dramatice
i a elementelor de spectacol.

Tipuri si modalitati de activitate didactica:

conversaia euristic,
studiul de caz,
metode de lucru n grup, individual i frontal,
metode de dezvoltare a gndirii critice,
studiul bibliografiei.

Main Trends in Modern British Drama

Main Trends in Modern British Drama


1.1. Drama / Theatre

Drama: a play written in prose or verse that tells a story through dialogue and
actions performed by actors impersonating the characters of the story.

Dramatic illusion: the illusion of reality created by drama and accepted by
the audience for the duration of the play.


a) the building in which a play is performed:

arena stage: a stage surrounded on all sides by the
audience; actors make exists and entrances through the

thrust stage: a stage extending beyond the proscenium
arch, usually surrounded on three sides by the audience.

proscenium stage: a stage having an arched structure at
the front from which a curtain often hangs. The arch frames
the action onstage and separates the audience from the

b) drama as an art form, including the written text and the concrete

1.2. Dramatic Genres:

TRAGEDY: serious drama in which a protagonist, traditionally of
noble position, suffers a series of unhappy events culminating in a
catastrophe such as death or spiritual breakdown.

COMEDY: a type of drama intended to interest and amuse rather
than to concern the audience deeply. Although characters
experience various discomfitures, the audience feels confident that
they will overcome their ill-fortune and find happiness in the end.

TRAGICOMEDY: play that combines elements of tragedy and
comedy. Tragedies also include a serious plot in which the
expected tragic catastrophe is replaced by a happy ending.

Main Trends in Modern British Drama
MELODRAMA: a suspenseful play filled with situations that appeal
excessively to the audiences emotions. Justice triumphs in a
happy ending: the good characters (completely virtuous) are
rewarded and the bad characters (thoroughly villainous) are

1.3. Elements of drama:

PLOT: the events of a play or narrative. The sequence and relative
importance a dramatist assigns to these events.

CHARACTER: any person appearing in a drama or narrative.

SETTING: the time and place in which the action occurs; the
backdrop and set onstage that suggest to the audience the
surrounding in which a plays action takes place.

DIALOGUE: spoken interchange or conversation between two or
more characters.

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Realism in the last half of the 19
-century began as an experiment to make
theatre more useful to society. It was in conscious rebellion against the
generally romantic forms of drama that characterized the 19
century stage,
namely closet dramas, historical costume plays (spectacle dramas),
melodramas, and well-made plays.

2.1. The nineteenth-century theatrical background

Closet drama: a literary composition written in the form of a play
(usually as a dramatic poem), but intended or suited only for
reading in a closet (a private study). Under the influence of the
German Sturm und Drang, the English Romantic poets wrote closet
tragedies, in which they glorified figures of heroic
proportions.Examples: Shelleys Prometheus Unbound, Byrons
Historical costume drama: Grand opera-style productions of
historical plays (mainly revivals of Shakespeare), which placed their
main emphasis on strong emotional contrasts and spectacular
effects.Some 19th-century playwrights like Sheridan Knowles and
Thomas Talfourd attempted to write high tragedy in the manner of
Melodrama: A sensational drama of strong emotions and unequivocal
moral sentiment that had grown in the 18th and 19th centuries to
provide popular entertainment for the urban poor. Ancestors:
Shakespeares Macbeth, J acobean blood and thunder, the gothic
novel. Melodrama simplified its antecedents for a mainly illiterate
population who needed a clear morality-play opposition between good
and evil, and stereotypical characters they could sympathise, hate, or
laugh at. It influenced the style of performance (stock companies of
actors repeating their stereotypes), the costumes and make-up
indicating the social and moral condition of the characters, the scenery
signalling a necessary quality of vice, peril, or security.
The well-made play: An adaptation of melodrama for the literate,
upper-middle class audience of the established theatre. Originators:
Eugne Scribe and Victorien Sardou in mid-nineteenth-century Paris
(hence the alternative name of Scribean melodrama.) They codified
the structure of their plays as EXPOSITION DEVELOPMENT
DISCOVERY CRISIS DENOUMENT. The well-made play relies for
effect on the suspense generated by its logical, cleverly constructed
plot, rather than on characterisation, psychological accuracy or social

2.2. The naturalist movement

It opposed romantic situations and characterisation, aiming to put on stage
only what could be verified by observing ordinary life.
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2.2.1. Zola: early theory

mile Zola (1840-1902): French novelist and critic, the founder of the
Naturalist movement in literature. Zola redefined Naturalism as
"Nature seen through a temperament." Among Zola's most important
works is his famous Rougon-Macquart cycle (1871-1893), which
included such novels as L'ASSOMMOIR (1877), about the suffering of
the Parisian working-class, NANA (1880), dealing with prostitution,
and GERMINAL (1885), depicting the mining industry. In his theatre
criticism he outlined the following:
Theatre should be the honest soldier of truth, serving the
inquiring mind by analysing and reporting on man and society.
Characters: ordinary people in their natural setting;
Stage scenery: vivid background and environment;
Setting, costumes, dialogue: life-like (appropriate to the given
situation and the characters individuality)

2.2.2. Ibsen: the modern drama

Henrik Ibsen (1826 1906) is held to be the greatest of Norwegian
authors and one of the most important playwrights of all time,
considered largely responsible for the rise of modern realistic
drama (the "father of modern drama.) Victorian-era plays were
expected to be moral dramas with noble protagonists pitted against
darker forces; every drama was expected to result in a morally
appropriate conclusion, meaning that goodness was to bring
happiness, and immorality pain. Ibsen challenged this notion and
the beliefs of his times and shattered the illusions of his audiences
by introducing a critical eye and free inquiry into the conditions of
life and issues of morality.
Ibsens naturalist plays:
The Pillars of Society (1877): moral story of Counsel
Bernick, introducing the theme that lies rot and corrode
their originators.
A Dolls House (1879): story of Nora Helmers
emancipation from the patriarchal mores of her society
Ghosts (1881): a scathing commentary on Victorian
morality, in which a husband's philandering has tragic
outcomes on the members of the Alvig family.
An Enemy of the People (1882): challenges the Victorian
belief according to which the community was a noble
institution that could be trusted.

2.2.3. Antoine: a new production style

Andr Antoine (1858 1943) was a French actor-manager, who
founded in 1887 the Thtre Libre in Paris, in order to realize his ideas
as to the proper development of dramatic art. His work had enormous
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influence on the French stage, as well as similar companies like the
Independent Theatre Society in London and the Freie Buhne in
Germany. The Thtre Libre focused on a more naturalist style of
acting and staging, performing works by Zola and other naturalist
writers and plays by contemporary German, Scandinavian, and
Russian naturalists. The productions employed: realistic costuming
and acting, unobtrusive stage-movement, realistic furnishings and
props, convincing sound and lightning effects.

2.2.4. Stanislavsky: a new acting style

Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863 1938) was a Russian actor and
theatre director, co-founder (with Vladimir Nemirovich-
Danchenko) of the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT) in1897.
The MAT was conceived as a venue for naturalistic theatre, in
contrast to the melodramas that were Russia's dominant form of
theatre at the time. It also differed from the other independent
theaters since it emphasized theatrical production instead of just
neglected plays.
Stanislavski's innovative contribution to modern European and
American drama is realistic acting.
Building on the ensemble playing and the naturalistic staging of
Antoine and the independent theatre movement, Stanislavski
organized his realistic techniques into a coherent and usable
'system, which was as important to the development of socialist
realism in the USSR as it was to that of 'psychological realism' in
the United States (the American 'Method.)
He developed the so-called psycho-technique that requests the
o The actors body and voice should be trained thoroughly to
respond to every demand.
o Actors should be skilled observers of reality in order to
build a role.
o Actors should use inner justification for everything done on
o If actors are not merely to play themselves, they must
analyze the script thoroughly and define their characters
motivations in each scene. They must discover their
characters "objective."
o On stage, actors must experience the action as it unfolds
moment to moment as if its happening for the "first time."
o Actors must continually strive to perfect understanding and

2.2.5. Chekhov: the theatre of mood

Russian playwright and one of the great masters of modern short
story, Anton Chekhov (1860 1904) combined in his work the
dispassionate attitude of a scientist and doctor with the sensitivity and
psychological understanding of an artist. Chekhov portrayed often life
in the Russian small towns, where tragic events occur in a minor key,
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as a part of everyday texture of life. His characters are passive by-
standers in regard to their lives, filled with the feeling of hopelessness
and the fruitlessness of all efforts.
o The Seagull (1894): centres on the romantic and artistic
conflicts between four theatrical characters: the ingenue
Nina, the fading leading lady Irina Arkadina, her son, the
experimental playwright Konstantin Treplyov, and a
famous middle-aged story-writer Trigorin.
o Uncle Vanya (1900): a melancholic story of Sonia, her
father Serebryakov and his brother-in-law Ivan (Uncle
Vanya), who see their dreams and hopes passing in
drudgery for others.
o Three Sisters (1901): a naturalistic play about the decay
of the privileged class in Russia and the search for
meaning in the modern world. It describes the lives and
aspirations of the Prozorov family, the three sisters
(Olga, Masha, and Irina) and their brother Andrei.
o The Cherry Orchard (1904): concerns an aristocratic
Russian family as they return to the family's estate just
before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage. The story
presents 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
The theatre of mood:
o It fragments the well-made play, scattering exposition
throughout, excising action.
o Lack of focus on a leading character (employs a larger
cast of highly individualised characters meant as a
microcosm of society)
o Subtext: the surface of the dialogue seems innocuous or
meandering, but implies deep meanings, which forces
the spectator to constantly probe, analyse, ask what is
implied by what is being said.

2.3. Realism in Britain

2.3.1. Domestic realism: Robertsons cup-and-saucer

The trend towards a home-grown realistic drama began in England in
the 1860s, with the plays of T. W. Robertson (1829 1871). The son
of a provincial actor and manager, Tom Robertson belonged to a
family famous for producing actors. Though he never managed to
become a successful actor himself, he wrote a number of plays,
mostly comedies, which achieved popularity:
o Ours (1866),
o Caste (1867),
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o Play (1868),
o School (1869),
o M.P. (1870),
o War (1871).
These plays (known as cup-and-saucer drama) were notable for
treating contemporary British subjects in settings that were realistic,
unlike the Victorian melodramas that were popular at the time. For
example, whereas previously a designer would put as many chairs
into a dining room scene as there were actors who needed to sit
down, Robertson would place on stage as many chairs as would
realistically be found in that dining room, even if some were never
actually used. In Ours, a pudding was made on stage and this caused
a major furor people were not used to seeing such realistic tasks in a
stage setting. Also, the characters spoke in normal language and dealt
with ordinary situations rather than declaiming their lines. In addition,
the importance of everyday incidents, the revealing of character
through apparent "small talk", and the idea that what is not said in the
dialogue is as important as what is said are all Robertson trademarks.

2.3.2. The late 19th-century stage

Theatre had become a fashionable and respectable institution.
Main audience: upper-middle class.
The commercial stage: dominated by actor-managers.
It aimed at projecting an idealised vision of upper-middle class
decorum, suavity, respectability

Society drama:
A type of play whose subject-matter was socially restricted to the
lives of the upper middle-class.
It demonstrated and endorsed a non-objectionable subject-matter
and morality.
As such, it was conservative in matters of social conduct and
sexual morality.

The Impact of Ibsen
The staging of A Dolls House (1889) and Ghosts (1891) by the
minority theatre outraged a great part of the public opinion.
Clement Scott (drama critic for the Daily Telegraph): suburban;
an open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done
publicly; a lazar house with all its doors and windows opened.
Some playwright, nevertheless, started a process of assimilation,
producing a compromise between the outspokenness of Ibsen and
the conventional society drama. They developed a variant of
society drama known as the problem play.

The problem play:
A play that aims to be searching, serious and sophisticated in its
treatment of contemporary social issues, trying to offer a thorough-
going examination of societys values.
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Nevertheless, its resolution supports the dominant code of the
upper middle-class ethos.

2.3.3. Henry Arthur Jones (1851 1934)

Jones successfully began his dramatic career writing Melodrama.
Inspired by Ibsen, he moved into more serious drama. He is credited,
along with Pinero, for the new movement in England toward Realism.
Both writers were provocative enough for scandal, but acceptable to
the censors and his public.
J oness Mrs Dane's Defence (1900) is illustrative of the new trend:
o The story focuses on Mrs. Dane's betrothal to Lionel,
adopted son to Sir Daniel who is a famous judge. Rumors
have been spread by a scandal-monger that the young
widow Mrs. Dane is actually Felicia Hindermarsh, involved
in a tragic scandal following an affair with a married man in
Vienna. Before Sir Daniel gives his consent to the marriage
of his son to her he wants to get at the truth of matters,
ultimately to clear the rumors and reinstate Mrs. Dane's
reputation. Mrs. Dane can produce plausible evidence of her
identity and everyone involved is quite convinced of her
innocence. Yet in the end Sir Daniel's professional approach
leads to the unveiling of the real identity of Mrs. Dane in a
famous cross-examination scene, in which a slip of the
tongue by Mrs. Dane alerts Sir Daniel of an inconsistency in
her story, and allows him to draw the confession out of her
that she is indeed Felicia Hindermarsh. The truth is kept
secret, though,and Mrs. Dane's reputation in Sunningwater
can be reinstated. Nevertheless, they all decide she should
leave the village after her marriage with Lionel has become
impossible and she complies.

2.3.4. Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934)

Actor and a leading playwright of the late Victorian and Edwardian
eras in England, Pinero made an important contribution toward
creating a self-respecting theatre by helping to found, along with
J ones, a social drama that drew a fashionable audience. His
problem-plays helped create public acceptance for the significant
changes and radical thinking of Ibsen.
In 1893 the production of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, his best-
known work, raised protest because of its sympathetic portrayal of
a woman with a questionable past, but its popularity changed
producers attitudes towards this new Ibsenesque" drama.
o The plot focuses on Paula Tanqueray, who has concealed
part of her past from her respectable husband, Aubrey, but
this unexpectedly catches up with her when her step-
daughter becomes engaged to one of her former seducers.
In opposing the marriage, Paula is forced to confess the
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whole of her past history, and she commits suicide to save
herself and those she loves from shame.

2.4. Championing Ibsen: George Bernard Shaw (1856

Shaw was born in Dublin. His father was an unsuccessful middle-
class businessman; his mother was a good singer that eventually
left her husband, and with her two daughters went to live in London
as a music teacher. In 1876 Shaw followed her to London, intent to
earn his living by writing. His first publications were serial novels
and criticism for a number of English periodicals. In 1879 he joined
the Zetetical Society, a discussion club whose members had
debates about economics, science and religion. It was here that he
met Henry George, a socialist who sustained the importance of
economics in society and the necessity of land nationalization.
Shaw accepted his theories, read Karl Marxs Das Capital and
joined the Fabian society, a group which preached the evolutionary
socialism. He worked for this society editing books, writing
pamphlets, and displaying his dialectical ability in many public
discussions. Shaw befriended William Archer, a Scottish journalist
and dramatic critic who introduced him to the work of Ibsen. Both
decided to introduce Ibsen into England, in the hope that the
Norwegians example would bring a healthy change in the British
literature. Shaw conducted a crusade supporting the new kind of
drama, where the dramatist was at once an ethical philosopher and
a social reformer. He set the role of the dramatist in The
Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891), a collection of lectures on
Ibsens drama that he had previously delivered at the meetings of
the Fabian society. The tract is as much an advocacy of Ibsens
genius as it is a manifesto for Shaws future work as a playwright.
In compliance with its ideas, Shaw launched in 1892 Widowers
Houses, his first play which, although criticized for his theme (a
vigorous attack on slum landlordism), launched him as a dramatist.
Like Mrs. Warrens Profession (written 1893), which expounded
the economic basis of modern prostitution, and The Philanderer
(written 1893), it was considered too strong to pass the censor and
confined to private performance. Arms and the Man (1894) which
wittily subverts the conventional view of heroism and male
gallantry, was the first of Shaws plays to be presented publicly.
There followed, among others, Candida (1897), a re-writing of
Ibsens A Dolls House, The Devils Disciple (1897), a parody of
melodrama, and The Man of Destiny (1897), a parody of
Napoleon. Shaw owned his emergence into fame to the seasons
organised by Harley Granville-Barker and J . E. Vedrenne at the
Royal Court Theatre between 1904 and 1907. It was here that
plays like John Bulls Other Island (1904), a provocative thrust at
the Irish question, and Man and Superman (1905), in which he
expounded his theory of the life-force the force that impels
humanity to procreation, the supreme end of all the species, the
main agent of which is the woman, who selects and pursues her
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lover in order ensure the instinctive regeneration of the race.
Caesar and Cleopatra (1907), or Pygamlion (1910) maintained
Shaws growing reputation for mischief and iconoclasm. In the
1920s, Shaw wrote some of his most serious plays, Heartbreak
House (1920), Back to Methuselah (1922) and Saint Joan
(1923). Of his later plays, the best include Too Good to Be True
(1932) and In Good King Charless Golden Days (1939). In 1925
he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

2.4.1. Characteristics of the Shavian drama

Though his ideas were seldom original, since he generally
borrowed them from economists and philosophers (like Marx or
Nietzsche), Shaw was able to infuse into them the spirit of
English comedy, creating a sort of drama that could be
committed and comic at the same time.
Although initially influenced by Ibsens anti-romantic theatre, his
plays were also the product of two precise lines of interest and
Years and years of public speaking, which provide him with
a deep knowledge of the audiences expectations, with the
plays aiming to subvert them;
His musical education and his love for opera, which led him
to create roles for actors with a particular attention to voice
contrast, like an opera without music.
The result of these ingredients was a new type of play,
whose features may be summarized as follows:
o Their purpose is not so much to make people laugh,
but to make them realize the absurdity of certain
prejudices and reconsider their ideas and attitudes
o Since debate is one of their main features, his plays
are also called discussion plays
o The plot is always static, but enlivened by mental
actions, with the vigorous and brilliant dialogues
providing them.
o Problems are also faced by different points of view,
through the so-called dialectic of confrontation.
o The situations and characters, although not always
lifelike and somewhat lacking in psychological
analysis, are often used to embody an idea or a point
of view that the play wants to illustrate hence the
name of thesis drama, or drama of ideas.

2.5. Shavian Influences

The links with Shaws drama of ideas is most obvious in the work of
contemporaries like Harley Granville-Barker and J ohn Galsworthy, but
it also serves as a reference point for the plays written by J ohn
Osborne in the second half of the twentieth-century. The political cast
of his theatre, seen as having a direct social function, may be seen to
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reverberate in the realistic emphasis of kitchen-sink playwrights like
D.H. Lawrence or Arnold Wesker, intent on reforming society by
depicting its evils in naturalistic detail.

2.5.1. Harley Granville-Barker (1877-1946)

Actor, director, playwright and scholar, Barker was responsible for
Shaws breakthrough to public acceptance as the initiator and main
driving force of the Court Theatre Venture.
As a playwright, Barker shows a Shavian commitment to intelligent
debate. Nevertheless, his characters habitually act on the basis of
unconscious instincts, which by definition cannot be verbalised.
Hence a subtler form of realism evolved in his plays, which are
characterised by an almost introvert tone and place their emphasis
on the psychological aspects of generic problems. Their endings
are characteristically left open with unfinished conversations, while
the thesis (or message) that they aim to illustrate is left for the
spectators to define.
-The Marrying of Anne Leete(1900)
-The Voysey Inheritance(1905)
-The Madras House(1909)

2.5.2. John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

Novelist and playwright, Galsworthy remains best known as the
author of The Forsyte Saga (19061921) and its sequels, A
Modern Comedy and End of the Chapter. He won the Nobel
Prize in Literature in 1932.
His first play, The Silver Box (1906) was specifically written to be
performed at the Court Theatre, became an immediate success.
He followed it with a series of plays including Strife (1909),
Justice (1910), The Eldest Son (1912), The Fugitive (1913), The
Skin Game (1920), Loyalties (1922) and Exiled (1929).
His principles as a playwright are outlined in the prefaces to the
collected editions of his plays. Here he considers that the aim of
the dramatist is to display impartiality and objectivity by setting
before the public the phenomena of life and character, selected
and combined, but not distorted by his own outlook, so that the
audience can draw the moral by themselves. Moreover, each play
should be informed by a controlling idea the cohesive ideology of
the playwright himself. It is this idea that becomes the ordering
principle in Galsworthys drama: the workings of society (or, better
said, the playwrights understanding of how society works)
characteristically order the action of the plays and determines their
plotting strategies.
Because Galsworthy is a moralist, his plays continually attack
social injustice and the double standards of class and gender. As
such, his drama becomes clearly didactic, working for reform
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through an overt criticism of contemporary social issues, and is
designed to have an immediate impact upon the public.

2.5.3. D. H. Lawrence (1885 1930)

Lawrence was the son of a miner in Nottinghamshire, whose
mother, better educated than her husband and disappointed in
marriage by her husbands coarse and drunken behaviour, made
every effort to raise the cultural level of her children to lift them out
of the working class. Encouraged by his mother, Lawrence
entered Nottingham University to be trained as a teacher. He
began his writing career while working as a teacher. In 1912, he
fell in love with Frieda von Richthofen, the wife of a professor at the
university and they eloped to Germany. Their intense relationship
formed the underlying theme of many of his novels. He died of
tuberculosis in 1930 when he was only forty-four.
Best known as a modernist novelist, Lawrences major works
include Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915), Women
in Love (1920) and Lady Chatterleys Lover (1928). Their major
theme is human relationships in the modern world where the
natural harmony between men and men, men and women has
been destroyed by industry and modern civilization. Lawrence
developed this theme by exploring the emotional lives and sexual
instincts of his characters and showing the great harm that modern
industrial civilization has done to human nature, combining thus
psychological analysis and social criticism.
The same theme is present in his plays, the best known of which
are A Colliers Friday Night (1909), The Widowing of Mrs.
Holroyd (1911) and The Daughter-in-law (1911), collectively
known as The Nottinghamshire Trilogy. All three have a strong
autobiographical basis, exploring the marriage of a strong and
willed woman who thinks herself superior to her husband (as in his
own family), while the increasingly destructive effect of educational
or cultural pretensions defines the theme.
They are working-class plays which document the wretchedness of
working-class existence and the evil of middle-class values,
providing a sharp contrast to the sanitized image of the worker
characteristic of more traditional plays. Along with this comes an
emphasis on the basic daily activities representative for the
working-class, anticipating thus the kitchen-sink play (a play that
portrays the lives of ordinary people) that came into fashion into
the 1950s.

2.6. Post-war Developments

1956 witnessed the beginning of a new wave of realist drama, brought
about by:
a changing national consciousness and the new vision expressing
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a changing relationship between the government and the arts (the
Arts Council)
appearance of new theatres and dramatic companies (e.g. George
Devines English Stage Company, J oan Littlewoods Theatre
a particular rebellion against the middle-class fare of the London

Many of the new plays were labeled as kitchen-sink drama, because
their stories often depicted the domestic squalor of working-class
families, being set in the poorer industrial areas of the North of
England and using regional speaking accents and expressions.

2.6.1. John Osborne (1929 1996)
Osborne came onto the theatrical scene at a time when British plays
remained blind to the complexities of the postwar period. Osborne was
one of the first writers to address Britain's purpose in the post-imperial
age. His Look Back in Anger spawned the term "angry young men" to
describe Osborne and other writers of his generation who employed
harshness and realism, in contrast to what was seen as more escapist
fare previously.
Look Back in Anger (1956): The three-act play takes place in a
squalid one-bedroom flat in the Midlands. J immy Porter, lower middle-
class, university-educated, lives with his wife Alison, the daughter of a
retired Colonel in the British Army in India. His friend Cliff Lewis, who
helps J immy run a sweet stall, lives with them. J immy, intellectually
restless and thwarted, reads the papers, argues and taunts his friends
over their acceptance of the world around them. He rages to the point
of violence, reserving much of his venom for Alison's friends and
family. The situation is exacerbated by the arrival of Helena, an
actress friend of Alison's from school. Appalled at what she finds,
Helena calls Alison's father to take her away from the flat. He arrives
while J immy is visiting the mother of a friend and takes Alison away.
As soon as she has gone, Helena moves in with J immy. Alison returns
to visit, having lost J immy's baby. Helena can no longer stand living
with J immy and leaves. Finally Alison returns to J immy and his angry

2.6.2. Arnold Wesker (1932 - )
Weskers early naturalist plays are typical of the kitchen-sink realism.
Chicken Soup With Barley (1958): it is the saga of a communist
J ewish family, Sarah and Harry Kahn, and their children, Ada and
Ronnie. Beginning with the anti-fascist demonstrations in 1936 in
London's East End and ending with the Hungarian uprising in 1956,
the play explores the disintegration of political ideology parallel with
the disintegration of the family.
Roots (1959): explores the theme of 'self-discovery'. Beatie Bryant,
the daughter of Norfolk farm labourers, has fallen in love with Ronnie
Kahn. She returns from London to visit her family all of whom await
the arrival of Ronnie. During the two-week waiting period Beatie is full
Chapter 2 Realism, Naturalism and the British Stage

Main Trends in Modern British Drama

of Ronnie's thoughts and words. To greet him the family gathers for a
huge Saturday afternoon tea. He doesn't turn up. Instead comes a
letter saying he doesn't think the relationship will work. The family
turns on Beatie. In the process of defending herself she finds, to her
delight, that she's using her own voice.
Im Talking About Jerusalem (1960): Ada Kahn, marries Dave
Simmonds. They move to an isolated house in Norfolk where they
struggle through a back-to-the-land experiment. Dave makes furniture
by hand. Friends and family visit them throughout their 12 rural years
charting and commenting on the fortunes of their experiment. It
doesn't work, but they end gratified to have had the courage to try.

Choose one of the following topics to develop into a 4000-word essay of the
argumentative type:
1. Traditionalism vs modernism: A. W. Pineros The Second Mrs.
2. G. B. Shaw: Thesis drama and Technique in Man and Superman
3. Naturalist Premises in J . Galsworthys The Silver Box
4. The kitchen-sink play: D.H.Lawrences The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd
5. The kitchen-sink play: Arnold Weskers Roots.
6. J ohn Osbornes Alienation: Look Back in Anger.

Minimal Bibliography


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Borie, M., Antonin Artaud. Teatrul i ntoarcerea la origini, Editura Polirom/Unitext,
Brown, J .R., The Oxford Illustrated History of Theatre, OUP, 1995.
Caufman-Blumenfeld, O., Teatrul european-teatrul american: influente, Ed.
Universitatii Al.I. Cuza, Iasi, 1998.
Chambers, C., Prior,M., Playwrights Progress. Patterns of Post-War British Drama,
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Davies, A., Other Theatres: The Development of Alternative and Experimental
Theatre in Britain, Macmillan Education Ltd, 1987.
Elsom, J ., Cold War Theatre, Routledge, 1992.
Hodgson, T., Modern Drama from Ibsen to Fugard, B.T. Batsford, London, 1992.
Innes, Christopher, Modern British Drama: 1890-1990, Cambridge UP, 1992.
Styan, J .L., Modern Drama in Theory and Practice. Vol. 3. Expressionism and Epic
Theatre, Cambridge U.P., 1982.
Styan, J .L., Modern Drama in Theory and Practice. Vol.1. Realism and Naturalism,
Cambridge U.P., 1991.
Styan, J .L., Modern Drama in Theory and Practice. Vol.2. Symbolism, Surrealism
and the Absurd, Cambridge U.P., 1992.
Ubersfeld, A., Termeni cheie ai analizei teatrului, Ed. Institutul European, 1999.
Wardle, I., Theatre Criticism, Routledge, 1992

Main Trends in Modern British Drama