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R.

Williams, Drama from Ibsen to Brecht


In its widest sense, Naturalism is an absorbed interest in the contemporary everyday world, and a
corresponding rejection or exclusion of any supposed external design or system of values. It is then
an absorbed recreation of the ways in which people, within human limits, actually speak, feel, think,
behave, act. .. Conventions are changed, not because some other view of the world, or some other
creative purpose, is now proposed, but because existing conventions are no longer true enough. ..
The most evident emphasis, of those early conventions, was the dramatic representation, the
theatrical reproduction of 'lifelike', 'probable' speech, behaviour, and environment. But these new
conventions normally have the same central purpose: a true representation of life.
Ibsen: "My play is no tragedy in the ancient acceptation. My desire was to depict human beings and
therefore I would not make them speak the language of the gods." It is not the creative purpose,
but the creative means that are at issue. Eliot argues against the kind of speech that Ibsen has
chosen, and for a return to dramatic verse: "The human soul, in intense emotion, strives to express
itself in verse if we want to get at the permanent and universal we tend to express ourselves in
verse."
The driving force of the great naturalist drama was not the reproduction of rooms or dress or
conversation on the stage. It was a passion for truth, in strictly human and contemporary terms It
is one of the great revolutions, in human consciousness: to confront the human drama in its
immediate setting it is from its central purposes that nearly all serious modern drama derives.
But the new naturalist conventions had to be established in the theatre; learned as practices. What
then happened, in turn, was the establishment of new external conventions methods and practices
without precise relation to the consciousness they had been designed to express. Representation,
verisimilitude, probability became, in these terms, self-sufficient these conventions and practices
can be seen as external because they are self-defining dogmas. thus what are authentic
conventions, major naturalist drama, become inauthentic, by simple habit It is then important to
distinguish naturalist drama from what we can call the naturalist habit.
In any precise analysis of the structure and its conventions, a particular relation between men and
their environment is evidently assumed. If we see, in its detail, the environment men have created,
we shall learn the truth about them. That is one way of putting it, and it is deeply relevant to Ibsen,
where the dramatic tension, again and again, is between what men feel themselves capable of
becoming, and a thwarting, directly present environment. It is even possible to feel that Ibsen had to
make rooms on the stage in order to show men trapped in them The rooms are not there to define
the people, but to define what they seem to be, what they cannot accept they are.
But then the authentic naturalism, of this early phase, reached a necessary limit. When the action is
really elsewhere, and begins to engage the exploring consciousness of a writer, the trap of the room
is a real trap: the interior life not only the domestic interior but the corresponding consciousness,
reflecting, reacting is no longer an adequate truth. There must be a break to action: to a made and
making rather than merely received environment; and then the early conventions, within a room and
among people waiting and watching, are dangerously in a way.
The inner history of naturalism is really this: that it developed as a style a characteristic way of
handling the world in bourgeois society, but that it developed as a form, capable of major
dramatic importance The style assumed an understandable, recognizable, manageable everyday
world; the form, while linked to this, discovered a humanity which this same world was frustrating
and destroying. We have seen, what then happened in Ibsen and in Chekhov; a repeated search
for some means of defining the humanity that cannot be lived, in these well-ordered rooms
because there are forces inside these people in these rooms, which can not be realized in any

available life. This is the paradox of the unique history in early naturalism: that it is of an individual
who is breaking away from what is offered as a general truth: a uniquely representative figure
(representative of 'humanity', of 'Man') who is in revolt against the environment other men have
made.
E. Wilson, Axel's Castle: In the later prose plays of Ibsen, the trolls and ghosts of his early dramatic
poems have begun to creep back into the bourgeois drawing-rooms: the Naturalist has been finally
compelled to make cracks in his own mould. All that vaporous, confused and grandiose world of
Romanticism had been resolutely ordered and compressed; but now the objective point of view of
Naturalism, the machine-line technique which went with it, begin to cramp the poet's imagination,
to prove inadequate to convey what he feels. The reader begins to chafe at the strain, and the artist
begins to betray it Literature is rebounding again from the scientific-classical pole to the poeticromantic one.
B. Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism: To the Realist, ideals are only swaddling clothes which
man has outgrown, and which insufferably impede his movements The Realist declares that when
a man abnegates the will to live and be free in a world of the living and free, seeking only to
conform to ideals for the sake of being, not himself, but "a good man", then he is morally dead and
rotten, and must be left unheeded to abide his resurrection, if that by good luck arrive before his
bodily death.
H. Ibsen, Ghosts: I am frightened and timid, because I am obsessed by the presence of ghosts that I
never can get rid of... I am half inclined to think we are all ghosts. It is not only what we have
inherited from our fathers and mothers that exists again in us, but all sorts of old dead ideas and all
kinds of old dead beliefs and things of that kind. They are not actually alive in us; but there they are
dormant, all the same, and we can never be rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper and read
it, I fancy I see ghosts creeping between the lines. There must be ghosts all over the world. They
must be as countless as the grains of the sands, it seems to me. And we are so miserably afraid of
the light, all of us.
T. S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party:
- I can reconcile you to the human condition,
The condition to which some who have gone as far as you
Have succeeded in returning.
- I know I ought to be able to accept that
If I might still have it. Yet it leaves me cold.
Perhaps thats just a part of my illness,
But I feel it would be a kind of surrender No, not a surrender - more like a betrayal.
You see, I think I really had a vision of something
Though I dont know what it is. I dont want to forget it.
I want to live with it. I could do without everything,
Put up with anything, if I might cherish it.
In fact, I think it would really be dishonest
For me, now, to try to make a life with anybody!
I couldnt give anyone the kind of love I wish I could - which belongs to that life.