2007-08 BM1: Session 9

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Back to 2007-08 BM1 Introduction to the Critical and Scholarly Discussion of Literature, Part 1

Argument 8: Modern theatre prospers as a place of transgression on a platform devoted to the public appraisal of literature

no state-subsidised theatres until (the 2nd half of the 20th c.)?

Received Notions on the History of the Theatre in Britain

plays are discussed today both in the context of literary history and in the context of drama studies and drama history. Each tradition has its own, slightly different perspectives on the material.

received notions in literary history: in the perspective of literary history, the dramatic production is characteristic of particular periods: Restoration: classicist poetics, wit and libertinism in comedy, exaggerated virtue in heroic drama (no more tragic endings in heroic drama), aristocratic bias, court and town settings. 18th century: decay of restoration stage, rise of sentimental drama, (rejuvenation of Restoration wit in the 1760s and 1770s). Nineteenth-century: a popular commercial stage without literary ambition (melodrama), closet dramas written by leading poets; no play which unite success and literary quality before the 1890s (Oscar Wilde, G.B. Shaw, Ibsen-imitators). Twentieth-century: first half: unsuccessful attempts to establish a subsidised literary theatre, well-made plays Twentieth-century: second half: aggressive, controversial, scandalous, experimental postwar theatre (in waves: 50s = angry young men; 60s = Pinteresque, Ortonesque; ....) 1990s: new british theatre

in the history of drama: focus on performance (including repertoire)

second thoughts:

16th and early 17th centuries:

  • an elizabethan climax
  • a Jacobean turn towards cruel, eccentric, deviant subjects and characters
  • a new dominance of courtly entertainment after around 1620
  • a continual animosity towards the Theatre on the part of the Puritans, which culminates in the closing of the theatre in 1642.

1660 to c. 1800 (Restoration and Eighteenth-Century)

Second Thoughts

after 1660: role of opera in this history look for the entire repertoire: what was performed ....

More complex or differentiated perspectives

  • include opera
  • include entire range of productions not just new things
  • look at changing cultural appreciation and at changing significance given to these materials
  • look at the particular modes of interaction with public debates
  • take into account the presence of the audience as a constitutive factor of drama.
  • take into account the interest of the authorities in what happens in a theatre, and the responsibility they assume for public morality.

role of censorship - in structuring the theatre -- in forming an archive of unprinted text of plays (Lord chamberlain's files)

What do we do with a printed play? (2)

try to situate the printed text in relation to the performance of the play. Ask: what was this printed version used for? look at paratexts (title-pages, dedications, prefaces, prologues, epilogues). acts and scene divisions, long or short speeches... Look at the construction of the plots (heroes, relation to contemporary poetics of drama)

how is the presence of the audience managed in the play

look beyond the present lecture

how are diverse traditions (partially) integrated in our present discourse on literature.