The Absent Father in Modern Drama

The Absent Father in Modern Drama

The Absent Father in Modern Drama

The Absent Father in Modern Drama

Synopsis

"From the Freudians to the feminists, the role of the absent or hidden father figure has played a part in narrative and cultural theory. This work presents the first full-length examination of the absent father in modern drama. It closely analyzes major works by Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Williams, Miller, Shepard, Rabe, Henley, Norman, Pielmeier, Shaffer, Osborne, Churchill, and Fugard. Using the critical framework of psychological, deconstructive, and myth criticism, this book demonstrates how the consistent focus on an imposing father figure who never physically appears onstage affects the psychological, social, and metaphysical structure of major modern dramas." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

One major thread in the analysis of modern drama holds that modern drama is a reaction to a sense of profound loss, brought about by the death of God, the transcendental father. Robert Brustein notes that "modern drama aches with nostalgia, loneliness and regret" (11). Reeling from the death of God, the modern theatre of revolt "fails to build its church and records the failure in a growing mood of despair" (12). For Brustein, the modern dramatists hate "reality and labor ceaselessly to change it but are pulled back into setting up the continuous tension between illusion and reality" (15). Like Brustein, Tom Driver also sees modern drama as a reaction to loss. He claims that modern drama begins in a romantic quest for "something unsearchable that must nevertheless be searched" (xiii) and leads to a modern query which asks "whether the quest has meaning and whether all search for meaning is futile" (xiv).

Maurice Valency, Martin Esslin, and George Wellwarth also focus on loss in their assessments of major movements in modern drama. Valency traces modern drama back to the symbolists for whom "the idea of God was inextricably bound up with the idea of nature, the loss of faith in one was necessarily attended by the loss of faith in the other" (vi). According to Valency, the modern dramatists are reacting to a world that has been lost or shattered. He states: "From Eliot to Beckett the artisans of our age speak to us in elegiacal tones as the dazed survivors of a seismic upheaval . . . In the 1880's there was an urgent need to rediscover God, and this time God proved to be more than ordinarily elusive" (viii). Looking at a later stage of modern drama, Martin Esslin also focuses on modern drama's reaction to loss: He explains how earlier in the twentieth century, "the certitudes and unshakable assumptions of former ages" had been "discredited as cheap and somewhat childish illusions," but "the decline of religious faith was masked until the end of the Second World War by the substitute religions of faith in progress, nationalism and various totalitarian fallacies. All this ended with the War" (23). George Wellwarth seems to sum up the school of critical opinion that sees modern drama as a mourning ritual enacted at the wake of a dead god. Wellwarth describes modern drama as "an extended meditation on existential rootlessness . . . a critical analysis of man in the void . . . into which man was cast by the death of religion" (1).

For the modern dramatist, the world must adjust to the breakdown of a God-centered universe that was ordered and hierarchical. In modern drama, even the search for meaning has become a futile quest. God, nature, and the very world itself seems to vanish, and all that is left is unaccommodated man living in a scrapyard of meaningless memorabilia. The reality which was once grounded in a teleological absolute has broken down into a series of fragmented . . .

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