Irony in the Drama: An Essay on Impersonation, Shock, and Catharsis

Irony in the Drama: An Essay on Impersonation, Shock, and Catharsis

Irony in the Drama: An Essay on Impersonation, Shock, and Catharsis

Irony in the Drama: An Essay on Impersonation, Shock, and Catharsis

Excerpt

What is drama? What, essentially, is a play?

Critics are unpopularly supposed by the criticized to bring up this question on only two sorts of occasions: either when they wish to destroy some hopeful creative enterprise in the theater by the conclusion that it is "not a play," or when they retire into their ivory towers for a season of decadently useless critical metaphysics and semantics.

Yet a worker of distinction in the British theater recently bade the critics rouse themselves and do their duty by the drama -- not only to ask this question again, but this time to answer it for the practical benefit of the stage:

. . . in my experience the shortage of good plays is due not so much to the lack of theatrical technique, nor to the absence of ideas or themes, but to insufficient knowledge of what a play essentially is. Every writer knows that a play is a highly concentrated work designed for severely restricted conditions, and he knows too that the work must contain characters, tension, and conflict, but that is all. The would-be dramatist gets no further help from the critics. When Mr. Eliot advises writers of poetic plays that poetic drama must be dramatic even at the expense of poetry, he does not say what "dramatic" is, and his own practice does not indicate that he knows. . . . Of the 22 straight plays at present running in London (excluding Shakespeare) I doubt if there are half a dozen that show any sign of it. I suggest that this accounts for the poverty of our drama; and for this ignorance should not the critics of drama be held responsible?

Thus says Mr. C. B. Purdorn in The Times Literary Supplement for September 5, 1952. He suggests, apparently . . .

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