Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot

By Raymond Williams | Go to book overview

Introduction

(i)

IN 1850, a play named Catilina, advertised as by Brynjolf Bjarme, was published in Christiania. It was the first play, a three-act tragedy in verse, of Henrik Ibsen. In 1950, in London, there appeared another verse play, a comedy: T. S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party. The hundred years which passed between those plays were very eventful in European drama. When Catilina appeared, the drama, in most European countries other than France, was at perhaps its lowest ebb in six centuries. In England, no writer of importance was even attempting to write plays for the theatre, although poets, from time to time, were producing long dramatic works in verse: works intended, not for performance, but for private reading. The theatres themselves were filled with farces, melodramas, and huge archaeological productions of the great drama of the past. From France, the intrigue plays of a decadent romantic drama went out to all the leading theatres of Europe, providing the only serious contemporary standard. In the succeeding hundred years, and particularly in the last sixty of them, a whole new dramatic movement--the naturalist prose drama-- spread and grew to maturity. It gave us the prose plays of Ibsen, the early plays of Strindberg, the plays of Chekhov, of Synge, of Pirandello, of Hauptmann, of Shaw. The prose play, also, was the basis of another dramatic movement in these years; what we now call expressionism. From this we have the later plays of Strindberg, and the work of a school of German dramatists of our own century. Verse drama, which had come to an isolated greatness in Ibsen Peer Gynt, came in the twentieth century, in Ireland and in England, back into the popular theatre. Further, as a necessary part of these developments in the drama itself, the whole art of the theatre was radically reconsidered and revised.

My purpose in this book is to give, not so much a history of the drama of these hundred years, as a critical account and revaluation of it. It seems to me that this has never been adequately done. Of the movement which bulks largest in the period, naturalism, we have no real critical record. I have

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Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 11
  • Part I 39
  • I - Henrik Ibsen 41
  • 2 - August Strindberg 98
  • 3 - Anton Chekhov 126
  • 4 - Bernard Shaw 138
  • 5 - J. M. Synge 154
  • 6- Two Social Plays 175
  • 7 - Luigi Pirandello 185
  • 8 - Jean Anouilh: a Comment 196
  • Part II 203
  • I - W. B. Yeats 205
  • 2 - T. S. Eliot 223
  • 3 - Some Verse Dramatists 247
  • 4 - Criticism into Drama 269
  • Index 279
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