Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot

By Raymond Williams | Go to book overview

4
Criticism Into Drama

IN 1950, now that an American actress visiting The Cocktail Party has told American playwrights to go home and smash their typewriters, a phase of the modern poetic drama may be said to have ended. Several plays in verse have emerged from a studio and little theatre existence into the commercial theatre of Broadway and the West End; and although the emergences are relatively isolated, the entrance into a new situation is clear. My purpose here is to review the phase that has ended, with particular emphasis on one element in it that has a general and continuing importance. The rise of the modern poetic drama presents a case of a body of successful criticism preceding, and largely assisting, the creation of a body of successful drama. To those who believe that criticism is a primary agent in the development of a literature, this particular history has an obvious importance. At a time when the dominant public view of criticism (which it scarcely distinguishes from reviewing) is of an "after-the-event", almost parasitic activity, the part which criticism played in the development of a new dramatic form deserves emphasis.

Much of the important dramatic criticism of the last seventy years has been what is usually called destructive; and this, too, is worth emphasising. There are many categories of criticism, but in the popular view two categories predominate: "constructive" and "destructive." And it is commonly assumed that constructive criticism is good, and destructive criticism bad. The current prospectus of a monthly review, for example, promises, with some show of satisfaction, "constructive criticism only." Yet there is an essential place, in the development of a literature, for criticism of the kind that is usually called destructive. The large body of destructive criticism of the last seventy years was fundamentally necessary to the reform of the drama. The energy of its revolt was the moving power; and its intelligence ensured that it should pass, at the proper time, into construction and into creative development. The history, indeed, is of criticism into drama.

The reform of modern English drama has two main phases:

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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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