CHAPTER V
DRAMA

I

THE present century has seen some determined efforts to restore the drama to literature. This is not to say that there has been a return to the 'closet drama' of the Romantic Victorian poets or that the dramatist has turned his back on the theatre; far from it. But the 'well-made' play as the neatly constructed action dealing with stereotyped emotional situations in a quasi-realistic setting presented on a stage where the appeal to the eye and the 'personality' of the actor were more important than the pattern of meaning woven by the words spoken --this sort of play, which the twentienth century inherited from the nineteenth and which is still the staple of popular theatrical entertainment, has been challenged repeatedly in different ways and from different quarters. Wilde aerated Victorian social melodrama and farce by wit, but the tradition of wit which he bequeathed to the modern comedy of manners was too tenuous, and rapidly became too involved with sentimentality, to have achieved anything comparable in literary interest or complexity to Restoration comedy. Noel Coward's plays of the 1920s show Wildean wit reduced to modish sophistication and sentimentality, often cleverly enough, but ephemeral in tone and appeal. The iconoclastic mood of the 1920s, with its problem plays and 'frank' discussions of social and moral problems with a fashionable smartness that is very different from true wit, has not worn well; further, the plays it produced were not substantially different from the old well-made theatrical entertainments. Nor did the ingenious and in their way highly

-148-

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The Present Age after 1920
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • By the Same Author iv
  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Editor's Preface ix
  • Chapter I - General Background 1
  • Chapter II - Poetry 22
  • Chapter III - Fiction 85
  • Chapter IV - Critical and General Prose 119
  • Chapter V - Drama 148
  • Bibliography 169
  • Poetry 175
  • Fiction 245
  • General Prose 332
  • Index 369
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