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Modern Theatre - Essay Example

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The evolutionist historiography is fond f landmarks. Such landmarks are often described as 'reforms' which inaugurate that process f rescuing British theatre from its unrespectable past (and its lower-class patrons in particular), thereby making possible the rise f a leisured, genteel social institution and the gradual emergence into professional respectability f both the actor and the playwright…
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Download file to see previous pages By the same token, evolutionist historians have also privileged those plays which most nearly conform to this overarching narrative about the demise f melodrama and the all-conquering triumph f realism. Tom Robertson's cup-and-saucer dramas and the cordial 'goodheartedness' (Jenkins 1991) f Arthur Wing Pinero's farcical protagonists, for example, represent two important staging posts on this Whiggish journey.
In passing, it's interesting to note an unacknowledged separation f theatrical spheres in these arguments. Although it is women who are usually portrayed as the heroes f managerial reform, slowly transforming dirty, communal playhouses into elegant, comfortable, quasidomestic arenas, the credit for dramatic reform has invariably been attributed to male playwrights.
Several consequences arise from this evolutionist history. First, the 'rise f realism' thesis portrays the theatre f the late 1880s and 1890s as a beacon f dramatic light, at the end f the dark tunnel f institutional decadence and theatrical unrespectability. Not only does this entail a strategic and rather narrow selection f the theatrical record, but, at least as importantly, fin-de-siecle drama and theatrical institutions have acquired the status f self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, the theatre f the 1890s tends to be valued in direct proportion to its difference from -- and satirical critiques of-Victorian drama rather than in terms f its intricate and complex relationships to earlier conventions and dramatic traditions.
Michael Baker's The Rise f the Victorian Actor (1978) and Anthony Jenkins' history, The Making f Victorian Drama (1991) are two influential and distinguished examples f this evolutionist approach. Baker's work traces the gradual emergence f acting as a profession in the nineteenth century. In general, he writes, 'the actor f 1830 was a social and artistic outcast and the theatre an outlawed sector f private enterprise'; (Baker 1978) by the 1880s, however, the actor had finally 'arrived' in Victorian society. The rise f journalism and the new status f the man f letters contributed to the creation f new middlebrow audiences, whilst the emergence f a mass market leisure industry helped to provide a solid framework for the gentrification f the acting profession.
For Anthony Jenkins, Victorian theatre can be construed in terms f the eventual liberation f drama from the tyranny f a popular, unthinking public. 'The attempt to rescue British Drama from the theatre's rowdy spectacle', he declares at the opening f his first chapter (pointedly entitled, 'Breaking through the darkness'), 'began a few months before Princess Victoria became Queen'. In Victoria's reign, Jenkins locates the gradual emergence f a 'serious' drama whose genealogy can be traced in the plays f Edward Bulwer Lytton, Tom Robertson, William Gilbert, and Henry Arthur Jones; its apex is represented by George Bernard Shaw's final conversion f the Victorian theatre's 'sideshow' into a momentous 'sacred ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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