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HANDBOOK 2007-08
From your study of Literary Forms of Representation and Literature, Culture and
Criticism at level one you will be familiar with the terms ‘realism’ and ‘modernism’.
CTP: Drama, a second level core course for English and English combination students,
will revisit these terms in relation to drama. The course will focus initially on the theory
and practice of naturalism (a special kind of realism) at the end of the nineteenth
century, using plays by August Strindberg, Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov. The second
part of the course will consider why many theorists and playwrights in the twentieth
century came to see naturalism as dramatically limiting; it will ask what was meant by
modernism when applied to drama. Different manifestations of modernism over the
course of the twentieth century will be studied using plays written by Federico Garcia
Lorca, Bertolt Brecht, Theatre Workshop and Sarah Daniels, looking in particular at the
way in which non-realistic theatrical strategies have been deployed as a means of making
audiences engage with topics in new and interesting ways
The aims of the course are:
 To critically examine 20th century theories about the nature, form and function of
theatre. These theories will be confined to naturalism and challenges to
 To consider the impact of these theories on audience and production.
 To clarify and discuss key critical terms and concepts.
 To develop analytical and critical skills and an ability to present ideas in oral and
written form.
The learning outcomes (i.e. what you should be able to do by the end of the course) are:
 To assess the relationship between theories about theatre and theatre practice
 To consider changes in theatre practice in relation to social and cultural context
 To analyse, interpret and comment critically on written and performance texts
with questions such as audience and conditions of production in mind
Plays to be studied in the course
Miss Julie (Nick Hern or Methuen Student Edition)
Hedda Gabler (Nick Hern or Methuen Student Edition)
The Cherry Orchard (Nick Hern or Methuen Student Edition)
Blood Wedding (Methuen Student Edition)
Mother Courage and her Children (Methuen Student Edition)
Theatre Workshop
Oh What a Lovely War (Methuen Student Edition)
Masterpieces (Methuen Modern Plays or in Daniels: Plays One)
Theorists to whom we will refer in the course
Emile Zola (‘Naturalism in the Theatre’), August Strindberg (The Preface to Miss
Julie), Constantin Stanislavski (An Actor Prepares), Bertolt Brecht (‘The Modern
Theatre is the Epic Theatre’; ‘The Street Scene’).
Lecture and Seminar Programme 2007
Lecture Mon 9.00-11.00 L101
Seminar Mon 11.00 or 12.00, L009, L105
Theatre and Naturalism
Wk 1 (Oct 1)
Introduction: defining drama
Introductory discussion
Wk 2 (Oct 8)
Historical context and
introduction to Naturalism
Strindberg’s Preface to Miss Julie;
Zola’s ‘Naturalism in the Theatre’
Wk 3 (Oct 15) Miss Julie: Class, Gender,
Psychology and Evolution
Video: Miss Julie (Figgis)
Miss Julie (Nick Hern) or in
Strindberg: Plays One (Methuen)
Thursday 18th October at 7.30 pm: Pure Gold, Soho Theatre
Wk 4 (Oct 22) Hedda Gabler: Feminism
and Melodrama
Video: Hedda Gabler (Nunn)
Hedda Gabler (Nick Hern or Methuen
Student Edition)
Wk 5 (Oct 29) Chekhov and the Big Picture
Video: The Cherry Orchard
The Cherry Orchard (Nick Hern or
Methuen Student Edition)
Wk 6 (Nov 5)
Tutorial week
Theatre and the Modernist Challenge to Naturalism
Wk 7 (Nov 12) Introduction to the Modernist
Introductory discussion
Wk 8 (Nov 19) Lorca and Symbolism
Blood Wedding (Methuen Student ed.)
or in Lorca: Plays One (Methuen)
Wk 9 (Nov 26) Brecht and the Epic Theatre
Mother Courage and her Children
(Methuen Student Edition)
Wk 10 (Dec 3) The Epic Musical: Theatre
Workshop and Oh What a
Lovely War
Oh What a Lovely War (Methuen
Student Edition)
Wk 11 (Dec 10) Defamiliarising Patriarchy:
Sarah Daniels vs. Porn
Daniels, Masterpieces in Daniels:
Plays One (Methuen)
There are TWO forms of assessment for the Drama component of this course:
A critical review of a play seen as part of the course (1500 words)
Deadline: November 12th
A seminar presentation (12-15 minutes)
Deadline: The day on which your chosen topic is discussed in seminar 15%
A 2,500 word essay.
Deadline: January 7th
The 2 hour exam at the end of the year for CTP: Drama and Visual Narratives will
refer to the Visual Narratives part of the course only.
Please note that you may not use the same plays or theoretical extracts in more than
one form of assessment.
Further information on the assessment
Review or presentation
You will need to decide at the beginning of the course whether you wish to write a
critical review of a play seen for the course OR to give a seminar presentation. Here is
some guidance on how to approach each task.
The review
The assessed review must be written about a production approved by the course tutors.
The play selected this year is a piece of contemporary naturalism, Pure Gold by Michael
Bhim, playing at the Soho Theatre between September 27th and October 20th. You may
attend any performance that is convenient to you, but we will have tickets for the
performance on Thursday October 18th at 7.30 which we will make available at the
lecture in Week One. Obviously, you will not be able to write the review if you
haven’t seen the performance.
There is no simple formula for writing a review but the following might be considered as
you try to record critically what happened to you as a member of the audience.
Bear in mind that you should write the review with reference to what you have learned
about Naturalism. Consider the convention being used and, where appropriate, make
reference to relevant theory. Ask yourself whether what you are seeing fulfils the
Naturalistic ideal as treasured by Zola, Strindberg and Ibsen. If it does not, think about
the ways in which it is not Naturalistic. Is this intentional? Does it enhance or detract
from the performance in your view? Why do you think the play has been staged in the
way that it has?
You should also think about the following:
The suitability of the theatre for the play being performed
The composition of the audience and impact of the seating arrangements
The nature of the setting and how it functions or is used in relation to the action
The director’s interpretation of the play, as far as this may be gauged through the
setting, staging and acting. What themes are emphasised? What is the dominant
The interpretation of particular roles by individual performers
The contribution of costume, lighting and props to your understanding of the
play’s meaning(s)
Although this is a piece of academic writing and not journalism, you might want to read
some theatre reviews to see how a reviewer includes all the information necessary to the
reader to understand what kind of a play this is, what it’s about and what the experience
of seeing it was like. Bear in mind how many words you have to write and use them
economically. Balance description and analysis.
Make sure you observe the performance in a detailed way and that you keep good notes
on which to draw when you write your review. Aim to take notes and draw sketches
before the play starts, during the interval and after the end. Write your review before the
play fades from your memory.
The Seminar Presentation
Seminar presentations will be scheduled in Week One and will be given as part of the
seminar in which your chosen topic is to be discussed. Presentations may take a variety of
forms, but they should not exceed 12-15 minutes each. The purpose is to demonstrate
your critical understanding and to stimulate group discussion. You should begin by
identifying your particular topic or area, and explaining what you want to do and why.
Your presentation should not simply consist of a series of facts about that week’s topic.
We don’t want to know where the author was born or how many brothers and sisters he
or she had. What we want to see is that you have read the play, or the theory, and thought
about it. The presentation is your chance to articulate your response to the text. You can
do this through close analysis of a given passage or through a more wide-ranging
discussion of text and/or context. If you want to include some performance as part of the
presentation, that would certainly liven things up! We do recommend that you use visual
aids of some kind, though be aware that PowerPoint facilities cannot always be relied
upon. Try to avoid reading a prepared script. Instead record your ideas on a series of
cards, and talk the group through them.
Please note that, although you will be assessed entirely on the basis of the presentation
itself, you must submit your notes to Humanities Reception with the appropriate header
sheet. Your grade and comment will be entered on this material.
Assessment for the seminar presentation takes account of:
Thoroughness of preparation
Ability to present material/ideas and to argue clearly and in an interesting fashion
Ability to discuss and offer a plausible/possible interpretation of a part in the play
Ability to stimulate discussion subsequently, defend your point of view and handle
The Essay
The questions from which you may choose for the essay (2,500 words) are below. Make
sure you read all the guidance provided in this handbook.
You should answer the questions with reference to plays studied on this course. If you
have seen a play in production as part of the course (for instance Pure Gold) but not
written a review of it, you may refer to this if you wish. If you choose a question that
deals with theory it is essential that you read and refer to the theorist in question – see the
Reading List for where to start.
It is very important that you make every effort to set your work out properly, with a full
page reference for every quotation and a Bibliography at the end. Full guidance on the
presentation of written work and advice on quoting from drama are given in this
handbook. Please read both carefully. Make sure you acknowledge all quotations and
ideas, including anything you have taken from the Internet. Remember that
plagiarism is a very serious offence.
Essay questions
‘Everything is interdependent in the theatre. Lifelike costumes look wrong if the
sets, the diction, the plays themselves are not lifelike’ (Zola). Relate this statement
to the kind of theatre that Ibsen, Strindberg or Chekhov were trying to create and
discuss how it might be put into practice in a production of Miss Julie, Hedda
Gabler or The Cherry Orchard.
‘Each character has his own language, and to create living people you must give
them to the public… with their individual ways of thinking and expressing
themselves’ (Zola). With reference to two naturalistic plays, assess how well each
dramatist has created individual modes of speech for his characters, and discuss
what an audience can learn from the way in which particular characters speak.
‘Male dramatists were often deeply ambivalent towards women and the versions of
womanhood they created for the theatre are correspondingly ambiguous’ (Gail
Finney). Making sure that you understand this comment and each of the terms used,
explore how far what Finney says is true of Miss Julie and Hedda Gabler.
‘To play truly means to be right, logical, coherent, to think, strive, feel and act in
unison with your role’ (Stanislavski). Describe the aims behind Stanislavski’s
teachings on acting, and consider how his techniques might be applied by an actor
preparing to play one of the parts in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.
Discuss the ways in which two plays, chosen from Blood Wedding, Mother
Courage and her Children, Oh What a Lovely War or Masterpieces, depart from
Naturalism. Make sure that you define Naturalism, and make it clear why
naturalism wasn’t considered adequate or appropriate for the purposes of your
chosen plays.
Blood Wedding and Mother Courage and her Children, while both are reactions
against naturalism, are very different plays. Discuss their differences in terms of
both form and content, and how each reflects the aims of its author.
What is the aim of Epic Theatre and how helpful is Brecht’s theory in
understanding the dramatic techniques employed in one of the following: Mother
Courage and her Children, Oh What a Lovely War, Masterpieces?
Compare and contrast Masterpieces with one other play we have studied with
reference to the issues raised and the way in which those issues are explored.
Guidance on the presentation of written work
These pages are designed to help you to avoid some of the most common errors in the
layout of written work. Credit is given for written work that is clearly set out and follows
academic conventions, so it is in your interests to study these guidelines and try to follow
them as closely as you can. If you have time, it would be a good idea to re-read them just
before you print your essay off ready to hand in, in order to make sure that you have set it
out correctly. Some of what follows you should remember as general rules from level
one, and some particularly applies to writing about theatre.
First, it’s a good idea to write out the essay question in full at the start of your essay. Not
only will this make sure that the reader knows what the task is to which you are
responding, it will concentrate your mind on exactly what you are being asked to do.
Your first priority in any essay should be to make sure that you answer the question, and
this may not be as straightforward as you initially think it is.
The titles of plays should always be given in italics, e.g. Miss Julie. This also applies to
the titles of novels, books of criticism and films. The titles of articles and poems (except
very long poems) are given in inverted commas, e.g. ‘Naturalism in the Theatre’.
Essays should be written in paragraphs. Paragraphs contain a number of related
sentences that combine to make a particular point, just as a number of paragraphs
combine to convey the overall argument of your essay. Every essay should have an
introductory and a concluding paragraph, and no paragraph should ever consist of just
one sentence. Paragraphs should be separated from one another by a blank line, and the
first line of each paragraph should be indented using the tab key.
All essays should be double-spaced so that your tutor has room to make detailed
comments on your work. In Microsoft Word a passage can be double-spaced by selecting
it, then clicking on ‘Format’ on your toolbar, then ‘Paragraph’ and then, on the ‘Indents
and spacing’ window, selecting ‘double’ or ‘1.5 lines’ as your ‘Line spacing’.
Every essay must include a bibliography, in which all the books and/or articles that you
have consulted are listed alphabetically by author. Information on the translator (where
applicable), place of publication, name of publisher and year of publication should be
given as in the following example (n.b. you don’t have to put it in a box!):
Strindberg, August, Miss Julie, trans. Helen Cooper, London: Methuen, 1992.
Sometimes you may want to list a collection of essays. In this case the work is listed by
its editor, as in:
Bentley, Eric (ed.), The Theory of the Modern Stage, 3rd edn, London: Penguin, 1992.
Alternatively, if you only refer to one essay in a collection, you can choose to list that
essay in your bibliography by its author, like this:
Brecht, Bertolt, ‘The Street Scene: A Basic Model for an Epic Theatre’, in Eric
Bentley (ed.), The Theory of the Modern Stage, 3rd edn, London: Penguin, 1992, pp.
If you quote from the internet in your essay, your bibliography must include the author
and title of the work as well as the URL (the full web address) and the date on which you
accessed that site. Internet citations should look like this:
Fisher, Philip (2003), ‘After Miss Julie: A Review’, at (accessed 11 June
Often authors and even titles are missing from internet articles, and this may well be a
sign that the piece is not an authoritative one and is therefore of little use to you. Our
advice is to use the internet selectively if you use it at all. The bulk of the material
available online is not of degree-level standard and much of it is unreliable. No-one is
impressed by a quote from Wikipedia or Sparknotes.
Full guidance on quoting from plays appears overleaf. You will note that, in all cases, a
page reference must be given. This allows the reader of your essay to look up the
passage that you have quoted for him or herself. Page references can seem confusing but
there is always a way to present the information clearly:
Quotes from your primary text need only be accompanied by the page number in
brackets, e.g. (p. 12) or (pp. 12-13) if your quote goes over more than one page.
Quotes from other texts, for instance critical works, should be accompanied by the
author’s name and the page number, e.g. (Stanislavski, p. 113). You need only
give the author’s name because the reader can find the full reference in your
If there is more than one book by the author you are quoting in your bibliography,
you should give the date as well so that it’s clear which one you are referring to,
e.g. ‘Stanislavski, 1980, p. 44’.
A page reference for a quote from an essay in a collection would look like this:
‘(Zola, in Bentley, p. 351)’.
Lastly, plagiarism is easy for tutors to detect. Penalties for plagiarism vary from a mark
of 0 to failure of the course, the year or even the degree. These penalties are enforced, so
make sure that you provide full references for any material that you use that is not your
How to quote dramatic dialogue in prose and poetry
The best way to quote a passage of dramatic speech is to indent the whole quotation (this
means that a wider margin appears on the left hand side of the page). The following
example illustrates the main features – the rules or guidelines – which are then listed.
Tesman is one of the more adaptable characters in Hedda Gabler. He is regretful but
realistic about he and Hedda’s altered circumstances:
I really looked forward to it: seeing you at the heart of things, in a house of your
own, with a throng of guests. Wonderful! It’s just that… for the moment, it’ll
have to be just the two of us, Hedda. (p. 35)
Unlike his wife, he sees a busy social life as a luxury rather than an essential.
You introduce the quotation with a colon (:)
You leave a space before and after the quotation
You indent the whole quotation and set it out exactly as it appears in the text, with
the correct punctuation used in your edition
You give a page reference (Make sure that your Bibliography gives the edition of
the play you are using, otherwise the page reference won’t make sense)
If you are referring to the title of the play you use italics – Hedda Gabler; if you
are referring to the central character you don’t use italics – Hedda Gabler.
If you want to include dialogue (two or more characters speaking) you should set it out
as the following example shows you.
Jean is less and less convinced that a romance between Julie and himself is a good idea.
When Julie asks him to kiss her for a second time he is reluctant:
JEAN (hesitates): I’d like to – but I daren’t. Not in this house – not again. Of
course I love you – can you doubt it, Miss Julie?
MISS JULIE (shy, feminine): Miss! Call me Julie! There are no barriers
between us now. (p. 123)
For her part, Julie is keen to sustain the relationship she is now committed to.
You introduce the quotation with a colon (:)
You leave a space before and after the whole quotation
You indent the whole quotation
You include the names of the characters who are speaking using capitals,
followed by a colon
You replicate the punctuation and emphasis of the speech (including
italics if they are used) exactly as they appear in the original
You include stage directions, placing them in italics
You give a page reference (the edition you are using will be in the
If you want to quote a line or a few words you integrate them into your own writing:
Trofimov wryly describes himself as ‘the eternal student’ (p. 24), acknowledging his
failure thus far to be effective in the wider world of politics.
You use quotation marks. (N.B. You DON’T use quotation marks for the longer,
indented quotations illustrated above)
You give a page reference (making sure the edition used is in your Bibliography)
You ensure that the sentence that includes the quotation makes grammatical sense
In the case of plays such as Blood Wedding, Mother Courage and her Children and Oh
What a Lovely War, which make use of poetry or song, follow the guidelines as outlined
for prose, but make sure that you follow the layout of the original exactly, starting a new
line at the right point and beginning each line with a capital letter. The following should
help you.
The preparations for the wedding are made in the hope that the marriage will be a source
of natural bounty, as is indicated by the Servant’s song:
Let the bride awaken
To the bright display
Of love’s rich green bouquet. (p. 58)
The audience are likely to compare this hopeful lyricism to the darker imagery that has
been apparent in the speeches of other, more central characters.
You introduce the quotation with a colon (:)
You leave a space before and after the whole quotation
You indent the whole quotation
You begin each line with a capital letter;
You give a page reference at the end, the edition used being identified in your
The Bibliography
It is essential that your essay contains a Bibliography and that the Bibliography is set out
Please use the following very short bibliography as a guide line to show you how to do it.
Copy the format exactly. If you are still not sure refer back to the Guidance on the
presentation of written work, from which some of the individual examples have been
taken, or ask your seminar leader.
The Bibliography should list all the books you have read for the essay, including the
plays, theory, criticism and anything accessed on the Internet. A reader consulting your
Bibliography should have enough details to enable him/her to find the book or article you
Get into the habit of recording the full information on anything you read or borrow from
the library. It will save you a lot of time checking when you come to write your essay.
Craig, Edward, Gordon, ‘The Art of the Stage’, in Eric Bentley (ed.), The Theory of the
Modern Stage, 3rd edn, London: Penguin, 1992.
Innes, Christopher, Avant Garde Theatre: 1892-1992, London: Routledge, 1993.
Lorca, Federico Garcia, Blood Wedding, trans. Gwynne Edwards, London: Methuen,
Strindberg, August, Miss Julie, trans. Helen Cooper, London: Methuen, 1992.
Fisher, Philip (2003), ‘After Miss Julie: A Review’, at julie-rev.htm (accessed 23 June
Books are given in alphabetical order by author, surname first.
After the name of the author, the translator (if there is one) appears, then the city
of publication, the publisher and the date.
A particular form of punctuation is used – notice the commas, full stops and
The titles of plays and books should be placed in italics. Do NOT add inverted
Inverted commas should be used for the titles of articles and short poems.
The full web address and date of accessing any internet information used is given
after the list of books and articles. The author and title of the work are given
where possible.
Please note that books relating to the theorists and the theory introduced in the course are
listed first, followed by works dealing with the playwrights and the plays
P. Barry
E. Bentley (ed.)
M. Bradbury and J.
McFarlane (eds)
G. W. Brandt (ed.)
E. Braun
T. Cole (ed.)
C. Counsell
R. Drain (ed.)
M. Fortier
M. Huxley & N. Wilts (eds.)
J Milling and G. Ley
S. Mitter
J. Roose-Evans
T. Wiles
Beginning Theory
The Theory of the Modern Stage
Modernism 1890-1930
Modern Theories of Drama Parts Two and Three
The Director and the Stage: From Naturalism to Grotowski
Playwrights on Playwriting
Signs of Performance (Stanislavski, Brecht) (recommended)
Twentieth Century Theatre: A Sourcebook
The Twentieth Century Performance Reader
Modern Theories of Performance ( Stanislavski)
Systems of Rehearsal (Stanislavski, Brecht)
Experimental Theatre from Stanislavski to Peter Brook
The Theater Event : Modern Theories of Performance
(Stanislavski, Brecht)
Emile Zola
E. Zola
‘Naturalism in the Theatre’, in Eric Bentley (ed.), The Theory of
the Modern Stage
Constantin Stanislavski
J. Benedetti
C. Edwards
D. Magarshack
C. Stanislavski
Stanislavski: An Introduction
The Stanislavsky Heritage
Stanislavsky on the Art of the Stage
An Actor Prepares
Bertolt Brecht
P. Brooker
M. Eddershaw
A. Solomon
R. Speirs
Bertolt Brecht: Dialectics, Poetry, Politics
‘Key Words in Brecht’s theory and practice of theatre’ in The
Cambridge Companion to Brecht ed. P. Thomson & G. Sacks
Performing Brecht
Re-Dressing the Canon (Chapter Three discusses The Good
Person of Szechwan)
Bertolt Brecht
P. Thomson & G.Sacks
A. D. White
J. Willett (ed.)
J. Willett
‘The theatre of Bertold Brecht’s Theory and Practice’ in Twentieth
Century European Drama ed. B. Docherty
The Cambridge Companion to Brecht
Bertolt Brecht’s Great Plays
Brecht on Theatre
The Theatre of Bertold Brecht
Brecht in Context
General Criticism of the Playwrights Studied
G. Finney
R. Gaskell
T. Hodgson
J. Lyman (ed)
J. L. Styan
R. Williams
Women in Modern Drama (Ibsen, Strindberg)
Drama and Reality (Naturalism, Lorca)
Modern Drama
Perspectives on Plays (Strindberg, Brecht)
Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 1 (Realism and
Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 3 (Expressionism and
Drama from Ibsen to Brecht
Drama in Performance
Henrik Ibsen
T. Cole (ed)
E. Durbach (ed)
G. Finney
R. Gray
H. Ibsen
C. Innes (ed.)
M. Meyer
J.R. Northam
D. Thomas
A. Solomon
Playwrights on Playwriting
Ibsen and the Theatre
Women in Modern Drama
Ibsen: A Dissenting View
Hedda Gabler (Methuen Student edition, ed. M. Meyer)
Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler: A Sourcebook
Henrik Ibsen vols 1, 2, 3
Ibsen: A Critical Study
Henrik Ibsen
Re-Dressing The Canon (Chapter Two, ‘The new drama and the
new woman’ is on Ibsen)
August Strindberg
W. Johnson
M. Meyer (ed.)
M. Morgan
B. Mortenson
M. Robertson(ed)
E. Sprigge
E. Sprinchorn
J. Ward
August Strindberg
File on Strindberg
August Strindberg
Strindberg: An Introduction to his Life and Work
Strindberg and Genre
The Strange Life of August Strindberg
Strindberg as Dramatist
The Social and Religious Plays of Strindberg
Anton Chekhov
R. Gaskell
Gottlieb and Allain (eds)
B. Hahn
J. Lyman
D. Magarshack
V.S. Pritchett
J. Styan
J. Tulloch
R. Williams
Drama and Reality
The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov
Perspectives on Plays
The Real Chekhov
Chekhov: A Biography
Chekhov in Performance
Chekhov: A Structuralist Study
Drama from Ibsen to Brecht
Federico García Lorca
R. Anderson
G. Edwards
I. Gibson
A. Piasecki (ed.)
Federico Garcia Lorca
Lorca: The Theatre beneath the Sand (Avery Hill library)
Federico García Lorca: A Life
File on Lorca
Theatre Workshop
Goorney, Howard
Holdsworth, Nadine
Leach, Robert
Littlewood, Joan
The Theatre Workshop Story
Joan Littlewood (Routledge Performance Practitioners)
Theatre Workshop: Joan Littlewood and the making of modern
British theatre
Joan’s Book: Joan Littlewood’s peculiar history as she tells it
Sarah Daniels
E. Aston
L. Goodman
G. Griffin
M. Remnant
H. Stephenson and
N. Langridge
An Introduction to Feminism and Theatre
Contemporary Feminist Theatres
‘Violence, abuse and gender relations in the plays of Sarah Daniels’ in The
Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights, ed. E.
Aston and J. Reinelt
Plays by Women Volume 5 (introduction)
Rage and Reason: Women Playwrights on Playwriting
Key Dramatic Terms
The following notes are designed to provide you with a skeletal outline of some
important points about the dramatic conventions and terms you will encounter in term
one: realism/naturalism; Stanislavski’s system and associated terms; modernism;
symbolism; Brecht’s theory of epic theatre and related terms.
Frequently these two terms are used interchangeably as synonyms for lifelike
presentation, authentic décor, colloquial language and strictly mimetic (imitative)
behaviour. However, naturalism in the theatre more correctly denotes a late nineteenth
century movement which stresses enquiry, rationality and logic. It was dedicated to the
representation of life, as opposed to the artificial dialogue and exaggerated acting styles
in favour at the time, and aimed for a more dynamic relationship (or interrelationship)
between environment and character. It is useful to think of naturalism as a special kind of
realism. The main exponent of naturalistic theatre was Zola. Stanislavski’s staging of a
Chekhov play would provide a good example of naturalistic theory in practice.
On one level Naturalism was an aesthetic revolt against traditional styles of
performance that had become outdated, and were no longer capable of
representing social conditions in a rapidly changing world on the verge of the
modern age. However, naturalism was also the expression of a moral or social
revolution. The primary influences on the naturalistic movement were Charles
Darwin’s evolutionary theories of biology (The Origin of the Species, 1859),
Claude Bernard’s scientific observation of human physiology …and Karl Marx’s
economic analysis of society (Das Kapital, 1867) - plus, somewhat later, Sigmund
Freud’s work on psychology… with Charcot, 1893; The Interpretation of Dreams,
1900) It also reflected the emergence of materialistic capitalism and the rise of
middle-class democracy.
There is a general agreement that the crucial factors inspiring Naturalism were the
perception that all life, human as well as animal, is in a process of continual
evolution, and that human behaviour can be explained through scientific analysis.
These new ideas led to the assumption that people’s characters and personality are
formed by a combination of heredity and their social environment, plus the value
placed on the individual… Perhaps even more significant … is that naturalistic
drama, established in the 1880s and 1890s, coincided with the early Women’s
Movement… It also coincided with the liberation of the serfs in Russia.
From Christopher Innes, Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler: A Sourcebook
See also J.L. Styan’s Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 1: Realism and
Naturalism: ‘Zola’s stated philosophy, both of the novel and the drama, was one of
absolute objectivity, with setting, characterisation and dialogue rendered close to actual
life that an audience would be convinced by the illusion of its reality.’
Stanislavski and some key terms
Stanislavski co-founded the Moscow Art Theatre in the late 1890s and developed a
system of actor training. At the centre of Stanislavski’s techniques was the magic if.
Actors had to create living characters through applying the if; for example if they were
that character in that situation exactly how would they behave? Stanislavski demanded
that actors consider the given circumstances of their character which involved a detailed
breakdown of their characteristics and backgrounds as set out in the play. Each character
had to be aware of the ultimate aim or super objective of their character. The play should
be divided into small ‘units’ or sections and each character needed to work out what their
objective for each unit was. This involved thinking actively about what their character
wanted to do. In order to live their parts Stanislavski proposed a rigorous training
programme, drawing upon emotion memory (reliving sensations once experienced). The
aim was to develop the correct inner creative state to enable actors to bring each
performance to life. Stanislavski directed Chekhov’s plays, though the two never agreed
about the staging of the productions.
See Colin Counsell’s Signs of Performance: an Introduction to twentieth century
theatre: ‘Behavioural detail, “plausibility”, a sense of profound psychological depth, a
marked linearity or smoothness to the performance as a whole – these are the hallmarks
of Stanislavski’s work.’
Modernism is the label given to a set of challenging, innovative artistic practices
pioneered between the years 1900-1930, though 1910-1930 is usually taken as the peak
of its activity. Broadly speaking modernism, which manifests itself in all the arts (such as
painting, the novel, poetry, music dance as well as drama), signals profound
dissatisfaction with 19th century beliefs, artistic assumptions and practices. Modernist
artists found naturalism and realism inadequate, restricting or not true to life as they knew
it. The term Modernism was not commonly used at the time but came to be used in
hindsight. The term is a useful umbrella heading for the various ‘isms’ which proliferated
in the period such as symbolism, expressionism, imagism, futurism, cubism,
impressionism, and surrealism. All these ‘isms’ were opposed in different ways to
realism and naturalism. The drama and theories of the period illustrate the diversity of
Modernist thinking and practice; naturalism is challenged in a number of different ways.
See Bradbury and McFarlane, ‘Introduction’ to Modernism 1890-1930 for a general
discussion applicable to all the arts.
Symbolism was one of the reactions to naturalism and may be seen as a manifestation of
the Modernist impulse. Symbolist theatre, broadly speaking, is a theatre which uses
poetic and symbolic means to communicate. It is less interested in the surface imitation
of life and analysis of why people behave as they do than in the revelation of levels of
reality beyond the literal. It may rely therefore on aspects of theatre – lighting, music,
dance, rhythm – not normally prominent in naturalistic theatre. The action must be
centred thematically on the use of evocative images. The work of Lorca and some of
Strindberg’s late chamber plays demonstrate symbolism, as do the theatre designs and
ideas of Adolphe Appia and E. Gordon Craig.
‘Theatrical movement expressing opposition to the principles of Naturalism… The
essential of symbolism was the abandonment of the appearance of life in favour of its
spirit, symbolically represented, and the search for a poetic rather than a prosaic drama.’
(John Russell Taylor A Dictionary of the Theatre)
See J.L. Styan’s Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 2: Symbolism, Surrealism and
the Absurd
Brecht and Epic Theatre
Bertolt Brecht saw theatre as an agent for social change and as theatre, the performance
that never lets the audience forget it is a presentation of ideas, rather than as illusion of
reality. Brecht’s theory of theatre challenged much previous theatre, including the
principles of naturalistic theatre. Before Brecht, theatre drew its spectators into the action
emotionally. It aimed to encourage empathy and identification. Brecht’s Epic Theatre
holds its spectators at a remove, so they may comprehend the action intellectually. Brecht
reduces feeling in order to encourage a critical perspective and a way of seeing which is
Marxist. Brecht’s theatre centralises the argument and establishes a dialectic argument,
whereby opposing ideas are brought into conflict by the dramatic action. Brecht sought to
explore and expose the contradictions which characterise the way in which we normally
understand the world and to show that change was needed.
Epic theatre is didactic, meaning that it teaches. Brecht developed something called the
Verfremdungseffekt (‘alienation’ or ‘distancing’ effect), the purpose of which was to
keep the audience intellectually alert and critical. At the centre of each of Brecht’s scenes
lies the gestus, the gist of the incident which always has a social and political
significance. To Brecht all aspects of theatre production (set, costume, song, props) had
to serve the purpose of the play and clearly reflect the socio-economic situation of the
See J.L. Styan’s Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 3: Expressionism and the Epic
Theatre and ‘Key words in Brecht’s theory and practice of theatre’ by Peter Brooker in
The Cambridge Companion to Brecht edited by Peter Thomson and Glendyr Sacks.