Janie Jones Homepage  /  Theatre Arts Department Homepage



Lecture Notes
Week 8
 

The Modern Theatre: Realism

 

Key Terms:

 

        Romanticism         Emile Zola         Moscow Art Theatre
        Scientific method         Slice of life         Irony
        Theatre of the fourth wall removed         Dramatic convention         American Realism
        Technical theatre changes         Verisimilitude         Eugene O'Neill
        Henrik Ibsen         Anton Chekhov         Arthur Miller
        "problem plays"         The Three Sisters         Tennessee Williams
        Naturalism         Konstantin Stanislavsky         Other Major American Realists:  William Inge, Robert Anderson, William Gibson, Lorraine Hansberry, David Mamet, August Wilson

 

 

 

Realism: 

        It is where people move and talk in a manner similar to that of our everyday behavior.  The style has been dominant for the last 120 years.  It holds the idea of the stage as an environment, rather than as an acting platform.

          Realism's early phase was Romanticism, which had its roots in the 1790's with works by Goethe (Faust) and Schiller (William Tell).  Romanticism is known for exotic locales and swashbuckling heroes.  As the 19th century progressed, there were several contributing elements to Realism, which came together in the late 19th century.  Social, and political ideas, playwrighting, and some spectacular theatrical innovations helped bring Realism to the theatre. 

 

Political Contributions to Realistic Theatre.

          The idealism of Napoleon/Fraternity/Equality was exciting at the turn of the century, but within a few years was replaced by strict governments.  With the dawn of the industrial age people moved to the city into crowded conditions.  Disease and poverty were common.  "Life is a sewer" became an outcry.

 

  

Ideas Dominating the Century.   

          Darwin--Origin of Species.

          Freudian psychology.

          Scientific methodology can apply to human problem solving.

          Lower and middle classes were now seen as heroes.

                    Woyzeck by Georg Buechner

                    Camille by Alexandre Dumas fils.

                    The Weavers by Gerhart Hauptmann.

                    Maria Magdalene by Friedrich Hebbel.

                    Woyzeck by George Buechner.

                   

Theatrical Elements. 

          Romantic theatre had given:

                    Theatrical, visual, elements.

                              Box set--Madame Vestris.

                              Faraway locales presented in scenery.

                              Attention to detail.

                              Electric lighting.

 

Text Elements.

          Well-Made Play--Scribe and Sardou (1820's-30's) devised this

                    technique of playwriting.  It was embraced by Ibsen and other realists.

                    1.  Plot contains secrets known to audience, but withheld from certain

                              characters.  The secret is revealed and this is the climax.  Here

                              the antagonist is revealed.  The protagonist has dignity restored,

                              and receives his reward.

                    2.  There is careful attention paid to exposition, usually the entire first

                              act at minimum.  After this the remainder of the plot uses

                              contrived entrances (a woman walking in on her son with the

                              maid), exits, and props (such as letters) to increase suspense.

                    3.  There are expected and logical reversals.  The hero has a series of

                              successes and failures with the antagonist.

                    4.  There are discovery scenes where the antagonist learn facts which

                              can hurt the protagonist in some way.  The protagonist does not

                              learn until later that the antagonist possesses such knowledge.

                    5.  There is a misunderstanding that is known to the audience, but not

                              to the characters.  This increases suspense.

                    6.  The denouement is believable and logical.

                    7.  Each individual act repeats the general action pattern of the entire play. 

 

New Directing Theories.

        Ensemble acting, abolition of the star system:  Duke of Saxe-Meiningen.

          Andre Antoine.

          Constantin Stanislavski.

          David Belasco.

 

Some Major Realistic Playwrights:

        Henrik Ibsen (problem plays)

          August Strindberg (also Expressionist)

          George Bernard Shaw

          David Belasco

          Emile Zola (Naturalist)

 

Naturalism vs. Realism.

          Naturalism was an extreme form of Realism where all characters were the product of their environment.  Decisions were made based on what nature had caused.  If a person stole bread, it was justified because he was hungry.  France's Emile Zola (Theres Raquin), and Russia's Gorky (The Lower Depths) are noted Naturalists.  NOTE:  Production values are similar to Realism.

 

 

Suggested plays

 

The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

A Doll's House, Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen

The Cherry Orchard, The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

The Weavers by Gerhardt Hauptmann

Ah Wilderness, Mourning Becomes Electra, Desire Under the Elms,

          The Emperor Jones by Eugene O'Neill

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

American Buffalo by David Mamet

Fences by August Wilson

 

Concept Questions.                              

 

1.  Compare and contrast Restoration and realist theatres in terms of their treatment of acting conventions, stage design, and subject matter.

 

2.  Compare and contrast realist and naturalist theatres.  To what extent may naturalism be seen as an outgrowth of realism?

 

3.  How did the contributions of Freud, Darwin, and Marx contribute to the realist theatre?

 

4.  What contribution did romanticism make to the modern theatre in terms of character or theatre architecture?

 

5.  Using O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra as your example, discuss the use of realism to expose psychological and mythic truth.

 

6.  Using Chekhov's The Three Sisters as your example, discuss the function of the set (stage design and props) as an element that furthers character conflict.  How are human relationships literally and metaphorically negotiated through properties?

 

7.  Choose one character from Chekhov's The three Sisters and analyze the language.  How does the character's language reflect his or her situation in the play?  Is irony a part of that characterization?  How does it contribute to our understanding of the character?

 

8.  Discuss Chekhov's use of irony to create psychological depth in one or more characters from a play of your choice.  (To help:  Chekhov's drama is characterized by "laughing through tears."  The happiest memories evoke the most painful realizations.  The tension between the reality of  the situation and the character's real feelings about his or her situation is one way that Chekhov uses irony; this use of irony in turn contributes to the way that Chekhov draws characters of great complexity.)

 

Study Questions

 

1.  Of what importance to Freud was the Unconscious?

2.  In what did Marx feel all human behavior has its origin? 

3.  In what does realist theatre have its roots? 

4.  Aside from the aesthetic changes, realist theatre chose to rebel against what? 

5.  What was the earliest phase of realism called? 

6.  What sensibility was embodied in romantic drama? 

7.  What are some major romantic works? 

8.  What are some aspects of grand opera today which came from romanticism?

9.  What architectural contribution did the romantic period make to theatre? 

10.  What was the primary goal of realism?

11.  What are some aspects of realism? 

12.  What was true of realist dialogue? 

13.  Through what aspects of stage production did realism explore the social, political and psychological aspects of human life? 

14.  Which is true of realist drama? 

15.  What characteristics did the new hero of realist drama have? 

16.  Realism was not only a style of theatre, it was what kind of force? 

17.  What is meant by the term "laboratory" when discussing realist theatre? 

18.  How was the proscenium stage of the romantic theatre modified to accommodate realism?

19.  What is meant by the term "fourth wall? 

20.  How were characters defined in realism? 

21.  Who was the first major realist playwright? 

22.  What were some themes of Ibsen's plays? 

23.  What is meant by the term "problem play"?

24.  Know some major plays and their authors.

25.  What is the relationship between naturalism and realism? 

26.  Who represents the high point of stylistic realism?

27.  For what is Chekhov known? 

28.  For which theatre company did Chekhov write? 

29.  Who is Olga in The Three Sisters

30.  Chekhov's written dialogue represents what? 

31.  What is the significance of the samovar that Tchebutykin presents to Irina for her birthday?

32.  How did Stanislavski contribute to realist theatre? 

33.  What does the kiss between Masha and Vershinin show? 

34.  How do stage properties function in Chekhov's plays?

35.  What effect does the ending of The Three Sisters have? 

36.  From when does theatrical activity in the United States date? 

37.  Who was America's first master dramatist? 

38.  What is the source of Mourning Becomes Electra

39.  Who are some major American playwrights?

40.  What comment does Cohen make about the use of irony in Chekhov's plays? 

41.  Who was Konstantin Stanislavski with regards to Chekhov?

42.  Which play by the American realist Arthur Miller deals with the broken dream of American             success? 

43.  What are some plays by Tennessee Williams? 

44.  What are some major themes of realist drama? 

45.  Who was Emile Zola? 

46.  Which is the most widely known of all modern Russina plays?

47.  Which contemporary dramatic form is superficially Chekhovian in structure? 

48.  What is meant by "slice-of-life drama"?   

49.  What are some of Chekhov's plays? 

 

 

 

  TOP OF PAGE