Victorian Drama and Theatre of 19th Century

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       Victorian Drama was scarce and eclipsed in the Nineteenth century by the dominant forms of poetry and fiction. Poetry, particularly lyric poetry reigned supreme in the first half of the nineteenth century, while fiction developed vigorously in the second half. But the theatres were never deserted. Shakespeare's dramas were staged and drew crowds at the theatres. The nineteenth century was an age of great actors rather than of great dramatists. John Philip Kemble and Mrs. Siddons, Kean, Macready and Irving were hot favourites with the audience.


The life of the theatre was maintained by them, but no great drama was written. As a matter of fact, there is a progressive decline in dramatic literature from the beginning of the eighteenth century except the isolated brilliance of Goldsmith and Sheridan.
Theatre

      The life of the theatre was maintained by them, but no great drama was written. As a matter of fact, there is a progressive decline in dramatic literature from the beginning of the eighteenth century except the isolated brilliance of Goldsmith and Sheridan. Wordsworth's Borderers, Coleridge's Osoris, Byron's plays, Shelley's Cenex are good as literature but they did not succeed on the stage. The same criticism holds good for Joseph and his Brethren (1824) by Charles J. Wells, for The Birde's Tragedy and Death's jest Book by Beddoes and for Many Tudor (1847) by Aubrey de Vere. All these dramas on the stage was short lived.

      Browning's Strafford (1837), A Blot in the Scutcheon (1843), Colombe's Birthday (1844) had a similar fate. Tennyson's Quen Mary (1875), The Cup (1881) and Becket (1893) were more successful than others, but their success was due to their excellent production by Irving. Swinburne's plays Mary Stuart, Marino Faliero and Locrine were obviously intended for reading rather than for production on the stage. These plays are worth reading as poetry, but they do not belong to the repertory of the theatre However, a few mediocre writers supported the tradition of drama. J.S. Knowles' Virginius and The Hunchback and Bulwer Lytton's The Lady of Lyons and Richelien have dramatic qualities, though they have no literary merit.

      T. W. Robertson, Henry Arthur Jones and Arthur Wing Pinero wrote plays which have far-reaching influence on the growth of modern English drama. They are precursors of the modern theatre. They established the "Well-made play" and endowed it with a serious central theme. Robertson is no revolutionary; his creed essentially Victorian, but he introduced certain elements that paved the way tor the rise of modern drama. First, he treated social problems realistically and satirically. He brought ordinary men and the problems of social existence into the theatre. Secondly, he introduced free and natural style. He evolved a form of dramatic dialogue which is absolutely natural. The naturalism of stage conversations is a significant contribution to the development of modern drama. His Caste (1867) and Society (1865) introduced a method and outlook that helped the advent of such dramatists as Bernard Shaw and Galsworthy. Certainly, the influence of Ibsen, Strindberg, Scribe and other continental dramatists is more important in the development of modern English drama than these tentative native efforts.

      Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929) was the first modern English dramatist to seek high literary place for his plays. Robertson was a man of the theatre. Saints a Sinners (1884) was the first play to strike out at Victorianism. Though sentimental and melodramatic, the play is the theatre's opening attack against the deadening morality and hypocritical respectability of the Victorian age.

      Arthur Wing Pinero was the best craftsman in the Nineteenth century English drama. He brought the 'well-made play' to its perfection, but he followed Ibsen by injecting social issues and genuine contemporary problems. Among his works are such plays as Trelawny of the Wells (1878) and Mid-channel (1909). The Second Mrs. Tanquery (1893) remains the most clever treatment of a common contemporary theme: can a woman with a past obtain a respected position in polite society ? Naturalism in theme and technique is the chief feature of modern drama and Pinero's The Second Mrs. Tanqiery is a landmark in this respect. The play's permanent success rests upon the dramatists's superb skill in giving the sense of easy, natural realism to every plot development. Verisimilitude, preparation and economy are blended to produce the model of the well-made play. Realism is the keynote of the twentieth century drama headed by G.B. Shaw. Although tied to the Victorian sentimentality and melodrama, the playwrights mentioned above helped the growth of realism by introducing contemporary social problems and their naturalistic treatment in the drama. These native contributions have to be reckoned with in the consideration of the development of modern English drama which is largely the product of continental influences.

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