Feeling in John Osborne's Drama

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Osborne’s Emphasis on ‘Feeling’

      Osborne has stressed the importance of a theatre of feelings. He attacks the stiff upper lip, and prefers working-class garrulous to bourgeois reserve, just as Jimmy Porter keeps trying to sting Alison into the outward liveliness of retaliation in Look Back in Anger. ‘I want to make people feel, to give them lessons in feeling. They can think afterward’. He is not afraid of being charged with sentimentality, and says that if this desire to crack open the British Way of Feeling is sentimental, he’ll go on working towards a sentimental theatre’ for the rest of his life. Now the ability to move an audience, a mixed audience of unknown composition, to move it and leave it shaken, is a great gift, and Osborne has this gift, to an extent that (for example) neither Eliot nor Fry has been able to show. But it’s a gift that carries obligations and responsibilities. Osborne says, ‘We can think afterward’. Supposing we don’t make the effort—or we do make the effort and find that no very definitely formulated theme emerges—or that a theme emerges which doesn’t deserve our approbation? In Declaration he warns us ‘I shall simply fling down a few statements—you can take your pick.’ This might be said by some weary verse dramatists knee-deep in symbols, but as the attitude of a prose dramatist who is professedly concerned with modern society and its ills, it shows an alarming dislike of clarity. I say ‘alarming’ because social and moral clarities are, above all, what we are needing, and what we are not getting Pathos we get in full measure—even. Look Back in Anger is essentially a play of pathos—but if our cheeks are all watered with tears and we’re not sure afterward what we’ve been weeping for, or we do know and feel were oughtn’t to have been weeping for, it how are plays of this sort going to help change English society?

John Osborne: ‘Feeling’ in Plays

      I want to make people feel, to give them lessons in feeling. They can think afterward. In some countries, this could be a dangerous approach, but there seems little danger of people feeling too much—at least not in England as I am writing. I am an artist—whether or not I am a good one is beside the point now. For the first time in my life I have a chance to get on with my job, and that is what I intend to do. I shall do it in the theatre and, possibly, in films. I shall not try and hand out my gospel version of the Labour party’s next manifesto to prop up any journalist who wants a bit of easy copy or to give some reviewer another smart clue for his weekly written-up crossword game. I shall simply fling down a few statements—you can take your pick. They will be what are often called “sweeping statements” but I believe we are living at a time when a few “sweeping statements” may be valuable. It is too late for caution.

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