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From Romanticism to Realism. The Essential Theatre. Ch6. Introduction. The late XVIII and early XIX centuries brought a reaction against the neoclassical rules that had dominated dramatic writing since the mid-seventieth century.

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From romanticism to realism

From Romanticism to Realism

The Essential Theatre. Ch6.


  • The late XVIII and early XIX centuries brought a reaction against the neoclassical rules that had dominated dramatic writing since the mid-seventieth century.

  • Most of the strictures of neoclassicism were applied only to ‘regular’ drama (comedy and tragedy written in five acts).

    • Perhaps for this reason a number of ‘irregular ‘ forms gained [popularity during the XVIII century

(The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787)

The emergence of romanticism
The Emergence of Romanticism

  • Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the attitudes that had supported neoclassicism began to change.

  • Several playwrights in Germany (Storm and Stress) school began to write serious plays

  • experimented both with bold subjects and dramatic form.

Title page of Volume III of Des KnabenWunderhorn, 1808

The emergence of romanticism1
The Emergence of Romanticism

  • Perhaps the changes in critical attitudes are best summed up in relation to Shakespeare.

    • Although Shakespeare had always been popular in England, where many of his plays held a firm place in the repertory,

    • they were not performed in any other European country until the late eighteenth century.

Oath of the Horatiiby

Jacques-Louis David(1784)

Synopsis of victor hugo s hernani
Synopsis of Victor Hugo’s Hernani

  • the authors have composed a comprehensive work

  • explaining recent insights into the genesis and analysis of complexity.

  • They emphasize interdependence of advances in computing,

  • as well as in conceptualizing complexity,

  • then describe a new generation of approaches for developing artificial intelligence and for viewing life itself.

The emergence of romanticism2
The Emergence of Romanticism

  • The theatre underwent major alterations during the early nineteenth century.

  • In this new climate, melodrama flourished,

  • becoming to the general public

  • what Shakespeare was to elitist audiences.

Neil Bartlett's adaptation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist onstage at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

The emergence of romanticism3
The Emergence of Romanticism

  • Romanticism was the dominant artistic movement

  • during the first half of the nineteenth century.

The prince of homburg
The Prince of Homburg

Video link of

The Prince of Homburg


  • Melodrama was the popular-culture manifestation of Romanticism

  • and as such was the most popular dramatic form of the nineteenth century.

Melodrama had a large musical element, as suggested by its name,

which literally means ‘music drama’.


  • The popularity of melodrama in the nineteenth century is explained in part by fundamental changes

  • in social and economic conditions

  • stemming from the industrial revolution.


  • London had supported only two or three theatres during the eighteenth century

  • but between 1800 and 1850, its population doubled and the number of its theatres grew to more than twenty.


  • Because the pattern of melodrama is always the same (good threatened by evil, with the eventual triumph of good), variety was gained through such novelties as :

    • exotic locales,

    • ever-more-spectacular effects,

    • increased realism,

    • incorporation into the action of the latest inventions,

    • dramatizations of popular novels or notorious crimes.

Trauma as Melodrama: Thorold Dickinson’s Gaslight (1940)


  • After electricity became common in the 1880s , electric motors were coupled with treadmills to stage horse or chariot races.

  • In melodrama, realistic spectacle, thrilling effects, novelty, suspense, and the vindication of virtue were the major appeals.

Monte cristo
Monte Cristo

  • Monte Cristo is a dramatization of Alexandre Dumas pere’sThe Count of Monte Cristo (1845), one of the world’s most popular novels.

  • At first it was in twenty acts (two evenings to perform).

  • In 1885, James O’Neill purchased the rights of this version and made numerous revisions.

Synopsis of monte cristo
Synopsis of Monte Cristo

  • The story of Edmund Dantes, self-styled Count of Monte Cristo, is told with consummate skill.

  • The victim of a miscarriage of justice, Dantes is fired by a desire for retribution and empowered by a stroke of providence.

  • In his campaign of vengeance, he becomes an anonymous agent of fate.

  • The sensational narrative of intrigue, betrayal, escape, and triumphant revenge moves at a cracking pace.

  • Dumas' novel presents a powerful conflict between good and evil embodied in an epic saga of rich diversity

  • that is complicated by the hero's ultimate discomfort with the hubristic implication of his own actions.

Monte cristo1
Monte Cristo

  • Reducing Dumas’s novel of several hundred pages to a play

  • that could be performed in two or three hours was a formidable task,

  • but not unusual in the nineteenth century,

  • because popular novels were typically dramatized quickly following their publication.

Monte cristo2
Monte Cristo

  • The sweep of Monte Cristo is neater to that of Shakespeare’s plays than to that of plays by Sophocles or Moliere.

  • Like other melodramas, Monte Cristo shows goodness victimized and evil triumphant for a time,

  • but ultimately evil is exposed and punished and goodness is vindicated.

Video link of

The Count of Monte Cristo

Monte cristo3
Monte Cristo

  • The turning point, Edmund’s escape, has a miraculous quality

  • both in the event itself

  • and in Faria’s legacy of enormous wealth,

  • which makes Edmund’s revenge possible.

Monte cristo4
Monte Cristo

  • Characterization is far simpler than plot in Monte Cristo.

  • The characters can be divided into three categories:

    • good (Edmund, Mercedes, Noirtier, Albert),

    • evil (Danglars, Fernand, Villefort),

    • functional (sailors, fishermen, policemen, servants).

Monte cristo5
Monte Cristo

  • The characters are always wholly conscious of their motives and feelings and state them to the audience.

  • Next to suspenseful and morally satisfying plots,

  • melodrama owed its appeal most to spectacle.

Monte cristo6
Monte Cristo

  • Monte Cristo requires eight sets,

    • two of which were probably simple and very shallow,

    • permitting more complex sets to be erected behind them

    • while a scene was in progress.

Monte cristo7
Monte Cristo

  • The demands of the Chateau d’If scene illustrate the changes

  • that had occurred in scenic practices

  • by the late nineteenth century.

Monte cristo8
Monte Cristo

  • By the late nineteenth century,

  • the stage floor in most theatres was divided into sections a few feet wide,

  • any of which could be removed to create an opening extending completely across the stage.

Monte cristo9
Monte Cristo

  • Touring such complex productions was made possible by the development of dependable transportation,

  • which became a reality with the spread of railroads.

Monte cristo10
Monte Cristo

  • Melodrama’s visual appeal was further enhanced by lighting,

  • the potential of which had increased greatly after gas replaced candles and oil

  • during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Monte cristo11
Monte Cristo

  • O’Neills production of Monte Cristo calls attention to another change then underway:

    • Long runs of single plays performed by actors hired for that production

    • only were replacing a repertory of plays

    • performed in rotation by a permanent company.

Monte cristo12
Monte Cristo

  • With melodrama, the theatre in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries achieved its greatest mass appeal.

  • The popular entertainment of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,

  • especially melodrama,

  • was the meeting ground for theatre and film

  • and was crucial in the subsequent history of both.

The advent of realism
The Advent of Realism

  • Even as James O’Neill was achieving his great popular success in Monte Cristo,

  • other theories and beliefs were undermining the absolutist moral values on which melodrama depended.

James O'Neill as Abbé Busoni in Monte Cristo

The advent of realism1
The Advent of Realism

  • In the nineteenth century, a number of intellectual and scientific developments called many biblical passages into question.

  • The greatest controversy was provoked by Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859).

The advent of realism2
The Advent of Realism

  • Darwin’s theories have many implications.

    • First, suggest that heredity and environment are the primary causes of everything human beings are or do.

    • Second – people cannot be held fully responsible for what they do (because of no control over individual heredity and little control over the environment ).

    • Third, strengthen the idea of progress.

The advent of realism3
The Advent of Realism

  • These implications were crucial in the development of the modern temperament,

  • because they suggested that change is the norm.

The advent of realism4
The Advent of Realism

  • The new ideas about human conscience were stated most fully in the writings of Sigmund Freud.

  • Freud argued that the basic human instincts are aggression and sexuality – self-preservation and procreation.

Dr. Sigmund Freud ( 1856 to 1939 )

The advent of realism5
The Advent of Realism

  • According to his view, then, not only are moral values relative,

  • but also language and behavior are only partially reliable indicators of a person’s state of mind and motives.

The advent of realism6
The Advent of Realism

  • Relativity eventually affected every area of thought and action.

    • It eventually entered the theatre through realism and naturalism, even though these movements were seeking objective, scientific explanations of human behavior.

Synopsis of alexandre dumans fils the demi monde
Synopsis of Alexandre Dumans fils’ The Demi-Monde

  • The Baroness Suzanne D'Ange belongs to that questionable stratum of Parisian society full of married women whose husbands are never seen.

  • She has had "affairs" with the Marquis de Thonnerins and more recently with Olivier de Jalin.

  • Now, however, she has met the attractive young officer, Raymond de Nanjac, just back from ten years in the African service,

  • and unacquainted with the new social development that enables women like Suzanne to live on the fringe of society.

  • In his openly expressed admiration she sees an opportunity for marriage and social rehabilitation if she can persuade the Marquis and Olivier to keep silent.

Realism and naturalism
Realism and Naturalism

  • Realism was first recognized during the 1850s, naturalism (a more extreme version of realism) during the 1870s.

  • The views of realists and naturalists were grounded in the scientific outlook:

    • the need to understand human behavior in terms of natural cause and effect.

Contadineby Jean-François Millet

Realism and naturalism1
Realism and Naturalism

  • The real issue for realists and naturalists was the role of art in society:

    • Should art, as in melodrama, always show good triumphant?

    • Should art reaffirm traditional values even though they have not triumphed in this instance?

      Or should art, as the realists and naturalists argued, follow truth wherever it leads?

“Pastoral Landscape” Asher Brown Durand (1861, painted on the eve of the Civil War).

Realism and naturalism2
Realism and Naturalism

  • These issues were brought into focus about 1880 by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), a Norwegian playwright often called the founder of modern drama.

  • His plays stirred worldwide controversy because the endings did not reaffirm accepted values.

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

A doll s house
A Doll’s House

  • In A Doll’s House (1879), Nora Helmer is faced with the consequences of having forged her father’s name to borrow the money needed to restore her husband’s (Torvald) health (although by law she couldn’t do it without her husband’s consent).

Video of

A Doll’s House

A doll s house1
A Doll’s House

  • After her husband recovers, the man from whom Nora borrowed the money (Krogstad) threatens to expose her as a criminal if she does not help him keep the job he is about to lose at Torvald’s bank.

A doll s house2
A Doll’s House

  • Nora wishes to consider, free from the emotional blackmail of home and children, what it means to be a woman in a society that deprives her of all rights.

  • The outrage also stemmed from Ibsen’s refusal to allow the audience the escape that Torvald had sought – the pretense, following a moment’s anxiety, that the old social order was secure.

Henrik Ibsen: A Doll's House, Moscow Art Theatre 1890

A doll s house3
A Doll’s House

  • Mrs. Linde and Krogstad serve as contrasts to Nora and Torvald.

  • Nora, as she herself eventually realizes, has spent her life being treated like a doll, protected from harsh realities but having learned to manipulate men by feeding their fantasies about female helplessness.

A doll s house4
A Doll’s House

  • Another major character, Dr. Rank, also serves as a contrast to Torvald.

  • Nora can talk freely and share confidences with Rank about things that Torvald would find shocking.

Nora and Dr. Rank. A Doll's House

By Henrik Ibsen

Adapted by Frank McGuinness

Directed by Dan Yurgaitis

Scene and Lighting Design by Larry Wild

A doll s house5
A Doll’s House

  • A Doll’s House can serve as a model of cause-to-effect dramatic construction.

  • A Doll’s House uses a single setting throughout.

  • Characters seem to live in the settings.

  • Action, character, and environment are intertwined.

Zola and naturalism
Zola and Naturalism

  • Naturalism, unlike realism, had little success in the theatre, probably because it was too extreme in its demands.

  • It’s chief advocate was Emile Zola (1840-1902).

  • One of his followers suggested to take naturalistic plays as slice of life – a segment of reality transferred to the stage.

Emile Zola (1840-1902).

Zola and naturalism1
Zola and Naturalism

  • Zola, who often compared naturalistic art with medicine, believed that, just as the medical pathologist seeks to discover the cause of a disease so it can be treated,

  • the dramatist should expose social ills so their causes can be corrected.

Emile Zola (1840-1902).

Zola and naturalism2
Zola and Naturalism

  • Together, realism and naturalism struck major blows against rigid social codes and absolute values.

    • They laid the foundations on which modernists built.

Synopsis of zola s the earth
Synopsis of Zola’s The Earth

  • Zola's classic story of an old man who, forced to divide his property among his children, is cruelly harassed by them for what little else remains.

  • The theme, as simple yet as complex as the earth itself, hums with the intrigue of subplots carefully dovetailed into the narrative and constantly arrests the reader with fascinating insights into the motivations of the characters.

The emergence of the director
The Emergence of the Director

  • The present-day director who assumes responsibility for interpreting all of the elements that make up a production,

  • is primarily a product of the late nineteenth century.

The emergence of the director1
The Emergence of the Director

  • A convergence of the modern director,

  • One of these developments involved the growing need for someone to coordinate and unify all the elements of production.

The emergence of the director2
The Emergence of the Director

  • The acceptance of the modern director owes most to two influences:

    • the theory of Wagner and the practice of Saxe-Meiningen.

  • Wagner erected a new kind of theatre building, opened at Bayreuth in 1876.

  • Georg II, duke of Saxe-Meiningen(1826-1914) is now usually considered the first director in the modern sense.

    • He exerted complete control over every aspect of production.

Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen Saxe-Meiningen(1826-1914)

The emergence of the director3
The Emergence of the Director

  • The Meiningen Company validated many of Wagner’s views,

  • and the need for unified production soon became a fundamental tenet of theatrical production.

Synopsis of wagner s die walkure
Synopsis of Wagner’s Die Walkure

  • Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), WWV 86B, is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner with a German libretto by the composer.

  • It is the second of the four operas that form Wagner's cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).

  • The story of the opera is based on the Norse mythology told in the Volsunga Saga and the Poetic Edda.

  • In Norse mythology, a valkyrie is one in a group of female figures who decide which soldiers die in battle and which live.

  • Die Walküre's best-known excerpt is the "Ride of the Valkyries".

Video of

Die Walkure

Julius caesar
Julius Caesar

  • The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599.

  • It portrays the 44 BC conspiracy against the Roman dictator Julius Caesar, his assassination and the defeat of the conspirators at the Battle of Philippi.

  • It is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from Roman history, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

  • Although the title is Julius Caesar, Julius Caesar is not the most visible character in its action; he appears in only five scenes.

  • Marcus Brutus speaks more than four times as many lines and the central psychological drama is his struggle between the conflicting demands of honour, patriotism and friendship.

Video link of

Julius Caesar

The independent theatre movement
The Independent Theatre Movement

  • By the 1880s, innovative plays by realists and naturalists had appeared,

  • but censorship had kept most of them from production.

  • The new drama and the new staging had been remained isolated from each other.

  • They were finally to meet in “independent” theatres.

Original Booth Theatre building, circa 1880s

The independent theatre movement1
The Independent Theatre Movement

  • The first independent theatre was the Theatre Libre, founded in Paris in 1887 by Andre Antoine.

  • In 1889, the FreieBuhne was founded in Berlin.

The independent theatre movement2
The Independent Theatre Movement

  • London’s independent theatre’s inaugural production of Ibsen’s Ghosts,

  • created enormous scandal that did much to call public attention to a new type of drama.

The independent theatre movement3
The Independent Theatre Movement

  • Another organization that emerged from the independent theatre movement-

  • the Moscow Art Theatre- was to be of special importance.

The independent theatre movement4
The Independent Theatre Movement

  • The Moscow Art Theatre

  • Founded in 1898 by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Danchenko,

  • it achieved its first major success with the plays of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904).

The independent theatre movement5
The Independent Theatre Movement

  • The Moscow Art Theatre eventually made its greatest impact through Stanislavsky’s system of acting,

  • became the most pervasive influence on acting during the twentieth century.

Synopsis of the three sisters
Synopsis of The Three Sisters

  • This landmark probes the lives and dreams of Olga, Masha and Irina,

  • former Muscovites now living in a provincial town from which they long to escape.

  • Their hopes for a life more suited to their cultivated tastes and sensibilities provide a touching counterpoint to the relentless flow of compromising events in the real world.

Video link of

The Three Sisters

Synopsis of george bernard shaw s mrs warren s profession
Synopsis of George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession

  • "Mrs. Warren's Profession" is George Bernard Shaw's classic play that centers on the relationship between Mrs. Warren, a prostitute, and her prudish Cambridge-educated daughter Vivie, who is horrified to discover that her mother's wealth was acquired through the operation of whore-houses.

  • Shaw offers up this play "to draw attention to the truth that prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness,

  • but simply by underpaying, undervaluing, and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together."


  • By the late nineteenth century, realism in the theatre was well established.

  • Melodrama was grounded in the assumption that human beings innately know the difference between right and wrong,

  • that moral behavior has little to do with environment, class, or wealth.


  • Realism and naturalism tended to view the world scientifically rather than morally

  • and were based on the idea that forces of heredity and environment determines human behavior.

  • A pathway was thereby opened for those ideas and practices that have come to be labeled “modernist.”