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Nineteenth-Century Theatre. Influences. 17th c. French Neo-Classical and English Restoration drama of wit and manners became 18th theatre of sensibility 18 th –19 th c. German Romantic Theatre Revival of Shakespeare Rise of “star system”: actor-managers

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  • 17th c. French Neo-Classical and English Restoration drama of wit and manners became 18th theatre of sensibility
  • 18th –19th c. German Romantic Theatre
  • Revival of Shakespeare
  • Rise of “star system”: actor-managers
  • Technical advances in staging and lighting
18 th 19 th c german romantic theater
18th –19th c. German Romantic Theater
  • “Stürm und Drang”
  • Looked to Shakespeare for models
  • Sweeping historical and tragic dramas
  • Began to emphasize historical accuracy in costumes and settings
  • Improved theatrical effects -- footlights, revolving stages, theatrical machinery
  • Goethe and Schiller
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


1771: Götz von Berlichen

1775-86: Manager of Court Theatre at Weimar

1787: Iphigenie

1790: Torquato Tasso

1788: Egmont

1790: Fragment of Faust

1792: Wilhelm Meister

1808-32: Faust I and II

Friedrich Schiller


1782: The Robbers

1787: Don Carlos

1790s: Wallenstein trilogy

1800: Maria Stuart

1801: Maid of Orleans

1804: Wilhelm Tell

french romantic drama
Victor Hugo, 1802-85

1827: Cromwell

1829: Marion de Lorme – banned by the censors

1830: Hernani –caused a riot at Theatre Francais

1832: The King Takes his Amusement – banned by the censors -- Verdi’s Rigoletto

1833: Lucrece Borgia and Maria Tudor

1835: Angelo

1838: Ruy Blas

1843: Les Burgraves

  • Revolt against Neo-Classicism fueled by French Revolution
  • Action – Passion– Human Nature
  • Alexander Dumas, pere, 1802-1870
    • Henri III et sa cour (Henry III and His Court, 1829)
    • For Antony (1831)
    • La Tour de Nesle (1832)
    • Novelist: Three Musketeers, Count of Monte Cristo
  • Alfred de Vigny, 1797-1863
    • 1820s: Alexandrine verse adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice and Othello
    • La Marechale d’Ancre (1831)
    • Quitte pour la Peur (1833
    • Chatterton (1835)
French Romantic Drama
english romantic theatre
English Romantic Theatre
  • Closet drama: drama meant more to be read than performed
  • Popular in the early 19th c. when melodrama and burlesque dominated the theater, and poets attempted to raise dramatic standards:
    • George Gordon Lord Byron: Manfred, 1817
    • Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci and Prometheus Unbound, 1819
    • Robert Browning’s Strafford (1837) and Pippa Passes (1841)
  • Comes from "music drama" – music was used to increase emotions or to signify characters (signature music).
  • Theatre of sentimentality -- emotional appeal
  • Simplified moral universe: good and evil embodied in stock characters: heroes and villains -- and lily-pure heroines
  • Sensationalistic: fires, explosions, drownings, etc.
  • Episodic form: the villain poses a threat, the hero or heroine escapes, etc.—with a happy ending
  • Wide popular appeal
authors of melodrama
Authors of Melodrama
  • German: August von Kotzebue (1761-1819)
    • domestic melodramas
    • “father of sensationalism”
  • French: René de Pixérécourt (1773-1844)
    • specialized in canine and disaster melodramas
    • theatrical effects more important than dialogue
  • English: Gothic Melodrama
    • Holcroft’s Tale of Mystery (1824) Matthew Lewis’The Castle Spectre (1797), and Isaac Pocock’sThe Miller and His Men (1813).
  • English: Douglas Jerrold
    • Nautical melodramas – success of British navy
    • Black ey’d Susan
  • American: Dion Boucicault (1822-90)
      • Combined sentiment, wit and local color with sensational and spectacular endings
      • Corsican Brothers and The Octoroon
uncle tom s cabin dramatizations based on novel by harriet beecher stowe
Uncle Tom’s Cabindramatizations based on novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • George L. Aiken’s was the most popular--1853. Six acts, done without an afterpiece – established the single-play format. 325 performances in New York.
  • In the 1870’s, at least 50 companies doing it in the U.S.
  • In 1899: 500 companies.
  • In 1927: 12 still doing it.
  • 12 movie versions since 1900.
  • The most popular melodrama in the world until the First World War.
comic or light opera
Comic or Light Opera
  • Predecessors
    • Italian Opera Buffa
    • French Opera Comique
    • English Ballad Opera: Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera
    • German Singspiele
    • English Pantomime
    • Viennese Operetta
  • Conventions
    • Combination of spoken dialogue and songs
    • A frivolous, sentimental story, often employing parody and satire
    • Light, pleasant music sometimes including popular music of the day
richard d oyly carte and the savoy theatre
Richard D’oyly Carte and the Savoy Theatre
  • 1875: D’oyly Carte brought Gilbert and Sullivan together to write an opera afterpiece: Trial by Jury
  • 1876: Formed the Comic Opera Company and leased the Opera Comique Theatre
  • 1877-1881: Great successes with The Sorcerer, H.M.S. Pinafore, Patience and The Pirates of Penzance
  • 1878 on: touring companies (A,B,C, D) throughout the UK, Ireland, North America, Europe, and South Africa
  • 1881:Built the Savoy Theatre – the first London theatre to be lit with electric lights
gilbert and sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
  • First collaborated in 1871 on Thespis, an ‘Original Grotesque Opera’
  • After success of The Sorcerer and H.M.S. Pinafore partnered with Richard D’oyly Carte to form Mr. D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company.
  • Success of company attributed to D’Oyly Carte’s business acumen and diplomacy as well as artistic control exercised by Gilbert and Sullivan.
  • Sullivan knighted in 1883 by Queen Victoria.
  • Gilbert knighted in 1907 by King Edward VII.

ComposerSir Arthur Seymour Sullivan


AuthorSir William

Schwenk Gilbert1836-1911

the savoy operas
The Savoy Operas

Written by William Gilbert, scored by Sir Arthur Sullivan, produced by Richard D'Oyly Carte

  • Trial By Jury (1875)
  • The Sorcerer (1877)
  • H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved A Sailor (1878)
  • The Pirates of Penzance (1879)
  • Patience (1881)
  • Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the Peri (1882)
  • Princess Ida (1884)
  • The Mikado (1885)
  • Ruddigore; or, The Witch's Curse (1887)
  • The Yeomen of the Guard (1888)
  • The Gondoliers (1889)
  • Utopia Limited; or, The Flowers of Progress (1893)
  • The Grand Duke; or, The Statutory Duel (1896)
  • 1817: first gas lit theatre
    • Smelled bad
    • Very hazardous – many theatres burnt down as the gas lighting set the wood and canvas scenery on fire
  • 1826: limelight was invented
    • A block of quicklime heated by oxygen and hydrogen produced a bright sharp light.
    • Used in a hand-operated spotlights
  • 1881: London’s Savoy Theatre opened with electric lights
  • The auditorium was still lit for most of this period, which also had an effect on the lighting effects on-stage.
magic lantern shows
Magic Lantern Shows
  • Combination of projected images, live drama, and live music that led to the movies.
  • Dramatic rescues of damsels in distress, dastardly villains, endangered children, hissing and booing.
eugene scribe 1791 1861 father of the well made play
Eugene Scribe (1791-1861) Father of the Well-Made Play
  • Produced 450-500 plays during a 40 year career from comedies vaudevilles to tragedies
  • Most famous and lasting play was Adrienne Lecouvreur (1849)
  • “You go to the theatre not for instruction or correction, but for relaxation and amusement. Now, what amuses you most is not truth but fiction. To represent what is before your very eyes every day is not the way to please you; but what does not come to you in your usual life, the extraordinary, the romantic, that is what charms you. That is what one is eager to offer you”
  • Changed the position of playwright in business world: royalties
scribe s formal 5 act structure
Scribe’s formal 5-Act structure
  • Act I: Mainly expository and lighthearted. Toward the end of the act, the antagonists are engaged and the conflict is initiated.
  • Act II, III: The action oscillates in an atmosphere of mounting tension from good fortune to bad, etc.
  • Act IV: The Act of the Ball. The stage is generally filled with people and there is an outburst of some kind--a scandal, a quarrel, a challenge. At this point, things usually look pretty bad for the hero. The climax is in this act.
  • Act V: Everything is worked out logically so that in the final scene, the cast assembles and reconciliations take place, and there is an equitable distribution of prizes in accordance with poetic justice and reinforcing the morals of the day. Everyone leaves the theatre bien content
the well made play
The Well-Made Play
  • A plot based upon a withheld secret  
  • Slowly accelerating action and suspense sustained by such contrivances as precisely timed entrances and exits, letters which miscarry, and mistakes in identity,  
  • A battle of wits between two adversaries 
  • A reversal in the action followed by a climactic, "obligatory" scene representing the nadir and then the zenith of the hero's fortunes as a result of the disclosure of the withheld secret 
  • A logical, credible denouement   
  • Tendency to have the action center upon a stage prop, e.g. a letter, a fan or a glass of water
  • A nugget of morality which would appease the ordinary man's sense of guilt at enjoying himself, e.g. the lesson that momentous consequences may follow from quite trivial events.
alexandre dumas fils 1824 95
Alexandre Dumas fils1824-95

Dramas of Illicit Love

1852: Lady of the Camellias – dramatization of 1848 novel – Verdi’s La Traviata

1853: Diana de Lys

1855: Le Demi-Monde

1857: The Money Question

1858: The Natural Son

1859: A Prodigal Father

oscar wilde 1854 1900
Oscar Wilde 1854-1900

Middle Class Satire

1892: Lady Windermere's Fan

1893: A Woman Of No Importance

1894: Salome

1895: An Ideal Husband

1895: The Importance Of Being Earnest

actor managers
  • Star performers who held the license to the theatres, arranged the performances and hired the other actors.
  • Introduced reforms and innovations:
    • full rehearsals for the company
    • raised status of actors
    • revived Shakespearean plays
    • toured extensively
    • offered powerful management role to women
  • Demands of complicated technical effects (storms, fires, elaborate lighting) led actors to give artistic control to stage managers who could coordinate all production aspects
  • Stage manager's function became increasingly important until he was eventually elevated to the status of régisseur, or director.
some famous actor managers
Some Famous Actor-Managers
  • Edmund Kean, English, 1787-1833
  • William Macready, English, 1793-1873
  • Edwin Forrest, American, 1806-72
  • Edwin Booth, American, 1833-93
  • Henry Irving, English, 1838-1905
  • Sarah Bernhardt, French, 1844-1923
  • James O’Neill, American, 1849-1920
  • Eleanora Duse, Italian, 1859-1924

November 25, 1864, Julius Caesar:  The first and last appearance together of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. (right) and two of his sons, John Wilkes (left) and Edwin (middle). 

realism and naturalism
Realism and Naturalism
  • Intellectual reaction against popular theatre
  • Theatre of social problems
  • Influenced by emerging disciplines of psychology and sociology
  • Emerging importance of director
realistic stage conventions
Realistic stage conventions
  • Proscenium stage
  • Audience as “fourth wall”
  • Change in acting conventions
  • Continued improvement in stagecraft: electric lighting, set design, costumes, etc.
realism vs naturalism
Middle class



Mimetic art

Objective, but ethical

Sometimes comic or satiric

How can the individual live within and influence society?

“Well-made play”

Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw

Middle/Lower class



Investigative art

Objective and amoral

Often pessimistic, sometimes comic

How does society/the environment impact individuals?

“Slice of life”

August Strindberg, Anton Chekhov, John Synge

Realism vs. Naturalism
henrik ibsen norwegian 1828 1906
Romantic Dramas


Peer Gynt

Realistic Social Dramas

The Pillars of Society

A Doll's House


An Enemy of the People

The Wild Duck


The Lady from the Sea

Hedda Gabler

Symbolic Dramas

The Master Builder

Little Eyolf

John Gabriel Borkman

When We Dead Awaken

Henrik IbsenNorwegian, 1828-1906
august strindberg swedish 1849 1912
August StrindbergSwedish 1849-1912
  • Naturalistic Plays : 1880s
    • The Father
    • Miss Julie
    • Creditors
  • Dreamplays : turn of the century
    • To Damascus
    • A Dream Play
    • The Ghost Sonata
  • Historical Dramas: turn of the century
    • Gustavus Vasa
    • Erik XIV
    • Charles XII
anton chekhov russian 1860 1904
Anton ChekhovRussian 1860-1904
  • Physician, storyteller, dramatist
  • Plays:
    • That Worthless Fellow
    • Platonov
    • On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco
    • Ivanov
    • The Bear
    • A Marriage Proposal
    • The Wood Demon
  • For the Moscow Art Theatre:
    • The Seagull
    • Uncle Vanya
    • The Three Sisters
    • The Cherry Orchard
george bernard shaw anglo irish 1856 1950
George Bernard ShawAnglo-Irish, 1856-1950
  • Fabian, Drama critic, Nobel Prize Winner
    • The Quintessence of Ibsenism,
  • Playwright: Over 50 plays
    • 1890s: Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant: Widower’s Houses,The Philanderer,Mrs. Warren’s Profession ,Arms and the Man ,Candida,You Never Can Tell
    • 1890s: Three Plays for Puritans: The Devil’s Disciple,Caesar and Cleopatra and Captain Brassbound’s Conversion (1900).
    • Early 20th C: Man and Superman , Major BarbaraAndrocles and the Lion and Pygmalion(My Fair Lady)
    • Later Plays: St. Joan, Heartbreak House, The Millionairess
john millington synge 1871 1909
John Millington Synge1871-1909
  • Irish poet and playwright discovered by W.B. Yeats.
  • Plays of Irish peasant life:
    • In the Shadow of the Glen, (1903), a comedy
    • Riders to the Sea (1904), a tragedy
    • The Well of the Saints (1905), a comedy
    • The Playboy of the Western World (1907), a comedy, caused riots
    • The Tinker's Wedding, published in 1908 but not produced for fear of further riots
    • Deirdre of the Sorrows, a mythic tragedy unfinished at the time of his death
independent theatre movement
Independent Theatre Movement
  • Led by young intellectuals, disillusioned with the literary stagnation of the stage, the actor-manager system and indulgence with scenic spectacle
  • Wanted to promote new Realistic and Naturalistic playwrights
  • Often ran into trouble with censors
  • Dedicated to bringing serious drama to the working and middle class
independent theatres
Independent Theatres
  • Théâtre-Libre founded by André Antoine in 1887 in Paris
  • Freie Bühne founded by Otto Brahm in 1894 in Berlin
  • Independent Theatre Club founded by Jacob Grein in 1891 in London
  • The Stage Society founded in 1899 in London
  • Moscow Art Theatre founded by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898 in Moscow
  • The Abbey Theatre founded by William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory in 1903 in Dublin
20th century theatre a hundred years of isms
20th Century Theatre:a hundred years of isms
  • Symbolism
  • Expressionism
  • Futurism
  • Dadism
  • Surrealism
  • Social Realism
  • Epic Theatre
  • Existentialism
  • Magic Realism
  • Hyper-Realism
  • Not to mention musicals, films, street theatre, etc., etc.