MODERN PLAYS: (1920-1950)

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  • 1. INTERNATIONAL ISLAMIC UNIVERSITY ISLAMABADFACULTY OF LANGUAGES AND LITERATURE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH MODERN DRAMA Assignment no. 02 Assignment Topic: Modern Plays: (1920-50) Submitted to: Ma’am Saiyma Submitted by: Maryam Irshad Maimoona Azam Hasna Shabbir Humaira Masood Amenah Qureshi Date of submission: 6th November 2012
  • 2. MODERN PLAYS: (1920-1950) Modern drama came as a reaction to the realistic drama of nineteenthcentury. Taking its drift from the modern art movements, it adopted symbol, abstractionand ritual. Thus, there were anti-realistic, expressionistic and absurdist theatres to befound. However, realistic style drama continued to dominate the commercial sector afterthe First World War, especially psychological realism. The plays of Arthur Miller andTennessee Williams use memory scenes, dream sequences, purely symbolic characters,projections etc to achieve the end. The genres like ‘problem plays’ and ‘domestictragedies’ were also introduced. Similarly, Eugene O’Neill gave the concept of the‘rebellious drama’. The plays discussed in the work below are those published between 1920s and1950s. This is the post-world war era which was mayhem of several ideologies, neweconomic and political systems and confused philosophies about life. The works includedare: • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1949) • Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw (1924) • Mother Courage and her Children by Bertolt Brechet (1938) • The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill (1939) • Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello (1921)
  • 3. Death of a Salesman: Arthur Miller Death of a salesman is a famous play written by the American playwright ArthurMiller. This play is a critique on the ‘American Dream’ of the American Capitalistsociety. The plot reveals the last twenty-four hours of a sixty years old salesman WillyLoman. His whole life was spent in the pursuit of ‘the dream’ but couldn’t achieve thestatus. He also taught his two sons Happy and Biff the same thing that being ‘well-liked’was all that mattered for being successful. He himself remains in the delusion that he isknown across the states. Even the moral values are ignored in the process. Willy Lomanends up committing suicide. Miller chose to write ‘social plays’ that re-introduced the issues of mankind sowhich had been of interest since the ancient Greeks. Most of his plays aimed at socialreforms. He wrote plays for he common man to enjoy. In this play, he talks about theproblems of an ordinary man in the capitalist society. For this purpose, he chose hisprotagonists from middle class society. Willy Loman also belongs to the same classwhere everyone strives till the end of their lives to get the luxuries that the upper classenjoys. Avoiding the use of literary devices for the common man, Miller’s plots containan equal ratio of action and speech. He introduces new techniques to where form of aplay is part of the message it conveys. Death of a Salesman is one of the similar plots. In this play, Miller modifies the concept of tragedy which he calls ‘tragedy of acommon man’. He believes that a tragic hero may belong to some class other than royaltytoo. What makes him a hero is his sacrifice to maintain his self-dignity. Similarly Willybecomes a tragic hero where he turns down the idea of giving up his vision. His tragicflaw lies in his faulty formula for being successful in life. Innovations are found in Miller’s style that came to be known as ‘subjectiverealism’. He combines the realistic and expressionistic devices to form an impressionabout what is going on in protagonist’s mind. This form of drama gives the liberty of
  • 4. being objective through realism with the glimpses of subjectivity through expressionism.In this play, what happens to Willy outwardly is illustrated concurrently with how heanalyses events inwardly. For Miller, the present of a person is rooted in his past. According to him, “the jobof the artist is to remind people what they have chosen to forget”. In this play, at severalplaces there are shifts between Willy’s past and present without even the change in scene.For example, in act II, Willy is with his sons in a restaurant in Brooklyn whilesimultaneously he is shown with a woman of his past in Boston. The dialogues simplyflow from present to past without any marked break. The time is dislodged throughoutthe play. Innovations may also be seen in the structure which is surrealistic. Miller says, “Itis told like a dream. In a dream, we are simply confronted with various loaded symbols,and where one is exhausted, it gives way to another”. It shows the internal workings ofWilly’s mind. It also symbolizes his anxiety to justify his life which leads to the minglingof the limits between past and present. This is successfully achieved by the use oflighting, musical hints and delicate writing. The play was first performed in 1949. Jo Mielziner designed a skeletonized setthat captured the mood of the play and serves the actors brilliantly. Mr. Cobbs tragicportrait of the defeated salesman was acting of the first rank. Mildred Dunnock gave theperformance of her career as the wife and mother, plain of speech but indomitable inspirit. The parts of the thoughtless sons were played by Arthur Kennedy and CameronMitchell, who are all young, brag and bewilderment. The effects were achieved through the careful use of light which shifted fromscene to scene on the same stage. The impact of the leaves was also given through light.The music was played at the right time to foreshadow some information. For example,the leaves depicted Willy’s inclination towards country life while playing of flutesuggests his father’s background.
  • 5. It may be concluded that Miller revitalized the American theatre. He innovatedthe terms of tragedy and subjective realism. He re-introduced the issues of familydynamics and highlighted the importance of human values in the materialistic world ofcapitalist American Society.
  • 6. Saint Joan: George Bernard Shaw Irish dramatist, literary critic, a socialist spokesman, and a leading figure in the20th century theater, Bernard Shaw was a freethinker, defender of womens rights, andadvocate of equality of income. Saint Joan is a play by George Bernard Shaw, based onthe life and trial of Joan of Arc. Published not long after the canonization of Joan of Arcby the Roman Catholic Church, the play dramatizes what is known of her life based onthe substantial records of her trial. The subtitle of the play, A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and an Epilogue has apreface which begins with a section titled "Joan the Original and Presumptuous". Shawcrafts his own romantic vision of Joan to rescue her tarnished reputation as a result of hercanonization by the Catholic Church in 1920. The key elements that support the play asShavian romance or satiric antitragedy include: the discussion of Joans beauty (Shawargues that she was not beautiful), her anachronistic positions as both a "Protestant" andchampion of French "Nationalism," and Joans "maidenhood. The play serves as a kind ofanti-canonization of Joan even as Shaw ultimately presents her saintly status as linked toa miracle. From the opening scenes, Shaw’s Saint has a sense of purpose. Instead the plot ofa play centered on a poor peasant girl (Joan) a simple and faithful French country girlsees visions and hears voices that she believes come directly from God. Accepting thevisions and voices as Gods direction for her life, Joan successfully drives the Englishfrom Orleans and crowns the Dauphin as the King of France. She is burned at the stakefor her efforts. The epilogue takes place twenty-five years after Joan is burnt. Her casehas been reconsidered by the court, and she has been freed of all charges. When theylearn that she is to become of saint, the men that caused her early death now praise her;Joan ends the play by asking God when mankind will ever understand and honor itssaints.
  • 7. In Saint Joan, history, or rather character historically conceived, weighs a bit tooheavily on the living fluid objectivity of the chronicle, and the events in the playsomehow lose that sense of the unexpected which is the breath of true life. Thecharacters, whether historical or typical, do not quite free themselves from the fixity thathistory has forced upon them and from the significant role they are to play in history.Saint Joan_ has seldom been recognized for the odd ghost it is. Anomalous as it presentsissues of religious faith to a largely secular era, atavistic as its roots lie in medievaldrama, it resurrected the miracle play, otherwise known as the saints play, proving thatdespite a lapse of five hundred years a major play about a saint and miracles. By rejecting outmoded theatrical conventions and championing realism and socialcommentary in his work, critics contend Shaw succeeded in revolutionizing Britishdrama. He has been credited with creating the “theater of ideas,” in which plays exploresuch issues as sexism, sexual equality, socioeconomic divisions, the effects of poverty,and philosophical and religious theories. Moreover, his innovative dramas are thought tohave paved the way for later Symbolist drama and the Theater of the Absurd. Shaw won the Nobel Prize for Literature with Saint Joan, and it was staged onlyfour years after Joan of Arc’s canonization in 1920.Duration of the play was 2 hours and15 minutes. Shaw was a man before his time, foreseeing the role of women in society.The twenties was an era when women were headed towards the glass ceiling at lightningspeed. It was the perfect moment to stage a play about a woman exercising leadership,and dispelling ideas of women as “lesser vessels.” The production itself is a celebration of minimalism. Saint Joan is staged withonly four actors playing 22 characters. Joan, magnificently embodied by Andrus Nichols,is surrounded and juxtaposed by three other equally astute talents, Ted Lewis, TomO’Keefe, and Eric Tucker. It takes a moment to realize this is happening, but out of theentire play, there was only one scene with two actors shifting in and out of the same rolethat rendered the viewer confused.
  • 8. In Conclusion, we must admit that Shaw in his epilogue draws upon hisimagination and his inventive powers par excellence. The scene is in some respect best inthe play as Shaw gets free from the confining framework of faith and becomes a genuinecreator. Shaw is here better planned to end the drama with the artistry of delineatingJoans infinite cry of isolation. The play is well rounded off with the memorable closinglines spoken by the ghost of Joan. Shaw is also innovative in structuring epilogue as it isno ordinary solo speech uttered by any character; rather, it involves more characters andfarce, satire, irony and pathos intermingle in every twists and turns.
  • 9. Mother Courage and her Children: A Chronicle of the Thirty Years War : Bertolt Brecht When crimes begin to pile up, they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.” Bertolt Brecht Mother Courage and her Children by Bertolt Brecht is one of the most powerfulantiwar drama in history. The play is based on two works by Hans Jacob Christoffel: his1669 novel, Simplicissimus and his 1670 play, Courage: An Adventuress. MotherCourage was written in 1938-39, just as World War II was breaking out in Europe.Brecht completed the play while living in exile. He fled from his native country in theface of a rising fascist government. The play is subtitled as ‘A Chronicle of the ThirtyYears War’. The Thirty Years War (1618-48) began as a war between Catholics andProtestants which gradually transformed into a struggle to determine whether theAustrian Habsburgs would take control of all German speaking territories. In the courseof war, most of Germany was devastated. In contrast, Brecht’s play almost entirelyfocuses on the lives of common people whose lives are perverted and ruined by war. In Mother Courage, the normative and constitutive social attitudes of family,religion and business are deployed within and against a generalized background of Warwhich itself comes to represent the natural condition of European Capitalism. MotherCourage and her children foregrounds the bond between a mother and her brood as theplay’s apparently central concern; her badge of courage. The title of a play invites us toinfer her social protection of her children against outside threats. As far as the subtitle isconcern, it adds the comprehensive element within which the characters reside: Brecht’schronicle excludes War (that is War as battle), which action of the play has reformulatedinto ‘War as Business’. It signifies that the battles of war are not fought in the fields butin the market place and its battalions are commoners struggling to survive within theeconomic conditions established by war.
  • 10. It was manifestly one of Brecht’s ambitions for the play to expose thetransactional economic nature of war. A canteen wagon, bearing the infamous MotherCourage, her dumb daughter, Kattrin and her sons Eilif and Swiss Cheese appears at theopening scene of the play. The lady with a wagon makes war as her immediate mode ofliving. The cart of Mother Courage refers to as the didactic vehicle Brecht’s uses torepresent the economic system. For Courage it is both house and business. The object thatallows her to live off the war and the space within which she aims to shield her childrenfrom the same war that is feeding them. The play revolves around characters, whose relationship to commodities, tomoney and the market place, to the non human and inorganic, that prevents humanrelationship are more dominant. Courage herself embodies Modern mutilated figure. Thecharacters in Mother Courage are mainly low level functionaries and peasants who haveno control over the larger patterns that define and encircle their lives. These charactersare forever talking about the war. They comment upon it, praise it and curse it. Most ofthem are pathetically unaware of how thoroughly it disempowers them. The plot of Mother Courage is organized in such a way that individual episodesare easily noticed. In addition to this each episodes are titled with captions whichforegrounds Brecht’s abandonment of Aristotelian ‘unities’. Play encompasses vaststretches of time: a year passes between Scene i and ii, three years passes between Sceneii and iii and so on. Meanwhile Courage remains “ceaselessly on the move”, pursuing thewar as it threads its way across Europe. Thus Brecht’s violate Aristotelian unities of timeand place. Staging arrangements on the other hand are not naturalist one. Characters in histheatre were not meant to move about according to inner motives. Rather Brechtemployed “spacial narrative” which serves to encode social configurations. The positionof characters upon the stage reveals not private psychology but the “gestic content” oftheir attitudes towards one another. Brecht develops a schema that can be articulated asMother/Family and War. He seeks to actualize this schema through stage blocking. AboutScene I he writes “The cart and the children are on the left, the recruits on the right”. This
  • 11. allows the conclusions to be drawn about social circumstances “from the physicalattitudes adopted by the actors upon the stage”. Similarly in Scene ii in exchange for Eilif’s rapacious “hacking to pieces” of agroup of peasants the General makes him his son. The heroism for which he is beingpraised will later be redefined as barbarism when he makes the error of performing thesame act during a brief gasp of peace. Gestures, props and stage pictures continue to addtexture to Brecht schema as this scene moves towards its conclusion. When Eilif sings“The Song of the Girl and the Solder, he dances a war dance with his saber” as hismother beats “on a pot with her spoon”. Their respective props relegate them to opposingpositions on a gradually expanding graph. The plucked capon as well as the pot and thespoon are signs of domesticity. Meanwhile saber signifies Eilif’s rejection of his mother’sadvice and his embrace of the trappings of war. Brecht was a political playwright who wanted people to understand the politicaland social conditions of the world around them. Mother Courage was a learning playwith the idea of educating as well as entertaining his audience. The idea of a “theatre forthe scientific age” was to investigate life, truth and evidence through theatre in the sameway that a scientist would experiment. Brecht valued the theatre as an instrument ofpolitical instruction. Brecht used theatre form that clearly acknowledges that the actors and theaudience were in same space. He introduced a new technique under the name of ‘EpicTheatre technique’ in which actors would no longer seamlessly eradicate themselves intheir role and become their characters but perform both themselves and their characters atonce. Brecht acting bought the relation between actor and character to light, forcing in thename of high realism. Brecht staging technique similarly aimed at such alienation, theepic theatre making frequent use of unfamiliar settings, the interruption of actions anddialogue, unsetting music, the use of banners to mark scenes changes and playing spacesdivided by half drawn curtains gave way to his new innovation.
  • 12. Brecht also created the ‘Verfumdungs effekt’ or distancing effect. This wascreated to stop the audience getting emotionally involved in the play, instead they weresupposed to think about the issues addressed in the play. Brecht did this so the audiencedidnt suspend their disbelief and would leave the theatre thinking about how they couldapply the messages in the play to their own lives and not how upset they were when acharacter died. Brecht wanted people to examine the world around them, to see things in newlight, to ask questions about themselves and others, about the inevitability of their lives;to take responsibilities of their actions and to be aware that there is always another way “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” ― Bertolt Brecht
  • 13. The Iceman Cometh: Eugene O’Neill Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) began writing his plays in the 1920s the Americantheater was about a quarter century behind that of Europe. Within only a few years,however, O’Neill’s significant innovations in play-writing techniques, staging practices,and treatment of themes and issues brought world recognition to American theater.Winner of four Pulitzer Prizes, one of O’Neill’s greatest achievements was, in the wordsof one critic, his dramatic depiction of “the anguish and turmoil that wreck the spirits ofsensitive people.” Eugene ONeills The Iceman Cometh, the play selected here for study, waswritten in 1939. The play was first published in 1940; Directed by Eddi Dowling, itpremiered on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on 9th October, 1946. The Iceman Cometh is a play based on dark realism. Harry Hopes grimy saloon isoften sad, pathetic place. And inhabitant’s routines, their tales of former glory, theirhopes that prosperity will be restored tomorrow are pitiable; and their cynical, well-practiced routines of jokes with interplay of pipe-dreams are similarly sad and funny.Hickeys story of a salesmans life and marriage and Don Parritts story of a son betrayinghis mother are the center-piece of the play. Story ends with Hickeys confession to themurder of his own wife and tragic suicide of Don Parritt. All the characters in the play arereal to life. Forgetfulness on their part of life’s absurdity and wretchedness andconsequent action are comic; the awareness of it is deeply tragic. The play is an antecedent of the absurd theater and is expressionist in thought andtechnique. It is poetry expressed through the medium o
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