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Title:The Making of The Modern History Play
Author(s):Watt, Stephen Myers
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Modern
Abstract:Virtually every major modern dramatist--Ibsen, Strindberg, Shaw, Yeats, and O'Casey, to name but a few--has written what may be construed as history plays: plays based on a historical personage or event. And since the time of Aeschylus's The Persians, perhaps the first history play of the Western Theatre, critics have grappled with the term "history play," attempting to define it as a distinct dramatic genre. These efforts have not been overly successful, mainly because the historical dramatist must usually balance a society's view of historical fact with the conventions of the contemporary theater. Often the latter, popular theatrical conventions, undermines or alters drastically history as a society perceives it. The history play, then, is frequently poised between the instructive function of history and the somewhat lower function of the popular theater.
The tremendous success of historical drama in both London and Dublin in the late nineteenth century suggests that in the case of historical drama dominant "forms," common property of writers and audiences, emerge distinctly in both cities. That is, audiences in these cities at this time began to associate the term "history play" with very specific ideological implications and dramatic structures. And the "codes" of which these forms are constituted dominate the stages and audience expectations which Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats, and Sean O'Casey inherit. This essay first examines the best-known historical and popular dramatists of the later nineteenth century--Tom Taylor, W. G. Wills, Sir Augustus Harris, and Lord Tennyson in London, and Dion Boucicault and J. W. Whitbread in Dublin--to outline the combinations of theatrical conventions and ideological implications that obtain in the late nineteenth century. Second, and more important, this essay demonstrates how Shaw and O'Casey appropriate, manipulate, and finally undermine the codes of the historical drama of their predecessors.
Issue Date:1982
Description:221 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1982.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8303017
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1982

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