20th century drama

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20th century drama

The end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century is quite a weak period. The most important authors started to appear mostly after the Second World War.


George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)
He was born in Dublin, but spent most of his life in London. Under the impact of Ibsen, he chose different characters and concentrate on different subjects. As a socialist he became (in 1884) a founder member of the Fabian Society – a left-wing group that aimed the transformation of English intellectual and political life. His middle class characters are representing different qualities and the way Shaw monitors these qualities was strongly marked by his inclination to irony.
Mrs Waren’s profesion – Shaw was the first to mention subjects that were inadmissible before. Saint Joan – the problems of British patriotism.
Man&Superman – critised Nitze’s philosophy and fascist ideology.
Other plays: Plays Plesant and Unplesant, Three plays for Puritans, Major Barbara, Pygmalion, Too True to be Good, The Apple Cart, …

John Osborne (1929 – 1994)
His play Look Back in Anger (1956) was a milestone in the development of the British drama. It made it’s author famous as a first “angry young man”. He attacked upper middle class advantages. Luther – historical drama with true rebel.
Other plays: The Entertainer

Samuel Beckett (1906 – 1989)
Irish-born dramatist of the theatre of the absurd, reresents the strongest experiment of the Post-war period. He studied the works of René Descatres and became a friend of James Joyce. Beckett lived and wrote in France. He received a Nobel Prize in 1969. He had very strong inclination to Existencialist notion of human faith and gradually to the minimalistic representation. For Beckett the world get thinner and thinner. The material world is reduced. Human reactions slow down. Memory is reduced and if it is envoked it brings tragedy. In Britain, Beckett was not immitating of followed.
Waiting for Godot (1952) – Two tramps suffer cold, hunger and pain while waiting for the mysterious Godot to appear. They argue, consider leaving each other, contemplate suicide, but do nothing. This work established Beckett’s reputation as a major exponent of the theater of the absurd. Peter Shaffer (1926)
Representative of drama based on the conflict of thoughts.

The tension is cerated by different attitudes concerning ideology, philosophy, history – life in general.
The Royal Hunt of the Sun – the Spanish destruction of the Inca civilization.
Equus – psychoanalyst’s attempt to understand the mysterious faith of young delinquent. Amadeus – About the rivalry between the composers Mozart and Salieri. Shaffer brought the conflict of genius and mortality or genius and average. He concentrated upon Salieri to show the difference between the pure and pretended. This story was adapted to a screenplay and in 1984 Milos Forman’s film Amadeus won an Academy Award.


Eugene O’Neill (1888 – 1953)
Born in New Yourk. A worldwide known inovator of drama. He used unexpected technical devices. Started as a realistic dramatist but soon moved toward expresionism. Altogether he wrote 35 plays. His last piece was Long Day’s Journey Into Night – autobiographical play (alcoholism…). As the only American playwright ever to recive, O’Neill was awarded the 1936 Nobel Prize for Literature. The Emperor Jones – expesionism. He used rhythm, no dialogues. Interior monologue is presented as a dialogue in interaction with music (beat of drums).
Desire Under the Elms – suffering of people obsessed by passion, love (Freud).
Anna Christie – about a prostitute.
Mourning Becomes Electra – antiqe drama transformed to American environment.

Arthur Miller (1920)
Born in NY. Regarded as one of the major playwrights of the 20th century. Concerned with such themes as a man’s responsibility and guilt, self-knowledge and self-realiyation, the conflict between generations, anti-semitism. Influenced by Ibsen and Greek tragedy. His most impressive work is Death of a Salesman (1949) - Tells the story of a traveling slaesman, Willie Loman, who experiences frustration and faliure as he reflects upon his life. He based his life on false values and kills himself near the end of the play. Other palys: All My Sons, The Crucible, The Price, The Man Who Had All the Luck, ...

Tenessee Williams (1911 – 1983)
Lonley person, separated from society and other people. The theme of thi plays is the alienation of modern man.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) – His characters express a fear of reality and the destructive power of time. Williams, as a Southern, describes his society as a kind of “hell” of brutality and race hatred. Other plays: Orpheus Descending, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Frosted Glass Coffin, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, …

Edward Albee (1928)
Dominanat American dramatis of the 60’s, whose most successful plays focus on familiar relationships.

First play: The Zoo Story – About an alienated man for who is any contact with another being a relief.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – It is a picture of a seemingly hellish marriage whose positive and supporting aspects we only gradually appreciate, as we understand how frightend and alienated the characters are. (nothing to do with Virginia Woolf…)
Other plays: Delicate Balance, Man With Three Arms, Three Tall Women, …

Sam Shepard (1934)
One repeated theme is the need of the individual to create himself in a worl that gives him no particular identity to start with: Cowboys, Melodrama Play
Another element is his conviction that the supernatural exists in the worl in form of magic, mysticism, religion: Back Bog Beats Bait, Cowboy Mouth
Buried Child (1978) – In an ordinary midwestern farmhouse an all-American family is marked by spiritual and phzsical decay. A hidden scandal revealed in the play as the incedtuous chid of Halie and her son is killed and burried.
Fool for Love – long time lovers are trapped in a can’t stay togerher / can’t stay appart obsession.

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