Naturalism is a movement in European drama and theatre that developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It refers to theatre that attempts to create a perfect illusion of reality through a range of dramatic and theatrical strategies: detailed, three-dimensional settings; everyday speech forms (prose over poetry); a secular world-view (no ghosts, spirits or gods intervening in the human action); an exclusive focus on subjects that are contemporary and indigenous (no exotic, otherworldly or fantastic locales, nor historical or mythic time-periods); an extension of the social range of characters portrayed (away from the aristocrats of classical drama, towards bourgeois and eventually working-class protagonists); and a style of acting that attempts to recreate the impression of reality (often by seeking complete identification with the role, understood in terms of its ‘given circumstances’, which, again, transcribe Darwinian motifs into performance, as advocated by Stanislavski).
Naturalistic writers were influenced by the theory of evolution of Charles Darwin. They believed that one’s heredity and social environment determine one’s character. Whereas realism seeks only to describe subjects as they really are, naturalism also attempts to determine “scientifically” the underlying forces (i.e. the environment or heredity) influencing the actions of its subjects. Naturalistic works are opposed to romanticism, in which subjects may receive highly symbolic, idealistic, or even supernatural treatment. They often include uncouth or sordid subject matter; for example, Émile Zola’s works had a frankness about sexuality along with a pervasive pessimism. Naturalistic works exposed the dark harshness of life, including poverty, racism, sex, prejudice, disease, prostitution, and filth. As a result, Naturalistic writers were frequently criticized for being too blunt.
Naturalism was criticized in the twentieth century by a whole host of theatre practitioners; Constantin Stanislavski, for example, argued for a puncturing of the illusion of the surface of reality in order to reach the real forces that determine it beneath its appearance; in place of the absorption within a fiction that Naturalistic performance promotes in its audience, he attempted to inculcate a more detached consideration of the realities and the issues behind them that the play confronts. His approach is a development, however, of the critical project initiated by Naturalism; it is a form of modernist realism.
Naturalistic performance is often unsuitable for the performance of other types of theatre—particularly older forms, but also many twentieth-century non-Naturalistic plays. Shakespearean verse, for example, demands a rigorous attention to its rhythmic sub-structure and often long and complex phrasings; naturalistic actors tend to cut these down to the far shorter speech patterns of modern drama, destroying the rhythmic support that assists the audience’s process of comprehension. In addition, Shakespearean drama assumed a natural, direct and often-renewed contact with the audience on the part of the performer; ‘fourth wall’ performances foreclose these complex layerings of theatrical and dramatic realities the game that are built into Shakespeare’s dramaturgy. A good example is the line spoken by Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra’s act five, when she contemplates her humiliation in Rome at the hands of Octavius Caesar, by means of mocking theatrical renditions of her fate: “And I shall see some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness in the posture of a whore”; that this was to be spoken by a boy in a dress in a theatre is an integral part of its dramatic meaning—a complexity unavailable to a purely naturalistic treatment.
Émile François Zola
(2 April 1840 – 29 September 1902) A French writer, the most important exemplar of the literary school of naturalism and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism. Naturalism was first advocated explicitly by Émile Zola in his 1882 essay entitled Naturalism in the Theatre.
- A Bitter Fate – Aleksey Pisemsky (1859)
- A Doll’s House – Henrik Ibsen (1879)
- The Power of Darkness – Leo Tolstoy (1886)
- The Father – August Strindberg (1887)
- Miss Julie – August Strindberg (1888)
- Creditors – August Strindberg (1889)
- Drayman Henschel – Gerhart Hauptmann (1898)
Expressionism is a modernist movement in drama and theatre that developed in Europe (principally Germany) in the early decades of the 20th century and later in the United States.
Anti-realistic in seeing appearance as distorted and the truth lying within man. The outward appearance on stage can be distorted and unrealistic to portray an eternal truth. In Expressionist drama, the speech is heightened, whether expansive and rhapsodic, or clipped and telegraphic.
- Playwrights (Germany)
- Georg Kaiser
- Ernst Toller
Theatre of the Absurd / Absurdity
Presents a perspective that all human attempts at significance are illogical. Ultimate truth is chaos with little certainty.
A broad concept that sees art, including theatre, as detached from life in a pure way and able to reflect on life critically.
There are multiple meanings, and meaning is what you create, not what is. This approach often uses other media and breaks accepted conventions and practices.
A type of theatre which relies upon imagination (and therefore limited props) to convey the setting and atmosphere of the play. Classical theatre usually contains lofty, grand prose or free verse dialogue. Good examples are the Elizabethan dramatists William Shakespeare.
Some material from Wikipedia