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A Brief History of Drama Essay

The time period from about 1650 to 1920 was ever changing in the world of drama. Neo-classicism sprung up from Greek and Roman models in Europe during the Enlightenment, Romanticism struck the Globe in the 1800’s based on principles like emotion, intuition and seeking God. During and after the 1800’s naturalism and realism began to play major roles in the area of drama. Naturalists such as August Strindberg and realists such as Henrik Ibsen demonstrate an entirely different view of what drama is all about.

During the time period known universally as the Enlightenment, an artistic movement came about in Europe that reflected in many ways the Greek and Roman tradition. Ancient Greeks and Romans focused their art on harmony, symmetry, and balance, while keeping an equal emphasis on logic and aesthetic. During the enlightenment there was a major importance placed upon science, reason and thought. These human, but multifaceted functions are displayed in many neo-classicism plays. Plays such as Racine’s Phaedra clearly demonstrate the notion of common sense and the idea that if you have a problem or cause a problem you will be punished.

This play is very typical of the neo-classics because it is based on the ancient Greek play Hippolyths written by Euripidies in ancient Greece. Hippolyths is very closely related to its modern version Phaedra. All neo-classic era plays were in some way based on the French Academy’s rules for drama which involved a concrete moral, no monologues and truth along with few other qualifications. Most plays that possess some or all of these qualities are from the neo-classicism era. After the 1700’s a new way of thinking developed that didn’t involve as much truth or structure. Free flowing emotionally based romanticism paved the way for drama in the 19th century.

The 1800’s were a time of innovation and industrial revolution. In America, thousands of people were migrating to cities to find work in large factories powered by new, innovative technologies. New thinking developed through the likes of Charles Darwin and the Origin of the Species, and Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto. Romanticism deals with three main ideas, emotion, intuition, and seeking God, while grasping the audience with thick plots and poetic language. All of these qualities are displayed in most romantic plays of the 19th century.

Throughout the late 1800’s and early 20th century, naturalist and realist took charge of the drama scene with a new outlook of what could be done on stage. With Naturalism comes plays which display daily life and street language with real settings meant to display a message or cause. With realism comes real language, strong plots, realistic settings and social critique. In realistic plays such as Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House, a very common situation involving an everyday married couple is reviewed and critiqued. In the naturalistic play Miss Julie by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, a naturalistic tragedy develops as the characters find themselves trapped in an odd love triangle.

Both Naturalism and Realism were monumental to drama because they explored many social issues very critically while challenging the neo-classicism view of what is allowed on stage. It seems obvious that both naturalism and realism attempted to overstep the boundaries of what was acceptable onstage and it is very apparent that it was a success because many naturalism and realism era plays are still popular today. Unlike the strict ruled neo-classicism or the emotionally based romanticism, naturalism and realism display real events, real people and real stories that can be related to by real people. Television shows today are very realistic. With the new wave of reality T.V. hitting every station, it is obvious that the realist and naturalist took a step in the right direction when they looked beyond restriction and let what is real come to life.

It is obvious that very monumental changes occurred in drama from 1650-1920. All over the world new ideas and innovations were being explored and challenged on stage.

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