[PDF Notes] Get complete information on Modern Drama

(1) Galsworthy (1867-1933):

He was one of those prominent artists who discussed the various problems of modern life in one work after another. His plays are so many pieces of criticism of contemporary life. Justice, Strife Silver Box, Loyalties, the Mob, the Eldest Son, all focus attention on some one problem or the other.

He is the critic and interpreter of contemporary English life. In his plays we have a thread­bare discussion of the problems of marriage, sex-relationship, labor disputes, and administration of law, solitary confinement, cast or class prejudices.

These social problems are treated by Galsworthy in the context of society and social relationships. His depiction of the contemporary society and its problems is realistic and penetrating. He is a thought-provoking writer. He was faithful to life as he saw it. “His realism did not end in his material. It also extended to his artistic method. He did not aim at stagey-effects or theatricality. His settings and details of local color were strictly realistic.

He deals with the problems of life with impartiality. He is an artist who takes a detached view of the problems he deals with, and examines them in all their facets. The warm sympathy of the dramatist is evident in almost all his plays, and numerous examples maybe cited at random. Justice, Strife, Silver Box, etc., all reveal the sympathy of the dramatist for the poor and the oppressed.

He considered the present social organisation and conventions as responsible for this suffering, and hence he wanted to reform our social life. But he was not a propagandist like Shaw. Therefore, he suggested reform in his dramas, in a hushed and muffled tone.

His prominent characters are drawn from the middle class or the lower strata of society. They range from the accidental thief and the middle-class Member of Parliament, to the workman and the company director, the charwoman and the Colonel’s wife.

Galsworthy is a great craftsman and dramatic artist. His plots are faultlessly constructed, and have dramatic effectiveness. He manages his plots with economy, restraint and concentration.

He is a great dramatist who has created numerous tense and dramatically effective scenes, situations and characters. But he lacks the gift of humour; the atmosphere of two plays is too serious and tragic for the taste of the average reader and play-goer. Therefore he could never achieve the popularity, which was achieved by his great contemporary, GBS.

(2) Noel Coward:

During the early decades of the twentieth century, there was a revival of the Comedy of Manners, a kind of Comedy practised by the Restoration dramatists like Etherege, Wycherley and Congreve. In this new Comedy of Manners, as in the Restoration one, wit and sparkling dialogues are the chief sources of interest. The new comedy had a short life. It suffered a setback after the World War II, for the social conditions of the period after 1945 were not conductive to the display of light-hearted wit. “The Comedy of Manners is a tender plant and will not bloom if cold winds are blowing.”

Noel Coward is known for his social comedies or comedy of Manners. “His unerring sense of theatrical effect, his wit and dance of dialogue, his sparkling presentation of the hurly-burly of the bright young moderns and their disillusioned and fantastic elders, play­goers in play after play” (Collins). His best comedies are The Rat Trap (1924), The Vortex (1924), Fallen Angles (1925), Easy Virtue{ 1925), Bitter Sweet (1929), Private Lives (1930), etc.

(3) John Drinkwater:

Among the dramatists who popularised historical plays the name of Bernard should certainly be placed at the top. His Caesarean Cleopatra and St. Joan are historical plays which have been a source of inspiration to others. But it was John Drinkwater (1882-1937) who really made a significant contribution to historical drama by his four plays Abraham Lincoln (1918) Mary Stuart (1921-22) Oliver Cromwell (1922) and Robert E. Lee (1923).

In each one of these plays there is a central dominating personality standing heads and shoulders over “the multiplicity of individually delineated characters”, and this personality is by and large true to history.

These historical plays of Drinkwater are not merely chronicle plays focusing attention on event and external happenings, taken from history, but the plays of ideas, discussing problems of human life in a dramatic form. For example, in Abraham Lincoln the problem set forth is whether a hero like Lincoln should pursue his ideals with unflinching determination of yield to external pressure and give up war for ensuring peace.

(4) Clifford Box:

Another prominent figure is the author of several historical plays such as Mr. Pepys (1926), Socrates (1930), The Venetian (1931), The Immortal Lady (1931), and The Rose without a Thorn (1932). The Rose without a Thorn is his best play. In it we have neither the exuberant lyricism of the Venetian nor the philosophical intensity of Socrates. In this play them, “author has set himself to develop characters within a pattern, based on historic fact, but shaped by his imagination. This play is assuredly one of the most important and beautifully constructed historical dramas of our times.” In the opinion of Allardyce Nicoll.

“Mr. Bax is one of those dramatists of this generation whose plays will live. His effective treatment of character, his skillful wielding of material and his delicate sense of style give prime distinction to his work”.

(5) Sean O’Casey:

He was an expressionist. He, the Irish dramatist is interested in the presentation of the life of the slums of Dublin bringing out all the sordidness, drunkenness and misery of the Irish men and women. The background to his plays is provided by the “slums of Dublin, crowded, noisy tenements where women quarreled and loafers drank, and the tragic violence of civil was ever at hand” (A.S. Collins).

In the plays of O’Casey the tragedy and comedy of Irish life is well brought out in dialogues which are vivid, racy and rhythmical. Comedy and tragedy constantly fuse and mingle. “Comedy is seldom long absent, yet one can never forget the grim, underlying sadness.” He draws what he sees with a ruthless objectivity and an impressionistic vividness of detail.

According to A.S. Collins, “Few writers have so intimately fused realism and pathos, tragedy and comedy, for his world is a basically comic one whose atmosphere is a sky laden with fate ever ready to strike almost at random and, therefore, it is a most pitiable world.”

(6) T.S. Eliot:

Eliot’s fame as dramatist rests entirely upon the Murder in the Cathedral (1935), and four plays in contemporary setting, which followed each other in quick succession. These plays are :(2) The Family Reunion (1939), (2) The Cocktail Party (1949), (3) The Confidential Clerk (1953), and (4) The Elder Statesman (1958). His purpose in writing these plays was to bring about a revival of poetic drama. The bulk of his dramatic output is small, but its quality, and its impact on the entire course of modern English drama, would justify us in calling Eliot, the Shakespeare of the modern drama.

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