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Title: How to write a play : dramatic structure and open form drama
Author: Norden, Barbara
ISNI:       0000 0004 2679 0610
Awarding Body: Royal Holloway, University of London
Current Institution: Royal Holloway, University of London
Date of Award: 2007
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There have been a number of attempts in the Western tradition to categorise dramatic form. German critic and theorist Manfred Pfister attempts to divide it into 'closed' and 'open' form, drawing on a historical distinction between 'dramatic' and 'epic'. Versions of closed form based on interpretations of Aristotle include: pragmatic (neo-classical) theories of craftsmanship based on Dryden; a prescriptive theory of playwriting developed by Gustav Freytag; the 19th century well-made play; and a theory of the dramatic developed by John Howard Lawson. The extent to which naturalistic drama can be described as 'closed' or 'open' form is debateable however, with some critics seeing Ibsen's shift into naturalism as an irrevocable move into closed form and others arguing that he invented a new dialectical form of construction. Szondi identifies a shift around the beginning of the 20th century from a more objective dramaturgy towards a subjective one, manifested in modernist forms of drama. Ranciere describes modernist work as belonging to an aesthetic regime which avoids the codes and genres of the mimetic. However, cinema has introduced codes and genres into the aesthetic regime and it is possible that open form drama could do likewise. Some apparently open form plays characterized by epic subjectivity nevertheless retain characteristics of closed form structure. This can be said of surrealist plays which use the technique of 'automatic writing' to open up dramatic form. An attempt to write a play on spatial principles based on surrealist collage similarly opens up dramatic form to some extent while retaining many elements of closed form. The surrealists drew nonsystematically on Freud's theory of the unconscious. An attempt to write a modernist dream play drawing more systematically on the formal characteristics of Freud's theory of dream-work results in a more formally coherent piece. It is possible to identify similar formal characteristics in Strindberg's A Dream Play. A dramaturgical approach which is more systematic than that of other playwrights of the European avant-garde can be found in the theory and playwriting of Gertrude Stein. Stein foregrounds the 'landscape' of a play. She also develops new approaches to characterization based on 'active being' rather than action and to narrative based on repetition and a lack of suspense. Attempts to stage Stein's plays have led directors to create parallel action on stage or to find ways of staging the subtext subjectively borrowing techniques from Method acting. These attempts suggest that the invention of a systematic, formally coherent open form dramaturgy necessitates a new relationship between performance and text in staging the work, and similar attempts at solving the staging problems of open form drama can be found in the appendices to this thesis. Original aspects of this project are: the plays written; the systematic use of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams as a playwriting manual; the discussion of Stein in terms of a systematic dramaturgy of open form playwriting; and the use of unpublished archive material to discuss the Judson Poets' Theater productions of Stein's work.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available