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Title: Twentieth century English history plays
Author: Harben, Niloufer
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: Royal Holloway, University of London
Date of Award: 1983
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Twentieth Century English History Plays - An attempt to define the scope and limits of the genre of the history play, in relation to twentieth century English historical drama, through an examination of selected plays which exemplify various approaches to history. This includes major works by writers of the first rank, such as Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, T S Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, and Edward Bond's Early Morning; as well as successful works by minor playwrights, representing popular taste and response, such as Gordon Daviot's Richard of Bordeaux, Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons and Peter Shaffer's The Royal Hunt of the Sun. Shaw's Saint Joan illustrates the new tradition of history play stimulated by Shaw, with his emphasis on discursive rational elements, an anti-heroic tone and diction, an overtly modern perspective, and a consciousness of different possible views of an event. Gordon Daviot's Richard of Bordeaux, Reginald Berkeley's 'The Lady with a Lamp' and Clifford Bax's 'The Rose without a Thorn' popular plays by popular playwrights of the 1930's, demonstrate the meeting and crossing of two traditions, the Romantic and the Shavian. They exemplify the kind of narrowly realistic theatre in vogue at the time with its concentration on the obvious exterior world. In contrast, T S Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and Charles Williams's Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury, stylised in form and treatment, illustrate the use of history to explore deep psychological and spiritual areas of conflict. Three plays of the 1960's - Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, Peter Shaffer's The Royal Hunt of the Sun and John Osborne's Luther - reflect different concerns and different levels of imagination but a common interest, in their various ways, in religious motivation. Robert Bolt and Peter Shaffer provide two examples of minor playwrights going to history as a source, in the one case for a moving character portrait (A Man for All Seasons) and in the other for spectacle and sensation (The Royal Hunt of the Sun). They illustrate the putting over of history in a popular way. A playwright of much greater calibre, John Osborne is drawn to an historical subject for its religious interest. His play, Luther, focuses on the individual of remarkable stature who is both prime mover and victim of social and religious forces. It is a forceful rhetorical piece moving towards expressionism and a more poetic and violent form of theatre. This trend in modern drama is vividly demonstrated by the concluding play of the study, Edward Bond's powerful surrealistic drama, Early Morning. Revolutionary in approach and intention, it is a disturbing dream vision which opens up new possibilities for the treatment of history.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Literature