The Irish national theatre movement developed in the ferment of cultural nationalism at the turn of the century, but it was not at all clear what form a national theatre should take: an Ibsenian model of critical realism, favoured by Edward Martyn, George Moore, and John Eglinton, the mythological poetic drama of Yeats, or the peasant plays that came to be written by Yeats and Gregory. Apart from the playwrights, the company of actors formed around the Fay brothers, nationalist groups such as Maud Gonne’s Inghinidhe na hEireann, and the Abbey’s English patron Annie Horniman all had ideas of their own. This chapter analyses the national and theatrical politics of the period up to the death of Synge in 1909, paying particular attention to the ways in which debates of the period centred around the idea of an Irish theatre in ways that were to influence future generations.
The aesthetic principles of education and representation that Yeats and Gregory set out at the founding of the Abbey Theatre enabled the directorate to cultivate a relationship with the state that ensured the theatre’s place as the Irish National Theatre. Yet this was a relationship that demanded compromises on both sides—in the negotiation for a state subsidy, finally granted in 1925, in issues of censorship over controversial plays such as The Plough and the Stars in 1926, and in the uneasy relationship with the Fianna Fáil government that came to power in 1932. Even so, at least during Yeats’s lifetime, the Abbey directors were able to resist the complete ideological co-option of the theatre, and any compromises to artistic freedom were made willingly in order to ensure the continued alliance of the theatre and the state.
When Quince first meets his actors in A Midsummer Night's Dream, he tells them who they will be playing and a little about their fictional characters. He also distributes to the actors their ‘parts’, the pieces of paper on which their words are written. Walking away from the meeting, the actors take their paper parts with them for memorising at home: by the time they next gather together, each player must be word-perfect. So the players are going to learn from a text that is only ‘part’ of the play — an idea so strange to scholars that it is still regularly called into question. Passages in plays of the time referring to what is rehearsed often suggest that the verbal content of a play is not the emphasis of collective rehearsal; that a general rehearsal is largely intended to determine action that affects the group. Parts had their effect on the way a performance was watched. With parts informing so fundamentally the way actors performed and audiences watched, they must also have affected the way playwrights wrote.
Despite the fact that the London theatre companies were suspended from playing by order of Parliament in September 1642, an inhibition that lasted (with minor infractions) down to 1660, the seventeen years of theatrical activity during the Caroline period was a time of comparative prosperity and stability. The stability of Caroline playing was in some respects more apparent than real, since before the onset of the political crisis there were various factors that troubled theatrical activity (plague, competition between companies, conflicts between companies and managers, complaints from local residents). Nonetheless, around 1630 the total theatrical economy had achieved what we might think of as a steady state. When in that year the Salisbury Court playhouse in Whitefriars was opened as a new venture, the number of theatres and playing companies operating was at its peak and would remain stable for the next decade. During this period, five companies were active, performing at six venues. The dominant company was the King's Men, who alternated between two playhouses.
Two pivotal events bookend the decade 1583–1593 in Elizabethan theatre history. In March 1582 to 1583, the careers of several leading acting companies were disrupted by the formation of a large new company with a formidable list of principal players. No actor would have resisted the casting call by Edmond Tilney, Master of the Revels, acting under the direction of Sir Francis Walsingham, Principal Secretary to Elizabeth I. And none of the patrons of these acting companies would have questioned the departure of their players to join the new Queen's Men, a company that was to dominate the court's annual festive revels as well as the provincial performance calendar across the country for most of the following decade. Available evidence suggests that 1583–1593 was a period of transition in business practices of adult playing companies in England. There was some resilience in patronage of acting companies after the initial shock to the system in 1583. There are several primary sources to consider in piecing together information about company repertories, including the Revels accounts of performances by acting companies at court.
Roslyn L. Knutson
By any measure, 1593 was a very bad year for the playhouse business in England. The late summer outbreak of plague in 1592 continued in the suburbs of London. Adult playing companies took to the road, visiting towns as widespread as Newcastle upon Tyne, Lyme Regis in Dorset, and Norwich. Strange's Men mounted a tour in the summer of 1593 along a route apparently plague-safe and financially rewarding. The company of Pembroke's Men was not so lucky. Also, companies were geographically estranged from their playwrights, who for the most part stayed in London. One in particular, William Shakespeare, apparently considered a change of focus for his skills from drama to poetry. No one therefore could have predicted that the business of playing would enjoy unprecedented commercial success and expansion in the next decade. Theatre historians construct differing narratives about this decade in the theatrical marketplace, but they generally agree that the salient issues are the companies' business models; patrons and political critics; playing venues; the repertory; the book trade; and audiences.
The year 1603 ushered in a new chapter in the history of early modern theatre companies in England. First, it marks the end of one reign and the beginning of another: Elizabeth died on March 24, and James was crowned on July 25. More specifically, as far as the adult playing companies were concerned, it brought a wholesale change in theatrical patronage. These changes of patronage had significant repercussions for the playing companies over the decade that followed. This article examines patronage in relation to other factors that affected the companies' business structures and commercial fortunes between 1603 and 1613, notably the security that two of the companies enjoyed at their playhouses from the turn of the century, the revival of the children's companies around the same time, and the prevalence of plague throughout much of the decade. It also looks at the companies' core product, the plays in their repertories, identifying two further and conflicting influences on dramatic production: the need for playing companies to be competitive, and the evolution of distinctive company styles.
James J. Marino
On June 29, 1613, at the first performance of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher's All Is True, the Globe playhouse burned to the ground. The destruction of this iconic theatre might be imagined as a conveniently catastrophic mark for the end of an era. But the conflagration led to nothing more than a piece of colorful London news and a substantial expense for the actors who owned the Globe; none of the audience was hurt, and nothing fundamental about the Jacobean theater changed. The Globe was promptly rebuilt, and improved, while the King's Men continued performing in their Blackfriars venue. The King's Men's consolidation of its dominance limited the prospects for the other adult playing companies, and oddly diminished the general level of competition between the London playhouses. This article traces the history of adult playing companies in England for the period 1613–1625. It looks at playhouse repertories, the causal relationship between the decline and the loss of patronage, boy companies, clowning on the Jacobean stage, and the decline of Palatine's Men and Queen Anne's Men.
W. R. Streitberger
In March 1583, Elizabeth I's Principal Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, asked Edmond Tilney, then Master of the Revels, to choose a new company of players to serve under the Queen's patronage. Tilney drafted players from several sophisticated companies to create the largest and most talented playing company of the era, one that dominated in the Queen's Revels throughout the 1580s and continued to play in the provinces until the end of her reign. Professional theatre in England dates from as early as the fourteenth century, when groups of players who earned their livelihood from their performances travelled the countryside in search of audiences. Some early playing companies were independent, known by the names of their leading players, but by the late fifteenth century others were under community sponsorship. Between 1572 and 1583, there were at least thirty-five companies with known patrons, but the adult playing companies that offered all fifty-six plays in the revels during this period were patronised by only ten of them, all members of the Queen's family or close personal friends.
Kathy A. Perkins
This essay traces the efforts of African American women to establish new voices in the American theater during the period from 1910 to 1945. It discusses the role of the Federal Theatre Project Negro Unit in providing opportunities for both African American playwrights and actors, and it highlights some “signal moments” during this period. These include the development of the Little Negro Theatre movement, the staging of Angelina Grimké’s groundbreaking play Rachel, and the establishment of African American acting troupes such as the American Negro Theatre and the Lafayette Players. This essay also considers the works of Mary Burrill, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Zora Neale Hurston.
Soyica Diggs Colbert
This article explores the formation, expansion, and future of the field of African American performance studies, considering the cultural, social, and political contexts that brought the field into being. This relatively young interdiscipline has emerged as a result of the growth of ethnic and gender studies in the 1970s and the advent of performance studies in the 1980s. Since its beginnings African American performance studies has considered how artists and activists reshape blackness in order to make it a category of liberation rather than confinement. Focusing on performing arts (such as theater, dance, and music), as well as oral expression and modes of self-fashioning, African American performance studies examines black expressive culture within the contexts of the United States.
Thomas S. Hischak
This essay examines the history of musical theater in the United States during the period from 1870 to 1945. It explains that while The Black Crook from 1866 may be considered as the first modern-style musical, the fully integrated musical did not arise until sometime later, which set in motion a period frequently referred to as the “golden age” of musical drama. It considers several musicals in the 1940s, including Show Boat, Oklahoma!, and Carousel. This essay also argues that while the musical is rarely considered realistic, most of the musicals in the 1940s engaged in an integrated fashion with something approximating real life.
Christopher J. Herr
This essay examines the history of political drama in the United States from 1910 to 1945. It describes the diversity of styles used and attitudes taken by politically influenced dramas, including those that supported capitalism in the 1920s, the increasingly oppositional leftist dramas of the 1930s, and the pro-war (or antifascist) plays of the 1940s. This essay also considers how much political content is required in order to label a play as political.
This essay investigates the scenic poles of city and frontier as sites for the American drama. It explains that the frontier and the urban were productive of distinct dramatic figures during the antebellum decades. The frontier served as a register of modern concerns while urban plays focused on poverty, seductive dimensions of city life, and threats to morality. This essay also analyzes relevant plays, including Anna Cora Mowatt’s Fashion, Benjamin Baker’s A Glance at New York, and George H. Boker’s Francesca da Rimini.
Amelia Howe Kritzer
This essay focuses on the emergence of women playwrights in the United States during the antebellum period. It analyzes the works of several women playwrights, including Anna Cora Mowatt, Elizabeth Crocker Bowers, and Charlotte Barnes Conner, and it highlights their tendency to avoid political themes except by implication of the cultural and social situation of women themselves. This essay identifies the persistent motif in the works of these women, which is the “powerless woman,” a figure that emerged in connection with the failure of feminism to take hold in American society in the 1790s.
‘Archives and Anecdotes’ pursues a historical syntax that can parse both words, since the two have traditionally been understood to exercise independently if not to outright antagonize one another. This chapter argues, however, that theatre anecdotes have at least as much to say about performance as they do about theatre history and myths; therefore it moves away from an assessment of the role anecdotes play in traditional historiography and towards an exploration of how they function in performance studies. Working through several examples, ‘Archives and Anecdotes’ ultimately argues that theatre anecdotes prove prophetic and thus are beholden less to the history of Shakespeare in performance than to its future.
Aristotle’s Poetics has been thought to be inaccessible or misunderstood in sixteenth-century England, but this inherited assumption has drifted far from the primary evidence and lagged behind advances in contiguous fields. As a member of the corpus Aristotelicum, the shared foundation of Western education until the late seventeenth century, the Poetics enjoyed wide circulation, ownership, and interest in Latin and Italian as well as the original Greek. Placing the Poetics in its intellectual context suggests a very different narrative for its reception in English criticism, one that accounts for a multiplicity of readings and uses on both sides of the academic divide. Some of those readings—in Cheke, Ascham, Rainolds, Sidney, and others—are considered in this article, and directions are proposed for future research in what remains a rich and mostly unworked vein of literary history.
Jeffrey D. Mason
This essay examines the works of the American playwright Arthur Miller, who was considered a transitional figure in politically charged drama. It refers to the influence of the Great Depression and leftist politics on Miller, situates his early well-known plays in the Broadway of the late 1940s, and traces the shift from 1930s social class struggle to the 1950s suspicion of personal morality. It explains that labor issues were no longer current when Miller wrote his labor-oriented plays and explores how certain of his works, particularly The Archbishop’s Ceiling, were influenced by the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s.
By the 1970s, arts funding for theatre in Ireland had become concentrated in three organizations: the Abbey and the Gate in the Republic, the Lyric Theatre in Northern Ireland. Changes in arts policy, North and South, beginning in the late 1970s, radically transformed the Irish theatre landscape over the following decades. Many of the most exciting and challenging developments in Irish theatre in the 1980s and 1990s thus came from the margins, whether on the social margins of society (such as work done at the the Axis Theatre in Ballymun) or from the geographical periphery of what had been a theatre culture centred in Dublin, in the work of companies such as Red Kettle in Waterford and in the construction of performance spaces around the island. This chapter provides an overview of this transformation of the Irish theatre world, focusing on the policy decisions that lay behind it.
Tragedy is central to the Baroque because it explores the powers and limitations of sovereign will; because the changeable fortune and wretched suffering of its illustrious persons can quiet our will to live; and because it takes the measure of humankind in relation to God and an indifferent Nature. Because the Baroque was not an early modern aesthetic category, we can encounter it only through the mediation of later critical theories and aesthetic judgments. This article therefore charts three constellations that come into focus when seen through the right lens. Baroque tragedy in the grand style is best viewed through Wölfflin’s account of the Baroque as a Will-to-Form. Tasso’s Il re Torrismondo and Milton’s Samson Agonistes illustrate it. The Trauerspiel was described by Benjamin in 1928. It owes more to the Mysteries and to Seneca than it does to Attic tragedy. It inhabits the ruins of history but displays a melancholy desire to transform those ruins into emblems. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Simons’s Zeno, and Calderón’s Il principe constante figure in this constellation. The third constellation relies on plot and on a pellucid rhetoric that is liable to crack under stress in order to chart the changing passions of its persons against a Cartesian grid, thus producing what Rapin identifies as the sole pleasure of tragedy: “the Soul is Shaken …; its Trouble pleases, and the Emotion it finds, is a kind of Charm to it.” Racine’s Iphigénie (1674) exemplifies the regular Baroque.