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Modernism in European Drama: Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Beckett

Modernism in European Drama: Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Beckett: Essays from Modern Drama

Frederick J. Marker
Christopher Innes
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 336
  • Book Info
    Modernism in European Drama: Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Beckett
    Book Description:

    This collection of essays, originally published over the last forty years in the journal Modern Drama, explores the drama of four of the most influential European proponents of modernism in the European Drama: Ibsen, Strandberg, Pirandello and Beckett.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7731-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Dates of Original Publication
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    Volumes have been written on the subject of modernism, but our intention here is to provide a brief introductory comment which will prepare the way for the essays that follow. This collection of articles explores, from widely differing points of view, the contributions of Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Luigi Pirandello, and Samuel Beckett to the complex and eclectic cultural phenomenon we have come to call the modernist movement. As a movement in art it has been identified with the sculptures of Gaudier-Brzeska and the paintings of Kandinsky, while in literature it has been defined through the work of poets and...

  5. The Dangerous Seductions of the Past: Ibsen’s Counter-Discourse to Modernity
    (pp. 3-17)

    Ibsen adopted the theater decisively as his medium under the aegis of Ole Bull’s Norwegian (Norske) Theatre in Bergen. A fundraiser for this theater was held in 1851 in Christiania, and Ibsen wrote an enthusiastic verse Prologue for the occasion in which he proclaimed dramatic art would awaken the Norwegian people from the long winter’s sleep in which it had forgotten its glorious Viking heritage. Viking life had itself been a poem “of sword and shield,” which then was sublimated into the art of the skald and minstrel. But then an “awesome winter fell over the north,” the noble skald...

  6. Patterns of Structure and Character in Ibsen’s Rosmersholm
    (pp. 18-27)

    In Henrik Ibsen’s final play,When We Dead Awaken, the reader can scarcely escape an impression of careful and conscious arrangement of elements. The progression of the settings from a veranda near the fjords to the high fells, then to the mountain site of the final apotheosis, has the clear symbolic shape of a Strindberg pilgrimage drama. The main characters form complementary and contrasting patterns so consciously balanced that some critics have likened the working out of the play to the construction of a string quartet.¹

    Ibsen’s last drama, however, merely brings to the surface a concern with the careful...

  7. Marriage, Metaphysics and The Lady from the Sea Problem
    (pp. 28-39)

    There has always been aLady from the Seaproblem: for a drama of the immaterial, it is too material. Allegorical/realistic, philosophical/psychological: to critics, it has always been too much of the one to be enough of the other. The task of the more recent Ibsen scholars has been to redeem the play by finding a reading that accounts for the two tones of the play, the two water levels (open sea and carp pond) of Ibsen’s dramaturgical landscape. But that continues to be difficult, for no matter what reading over the past one hundred years, one thing has always...

  8. The Unspoken Text in Hedda Gabler
    (pp. 40-56)

    Before the advent of realistic drama, a playwright found no difficulty in having his characters express their inmost thoughts. Shakespeare could write soliloquies for the introspective Hamlet, and Racine could let the spectators in on Phèdre’s smouldering jealousy by letting her speak directly to them. But the nineteenth-century dramatist who wanted to present a photographic semblance of life on stage had to avoid the soliloquy and the aside. If the rules of the fully developed realistic drama were faithfully adhered to, the spectators had to be thought of as unseen guests, observing what happens on stage but ignored by the...

  9. Ibsen’s Endgame: A Reconsideration of When We Dead Awaken
    (pp. 57-68)

    When We Dead Awaken, Ibsen’s final play written seven years before his death, has been treated by critics as an epilogue to his previous work, as a personal confession, and as a forerunner of the symbolist movement in European drama. In two respects this last play, subtitled “A Dramatic Epilogue,” is the conclusion to a series of four plays:The Master Builder(1892),Little Eyolf(1894),John Gabriel Borkman(1896),When We Dead Awaken(1899). InWhen We Dead Awakenare to be found such characteristic themes of the latterday Ibsen as the conflicting claims of artistic vocation and personal...

  10. Strindberg and Ibsen: Toward a Cubism of Time in Drama
    (pp. 69-91)

    In some ways the relation between Strindberg and Ibsen is entirely obvious. The echoes ofPeer GyntinLucky Pehr’s Journeyand the attack onA Doll’s HouseinSir Bengt’s Wiferequire no comment: nor does it seem to me at all unlikely – even though the original titles are not as similar as their English translations – thatThe Ghost Sonatahas to do withGhostsin an oblique manner. In both the visionary and the realistic modes, the attempt to surpass Ibsen is a constant factor in Strindberg’s intention; Strindberg is always more extreme, but the distance...

  11. Strindberg’s Miss Julie and the Legend of Salomé
    (pp. 92-109)

    Since Strindberg’s letter to his publisher claimingMiss Julie(1888) as “the first Naturalistic Tragedy in Swedish Drama”¹ and the importantForewordwhich he wrote after the play was completed, it has been usual to seeMiss Julieas an experiment in the kind of drama developed by Zola from Darwin’s theories of environmental conditioning and the survival of the fittest. Thus, Martin Lamm calls the play “a strict application of Zolaesque principles” and Eric Bentley a “tragedy of the Darwinian ethos.”² Its theme of war between the sexes has been traced partly to Strindberg’s ambivalence towards his parents, as...

  12. Strindberg’s To Damascus: Archetypal Autobiography
    (pp. 110-126)

    In August Strindberg’s last play,The Great Highway, the Hunter, an architect, encourages the Woman to remember his buildings after his death but to forget him.¹ Such a statement seems inconsistent with Strindberg’s own practice as a writer, particularly with his many frankly autobiographical prose works. In a letter to his sister dated 13 June 1882, he wrote: “creating literature does not mean inventing, finding what has never existed; literary creation means relating what one has lived. The writer’s art consists in arranging his memories, impressions and experiences.”² The artist, in other words, cannot be totally forgotten. The significant word...

  13. Pirandello’s Mirror
    (pp. 127-141)

    In a time when great questions had to be asked in the drama, Pirandello seemed to be ready to ask the right ones, brilliantly. He was the proper child of a questioning age, nourished on two great revolutionary movements: a revolt of the arts against all conventional forms that obscured experience, and a parallel revolution in psychology that stripped away conventional ideas of behavior to get at the nuclear process. Pirandello seemed ideally to combine the means of the new art with the probe of the new psychology, in that exploration of the self that has always been one of...

  14. Pirandellian Theatre Games: Spectator as Victim
    (pp. 142-150)
    J.L. STYAN

    Pirandello has a good deal in common with Molière: his results are so thought-provoking that he is discussed first as a philosopher when he is very much of afarceur.¹ I have chosen the word carefully, and use it in the sense of “practical joker.”² And his methods seem to encourage directors to take liberties of their own. Those interested in the story of his success on the stage point to the sensational production ofSix Characters in Search of an Authorwhen it was directed by Georges Pitoëff at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1923. By that time the...

  15. An Author in Search of Characters: Pirandello and Commedia dell’arte
    (pp. 151-169)

    We Italians “enjoyed” the industrial revolution after a long time-lag. So we are not yet a sufficiently modern nation to have forgotten the ancient feeling for satire. That is why we can still laugh, with a degree of cynicism, at the macabre dance which power and the civilisation that goes with it performs daily, without waiting for carnival.¹

    Commedia dell’arte was the rarest of theatrical forms – a non-literary theatre that emphasized the skill of the improvising actor. Commedia actors transformed human frailty into incisive satire as they literally created a play before the audience’s eyes from a simple scenario....

  16. Sicilian Themes and the Restructured Stage: The Dialectic of Fiction and Drama in the Work of Luigi Pirandello
    (pp. 170-180)

    When, in 1923, at the age of 56, Luigi Pirandello won European acclaim with the Pitoëff production ofSix Characters in Search of an Author(the same play that had been booed and had caused a riot at its premiere in Rome two years earlier), the Italian writer had already published six of his seven novels, several scattered volumes of short stories, and four volumes of poetry. His reputation as a writer of fiction was already established when he turned to drama; and although he never gave up writing novels and short stories (and was to convert many of these...

  17. Six Characters: Pirandello’s Last Tape
    (pp. 181-190)

    There can be little doubt that Pirandello’sSix Characters in Search of an Authorowes its continued hold on our imagination – and its power as theatre – to the successful fusion of two orders of experience: the pain of role-playing in any life, and the painful limitations of dramatic art, particularly the crisis of post-Ibsen naturalism.

    The way Pirandello achieves this fusion is familiar enough and can be restated as follows. The imagined but prematurely abandoned “characters,” who come to claim performance on the stage, feel themselves caught in the false fixity of a few moments of action; so...

  18. Godotology: There’s Lots of Time in Godot
    (pp. 191-199)

    Two duets and a false solo, that’sWaiting for Godot. Its structure is more musical than dramatic, more theatrical than literary. The mode is pure performance: song and dance, music-hall routine, games. And the form is a spinning away, a centrifugal wheel in which the center – Time – can barely hold the parts, Gogo and Didi, Pozzo and Lucky, the Boy(s). The characters arrive and depart in pairs, and when they are alone they are afraid: half of them is gone. The Boy isn’t really by himself, though one actor plays the role(s). “It wasn’t you came yesterday,” states...

  19. Action and Play in Beckett’s Theater
    (pp. 200-209)

    Comedy was gesture before ever it was words. In all ages the movements and gestures of the actors have been of prime importance in the theater, especially in the popular theater. From the banal mountebank and juggler of the public square, to the rigid, conventional action of the Peking opera, the theatrical phenomenon has always been characterized by an important active element.

    Clownery, in particular, is a dramatic form that is at once very popular and immediately comprehensible. The clown has only to appear for a child to burst into laughter; after this first elementary apparition, the ritual gestures, carefully...

  20. Acting for Beckett
    (pp. 210-211)

    Samuel Beckett’s absorption in the performing arts has been profound and sustained. In Dublin, he went to the Abbey, in London to the music-hall, in Paris to the little theaters. Today, a friend of theater people, he sees their work where he lives or visits. His poem,Whoroscope, is a dramatic monologue. After writing his first novel,Murphy, he took copious notes for a play about the Dr. Johnson–Mrs. Thrale relationship, which, however, he did not write. After World War II, Beckett turned almost simultaneously to fiction and drama – in French.Eleutheria, unpublished and unproduced, precedes theGodot...

  21. Beckett as Director: The Manuscript Production Notebooks and Critical Interpretation
    (pp. 212-227)

    This essay does not attempt to capture the extraordinary fascination, the atmosphere of keen concentration and the unusual “feel” of rehearsals when Samuel Beckett is directing his own plays. It seeks rather to provide an over-view of some of the ways in which Beckett’s directorial notes can occasionally initiate, but, more often, assist or confirm critical interpretation. It also sets out to consider how these notes pose some rather taxing problems for the critic who is seeking to make significant use of them.

    First of all, for those unfamiliar with this material – which is after all for the most...

  22. Being and Non-Being: Samuel Beckett’s Not I
    (pp. 228-240)

    When the curtain rises onNot I, Samuel Beckett’s most recent work for the stage, the first thing we are aware of is a disembodied human mouth, seemingly suspended eight feet in the air, trapped in the harsh glare of a spotlight amid the surrounding darkness. The long line of partially disembodied characters in Beckett’s drama makes its first appearance with Nagg and Nell inEndgame;¹ having crashed on their tandem in the Ardennes and lost their shanks, the two now inhabit dustbins. Whatever else they may represent, the ashbins (or dustbins) are clearly death images, symbolically apt containers of...

  23. Samuel Beckett’s Media Plays
    (pp. 241-258)

    The recently released Faber and Grove Press editions of the collected shorter plays of Samuel Beckett contain twenty-nine works. Of that number nearly half are plays written for a medium other than the stage: seven for radio, five for television, and one for film. The high number may surprise those who think of Beckett primarily as a dramatist of the theatre; it may also surprise those who read Beckett criticism, since names likeCascandoandEh Joerarely appear except as items in some general overview of Beckett’s writing. For example, individual media plays are identified by title in only...

  24. Reading as Theatre: Understanding Defamiliarization in Beckett’s Art
    (pp. 259-278)

    To borrow an understatement from Charles R. Lyons, “the recited discourses in Beckett’s late stage plays overpower the dramatised action.” Expecting to see a play, we hear fragments of a story. The inversion of genre expectations is so insistent that part of the experience one undergoes is a genre question: Is this theatre or is it (again to use Lyons’s words), “prose fiction enclosed in a theatrical conceit?”² One object of this essay is to make the case that this development in Beckett’s work for the stage rests on the insight that reading itself is theatrical. But my principal object...

  25. Roundelay
    (pp. 279-280)

    on all that strand

    at end of day

    steps sole sound

    long sole sound

    until unbidden stay

    then no sound

    on all that strand

    long no sound

    until unbidden go

    steps sole sound

    long sole sound

    on all that strand

    at end of day


  26. Suggestions for Further Reading
    (pp. 281-284)
  27. Contributors
    (pp. 285-288)
  28. Index
    (pp. 289-293)