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Modern Drama

Modern Drama: Defining the Field

Ric Knowles
Joanne Tompkins
W.B. Worthen
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 226
  • Book Info
    Modern Drama
    Book Description:

    The contributors examine varied topics such as the analysis of periodicity; the articulation of social, political, and cultural production in theatre; the re-evaluation of texts, performances, and canons; and demonstrations of how interdisciplinarity inflects theatre and its practice.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2092-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-2)

    I was offered the privilege of editing the journalModern Dramaat a significant moment in the history of the field. Until relatively recently, periodization – the division of literary, theatrical, and cultural history into temporal units that were usually associated with particular styles and formal features felt to be characteristic of particular moments in time – was more or less taken for granted as a way of organizing areas of study in most disciplines. Similarly, until relatively recently, disciplinarity itself – the division of knowledge and ways of acquiring it into identifiable scholarly “disciplines,” methods, or approaches – was...

  4. Modern Drama/Modernity’s Drama
    (pp. 3-14)

    We want continuity and we deny continuity. […] Too much of ourselves, we say, is attached to the past, as if it could be unattached. We develop methods for denying memory. […] [but] [h]istory is stubborn. […] Like it or not, weareremembered [and the] history that is not played again as farce is, of course, played straight by the actors. It’s only history that thinks it’s funny. True, all this is merely theoretical; it needs fleshing out in the theater. The past always needs blood donors. The theater is a means of transfusion.

    – Blau 8–9


  5. Aesthetic Prejudice in Modern Drama
    (pp. 15-28)

    The aesthetic prejudice chiefly in question is that subordination or suppression of the performing subject that is particularly associated with realism in modern drama. It stands revealed as such not only in the staging but also in the performative elements of the verbal texts in which dramatic realism, rather paradoxically, defined itself. The incommensurability of an act of representation and a corresponding embodiment of a performing subject is often made quite obvious in the juxtaposition of modern dramas and their operatic versions, and it is a given in the aesthetics of physical theatre. In the earlier twentieth century, such aesthetic...

  6. Why Modern Plays Are Not Culture: Disciplinary Blind Spots
    (pp. 29-47)

    My title is taken, with significant modification, from the same essay in which Robert Brustein chastised “the drama” for not being interdisciplinary. In that piece, “Why American Plays Are Not Literature,” Brustein made clear that something called “literature” was the discipline with which drama most needed contact. Not only was it, in Brustein’s view, the only discipline with which the drama needed contact, but its models of value were those to which all drama should aspire. Condemning the fact that American dramatists almost never sought representation in “the literary periodicals,” his 1959 use of the term “interdisciplinary” was thus a...

  7. Quo Vadis? Theatre Studies at the Crossroads
    (pp. 48-66)

    Theatre studies as an academic discipline was founded in a programmatic way, as a discipline devoted not to text but, rather, to performance.¹ Since its very origins, it has been understood as an “interdisciplinary” subject within which many other fields of study intersect and merge: art history, musicology, literature studies, cultural history, communication and media sciences, philosophy, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, economics, and law. Whether it is defined and practised as culture studies, as media studies, or as art studies, the study of theatre constitutes, by definition, an interdisciplinary field.² Nearly a century after the founding of theatre studies, on...

  8. Physiologies of the Modern: Zola, Experimental Medicine, and the Naturalist Stage
    (pp. 67-79)

    In 1953, on the anniversary of the French premiere of Luigi Pirandello’sSix Characters in Search of an Author, playwright Georges Neveux reflected on the play’s impact:

    Just thirty years ago today, an elevator came down on the stage of the [Théâtre des] Champs Elysées and deposited on it six unexpected characters whom Pirandello had conjured up. […] [I]t will be impossible to understand anything about today’s theater if one forgets that little flying box out of which it stepped one April evening in 1923. (qtd. in Bishop 49–50)

    Characterizing Pirandello as “the greatest prestidigitator of the Twentieth Century,...

  9. Making Sense of Sensation: Enlightenment, Embodiment, and the End(s) of Modern Drama
    (pp. 80-101)

    The end of the twentieth century may have postponed millennial fever, but it gives us a good opportunity to revisit prophecies for the end of drama, which, like those for the end of humanism or the end of modernity, have yet to be completely dispatched by any post-al delivery. We may be witnessing a postdramatic theatre, as Hans-Thies Lehmann argues in a recent magisterial study entitledPostdramatisches Theater, but, as he concedes, the post-dramatic, like the postmodern and the post-structuralist, performs a double act, hedging its bets, as it were, in an ongoing engagement with the dramatic, the modern, the...

  10. Luminous Writing, Embodiment, and Modern Drama: Mme Blavatsky and Bertolt Brecht
    (pp. 102-116)

    In the fall of 1875, Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, accessed the Astral Light for her writing. Mme Blavatsky was beginning the first volume of her erudite and complex work on the occult sciences entitledIsis Unveiled. Writing in Ithaca, New York, at the home of Hiram Corson, a professor of English at Cornell University, Mme Blavatsky produced twenty-five pages a day. Professor Corson reported that she was

    quoting long verbatim paragraphs from dozens of books of which I am perfectly certain there were no copies at that time in America, translating easily from several languages […]. She...

  11. The Haunted Houses of Modernity
    (pp. 117-127)

    Despite having survived a fin-de-siècle anxiety attack, the industrialized world has come more and more to resemble a spook-house. With the emergence of new media and new industrial and social technologies, it has developed ever more subtle ways of creating virtual realities, inspiring fear, and offering intimations of the sublime. Although these achievements of the so-called information age may seem unprecedented, they are far less novel, I want to argue, than they at first appear. These new technologies represent instead the fulfillment of a particular historical logic, a kind of monstrous repetition of the past. And despite a widespread (and...

  12. Hauntings: Anxiety, Technology, and Gender in Peter Pan
    (pp. 128-143)

    J.M. Barrie’sPeter Pan(1904) circulates in the popular imagination as a happy tale for children that, through the adventures of Peter and the other children in Never Land, celebrates playfulness. As Mark Twain commented, “It is my belief thatPeter Panis a great and refining and uplifting benefaction to this sordid and money-mad age; and the next best play is a long way behind” (qtd. in Jack 158). Tellingly, Twain’s comment thatPeter Panis uplifting seems to depend on ignoring the fact that each of the “lost” boys is a baby who has fallen out of his...

  13. Bodies, Revolutions, and Magic: Cultural Nationalism and Racial Fetishism
    (pp. 144-161)

    We might consider race in accordance with Judith Butler’s useful conception of gender as constructed in terms ofa corporeal style; in this sense the racialized body is also made meaningful through “the legacy of sedimented acts rather than a predetermined or foreclosed structure, essence or fact, whether natural, cultural, or linguistic” (Butler 274). The particular ways in which we perceive, interpret, and value racial difference in the United States today can be understood as a kind of ‘performance’ that takes its significance from not one but, in fact, many layers of social meaning that history has deposited on bodies....

  14. Modernism and Genocide: Citing Minstrelsy in Postcolonial Agitprop
    (pp. 162-172)

    The critical field marked by the term “modern drama” has from its earliest authorizations framed an intersection of rehearsable textuality and social subjectivity, or, as Raymond Williams famously put it in one of his earliest works,Drama from Ibsen to Brecht, of “convention” (3) and “structures of feeling” (8). The critical texts that have guided the development of the term “modern drama” organize the problem of theatrical modernism as one of giving form to the invisible and the unconscious and, through this, enacting a fantasy of the reclaimed “real” in which revelations embodied in performance supersede the reality of the...

  15. August Wilson, Doubling, Madness, and Modern African-American Drama
    (pp. 173-192)

    My first association with August Wilson came in the spring of 1987 when I was cast in the Studio Theater’s production ofMa Rainey’s Black Bottomin Washington, DC. This was the second professional production of the play, and so August Wilson came in from Minneapolis to see the production. It was a hit and ran for over twelve weeks, well into the swelteringly hot and humid DC summer. I played Ma’s stuttering nephew, Sylvester. Sylvester’s – and my – shining moment occurs well into the second act, when, after unsuccessfully stuttering through two previous attempts to record the intro...

  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 193-208)
  17. Contributors
    (pp. 209-212)