Nineteenth Century and Modern Theater

Please note that this reading guide corresponds to some portions of both the Nineteenth-Century Theater chapter and the Modern Theater chapter!

  1. The conscious political salience of theater, since the Licensing Act in England, had declined rapidly, leading to sentimental and middle-class drama By the end of the eighteenth century and the French Revolution, which saw “the rise of a vigorous popular theater” (299), theater was becoming solidly the province of the middle class, and its broad function was entertainment rather than explicit social or political commentary (341). Throughout the 19th century, theatre became less about melodrama and spectacle and more about realism, however, a concept that would develop into naturalism and other important developments in modern theater. In many ways, the history of modern theatrical movements is a history of iconoclasm and deliberate attempts to confront and reshape the conventions of previous movements, generations, theatrical ideologies and practices, Describe in brief the new theatrical movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries and their relationship to one another. [sentimental melodrama/romanticism; realism/verisimilitude; naturalism; symbolism; aestheticism; radical historical authenticity; expressionism]
  2. Or: According to Booth, “[t]he 1840s appear to mark a turning-point, or a dividing line, between the old and the new in the theatre” (311). By the 1850s, the “dominant trend…was not the romantic, rhetorical, sensational, and presentational, but a content and a matching acting and production style that stressed domestic verisimilitude, a half-way house to the naturalism of the 1880s and 1890s” (324). Verisimilitude and realism were the techniques that divided the old from the new. What was the basic idea behind realism (299, 311, 324ff, esp. 327, 332), and how were realistic effects produced by the material conditions of the stage (302, 339-40)? How did it lead to naturalism (325, 342-ff), symbolism, and later, the radical expressionist theater of the early 20th century?
  3. Ibsen is an important hinge between 19th century and modern theater. What were his contributions to theater; why was his work so important? (299, 327, 342ff, 346-7, 357,
  4. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, acting styles, despite the steps toward realism taken by David Garrick, remaind “codified” (300) and based on “classical acting style” decendant from the eighteenth century (329). While many playwrights of the late 19th century were drawing on the techniques of realism to present the “illusion that everything is real” (Ibsen, qtd. 299), it wasn't until Stanislavski that a truly new style of acting emerged. What was Stanislavski's contribution to modern theater (352-356)?
  5. When did the “director” and “creative director” emerge as important professions in the theater? Why? (329ff, 332,
  6. The history of 19th century and modern theater can be read as a history of technological and ideological changes. What were the important technological innovations of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and what impacts did they have on the theater? Pay special attention to gaslight (302-303, 339-340), electricity, photography, and cinema. What were the important ideological/social changes that marked the 19th century (342), and how did they impact theater?
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License