AD's English Literature : Treatment of Social Realism or Issues in the Modern British Drama

Treatment of Social Realism or Issues in the Modern British Drama

"The foaming denouncers of the bourgeoisie, and the more-water-in-your-beer reformers of whom Shaw is the prototype."
-George Orwell Referring to George Bernard Shaw The Road to Wigan Pier

Literature, in general, and drama in particular shows some special characteristics of the present day tendencies in life and literature: (1) its reiteration of the old revolutionary formula of liberty, equality and fraternity in a new setting, (2) its worship of power rather than of beauty – here it parts company abruptly with the age of the romantic revival and Victorian age  - (3) its challenging attitude of the older values in art and life – the challenging attitude now is more persisting and more searching – (Compton Rickett).

 The new note of realism become more and more insistent and received a better welcome on the stage. The two men who became prominent were Henry Arthur Jones and Arthur Wing Pinero. Jones Arthur’s “It’s only Round the Corner” and “The Silver king”. His most notable plays were “Saints and Sinners” (1884), “the Dancing Girl” (1891), “The Case of Rebellious Susan” (1894). “The Triumph of the Phillistines” (1893), and “Michael and His Last Angle” (1896), “The Liars” (1897) and “Miss Dane’s Defence” also succeeded. Henry Arthur Jones's Mrs. Dane's Defense (1900) is most notable as an early realist problem play.
The play “The Liars” elaborates on the need to lie in a hypocritical society. Arthur Wing Pinero wrote two types: (1) the farce and (2) the social problem, Pinere proceeded to write a succession of social dramas highlighting the plight of woman in an unforgiving society, The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (1893) belongs to the latter. His “Trelaway of the Wells” (1898) is a nostalgic celebration of the mid-Victorian theatre. Pinero was a prolific writer of farces and comedies, but his melodramas dealing with ethical and social problems makes him an icon. The tendency of these writers is to follow Ibsen.

As Shaw says “What we might have learned from Ibsen was that our fashionable dramatic material was worm out as far cultivated modern people are concerned; that what really interacts such people on stage is not what we call action – meaning two well known and rather short-sighted actors pretending to fight dual without their glasses or a handsome leading man chasing beauteous leading lady round the stage with threats obviously not feasible of immediate rapine – but of lives discussion of conduct, unveiling motives, conflict of characters in talks, laying bare of souls, discovery of pitfalls – in short -illumination of Life”.

Ref: 1. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      2. Microsoft Students’ Encarta Eric Bentley

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