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"Only animals who are below civilization and the angels who are beyond it can be sincere. Human beings are, necessarily, actors who cannot become something before they have first pretended to be it; and they can be divided, not into the hypocritical and the sincere, but into the sane who know they are acting and the mad do not." --W.H. Auden

Ars Memoriae: The Theatre (1619) - Robert Fludd
Image sourced here.

Although theater is now a highbrow form, this was not so until the nineteenth century. --Fringe and Fortune (1996) - Wesley Monroe, Jr., page 73

Historian Lawrence Levine articulated Shakespeare's popularity shift this way:

“By the turn of the century, Shakespeare had been converted from a popular playwright whose dramas were the property of all those who flocked to see them, into a sacred author who had to be protected from ignorant audiences and overbearing actors threatening the integrity of his creations." --Lawrence Levine

By genre: burlesque - commedia dell'arte - La Fura dels Baus - grand guignol - music hall - opera - revenge play - satyr play - tragedy - vaudeville

Related: actor - cinema - circus - drama - fiction - performance - show - special effects - spectacle

Playwrights: Antonin Artaud - Samuel Beckett - Bertolt Brecht - Luigi Pirandello - Shakespeare - Tom Stoppard

Directors/producers: Peter Brook

Pollice Verso (1872) - Jean-Léon Gérôme


Theater (American English) or Theatre (British English and widespread usage among theatre professionals in the US) is that branch of the performing arts concerned with acting out stories in front of an audience using combinations of speech, gesture, music, dance, sound and spectacle - indeed any one or more elements of the other performing arts. In addition to the standard narrative dialog style, theatre takes such forms as opera, ballet, mime, kabuki, Chinese opera, mummers' plays and pantomime. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre [Jun 2004]

Definition (place)

A building, room, or outdoor structure for the presentation of plays, films, or other dramatic performances. --American Heritage Dictionary

Modernist theatre

The theoretical, technological, and social changes that affected the nineteenth-century theatre led to an unprecedented outpouring of dramatic creativity across the continent of Europe. Henrik Ibsen, generally considered the first modern playwright, wrote in Norwegian; August Strindberg, Ibsen’s rival and contemporary, wrote in Swedish. Anton Chekhov, perhaps the most influential of early modern playwrights, wrote in Russian. Despite the linguistic and cultural diversity of this disparate group of writers, in the aggregate they forged a new theatrical world.” –Contexts and comparisons

See also: realism in literature - theatre - 1800s literature -

Morality play

Morality plays (15th-16th c.): a type of theatrical allegory where the characters, in the form of personified moral attributes, must validate the virtues of Godly life by prompting the protagonist to choose such life over evil. These plays, most popular in 15th and 16th century Europe, helped move European theater from being religiously based to secularly based. However, the plays still offered moral instruction and together with mystery plays and miracle plays constituted the theater of the Middle Ages. Examples of morality plays include the French Condemnation des banquets by Nicolas de Chesnaye and the English The Castle of Perseverance and Everyman, which is today considered the best of the morality plays. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality_play [Oct 2005]

Theatre censorship

Puritan opposition to the stage -- informed by the arguments of the early Church Fathers who had written screeds against the decadent and violent entertainments of the Romans -- argued not only that the stage in general was pagan, but that any play that represented a religious figure was inherently idolatrous. In 1642, the Protestant authorities banned the performance of all plays within the city limits of London. A sweeping assault against the alleged immoralities of the theater crushed whatever remained in England of the Medieval dramatic tradition. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_theatre#Theatre_in_the_Middle_Ages [Dec 2005]

The rising Puritan movement was hostile to the theatres, which the Puritans considered to be sinful for several reasons. The most commonly cited reason was that young men dressed up in female costume to play female roles. Theatres were located in the same parts of the city in which brothels and other forms of vice proliferated. When the Puritan faction of Parliament gained control over the city of London at the beginning of the English Civil War, it ordered the closing of all theatres in 1642 — though this was largely because the stage was being used to promote opposing political views. After the monarchy was restored the theatres re-opened. The English King and many writers had spent years in France and were influenced by the flourishing French theatre of Louis XIV, especially in tragedy. However, Restoration audiences had no enthusiasm for structurally simple, well-shaped comedies such as those of Molière, but demanded bustling, crowded multi-plot action and fast comedic pace, and the Elizabethan features of multitude of scenes, multitude of characters, and melange of genres lived on in Restoration comedy. The Elizabethan classics were the mainstay of the Restoration repertory, although many of the tragedies were adapted to conform to the new taste.

For 50 years, drama had been the highest form of literature in English, and the Elizabethan writers had gained a reputation through much of Europe, as attested in Don Quixote and elsewhere, as the finest dramatists since the Roman Empire. After the closing of 1642, the late 17th-century extravaganza of Restoration comedy was the only drama of real significance in English until Irishmen such as George Bernard Shaw, John Synge and Oscar Wilde revived the art more than two centuries later. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabethan_theatre#Finale [Dec 2005]


See main article spectacle

Spectaculars, or elaborately staged "machine plays", hit the London public stage for the first time in the late 17th-century Restoration period, enthralling audiences with action, music, dance, moveable scenery, baroque illusionistic painting, gorgeous costumes, and special effects such as trapdoor tricks, "flying" actors, and fireworks. The Restoration spectacular has always had a bad reputation as the height of bad taste and a threat to the witty, dialogue-driven "legitimate" Restoration drama. However, these shows drew Londoners in unprecedented numbers and left them dazzled and delighted.

Basically home-grown and with roots in the early 17th-century court masque, though never ashamed of borrowing ideas and stage technology from French opera, the spectaculars are sometimes called "English opera". However, the variety of them is so untidy that most theatre historians despair of defining them as a genre at all (see Hume, 205). Only a handful of works of this period are usually accorded the term "opera", as the musical dimension of most of them is subordinate to the visual. It was spectacle and scenery that drew in the crowds, as evidenced by many comments in the diary of the theatre-lover Samuel Pepys. The expense of mounting ever more elaborate scenic productions drove the two competing theatre companies into a dangerous spiral of huge expenditure and correspondingly huge losses or profits. A fiasco such as Dryden's Albion and Albanius would involve a company in serious debt, while blockbusters like Thomas Shadwell's Psyche or Dryden's King Arthur would put it comfortably in the black for a long time. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restoration_spectacular [Dec 2005]

Revenge tragedy

The revenge play or revenge tragedy is a form of tragedy extremely popular in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras (c.1550-1650). Probably the best-known of these is William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

In a convention of the genre, the ghost of the person to be avenged appears to spur on his avenger. The revenge is inevitably fatal to both the avenger and his victim.

The hero in these plays is a man aware of a great wrong in society or in his own private life, and who is determined by every means in his power to rectify that wrong and punish evildoers. In the process the hero makes elaborate, secret plans and operates outside the law, and he finally destroys himself as he kills his enemies.

Plays in this genre include:

Similar forms are found in classical Greek and Roman plays, including those of Seneca, although those have never been intended to be actual plays performed on stage. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revenge_tragedy [Nov 2005]

The Way of the World (1700) - William Congreve

The Way of the World is a play written by British playwright William Congreve. It premiered in 1700 in the theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, England. It is widely regarded as being one of the best Restoration comedies written and is still performed sporadically to this day.

The play is renowned for being very complicated and audiences, even at the time, would sometimes find themselves becoming confused with its long discussions of contracts. This is made all the more true in the present day because of its occasional use of what is now archaic language. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_of_the_World [Nov 2005]

Titus Andronicus (1590s)- Shakespeare

Tragedy of blood, revenge tragedy, history play, political play, Roman tragedy, horror comic, parody play, Grand Guignol, daddy of all horror plays...which is it? Break down and analyze the structure and organization of Titus Andronicus to arrive at a classification of the play, if possible. If not, discuss what generic attributes the play holds, and how they help us to understand Shakespeare's intentions in writing it. --http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/titus/study.html [Nov 2005]

Titus Andronicus may be Shakespeare's earliest tragedy. It depicts a fictional Roman general engaged in a cycle of revenge with his enemy, the Queen of the Goths.

Titus Andronicus is perhaps Shakespeare's bloodiest tragedy; some measure of its matter can be gleaned from a single stage-direction: "Enter the empress' sons with Lavinia, her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out, and ravished." (Act II, scene IV). The play is frequently dismissed for its violence, and some Shakespeare lovers consider it childish juvenilia, or believe that it is populist trash written only to make money.

Since the late twentieth century, however, the play has been revived frequently on stage and has been revealed to some as a powerful and moving exploration of violence that pre-empts King Lear in its bleakness, to others as a forerunner of the Hollywood slasher movie. The play can speak to modern audiences, who are used to violence in film, in a way that it could not to Victorian audiences; but the modern intolerance for everyday cruelty makes moderns less responsive than previous generations, who attended public executions for entertainment. The character of Titus has been played by important actors such as Laurence Olivier, Brian Cox, Anthony Sher and Anthony Hopkins, and is increasingly regarded as one of the great Shakespearean roles.

It seems to have been one of the most popular plays of Shakespeare's during his lifetime, as it was published in three quarto editions prior to the First Folio of 1623. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titus_Andronicus [Nov 2005]


--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_adaptations_of_Shakespearean_plays#Titus_Andronicus [Nov 2005]

  • Titus (2000) - Julie Taymor [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Amazon.com essential video
    Considered by many to be Shakespeare's worst play, Titus Andronicus is a bloodthirsty tragedy full of villainous heroes and bottomless revenge--hardly the stuff of big-screen directorial debuts, it would seem. Yet Julie Taymor dives headfirst into moviemaking with Titus, a spectacular adaptation that manages to find beauty and humor in the piles of carnage. --Claire Campbell for Amazon.com

    Macbeth (1971)- Roman Polanski

  • Macbeth (1971)- Roman Polanski [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Roman Polanski's adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy remains one of the most infamous for a number of reasons: the copious amounts of bloody gore, its expert use of location settings (filmed in North Wales), and Lady Macbeth's nude sleepwalking scene. Despite its notoriety, though, this does remain one of the more compelling film adaptations of the Scottish tragedy, if one of the more pessimistic takes on the story of Macbeth and his overreaching ambition. If you think the play is normally a bit of a downer, you haven't seen Polanski's bleak version of it, made in reaction to the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson "family." Jon Finch (Hitchcock's Frenzy) is an forceful Macbeth, bringing out the Scot's warrior instincts, and Francesca Annis is a memorable Lady Macbeth, but the main thrust of the film belongs to Polanski's and noted British playwright and critic Kenneth Tynan's take on the play: extremely violent, nihilistic, and visceral; this is down-in-the-dirt, no-holds-barred Shakespeare, not fussy costume drama. Pay close attention to the end, a silent coda that puts a chilling twist on all the action that has come beforehand and foreshadows more tragedy to come. --Mark Englehart, Amazon.com

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