Historical Literary Survey on Modern Theatre and Drama


Historical literary surveys about modern theatre and drama are mainly based on the arguments relating to author, the masterpiece, or the period in consideration. Studies on literary surveys about modern theatre are aimed at offering concise explanation and critical consideration of important aspects of literary discussion terms such as symbolism, realism, style, and many other literary terms.

In this case, modern theatre enables the multiplicity of relationship between the text of a play and its presence on the stage, thus further relating to the literary and theatrical experience (Wells pg.V). Majority of drama contain literary materials, which when read, they could provide some entertainment; however, theatre gives a drama or a play the finishing- touch for it to be a complete experience.

In carrying out historical literary survey about modern theatre and drama, the study of text within their historical context are undertaken including the textual criticism to validate the text of the masterpiece which includes checking the historical and social background of the play or masterpiece.

For example, to understand the masterpieces of Athenian tragedy of the fifth century B.C., one will need to understand the religious myths of the ancient Greeks, the organization of the Greek city-states, and the political history of the times. The later especially involves the relationship between certain thematic concerns in the plays of Aeschylus or Euripides and the events of the Persian and Peloponnesian wars of their time (Yadav, Sundram, & Sundram pg.170).

The origin of theatre can be traced back to ancient times, to the religious rites (rituals) of the ancient people. According to Hartnoll, these rituals were songs and dances in honor of a god, performed by priests and worshippers, with these rituals being adopted and performed as plays or drama, giving rise to theatre, which has been transforming up to the modern theatre (Hartnoll 7).

Elements of modern theatre and drama


Spectacle is mainly intended to make the audience to overact towards the play or the drama being presented. Among the early element of theatre spectacle has remained largely unchanged in the transform to the modern theatre. To enable spectacle to be highly effective, it should be aimed at the most sensitive aspects of the human nature especially those dealing with extremities of power: gods, monarchy, terrorism, war, disasters, regicide, and apocalypse.

That is why when activism engaged spectacle in the past in plays such as Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder. The Boston Tea Party received strong responses and produced lasting icons of history, even when there were few witnesses of the event (Kershaw pg.208). In most western theatres, spectacle is not much involved in their shows, remaining either as liked or despised, an element of modern theatre that is not well promoted thus more of a passive theatre ingredient.

Spectacle has remained, though in a more silent manner than in the past. That is why the ‘standard modern reference works on theatre such as The Oxford Companion to the Theatre (1967) by Phyllis Hartnoll and The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (1992) by Martin Banham, mainly engage in separating the serious art from the spectacle by discussing about theatre in Spain or the Spectacle Theatres of Renaissance Italy while remaining tellingly silent on spectacle (Hartnoll 114-120). However, a few reference texts towards the end of the millennium include the concept but are cautious about its significance

British cultural materialism and the American new historicism

The America new historicism was introduced in the America through a publication of Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning, a defining work of new historicism, and with The Woman’s Part, the first anthology of feminist criticism of Shakespeare (Kang, 1997).

However, the cultural materialism evolved later through the works of Raymond Williams in a series of significant works of the late 1970s and 1980s applying Marxist study of social dynamics to several cultural phenomena including drama, literature and art, arguing that though unique as practices they cannot be separated from the normal social process (Carlson, 1993. pg.524).

The two concepts aim to stop the tendency of treating art as a special form of experience or activity that is not linked with the social aspects. They are also aimed at stopping the directed criticism of past periods in viewing given art forms of a specific period with a biased global perspective. Rather, these concepts changed the materialist criticism of art to be more ideologically based.

The two concepts replaced the traditional centers of theoretical and critical attention (the author, the canon, and the organic text) with the study of the forms and flow of power. The dramatic text becomes a site for the negotiation and authorization, interrogation, subversion, containment, and recuperation of power.

This is in addition to an orientation that is well reflected in the Introduction to Shakespeare Reproduced (1987), essays from a seminar on Shakespeare and ideology held in Berlin in 1986 (Carlson, 1993. pg.524). For cultural materialists, the dramatic text, individual performance and other encounters with the text are joined forming social and ideological negotiation (Kang, 1997).


Due to the ever-changing human nature in terms of technology, culture, societal set up, conflicts, issues, and demographics, the modern theatre will gradually continue to change in reflection of changes in the human nature and perspectives.

Works Cited

Berghaus, G. On Ritual. London: Routledge. 1998.

Carlson, M. A. Theories of the theatre: a historical and critical survey from the Greeks to the present. New York: Cornell University Press. 1993.

Hartnoll, P. A concise history of the theatre. London: Thames and Hudson. 1968.

Kang, T. “Negotiating with Shakespeare.” DAI-A 58/07, 1997. Web.

Kershaw, B. Theatre ecology: environments and performance events. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2007.

Wells, S. Literature and drama: with special reference to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. London: Routledge. 1970.

Yadav, K. P., Sundram, Malti & Sundram, Malti. Encyclopaedia of Modern Tech. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons. 2004.

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