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Western drama has evolved much since its development and introduction into Greek society. In it?s earliest form drama was a free and artistic endeavor. Writers wrote for their love of the art and to express their own personal beliefs. However, as drama proliferated across the western world, and over the centuries, it became a way for those who were financially affluent to show off their wealth. In the renaissance drama returned to its roots, and again writers wrote for their love of the art and their own personal inspirations. This change was inspired by the redistribution of wealth from a small noble class to a larger middle and upper class making a writers services more affordable to the masses. Since then, with the arrival of mass publication, modern writers write in a more holistic manner. They take on topics of personal value to themselves and topics that they feel are relevant to the problems of society.
A good example of early Greek dramatic style is Sophocles?s, ?Oedipus the King.? The major themes of this play are blindness and fate. The tragedy incorporates the Greek properties of drama as it echoes ideas and story line from ancient Greek legend. The theme common of Greek legend is that above all else fate is far too powerful to be manipulated by man?s effort.
Moving ahead nearly 20 centuries, to the Elizabethan era, dramatic style reverts to its purest form based on the works of the Greeks and the Romans. William Shakespeare?s ?King Lear,? incorporates the dramatic styles of the renaissance, and therefore the Greeks, by referring to legend in the form of a proverb. The aforementioned
proverb is that ?you never know what you have until you?ve lost it.” In addition, ?King Lear? puts forth new concepts of dramatic writing style by being written in prose.
Also, Shakespeare utilized iambic pentameter in the crafting of his work, which was another style new to the world of theatre.
Another example of Renaissance writing is Moliere?s ?Tartuffe.? This again refers back to Greek theatre, however, it mirrors a different form than that in ?King Lear.? ?Tartuffe? is a satire. It criticizes the so called morality of society by presenting a character who is essentially a professional hypocrite. Thus, the work ridicules societal behavior by bringing to light mankind?s flaws. It targets especially the French upper class poking fun at its egotistical ways.
The transition from traditional drama to modern drama is made evident through the works of Buchner, Shange, and Beckett. These plays each address a separate, self-standing aspect of modern drama, however, focusing on a common theme, they all look deep into the souls of man and attempt to decipher the code that is human behavior. Unlike traditional dramatists these writers do not write in a set style as writers of the Elizabethan era did, rather, they write according to their own personal interests and for their own motives.
George Buchner?s ?Woyzeck? is a perfect example of the modern concept of psychological drama. In his work, Buchner details how a life with little or no meaning can affect a man emotionally. The story centers around the character Woyzeck, who sees nothing to live for and nothing worth accomplishing; nothing except love. Unconditional love is the only hope that he is able to conjure up because he believes that love can free him from a meaningless existence. However, once this final hope is shattered two tragic
victims are introduced into the plot-line, the psychologically disturbed Woyzeck, and the victim of domestic violence, Marie, thus leading to one of the aspects that classifies this play as tragic. Buchner not only portrays his protagonist as a tragic hero, but also successfully exemplifies his victim as a tragic character. The use of multiple tragic characters is a modern aspect of drama because classical works of tragedy contained only one tragic character with one tragic flaw incorporated into the plot-line.
Though by plot-line ?Woyzeck? is a modern psychological drama, the technical aspect of the play refers back to the elements of classical works. For instance, the production takes place at a definite time, with continuity on stage, and it tends toward real time. It is, however, written in an expressionistic style, using startling and unusual effects such as the doctor?s laboratory. It also aims at being expressive by calling attention to itself and calling attention to the unreality of many of the scenes. This is exemplified by the fool and through the exaggeration of the doctor and the officer. The structure of ?Woyzeck,? however, does not follow those of the romantic movement or ?the well-made play.? Buchner avoids using the common romantic style of completely overblown emotions. The work also contradicts the theory of ?the well-made play? because it does not push the problems of society backstage, rather, it drives them into the minds of his audience.
?Waiting For Godot? is another example of modern drama. In this work, Beckett uses the modern classification of theatre of the absurd. The world of ?Waiting For Godot? is one without any meaningful pattern, which symbolizes chaos as the dominating force in the world. There is no orderly sequence of events. A tree which was barren one
day is covered with leaves the next. The two tramps return to same place day after day to wait for Godot. However, no one can remember exactly what happened the day before. Night falls instantly, and Godot never comes. The entire setting of the play is meant to demonstrate that time is based on chance, and therefore human life is based on chance.
Realizing this, humans will create distractions and diversions, in the form of patterns and reliance on nebulous forces, to provide the purpose and meaning that is inherently lacking in their lives. ?Waiting for Godot? is the classical, archetypical presentation of this facet of human existence using modern day expressionistic style.
An illusion of salvation is needed to cope with a meaningless life. Godot is that illusion. God, if he exists, contributes to the absurdity and chaos through his silence. It is God?s silence through this play that causes the real hopelessness, and this is what makes ?Waiting for Godot? a tragedy amidst all of the comical actions of it?s characters: the silent plea to God for meaning, for answers to life?s unanswerable questions, which symbolizes the plea of all humanity, and God?s silence in response.
?For Colored Girls? is a work that is exemplary of the aspect of modern drama that addresses the problems of society. In ?For Colored Girls,? Shange brings to light a conflict that had previously been silent in America. That dilemma is the struggle between African American women and their counterparts, African American men. The play revolves around seven African American women with different life experiences and backgrounds. Several of the poems that make up the play are spoken from the point of view of characters who have been oppressed, silenced, and abused.
The technical composition of ?For Colored Girls? is almost completely modernistic. The play is written in a non-structured manner, sometimes written in prose, and other times using vernacular language. There is no set location, nor is there any set time frame involved. The play also does not specify whether or not the characters are
speaking in real time. It carries the genetics of a modern work in that it addresses a few characters all speaking together to challenge a greater societal evil.
These six works provide insight into the evolution of societal ideas and the evolution of the art that is drama. Clearly, it can be seen that drama is a self-consuming art, becoming more intense until all the fuel of thought has been consumed. Then, some years later, drama rises out of its ashes once again full of new emotion. Though the style of drama is reconstructed from the ashes of eras past, each time it acquires new ideas of style and content.
?Woyzeck,? ?For Colored Girls,? and ?Waiting for Godot? prove the theory that drama is comparable to the phoenix of Greek legend. They present ideas, style, and content that are filled with new thought provoking concepts. For example, the new idea portrayed in ?Woyzeck? is the psychological aspects of his characters and consequently their behaviors. In ?Waiting For Godot? the deeply philosophical concepts of ?what is real?? and ?what is meaningful?? are addressed. ?For Colored Girls? portrays perhaps the most modernistic idea out of the three works in that it not only represents the problems of minorities, but also addresses women and women?s rights as a relevant problem within society — something that would have been considered taboo in previous centuries? dramatic
endeavors. In comparison to the phoenix of Greek legend these new ideas pose relevance and fiery themes. They not only address the problems of society but also through their structure and style attempt to leave their viewers persuaded with the writer?s own outlooks, beliefs, and morals emblazoned into the audiences thoughts and minds. Clearly with the number of problems in modern society dramatists will have much to feed on for many years to come.
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