Bhatia, Harbhajan Lal (1970) Shaw and the late nineteenth century theatre: a study in his dramatic criticism. Doctoral thesis, Keele University.

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Abstract

Shaw was an artist-critic. He started his career as a music critic in 1876. Two years later he turned to novel-writing. He wrote five long novels, which nobody would publish. In 1885 he started book-reviewing for The Pall Mall Gazette. The same year he collaborated with Archer
on his first play, Widowers'Houses, which Archer did not like. The next two years he spent on art criticism. From 1888 to l894, he once again worked as a music critic, first for The Star and then for The World. In 1895 he became a dramatic critic for The Saturday Review, where he was to work for the next three and a half years. By this time he had several plays and critical essays behind him. His aim as a critic was to bring both art and criticism closer to life.
The Victorians did not have a theatre of their own. No theatre can survive without living drama, and the Victorians, whatever else they had, had no living drama of their own. They derived most of their material and inspiration from the classics and from the French well-made plays of Scribe, Sardou and Labiche. Since no copyright laws existed, anybody could make adaptations of others' works without infringement of rights or royalties. The bigotted attitude of the censorship did the theatre an incalculable harm; many serious writers did not take to playwriting simply because they could not express themselves fully and freely as in other arts. There was an evergrowing tendency towards making theatrical art commercially rather than artistically viable. Shaw wanted to emancipate the theatre from all these tyrannies and restore it to its classic status.
A wave of realism in the theatre started in the late
1860s with the emergence of Robertson, but this was a short-lived movement in itself. People like Grundy and Carton became popular because they could make adaptations from the modish French drama in the shortest possible time, which suited the reigning actor-managers. With the advent of 1880s two new talents, Jones and Pinero, arrived. Shaw's contemporaries called them avant-gardists; Shaw called them the perpetrators of the old tradition. After Ibsen's arrival on the English stage, both Jones and Pinero turned to serious writing. Pinero succeeded for a while with his so-called spiritual tragedies, but he has survived more for his farcical comedies than for his tragedies. Jones's idea of seriousness and realism was to go in for sensationalism. Naturally he did not succeed. Wilde did not dispute with the existing conditions of the theatre; he made what he could of the theatre by writing some of the funniest and most sparkling comedies ever seen. Barrie, said Shaw, had the milliner's sense of matching materials but had no "eye" for human psychology.
Ibsen was first introduced to the English audiences in 1889 with the production of A Doll's House,. Ghosts followed two years later. So great was the sensation created by Ghists that the press went on vilifying Ibsen for months to come. Shaw could not just sit there and let these people get away with it. He came to Ibsen's defence. No doubt Ibsen would have survived without Shaw's defence, but that is no reason why we should not give Shaw the credit for it. The Quintessence of Ibsenism may look now full of misonceptions, but a lot can be said for it if we read it in the context of its times.
Shaw learnt a good deal from this period in the sense that he discovered for himself what was wrong with the contemporary theatre and what could be done to improve it. His basic approach to drama in general did not change much in his later life.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: For access to the hard copy thesis, check the University Library catalogue.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Lisa Bailey
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2019 09:22
Last Modified: 11 Feb 2019 16:52
URI: http://eprints.keele.ac.uk/id/eprint/5793

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