Modern Drama and the Diminution of Dreams

The Aristotelian view of drama required an imitation of life, but his heroes were invariably members of the noble class.He regarded Sophocles' Oedipus Rex as the perfect play.Given this viewpoint, and given the stranglehold that Aristotle had over Europe over the next sixteen centuries, it is no wonder that most drama from the Greeks through until the renaissance were designed with this in mind.Dramatic heroes needed to be elevated so that their plunge into darkness would be all the more extreme.
The Renaissance began a process which allowed a re-examination of drama.No longer was a protagonist required to be a king.Now it was possible for lesser mortals to experience the devastation formerly reserved for nobility.By the 19th century Naturalism and Humanism had made it possible for plays to be written about prostitutes as protagonists, such as The Lady of the Camillias in 1849, which eventually degenerated into Eugene O'Neil's Anna Christie. By 1902 Maxim Gorky was writing plays about the dregs of society, the "lower class," as in The Lower Depths.
Realism allowed playwrights a chance to write about real people.Ibsen wrote about women smothered by society, as in A Doll's House, or The Wild Duck.O'Neil wrote plays about dysfunctional families, such as A Long Day's Journey into Night, or plays about the destruction of lower class men, such as The Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape.None of these protagonists were noble in class, and yet their falls often resulted in death, and the act of their falls left audiences as drained as the Athenians who watched a king plummet from grace.
Along with this de-emphasis on the stature of the protagonist has come a shift in the tragedy that surrounds them.Aristotle stressed the natural, as he said in his discussion of plot, in that it should follow the rule of "what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity." …


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