Closet drama

Closet drama

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A closet drama is a play that is not intended to be performed onstage, but read by a solitary reader or, sometimes, out loud in a small group. A related form, the "closet screenplay
Closet screenplay
Related to closet drama, a closet screenplay is a screenplay intended not to be produced/performed but instead to be read by a solitary reader or, sometimes, out loud in a small group....

," developed during the 20th century.

Form


Any drama in a written form that does not depend to any significant degree upon improvisation
Improvisation
Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment and inner feelings. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or...

 for its effect can be read as literature without being performed. Closet dramas, however, are designed especially for reading and do not concern themselves with stage technique. Featuring little action but often rich in philosophical rhetoric, they are seldom produced for the stage.

The philosophical dialogue
Dialogue
Dialogue is a literary and theatrical form consisting of a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people....

s of ancient Greek and Roman writers such as Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 were written in the form of conversations between "characters" and are therefore similar to closet drama (for example "Myth about Erotes
Erotes
Erotes or Amores may also refer to:In literature:* Erotes , a group of gods and demi-gods from Classical mythology, associated with love and sex and part of Aphrodite's retinue....

").

History


Beginning with Friedrich von Schlegel, many have argued that the tragedies
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 of Seneca the Younger
Seneca the Younger
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero...

 in the first century AD were written to be recited at small parties rather than performed. Although that theory has become widely pervasive in the history of theater, there is no evidence to support the contention that his plays were intended to be read or recited at small gatherings of the wealthy. The emperor Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

, a pupil of Seneca's, may even have performed in some of them. Some of the drama of the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 was of the closet-drama type, such as the drama of Hroswitha of Gandersheim
Hrosvit
Hrotsvitha , also known as Hroswitha, Hrotsvit, Hrosvit, and Roswitha, was a 10th-century German secular canoness of the Benedictine Order, as well as a dramatist and poet who lived and worked in Gandersheim, in modern-day Lower Saxony...

, or dialectical works such as The Debate of Body and Soul or the Interludium de Clerico et Puella.

Fulke Greville, Sir William Alexander
William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling
William Alexander, Earl of Stirling was a Scotsman who was an early developer of Scottish colonisation of Port Royal, Nova Scotia and Long Island, New York...

, and Mary Sidney
Mary Sidney
Mary Herbert , Countess of Pembroke , was one of the first English women to achieve a major reputation for her literary works, poetry, poetic translations and literary patronage.-Family:...

 wrote closet dramas in the age of Shakespeare and Jonson. Thomas Killigrew
Thomas Killigrew
Thomas Killigrew was an English dramatist and theatre manager. He was a witty, dissolute figure at the court of King Charles II of England.-Life and work:...

 is an example of a stage playwright who turned to closet drama when his plays could no longer be produced; he was in exile from England during the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

. The period of the Civil War and the Interregnum
English Interregnum
The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell under the Commonwealth of England after the English Civil War...

, when the public theatres were officially closed (1642–60), was perhaps the golden age of closet drama in English. John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

's play Samson Agonistes
Samson Agonistes
Samson Agonistes is a tragic closet drama by John Milton. It appeared with the publication of Milton's Paradise Regain'd in 1671, as the title page of that volume states: "Paradise Regained / A Poem / In IV Books / To Which Is Added / Samson Agonistes"...

, written in 1671, is another example of early modern drama never intended for the stage.

Closet drama written in verse
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 form became very popular in Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 after 1800; these plays were by and large inspired by Classical models. Faust, Part 1 and Faust, Part 2 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called the greatest long...

, among the most acclaimed pieces in the history of German literature
German literature
German literature comprises those literary texts written in the German language. This includes literature written in Germany, Austria, the German part of Switzerland, and to a lesser extent works of the German diaspora. German literature of the modern period is mostly in Standard German, but there...

, were written as closet dramas. Nonetheless, both plays are often performed onstage today in Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron...

, as well as a host of other figures, also devoted much time to the closet drama. The genre also influenced other forms of literature and theatre; the portions of Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

's novel Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod,...

that are in dialogue form are at least a casual allusion to closet drama. Some of the poems of William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms...

 are in dialogue form, suggesting a similar inspiration (though Yeats was not fond of closet drama). The austerity of many of the plays he wrote for the Abbey Theater derives largely from his study of Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese Noh
Noh
, or - derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent" - is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh "performance day" lasts all day and...

 drama; their closest analogue for contemporary Europeans, however, would have been the Romantic closet drama.

The popularity of closet drama at this time was both a sign of, and a reaction to, the decline of the verse tragedy
Verse drama and dramatic verse
Verse drama is any drama written as verse to be spoken; another possible general term is poetic drama. For a very long period, verse drama was the dominant form of drama in Europe...

, so popular during the Neoclassical
Neoclassicism
Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome...

 period, on the European stage in the 1800s. Popular tastes in theater were shifting toward melodrama
Melodrama
The term melodrama refers to a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions. It may also refer to the genre which includes such works, or to language, behavior, or events which resemble them...

 and comedy
Comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

, and there was little commercial appeal in staging verse tragedies (though Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, Romantic, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He is probably best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla...

, Robert Browning
Robert Browning
Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.-Early years:...

, and others wrote verse dramas that were staged in commercial theaters). Playwrights who wanted to write verse tragedy had to resign themselves to writing for readers, not actors and audiences. Nineteenth-century closet drama became a longer poetic form, without the connection to practical theatre and performance.

Robertson Davies
Robertson Davies
William Robertson Davies, CC, OOnt, FRSC, FRSL was a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor. He was one of Canada's best-known and most popular authors, and one of its most distinguished "men of letters", a term Davies is variously said to have gladly accepted for himself...

 called closet drama "Dreariest of literature, most second hand and fusty of experience!" However, many closet dramas were written in Victorian times
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

and afterward. Closet drama continues to be written today, although it is no longer a very popular genre.