Naturalism in Theatre in the 19th Century

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  • Topic: Nature, Drama, Natural environment
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  • Published : April 17, 2012
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Naturalism-19th century usage
Naturalism in theatre in the 19th century, in its utmost simplest form, can be understood as the life like reproduction of life and human drama on stage. However the true understanding of naturalism is far more convoluted than this shallow notion. This essay will look at explaining and defining naturalism as a literature movement in the 19th century according to Emile Zola’s essay, Naturalism in the Theatre and Raymond Williams’ essay on Social Environment and Theatrical Environment.

One way in which we may acquire a better understanding of naturalism is by comparing the other forms of theater that were precursors to naturalism. In the beginning of his essay Zola calls for an innovator’s mind to “…overthrow the accepted conventions and finally install the real human drama in place of the ridiculous untruths that are on display today” (Zola 1881; 351). This statement outlines the fundamentals of Romantic drama and Classical drama as being based on a grotesque exaggeration of reality and falsification of human drama. Often set in the Middle Ages (Classicism) or the Greek and Roman times (Romanticism) action was always of excess (Zola 1881; 353). If we compare this to 19th century naturalism the differences are major. Firstly we see that naturalism brought about the life like reproduction of human drama in the, then, present time, it sought realistic human stories, in real human environments. As Zola stated “Take our present environment, then, and try make men live in it: you will write great works”, here Zola expresses the basis for naturalism, real people in real situations in real environments. As this illustrates Naturalism was not concerned with fantastic untruths of another era as Romanticism and Classicism were, but was rather involved with the expression of the realistic drama of present life in a natural present environment.

Williams’s classification of naturalism is divided into three ‘senses’. The first being an...
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