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Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhail Bulgakov2Writer, Fiction, Drama
(1891 – 1940)

Considered one of the foremost satirists of postrevolutionary Russia, Mikhail Bulgakov is best known for his novel The Master and Margarita (1966), which is recognized as one of the greatest Russian novels of the century. Many of Bulgakov’s works concern the adjustment of the Russian intellectual class to life under Communist rule. Due to official censorship of his manuscripts during his lifetime, Bulgakov’s best works remained unpublished until after his death.

Bulgakov was born on May 2, 1891, in Kiev to a middle-class intellectual family. Music, literature, and theater were important in the family life of the young Bulgakov, as was religion. His father, a professor at the Kiev theological academy, instilled in his son a belief in God and an interest in spiritual matters that he would retain throughout his life.

Bulgakov attended Kiev’s most prestigious secondary school, then continued his education as a medical student at the University of Kiev and graduated with distinction in 1916. At the time, Russia was undergoing immense change. The country was embroiled in World War I while the last Russian czar, Nicholas II, was facing opposition to his rule through rebellions in 1905 and 1917 that ultimately led to his loss of power. Assigned to noncombat duty in the Russian army during World War I, Bulgakov worked for several months in frontline military hospitals until he transferred to a remote village, where he served as the only doctor for an entire district. His trials as an inexperienced doctor working under primitive conditions, and the difficulties he faced as an educated man among the ignorant, superstitious peasants, are recorded in the autobiographical stories of A Country Doctor’s Notebooks.

Wrote Amidst Turmoil

Upon his discharge in 1918, Bulgakov returned to Kiev in time to witness the Bolshevik Red Army, the anti-Bolshevik White Army, German occupation forces, and Ukrainian nationalists struggle for control of the city, which experienced fourteen violent changes of government in two years. While Kiev was part of several Ukrainian states that were shortlived, the city became part of the Soviet Union in 1921. By the time Nicholas II and his family were executed in 1918 by Communist Party representatives, Vladimir Lenin, a Bolshevik party leader, had assumed power and Communist-controlled Russia had become the Soviet Union. In 1919, Bulgakov published his first story, and the following year he abandoned medicine to devote his time to writing feuilletons (light, popular works of fiction) for local newspapers and plays for local theaters in the Caucasian city of Vladikavkaz. In 1921, he moved to Moscow, where he struggled to support himself and his first wife by editing and writing for various newspapers, a task that he described as ‘‘a flow of hopeless grey boredom, unbroken and inexorable.’’ With the partial publication in 1925 of the novel The White Guard in the magazine Rossiya, Bulgakov gained sufficient respect and popularity as an author to abandon newspaper work.

Political Controversy

Mikhail BulgakovThe realistic novel The White Guard (1924) was Bulgakov’s first major triumph and is notable as one of the few works published in the Soviet Union that sympathetically portray the supporters of the anti-Bolshevik cause during the Russian revolutions. This outstanding novel was never reprinted in Russia, but Bulgakov’s dramatic adaptation of it, The Days of the Turbins (1926), became a fixture on the Soviet stage. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who took power in the late 1920s after the death of Lenin, attended the production fifteen times, viewing the play as ultimately favorable to the Bolsheviks. From 1925 to 1928, Bulgakov worked in close association with the Moscow Art Theater as a writer, producer, and occasionally an actor. His plays were all well received by audiences but denounced by party critics. In 1929, Bulgakov’s works were banned for their ideological nonconformity.

For the next two years, Bulgakov was unable to earn a living, and in 1930, frustrated, depressed, and penniless, he wrote to the Soviet government asking to be allowed either to work or to emigrate. Stalin personally telephoned Bulgakov three weeks later and arranged for his appointment to the Art Theater as a producer. By this time, Stalin’s repressive policies led to his iron-fisted control of all aspects of society, including severe policies in the arts. Yet, in 1932, reportedly at Stalin’s request once again, Days of the Turbins was returned to the stage, making it possible for Bulgakov to have other works published and performed. He remained with the Art Theater until 1936, when he resigned in protest over what he saw as the mishandling of his drama A Cabal of Hypocrites, at which time he became a librettist for the Bolshoi Theater. Though publishing little, Bulgakov wrote steadily despite suffering from poor health and becoming blind the year before his death from nephrosclerosis in 1940.

Posthumous Fame

It was not until the 1960s that Bulgakov was fully rehabilitated by the Soviet authorities. At that time the manuscripts of numerous stories and plays and of three novels were discovered and published. These works established him as one of the finest twentieth- century Russian writers. The first of the novels to appear was Black Snow, written in the late 1930s and a satire on the Soviet theatrical world. The second, The Heart of a Dog (written in 1925), is a science fantasy in which human organs are transplanted into a dog, giving it the most disgusting qualities of mankind. Bulgakov’s acknowledged masterwork, The Master and Margarita, developed over a period of twelve years through the drafting of eight separate versions. According to biographers, Bulgakov knew that the novel would be his masterpiece and set aside all other projects during the last years of his illness to finish it before his death. Read the rest of this entry

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore

Writer, Poet, Drama
(1861 – 1941)

Rabindranath TagoreRabindranath Tagore is India’s most celebrated modern author. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first non-European to be awarded this prize. Astonishingly prolific in practically every literary genre, he achieved his greatest renown as a lyric poet. His poetry is imbued with a deeply spiritual and devotional quality, while in his novels, plays, short stories, and essays, his social and moral concerns predominate.

Tagore was born into an upper-caste Hindu family in Calcutta on May 7, 1861. His grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore, was a key figure in what is known as the Bengal renaissance in the mid-nineteenth century. Tagore’s father, Debendranath, was a writer, religious leader, and practical businessman. Tagore was the fourteenth of his father’s fifteen children and his father’s favorite. From an early age, he embraced his father’s love of poetry, music, and mysticism, as well as his reformist outlook. Tagore was a precocious child who showed unmistakable poetic talent. As early as eight, he was urged by his brothers and cousins to express himself in poetry. This encouragement, which continued throughout his formative years, caused his talent to flourish. When Tagore was twelve, his father took him on a four-month journey to the Punjab and the Himalayas. This was Tagore’s first contact with rural Bengal, which he later celebrated in his songs.

Public Recognition of Poetry

After publishing his first poems at the age of thirteen, Tagore’s first public recitation of his poetry came when he was fourteen at a Bengali cultural and nationalistic festival organized by his brothers. His acclaimed poem was about the greatness of India’s past and the sorrow he felt for its state under British rule. India had been controlled by Great Britain in one form or another for some years. While the British had helped India develop economically and politically and expanded local self-rule, an Indian nationalist movement was growing in the late nineteenth century. This trend continued into the first decades of the twentieth, as well.

Rabindranath Tagore left India at age seventeen to continue his studies in England. During this time, he read extensively in English and other European literature, forming the universalist outlook he maintained throughout his life that included: a profound desire for freedom, both personal and national; an idea of the greatness of India’s contribution to the world of the spirit; and poetry expressing both of these. His stay in England was brief, and when he returned home, he published the first of nearly sixty volumes of verse. He also wrote and acted in verse dramas and began to compose devotional songs for the Brahmo Samaj, the Hindu reformist sect his father promoted. In 1883, he married Mrinalini Devi. He was twenty-two years old, and she was ten. The couple had five children.

Rabindranath TagoreTagore produced his first notable book of lyrics, Evening Songs, in 1882, followed by Morning Songs (1883). The latter work reflects Tagore’s new mood initiated by a mystical experience he had while looking at the sunrise one day. His devotion to Jivan devata (‘‘The Lord of His Life’’), a new conception of God as humanity’s intimate friend, lover, and beloved, played an important role in his subsequent work. Several poems in the volume Sharps and Flats (1886) boldly celebrate the human body, reflecting his sense of all-pervading joy in the universe. Creative Virility In 1890, Tagore took charge of his family’s far-flung estates, some of them in regions that are now part of Bangladesh.

The daily contact with peasants and farmers aroused his empathy for the plight of India’s poor. Coming in close touch with the people and geography of Bangladesh, Tagore was inspired to write his first major collection of verse, The Golden Boat (1894). The contemplative tone of his poetry gives his work the depth and serenity of his mature voice. In the 1880s and 1890s, Tagore’s creative output was tremendous, and his reputation steadily developed in his country as the author of poems, short stories, novels, plays, verse dramas, and essays. He moved through several phases at this time. If he began in the manner of the late Romantics, he soon became a writer of realistic fiction about everyday situations and people from all spheres of life. He frequently reinvented himself, creating new forms and introducing new genres and styles to Bengali literature—social realism, colloquial dialogue, light satire, and psychologically motivated plot development. Read the rest of this entry

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardywriter, poetry, drama
(1840 – 1928)

The works of the English novelist, poet, and dramatist Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) unite the Victorian and modern eras. His work revealed the strains that wide spread industrialization and urbanization placed on traditional English life. Major social changes took place during Hardy’s life. When he was a young man, England still had a largely agricultural economy and Queen Victoria presided over an ever-expanding worldwide empire. By the time he died, the forces of modernization had changed England forever.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Early Years During a Period of Rapid Industrialization in England Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton in Dorset, England, which later would form part of the ‘‘Wessex’’ of his novels and poems. During his early years, Hardy witnessed the changing of his landscape and rural community brought on by the Industrial Revolution. While the Industrial Revolution had begun at the turn of the nineteenth century, it was ongoing through the beginning of the twentieth century. Populations increasingly shifted from the country to the cities.Railroads linked towns and villages that were once remote to major urban centers. And with new mobility and new economic pressure, people faced new social issues, too, including a sharp spike in prostitution rates and infamous abuses of child labor in factories and mines.

After attending local schools, Hardy was apprenticed in 1856 to John Hicks, an architect in Dorchester. During his time as apprentice architect, Hardy read many of the influential works of the era, such as Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859), which was published when Hardy was nineteen. By the time he was twenty, Hardy had abandoned religion after being convinced of the intellectual truth of a godless universe.

Early Writing Experience: Failures, Then Success

Desperate RemediesIn 1862 Hardy began to write poems but was unable to get them published. Eventually, he accepted that he must become a novelist to succeed as an author. The novelist’s profession had by this time become well paid and well regarded. Hardy wrote his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, in 1867, but was advised not to publish it. His next novel Desperate Remedies (1871), was published but unsuccessful. On March 7, 1870, he met Emma Lavinia Gifford, with whom he fell in love. In spite of his continuing lack of success with literature, he decided to continue with it, hoping eventually to make enoughmoney to enable him to marry Emma.Hardy was paid thirty pounds for his next novel,Under the Greenwood Tree (1872). The following year it was published in New York by Holt and Williams.

The book was well received, and he was asked to write a novel for serialization in a magazine. In September 1872 A Pair of Blue Eyes began to appear, which records Hardy’s courtship with Gifford. Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), also serialized, was a financial and critical success, allowing Hardy to give up architecture and marry Emma in 1874. The Hand of Ethelberta (1876) also appeared as a serial but was not a ssuccessful. It did not have the country setting of Far fromthe Madding Crowd, which his audience had been previously responsive to. Hardy began to feel a sense of discontent as a novelist because his real desire was to succeed as a poet. He preferred his poetry to his prose and considered his novels to be merely a way to earn a living.

Mid-Career Work. His next novel, The Return of the Native (1878), received mixed attention. The novel’s theme of the collision of Old World and New World, of rural and modern, allowed Hardy to explore his growing sense that humans are driven by impulses that are no tunder rational control. Some reviewers praised the graphic descriptions, but others found Hardy’s writings trained and pretentious.The Trumpet-Major (1880), set in the Napoleonic period, represents Hardy’s attempt at historical fiction. It was followed by A Laodicean (1881), which Hardy dictatedto his wife while he was ill. In September 1881, while that novel was still running its course, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly invited Hardy to write a serial for his magazine. The result was Two on a Tower (1882).

the mayor of casterbridgeLater Fiction and Controversy over ‘‘Immoral’’ Content. During this time, Hardy decided to return to his native Dorset for good. This move initiated a major period of Hardy’s creative life as a novelist. The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), his next novel, presents Hardy’s belief that ‘‘character is fate.’’ Heralded as a turning point in the writer’s career, primarily for the skill with which he presents his male protagonist, The Mayor of Casterbridge is further acclaimed as a pivotal work in the development of the English novel, demonstrating that the genre could present a significant psychological history and still serve as an important social document. Hardy’s next novel, The Woodlanders (1887), a traditional pastoral, actually ends on a happy note. The same cannot be said, however, for Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), in which an innocent country girl falls victim to Victorian social hypocrisy.The Well-Beloved (1892) is thin by comparison.

Hardy described it in a letter to his American publishers as ‘‘short and slight, and written entirely with a view to serial publication.’’ It was followed in 1896 by what would be his final novel, Jude the Obscure, which follows the life and early death of Jude Fawley. More than any of Hardy’s other novels, Jude the Obscure was met with savage critical attacks, mainly for what was perceived as immoral content. Despite the controversy it inspired immediately after publication, the novel was eventually widely translated and recognized as a masterpiece before Hardy’s death. Apart from his fourteen novels, Hardy was a prolific writer of short stories, most of which were collected in four volumes. They were written for magazine publication and are of uneven quality. Most were written in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Read the rest of this entry

Melodrama

Melodrama

melodramaThe term melodrama refers to a dramatic work which 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. It is also used in scholarly and historical musical contexts to refer to dramas of the 18th and 19th centuries in which orchestral music or song was used to accompany the action. The term originated from the early 19th-century French wordmélodrame, which in turn is derived from Greek melos (music) and French drame (drama)

18th-century origins: monodrama, duodrama and opera

Beginning in the 18th century, melodrama was a technique of combining spoken recitation with short pieces of accompanying music. In such works, music and spoken dialog typically alternated, although the music was sometimes also used to accompany pantomime. The earliest known examples are scenes in J. E. Eberlin’s Latin school play Sigismundus (1753). The first full melodrama was Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Pygmalion, the text of which was written in 1762 but was first staged in Lyon in 1770. The overture and an Andante were composed by Rousseau, but the bulk of the music was composed by Horace Coignet. A different musical setting of Read the rest of this entry

Theatre of ancient Greece

Theatre of ancient Greece

Ancient theatre

The Theatre of Ancient Greece, or ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was institutionalized as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honored the god Dionysus. Tragedy (late 6th century BC), comedy (486 BC), and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies and allies in order to promote a common cultural identity. Western theatre originated in Athens and its drama has had a significant and sustained impact on Western culture as a whole.

The word τραγῳδία (tragoidia), from which the word “tragedy” is derived, is a portmanteau of two Greek words:  (tragos) or “goat” and  (ode) meaning “song”, from  (aeidein), “to sing”. This etymology indicates a link with the practices of the ancient Dionysian cults. It is impossible, however, to know with certainty how these fertility rituals became the basis for tragedy and comedy.

Martin Litchfield West speculates that early Greek religion and theatre, which are inter-related, especially the Orphic Mysteries, was heavily influenced by CentralAsian shamanistic practices. A large number of Orphic graffiti unearthed inOlbia seems to testify that the colony was one major point of contact. Eli Rozik points out that the shaman, as such, is seen as a prototypical actor influencing the rituals of early Greek theatre.

Greek tragedy as we know it was made in Athens some years before 532 BC, when Thespis was the earliest recorded actor. Being a winner of the first theatrical contest held at Athens, he was the exarchon, or leader, of the dithyrambsperformed in and around Attica, especially at the rural Dionysia. By Thespis’ time the dithyramb had evolved far away from its cult roots. Under the influence of heroic epic, Doric choral lyric and the innovations of the poet Arion, it had become a narrative, ballad-like genre. Because of these, Thespis is often called the “Father of Tragedy”; however, his importance is disputed, and Thespis is sometimes listed as late as 16th in the chronological order of Greek tragedians; the statesman Solon, for example, is credited with creating poems in which characters speak with their own voice, and spoken recitations, known as rhapsodes, of Homer’s epics were popular in festivals prior to 534 BC. Thus, Thespis’s true contribution to drama is unclear at best, but his name has been immortalized as a common term for performer—a “thespian.”

The dramatic performances were important to the Athenians – this is made clear by the creation of a tragedy competition and festival in the City Dionysia. This was organized possibly to foster loyalty among the tribes of Attica (recently created by Cleisthenes). The festival was created roughly around 508 BC. While no drama texts exist from the sixth century BC, we do know the names of three competitors besides Thespis: Choerilus, Pratinas, and Phrynichus. Each is credited with different innovations in the field. Read the rest of this entry