Realism in Theatre
Realism in drama is an artistic movement that started around the 1870s and continued up to the 20th century. The theatre of Realism simply examines the real and common problems of people. In addition, it centers on human manners__ what individuals do and why in certain social contexts. The theatre of Realism in England, during the late 19th century, functioned as a mirror reflecting to the audience and showing the true self of individuals when challenged with difficulties of life. Thus, what is happening on the stage is a real representation of what the audience experience in real life. Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright, is considered the father of modern drama and whose dramatic style is widely influential to this day. He influenced modern English playwrights like George Bernard Shaw, Stanley Houghton, and others. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is one of the best emblematic examples of realistic plays in which Nora, the female protagonist, decides to leave her husband and walk away from her family at the end of the play.
When plague and Puritanism prevailed in England in the 17th century, theatres started to decline and finally were closed. Wearing dark gloomy clothes, the Puritans found all kinds of arts distasteful to God. It was not until the Restoration movement (1660 – 1688) that many theatres were opened again. King Charles II and his queen shared a great passion for theatre. Up until the Victorian era, the drama was not at its peak as the novel was. After it was sterilized for long decades of the 1800s, English drama made a strong comeback in the Edwardian era (1901-1910). This revival is indebted to the playwrights like Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw. Even though these writers had different styles and themes, their work shared features that were of a new form of drama known as modern drama (Stopes, 2019).
Contrasting the traditional theatre of Shakespeare and Sophocles, modern drama aimed at centralizing itself not on individuals living in monarchies and stories of heroes and heroines, but instead on the real problem of everyday common people. Furthermore, the literature generally and drama specifically of the 20th century (pre-war period) was a reaction to the rapid social, economic, political, and scientific change which affected the whole era. The pioneer playwrights mirrored the problematic topics of generation clash, marital norms, and female emancipation in their works.
William Stanley Houghton (1881 – 1913), an English dramatist, touched the chord while dealing with the social problems of Edwardian society. His play Hindle Wakes doubts the true foundation of English marriage. Houghton was a noticeable member, besides Allan Monkhouse and Harold Brighouse, of a group recognized as the Manchester School of dramatists. His well-known play is Hindle Wakes which was penned in 1910 and staged in 1912 in Gaiety theatre. Moreover, later in the same year 1910, the Gaiety theatre took in his second play The Younger Generation. Houghton was politically inactive, ‘but may be said to have professed Socialism and practiced Libralism.’2
The following pages of this article take Stanley Houghton’s two plays (Hindle Wakes and The Younger Generation) as an example of Realism in modern drama.
Houghton’s most success happened when Hindle Wakes was first acted by Horniman’s company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, in 1912 (‘Stanley Houghton Biography’) Hindle Wakes is unique because of its subject matter, its discourse, and its development. The characters are subtly depicted. Moreover, they are realistic and completely humane. Houghton aimed to breathe life into British plays in the years before the First World War. What’s more, Houghton’s play helps us recognize his merits: a steady sense of structure, a dismissal of fossilized behavior, and enthusiastic confidence in female freedom.
The four-act play begins when the people of Hindle, the writer’s fictional mill town, were celebrating a ‘wakes week.’ Unfortunately, the holiday brought about tragedy, as a local factory girl, Mary Hollins, had drowned at Blackpool. Unluckily, this tragedy uncovered Fanny’s lie about vacationing with her deceased friend. From that point, the events grew dramatic as her family discovered that Fanny had an illicit night with Alan, the son of the local mill owner (Kendrick, 2006).
Hindle Wakes is an attack on the Edwardian society’s extreme belief in morality, regardless of whether it originates from the workers or their managers. The problem begins when the Hawthorns, a working-class family, find out that their little girl, Fanny, has spent a sexual weekend in Llandudno with Alan Jeffcote, whose father is the local mill owner. Shocked and morally enticed, the two reverent fathers of the two adulterous young come on the same terms that the couples have no other option but to get engaged. Houghton makes the problem more complex by leaving the reader (audience) to first examine the emotions of Alan’s fiancé, and then the pre-feminist inclinations of Fanny.
This play reveals the double standards for sex in Edwardian English society. During that time, society had different expectations about the meaning of sex for men and women. At the point when Alan defines his intimacy with Fanny as ‘just an amusement, a lark’, it is viewed as reasonable, but when Fanny tells Alan the same words, he is surprised and upset. What’s more, this idea of just-a-lark sex becomes even clearer when Jeffcote senior shouts at his son saying: ‘Why hadn’t thou the sense to pay for thy pleasures instead of getting mixed up with a straight girl?’
As far as the genre of the play is concerned, Hindle Wakes, other than being a realistic and interesting story, is a ‘thesis play or problem play.’ This does not imply that the dramatist penned it only to express an idea, or that he was so hooked on the ethical side of the play that he banished any means to make the story an exciting manifestation: the idea helps just to raise the excitement. This was Ibsen’s technique in A Doll’s House. Ibsen did not allude to Nora’s sudden decision to leave the house up until the middle of the final act. It is clear that if these playwrights’ only aim was to show the propagandist aspect of their work, then they would doubtlessly have foreshadowed the end of the play a bit earlier. Like Nora, Fanny did not speak of her decision not to marry Alan and leave the house until the last third of the final act. Thus, both social dramatists, Ibsen and Houghton, formed the structure of their plays according to the traditional (Aristotelian) structure of writing plot: the beginning of the typical end, and then by an unexpected turn which changed the whole denouement. This thesis play has a significant social message not because it promotes the idea that every young lady should have a sex experience before marriage, yet rather because she has the option to fulfill, in case she wants, her passionate and sexual urge just like she does other necessities of life (Goldman, 1914). At the point when the new Fannies turn aware of that right, the connection of the gender will lose the shallow sentimentalism and fake distortion that secret has encompassed it with. The reality of love and marriage is an important theme in this play. Through Fanny’s character, Houghton has successfully been able to pass a message that marriage is neither a means of satisfying the personal needs of both men and women nor a means of strengthening family bonds.
Houghton was brave and ambitious as he shed light on the most sensitive and taboo subject of Puritanism: women’s chastity, which is a sacred thing that even the liberal-minded people of today dare not to destroy. In Hindle Wakes, love and marriage have controversial meanings (Wright, 2018). Furthermore, it advocates women’s sexual freedom in a time when they did not have the right to even vote. The reader would assume, from the first reading, that love was the only justification for that messy weekend. Yet, the conversation between Alan and Fanny in the final act dismisses the common meaning of love. Moreover, a marriage that the two families thought of as a solution to solve the problem turned out to be not the best choice for Fanny. Although the revolutionary idea that women may, just as men, have the right to follow their nature, has not been explicitly expressed in the play, however, the message that women are things apart from nature—one who should neither do nor crave the joys of life allowable to men– is of great importance. fallen woman. Houghton gives voice to the Edwardian women to emphasize the idea that though women may not always be right yet they are always forthright, expressing themselves openly and speaking their minds so that their male opponents understand very well that their opinions do matter (Lackermayer, 2008).
The title of the play Hindle Wakes is important as it suggests two meanings. It means the wake week holiday in Hindle town when Fanny and Alan had an intimate night. While Symbolically, it represents the wakefulness of the two families (the Hawthorne and the Jeffcote) to their shortcomings.
Nathanial Jeffcote, the owner of the local weaving mill, is a well-to-do and influential character who has spoiled his only-son Alan. When Nathaniel bought Alan a motor car he told his wife: When the Hawthornes found out the truth about Fanny’s fling, they decided to gather with the Jeffcotes and arrange the marriage of Alan to Fanny. The parents’ mistake is that they did not consult their daughter on the matter, thinking that she will refuse to abide by the plan. The quote above is a key point in the play. Fanny is the Ibsenite woman. She is the ‘New Woman’ as she is ambitious and self-reliant. Her goal in life is to prove herself by finding her true identity. She does not want to be that traditional Edwardian ‘good woman’ who lives up to the expectations of her patriarchal society. Thus, Fanny is the new type of girlhood. She pokes fun at the silly Edwardian convention which equated women’s virtue and value with marrying a young rich man. During that time, if women dared to express their sexuality, then society would deny their individual and social worth, and mark them as fallen.
According to Mint Theatre Company (2017) when the play debuted in London in 1912, several faultfinders considered it ‘the best play of the year. Nonetheless, the play’s unsentimental delineation of two youngsters looking for joy with no committal duty generated moral shock. Thus, Hindle Wakes was a boom filling England’s press with energetic debate over the play’s dubious topic3.
Another modern trend found in this play is naturalism, which studies characters through their relationships to their environments; or it studies human beings as if they were ‘products’ that are to be studied independently, without moralizing about their natures. This is clear in Fanny’s speech After being a ‘product’ of what Alan molded her to be ‘an amusement, a lark’, she breaks away from her relationship with Alan and detaches herself from her surrounding by breaking away from social norms to seek her own life and her self. Naturalistic dramatists wanted to discover the people of their period in their environment, just as psychologists or sociologists do these days. Houghton presented human behavior and he also clarified it by setting it in context. He shows how people are being directed by their instincts and passions as well as how the characters’ lives are ruled by forces of heredity and environment. Fanny is the invention of a world that flops to educate women or identify them as equal to their fellow men. Fanny suffers not because she is being penalized by God for her sin of adultery, but as a result of society and her parent’s actions. Her life has been molded by society’s attitude to sex. Moreover, everybody is directly affected by norms of the society which will touch their reputation.
Realism is represented throughout three main themes in this play such as class, younger and older generation clash, and the new woman. From the social viewpoint, the centers around issues of social class. Class is a central plot point in the events of the play. Fanny is a weaver in the weaving factory possessed by Alan’s father. The fathers of the two young once were co-owners before Mr. Jeffcote owned the mill where Mr. Hawthorn ended up as a worker. When Mr. Jeffcote senior discovered that his son had messed up with one of his workers and decided to fix what his son did, his wife opposed the idea of marriage by suspecting Fanny to be a gold-digger. The play indirectly draws out a major gap between the older and younger generations of Lancashire. The Hawthorns is too worried about Fanny when she is late to come home. Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorn are firm working-class couples who still embrace, believe, and practice the Victorian values they were brought up on. Furthermore, Fanny’s illicit night with Alan and her refusal of marrying him would bring dread and shame to her parents. Thus, Fanny’s desire to have freedom of choice goes against her parent’s bringing up conventions. Hindle Wakes is a comedy on Stanley’s most loved subject: the young’s right to live independently and have free will. This theme is strongly expressed by Fanny who dismays the older generation by deciding to be independent over getting married to Alan. Houghton is criticizing Edwardian society’s duality and hypocrisy in moral issues. Moreover, the mill town of Hindle, in the equivocal title, awakens to the twentieth century; he accomplishes this through hilarious characterization.
The play ended realistically, as the events were introduced reasonably and in logical sequences. The conclusion is not happy, as the writer does not romanticize Fanny’s leaving. She will be apart from her family leading an unknown life. Nothing will be easy for her since society does not recognize a woman like her. Thus, she is the new-fallen woman.
Unfortunately, Houghton died before he could see the success of the ladies’s suffrage, the sexual freedom of the 1920s flappers, or the early campaigns for the rights of women laborers to have equal payments as their male workers. All these future issues were successfully hinted at and foreshadowed in this play.
In conclusion, realistic elements in Hindle Wakes are shown through different aspects such as the theme of Women’s Rights, the freedom and self-fulfillment of Edwardian women, and finally, the language is simple (everyday language) that is conversational (dialogue) rather than descriptive.
Another big hit by Stanley Houghton is The Younger Generation which was written in 1910 and successfully produced in 1912, the same year after Hindle Wakes was staged at the Gaiety Theatre, London (‘Stanley Houghton Collection’).
The Younger Generation subtitled A Comedy for Parents, a three-act comedy play, sets a time as yet unruffled and unshaken by the Great war. It is a mild comedy depicting a generational clash in a moral, supposedly sober, middle-class family in Salchester. The family has three children who are currently grown-ups in their early twenties: the oldest, Grace who has met the man she wishes to wed, and they often stealthily meet alone; Arthur, a banker, is bored of his monotonous life and hopes for a better future chance; and finally is Reggie who is longing for quitting the secretaryship of a school and migrating to Canada to have a man’s life. The Kennison do not have so much confidence in the way they brought up their children. They try to be as restricted as possible by holding on the parental restraints as their children start turning into adulthood. Other standpoints on this struggle are suggested by Uncle Tom, Kennion’s brother, who secretly stalks about the drunken nights they shared as young men; and the Kennion brothers’ have a mother, who has governed her sons strictly. The drama’s comic events start when the three young adults decide to leave conformity on which their parents try to continue bringing them up. Their sudden decision leave their parents confused, upset, and intolerant (Wrigley, 2014).
The Younger Generation sheds considerable light on reasons leading to a gulf between two different generations. The play strongly exposes the stiffness in the attitudes of the older generation, which tries to impose its own beliefs and values upon the younger ones, preventing them from living a life according to their terms. The three adult-to-be Kennions become victims of their father’s tradition-bound instincts and values. The inter-generational clash in the play is concentrated mainly on the choice of occupation.
Grace, just like Fanny in Hindle Wakes, represents the new woman who is the opposite of the Victorian typical woman. She has been meeting with Clifford secretly. In the end, she invites him to come to meet her father who does not approve of him at first after finding out that he was out last night drinking with his son, Arthur. Mr. Kennion believes that the gentleman is not of good character and will not suit his daughter, Grace. Surprisingly, Grace is the one who brings Clifford to the room where everybody was gathering where she unashamedly asks for her father’s consent for their marriage. Through this action, we can see a new woman who is independent and rebellious.
The play appears to be comic, yet it communicates a serious message. It is humorous as well as entices the reader to think carefully about its central idea. Her laughter and seriousness are intertwined and represented by the two different generations. This generation gap is uttered by Mrs. Hannah (the grandmother) when Grace brought her boyfriend and asked for her father’s consent: ‘ girls didn’t behave like this when I was young!’
The 1900s witnessed a schism between the young and their parents, whose needs and wants, and desires had been long ruled by strict Victorian conventions. These young men and women aimed at creating a separate life from that of their elders, disrupting the beliefs that only wedded, settled men and women appreciated in Edwardian society. Thus, Houghton was one of the advocates of women’s rights before even the suffragette movement ever existed.
These two plays are important in that they paved the way for later suffragette movants by underlying present motives for future reactions. They give an example to women to see themselves through Fanny and Grace as being liberated and independent.
Although Mr. Kennion and the rest of the characters deal with the matter of children going away from the right life track, they also have their humorous side, which makes The Younger Generation an interesting read. The conversation between Mr. Kennion and Arthur goes like this: This conversation between the father and son is really funny. Mr. Kennion is trying to justify his being worried about his son and at the same time Arthur is trying to get away with what he did. It is also funny how the father lies when Arthur asks if he had been ever drunk himself when he was young. Mr. Kennion looks at Tom (their uncle) and the latter in turn is quietly giggling and about to expose the truth.
This play is realistic as it deals with everyday life and regular incidents. There is nothing unfamiliar about family arguments, disobeyed children, secrets against parents, and lack of communication between two different generations.
Just like Hindle Wakes, Houghton constructed The Younger Generation to make it a problem play. In it, Houghton presents the problem of generation clash or generation gap during Edwardian society. He presents the difficulty and miscommunication that the younger generation suffered due to Puritan paternalism. Arthur and his siblings, in their 20s, are rebellious and want to go against their father’s strict Puritan rules when Arthur says: Just like Hindle Wakes, The Younger Generation is an example of modern realism, as it portrays truthfully the characters and the clash. This play is deprived of romance and sentimentality of any kind. The relationship between Mr. Kennion and his children is presented realistically: they are on critical terms. This was pointed out by Arthur:
Arthur. Good gracious! father never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to. A fellow can find ways to do things, however suspicious his father may be. Only, of course, I’m obliged to do them in an underhand, secret way, and that’s what I object to. I don’t want to tell lies and deceive father; but when he thinks it’s a deadly sin to drink a glass of beer or to go to a music hall, what else can I do?
Arthur’s character was depicted realistically, just like any other adult who is sick of his parent’s control, by revealing his stubbornness against his father’s Puritan instincts and authoritarianism. His reaction is not romanticized. Arthur’s irresponsible actions show that he is selfish and does not care about his father’s reputation; he even becomes so rude at some points: The play’s conclusion is also realistic. As a genre Realism does not exactly require a tragic ending, but it requires a conclusion that is consistent and logical in the form of cause and effect. Although it was a happy ending for both Arthur and Grace, it was sad for Mr. Kennion, the protagonist, as he had to give up his strict rules and go opposite to his will and the way he was brought up. Moreover, Houghton does not romanticize Mr. Kennion’s new position. He will be separated from his two children who have to make their way in life.
Hindle Wakes and The Younger Generation are wonderful plays by Stanley Houghton that reflect wonderfully the elements of realism. In these plays, Houghton attacks the conformist Edwardian society and Puritan paternalism by advocating the liberation of the new generation. He has implemented a realistic approach to describing everyday activities which were common in those days. In addition, his plays satirize the social follies of society to reform and bring a positive change for which he expected criticism. Houghton castoffs romanticism of the past centuries to embrace realism. Moreover, the use of unconventional modern themes of the ‘new fallen woman’ and generation clash; the use of a problem-play plot structure; and finally, naturalism make Houghton’s plays modern plays have modern elements. Although the setting of his plays is in local Northern England, they represent timeless and universal social issues.
Finally, after analyzing Stanley Houghton’s two plays, we can conclude that it is unfair to place Houghton in only one specific canon. Houghton followed the Ibsenite tradition, but he wrote no ‘propagandist’ dramas other than Independent Needs. In addition, his use of humorous style and serious subject matter also makes him a Shavian writer. Thus, his greatness lies in the fact that he combines the two styles to make unique and outstanding work.
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