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Stage Fright

Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama

Martin Puchner

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Grounded equally in discussions of theater history, literary genre, and theory, Martin Puchner's Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama explores the conflict between avant-garde theater and modernism. While the avant-garde celebrated all things theatrical, a dominant strain of modernism tended to define itself against the theater, valuing lyric poetry and the novel instead. Defenders of the theater dismiss modernism's aversion to the stage and its mimicking actors as one more form of the old "anti-theatrical" prejudice. But Puchner shows that modernism's ambivalence about the\u2026

Grounded equally in discussions of theater history, literary genre, and theory, Martin Puchner's Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama explores the conflict between avant-garde theater and modernism. While the avant-garde celebrated all things theatrical, a dominant strain of modernism tended to define itself against the theater, valuing lyric poetry and the novel instead. Defenders of the theater dismiss modernism's aversion to the stage and its mimicking actors as one more form of the old "anti-theatrical" prejudice. But Puchner shows that modernism's ambivalence about the theater was shared even by playwrights and directors and thus was a productive force responsible for some of the greatest achievements in dramatic literature and theater.

A reaction to the aggressive theatricality of Wagner and his followers, the modernist backlash against the theater led to the peculiar genre of the closet drama—a theatrical piece intended to be read rather than staged—whose long-overlooked significance Puchner traces from the theatrical texts of Mallarmé and Stein to the dramatic "Circe" chapter of Joyce's Ulysses. At times, then, the anti-theatrical impulse leads to a withdrawal from the theater. At other times, however, it returns to the stage, when Yeats blends lyric poetry with Japanese Nôh dancers, when Brecht controls the stage with novelistic techniques, and when Beckett buries his actors in barrels and behind obsessive stage directions. The modernist theater thus owes much to the closet drama whose literary strategies it blends with a new mise en scène. While offering an alternative history of modernist theater and literature, Puchner also provides a new account of the contradictory forces within modernism.

Reviews

Reviews

Puchner's vigorous discussion... provides a new way to rethink drama's relationship both with the actual theatre and with its closeted literary counterparts... [and] offers a provocative remapping of the twentieth century's theatrical (and anti-theatrical) energies.

A provocative reassessment of modernism and the post-Wagnerian theater. Stage Fright is well written, clearly argued, and nicely organized, with a diction that is authoritative without being stuffy... Those interested in the history of the theater will find in Puchner's emphasis on the value and devaluing of theatricality a means of re-reading a century. Scholars of modernism may find this value and its articulation in Stage Fright equally useful for approaching other texts and genres.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
248
ISBN
9781421403991
Illustration Description
2 line drawings
Table of Contents

1. The Invention of Theatricality
2. Richard Wagner
3. The Modernist Closet DramaStephane Mallarme
4. James Joyce
5. Gertrude Stein
6. The Diegetic TheaterWilliam Butler Yeats
7. Bertolt Brecht
8. Samuel

1. The Invention of Theatricality
2. Richard Wagner
3. The Modernist Closet DramaStephane Mallarme
4. James Joyce
5. Gertrude Stein
6. The Diegetic TheaterWilliam Butler Yeats
7. Bertolt Brecht
8. Samuel Beckett

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Martin Puchner, Ph.D.

Martin Puchner is a professor of English and comparative literature at Harvard University and author of The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy.