Naturalistic drama: Definition, Characteristics and Examples

Naturalistic drama is a type of drama that seeks to mirror life with the utmost fidelity. It became established and popular late in the 19th c., stemming from the naturalism of Emile Zola and his followers, and going beyond the realism of Henrik Ibsen.

The main French dramatist was Henri Becque. In the late 1880s, Antoine established naturalistic drama in his Theatre Libre. There Becque and other playwrights, including August Strindberg, had their work performed. The movement of naturalism in the theatre spread to Germany, England, Russia, and America.

A famous instance of naturalism is Maxim Gorki’s Lower Depths (1902). Gradually, the leading dramatists, like Strindberg and Hauptmann, forsook this kind of play for a more symbolic form. However, naturalism persisted and in its decadence considerably influenced drawing-room comedy and much light theatrical entertainment in the 1920s and 1930s. There was a sustained effort to reproduce everyday speech as exactly as possible, and more and more emphasis was placed on surface verisimilitude – especially in decor and setting where no effort was spared to persuade the audience that it was, in fact, looking at a ‘real’ set, such an exact representation of a room that they might well use it themselves. Here art was attempting to deceive nature, not reflect it. Thus the theatre was defeating its own ends and, in the abandonment of traditional dramatic conventions, becoming more and more restrictive. Nevertheless, many dramatists exploited the limitations very skillfully. Galsworthy was an outstanding example, and, later, N. C. Hunter and Terence Rattigan.

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