Theatre through the ages

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Laura
  • Created on: 20-05-13 17:31

14th + 15th century


The oral tradition;                                                                                                     used mnemonic devices such as motifs, tags and formulas in ballads and narrative folk songs. Ballads became romances (adventure stories of chivalry or love). These were usually christian in origin and audience often female

Mystery plays;                                                                                                            Focused on the representation of bible stories and were often 'grotesque, blackly comic, divine comedies'. Medieval literature was Hierarchal, ordered, meaningful and idealistic.

Morality plays;                                                                                                             Moved away from religious based mystery plays. Characters were given names of the traits they possessed. E.g. gluttony, good angel, shrift                                                                                                                                      They typically portrayed a protaginost who represented humanity as a whole, and other characters represented good and evil. Men took on the role of women and had gentler traits such as ;divinity' or 'beauty', however they were also seen as sex objects

Pre reformation = catholic approach to redemption - attaining salvation through individuals actions                            Post reformation = worked to destroy catholic credibility and demonize catholic church. Vice was almost always depicted as catholic

1 of 5

16th and 17th century

Jacobean + Revenge tragedies;

A drama of retribution in which an evil is avenged, often the vengeance itself paid in a series of bloody and horrible deeds. They were often calles 'the horror movies' of  their time.

The basic plot was a quest of vengeance and typically featured scenes of carnage and mutilation, Shakespeares Hamlet is onee example of a Revenge tragedy.


Murders, mutilations, insanity, supernatural events, bravura style, vivid imagery and bold rhetoric

High-octane, fast-moving and violent Had “the Malcontent” as oppose to “the Hero” Usually set in Italy or Spain The final scene will often see at the deaths of at least five of the main characters

developed in 16th century spain - Picaresque style -  satirical and depcits adventures of a rogueish hero of low social class - continues to influence modern literature

Henry Fielding - Joseph Andrews1872 is 1 example of picaresque novel which mocks Richardsons Pamela 

2 of 5

18th Century

Laughing comedies

term coined by Oliver Goldsmith in 1772 to describe conventional comedy of wit and humor, as opposed to the sentimental comedy.

Instead of focusing on the theme of great men falling as with tragedies, it foucused on people of a lower class falling. As they do not have far to fall it makes it more comic

Sentimental comedies

Plays in which middle-class protagonists triumphantly overcome a series of moral trials. Such comedy was aimed at producing tears rather than laughter. Sentimental comedies reflected contemporary philosophical conceptions of humans as inherently good but capable of being led astray through bad example.

it showed virtue rewarded by domestic bliss, and emphasized pathos rather than humour

3 of 5

19th century

Victorian Theatre;

Audience: lower, middle and upper class

people dressed up (expensive dresses,jewelry etc....)

were primarily not interested in play, only in presenting themselves, division of audience into box, pit and gallery

On stage - desire for greater artistic consistency in setting and constume, fully and handsomely furnished, three dimensional scenery

In the early years of the 19th century, restrictions of the Licensing Act allowed plays to be shown at only two theatres in London. Their programme was predominantly Shakespearean although some contemporary writers like Sheridan, who managed Drury Lane until 1809, were also popular.

Melodrama and burlesque, with their short scenes and musical accompaniment, were popular at this time. 

Cup and saucer comedy - domestic setting 

4 of 5

20th century +


1950's/60's - heroes usually described as angry young men. Lower class Britain and domestic setting. Colloquial language - precursor to modern soap drama

In 1968 theatre act censorship ended - very political theatre emerged which was strongly left wing and had characterstics of themes of dissolutionment, despair and anger. 

Theatre of the absurd - human existence had no meaning - life is eternally recurring circle/trapped, communication breaks down                                                                                                     Pinter - many pauses in stage directions, characters in hopeless situations, dissmisses idea of realism and 'well made plays' (e.g. dolls' house which is well structured) 

70's - Alternative fringe theatre inspired by america. Archetypal characters, move away from realistic theatre further, no long monologues, minimalistic, stripped away rhetoric. relationships not disclosed immediately (ambiguous).

'In yer face theatre' - 1990's - language is filthy, lots of nudity, violence, taboo subjects (e.g. in 'the goat')

5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »