The Theater of Revolt

George Dance (dramatist)

George Dance (dramatist) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The theater of Revolt is not a popular theater, nor are its dramatists much concerned with instructing the middle classes. Quite the contrary, they have apparently determined to be “the terror of the sleek, bald headed bourgeois” – their common enemy becomes middle-class man himself. Many of the rebel dramatists share in the contempt for the soft virtues at christianity and the reasonable, humanitarian values of liberal democracy. Detesting middle ways, scorning middle emotions, defying the middle class, the rebel dramatist begins to celebrate the values at the extreme – excess, instinct, emancipation, ecstasy, revolt, and the spectator himself comes under attack, either assailed from the stage directly, or represented on the stage as a satirical figure.

The theater of Revolt is a cosmopolitan movement nourished by international sources. While the dramatist continues to write of his country, even in exile, he no longer exalts it or advances its cause. Even when the rebel dramatist is not in geographical exile, he feels like an outlander, since he has lost his sense of belonging. A stranger to his family, a leper to society, a heretic to the church, he is also a metaphysical outcast, for he is spiritually destitute as soon as he ceases to believe in God.

When the dramatist declares the death of God, he declares the death of all traditional values as well. Man can create new values only by becoming God: the only alternative to nihilism lay in revolt. Rejecting God, church, community and family-vindicating the rights of the individual against the claims of government, morality, conventions and rules- he adopts the posture of the rebel, chatting against restraints, determined to make all barriers crack.

In the theater of revolt, a play proceeds by dialogue, and the dialogue implies debate and conflict without debate, the drama is a propaganda; without conflict, mere fantasizing. The rebel who wishes to transform the world is also an artist who must accurately represent it. Unable to master his contradictions, he dramatizes them in his plays, grateful for a form in which tensions do not have to be resolved. Thus, while each of the rebel dramatists takes revolt as his central theme, he also criticizes revolt in the name of reality; at the same time that he identifies with his rebel characters, he repudiates them too. The idea of revolt remains pure and absolute, but the act of revolt is usually a source of tension, suffering and despair.

It is this conflict between idea and action – between conception and execution – which forms the central dialectic of the modern drama. For the rebel dramatist is one who dreams and puts his dreams to the test. This may suggest why the conflict of illusion of reality is such an important theme in the modern drama: illusion and reality are the twin poles of the dramatist’s imagination. All true rebels hate reality and labor ceaselessly to change it, but no true artist can withdraw entirely from the world of matter. The more rebellious the artist, the more he takes refuge in a sphere of fancies and illusion.

English dramatist and theatre critic Edward Ro...

English dramatist and theatre critic Edward Rose (1849-1904) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rebel dramatist emerges as the spirit of denial, the man who says no, pursuing his eyes down the countless avenues of revolt. We can distinguish three main highways into which the avenues run: messianic, social and existential.

The messianic revolt occurs when the dramatist rebels against God and tries to take this place – the priest examines his image in the mirror. The messianic hero is a superman, combining the qualities of malefactor and benefactor of one who kills God and one who builds a church. The messianic drama is designed as an act of revelation.

The social revolt occurs when the dramatist rebels against the conventions, morals, and values of the social organism – the priest turns the mirror on the audience, the social dramatist concentrates on man in society, in conflict with community, government, academy, church, or family. As for characters, the social drama puts contemporary society or the stage and draws the characters from the middle class. The protagonist is subject to the same laws like us, shares the same ambitions, performs the same domestic duties. Social drama represents modern life for the purpose of whipping  and scourging it.

The existential revolt occurs when the dramatist rebels against the conditions of his existence – the priest turns the mirror on the void. The dramatist examines the metaphysical life of man and protests against it. Existence itself becomes the source of his rebellion. The world becomes a vast concentration camp where social intercourse is forbidden. Alone in a terrifying emptiness, the central figure of existential drama is doomed to a life of solitary confinement. It is a revolt of the fatigued and the hopeless, reflecting exhaustion and disillusionment.

If the existential drama is tragic, it is tragic in its perceptions. It lacks a tragic hero, but it evokes a tragic sense of life.

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