Naturalism of reality, which was done by using a

Naturalism in Europe began in the
late nineteenth century as development within theatre advanced during this time.
In the early nineteenth century, Realism created a change in theatre as it “moved away from the unrealistic situations and characters
that had been the basis of Romantic theatre”1 and became
an art that was based on real life people and scenarios. This style advanced
further towards the late nineteenth century into Naturalism.  Playwrights began to investigate social,
political, economic and cultural backgrounds and explored new approaches to how
theatre could be written. The aim was to create an illusion of reality, which was
done by using a range of strategies, such as; telling stories of characters who
are lower and working classes, making believable, relatable characters and
scenarios, and giving characters their own issues that they are fighting
against. Theatre shared a truth about the lives of everyday people, it broke
down the barriers of taboo subjects that had never been performed on stage
before. Audiences began to connect and relate to the experiences and emotions of
characters creating a realistic world in front of them. Emile Zola (1840-1902),
a French playwright, believed that there were three primary factors to
naturalism in theatre; the play should be simple but believable, the situations
that happen in the performances should be real and meaningful; issues, human
behaviour and psychology should be prioritised to create believable characters.
The development became a time of “self-awareness
and self-reflection among theatre artists”2 as
performers began to take on realistic characters and playwrights such as Anton
Chekhov, August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen were able to explore territory that
hadn’t been used on stage before and create a whole new world of naturalism
within theatre.

Naturalism peaked in the late 1800’s,
but aspects of it were seen many years before hand. Hamlet, written by William
Shakespeare (1564-1616) in the 1600’s, over two hundred and fifty years before
the development began, shows the struggles that Hamlet went through in his life.
Shakespeare understood that “the physical
presence of actors in fictive situations automatically simulates human and
social interactions and by definition acting is imitative”3and
voiced this through his play, Hamlet. This created a new idea of how to express
relationships and discover truths about the characters. Shakespeare explains
that Hamlet was written by “holding up
the mirror to nature”4
 which hints that theatre was beginning
to develop before the peak of Naturalism began during the nineteenth century. English
actor David Garrick (1717-1779) began to adapt acting styles in the eighteenth
century as he realised that elevating “the profession of acting to an art that requires a spark of genius.
Simply imitating other actors by going through the prescribed motions would not
do”5.
He used this to create change in acting as he believed that creating a
character that had features of the everyday person would make a stronger impact
with an audience.

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“instead of reciting his lines with conventional rhetorical gestures and
mannered elocution, as if presenting the text as poetry to the audience, he
used tone of voice and facial expressions to seem to inhabit that character.”6

Garrick was known for his interpretation
of Richard III in 1741, he performed the role in what he believed was a naturalistic
style, which shocked audiences as they felt they were watching a real-life
person due to the characters mannerisms and natural features.

Garrick also began to adapt the way that plays were presented on stage,
he had a great desire to develop theatre productions. He introduced the idea of
having three walls in a theatre, having the stage filled with historically
correct set, props and costume to help create a visual effect in the
performance that reflected that theatre was mimicking real life and wasn’t just
a story. French writer
Emile Zola believed that the development of naturalism that Garrick started
could be pushed further and by adding knowledge about the science of human
evolution, magical theatre could be created. Zola, best known for his theories
on Naturalism, was very passionate about breaking down what was being performed
as theatre and adding true situations into the performances to mimic real life.
The beliefs that Zola had on naturalistic acting helped to create its
development into Europe at the end of the 1800’s.

“I am waiting, finally, until the development of naturalism already
achieved in the novel takes over the stage, until the playwrights return to the
source of science and modern arts, to the study of nature, to the anatomy of
man, to the painting of life in an exact reproduction more original and
powerful than anyone has so far dared to risk on the boards”7

Zola had strong beliefs that what
should be shown on stage should be true and real, he believed that “any analysis is boring, the audience demands
facts, always facts8”, that “an action must be played in three hours no matter what its length in
time9”
and that “characters are given a
certain value which necessitates a fictional setting10”.
By verbalising his opinions on Naturalistic theatre, Zola helped to influence
the development of Naturalism through his views.

For playwrights, such as Swedish
writer August Strindberg (1848-1912) and Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen
(1828-1906), the focus on creating a realistic performance with characters that
are believable and relatable became a main factor of the development of
naturalism. Playwrights began to look into Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) work on
the evolution of species and the traits that humans have grown over time.
Darwin published his work in the book The
Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, just as the
development of naturalism was creeping in. Darwin believed that human species
developed through ancestors and the survival of the fittest. The advancement in
Darwin’s work lead to the interest on how humans adapt themselves depending on
who they are with, what they are doing and what they’re feeling. This caused
great interest in the development of realism and naturalism in theatre, as a
response to a situation shows their personality, and the idea of naturalism is
for performances to be as close to what real life is like. Playwright, August
Strindberg was heavily influenced by the advancement of science as he began to
write situations that were heavily based on the value of societies and how that
made people feel in different circumstances which was really supported by
Darwin’s theory, for example his most famous Naturalistic play Miss Julie. Written in 1888, Strindberg
uses “Darwin’s evolutionary theory
of the survival of the fittest to suggest that the upper classes are doomed to
be replaced by the more forceful lower classes.”11

The advancement of technology during
the 1800’s contributed an effective change to naturalistic theatre. Candles,
oil lamps and gas lamps were used to light theatres all over Europe up until
1850. This way of lighting was efficient within theatre but it restricted the
freedom that performances had. The light given off would come from below due to
it being oils lamps and gas lamps that were used as lighting for the stage,
meaning that actors were lit in a very unnatural and unflattering way. After
the invention of the electric lightbulb in 1817 (invented by Joseph Wilson Swan)
the Savoy Theatre, London became the first theatre to have full electric
lighting installed in 1881, “One thousand
one hundred and fifty-eight incandescent lamps were used, of which 824 were on
the stage”12  This new style of lighting changed the way
performances could be staged, it gave actors more freedom as the light source
was from above. This added to the development in stage naturalism as; it was
able to be used as a natural source that could be controlled, it could be used
to light actors up from above, set the time of day and make a range of effects
which created more of a natural feel to a performance. The electric light was a
turn around for the development of naturalistic theatre as it helped to create
an illusion of reality, it gave the audience a chance to forget that they are
watching a piece of theatre and for them to be able to connect and feel the
story that is being told to them.

The source of the development of
naturalism refers back to the events in Europe in the nineteenth century. One
main event that occurred in the nineteenth century was the potato famine that
struck in Ireland in 1845. The potato had become a reliable source of food for
people all over Ireland for many years, so when the famine hit people began to
run out of food for their families. “With many tenant
farmers unable to produce sufficient food for their own consumption, and the
costs of other supplies rising, thousands died from starvation, and hundreds of
thousands more from disease caused by malnutrition.”13 Irish citizens began to flee and move
over to England to find new work and survive, which led to an extreme increase
in the population of the country. However, the increase in people also meant
that new skills and talents were brought over to England. Societies in England
had begun to change and so did theatre as a result.

Over the time period that naturalism
started to develop, new aspects of theatre and different styles of performance
were being introduced to help create this illusion of reality. This development
created two styles of performance that are alike in many ways but each one has
a range of different factors that help identify what the style is. The first
style that was created was Realism. Realism replaced the style of romanticism
around 1870, the aim of it was to begin to approach theatre in a more natural
way by using believable characters and real-life texts. Playwrights such as
Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) focused on creating performances
that were based on this. The development in realism created performances that
had factors such as; authentic costumes, believable characters, settings and
props. The drama that is written in realism is psychologically driven and the
speech was very relatable to real life scenarios. This was purposely emphasised
by a decision to make the set designs bland so that the words really stood out
and that audiences were able to listen intensely. Playwrights such as Chekhov
really focused on how his characters would react given the circumstances they
are put in. For example, Chekhov’s The Seagull, before realism developed a play
like this would have been done in a melodramatic style that an audience would struggle
to relate to, due to the fact that characters would have been over the top and
exaggerated and the scenarios were very dramatic and shown more than felt. But
with the influence of realism, this play suddenly becomes serious and something
that shocks an audience as. For example, at the end of Act One, Masha states “I’m
in mourning for my life”14,
introducing a dark theme of the meaning of life and death to the play that
would not have been used Pre-Naturalism.

The creation of realism continued to
develop into the style of Naturalism very quickly. Like Realism, Naturalism is
a form of theatre that is based on creating a performance that is as close as
you can get to real life. Whilst the style of realism was still being developed
by Henrik Ibsen and Emile Augier (1820-1889), some playwrights wanted to begin
to explore Darwin’s theory into more detail and look into the form of life from
human ancestry and the idea of natural selection. Zola was a strong believer in
naturalism, he thought that there should be no story that is untold in theatre.
Previous theatre styles avoided using topics in their work that were taboo subjects,
such as; suicide, prostitution and poverty. But the development of naturalism
meant that themes such as suicide were being performed in theatres around
Europe, as the idea of real life theatre began. Swedish playwright August Strindberg
and French writer Emile Zola created work that was identical to human life, they
wanted people to go and watch a piece of theatre that they could believe was
true. Different factors developed to help create the style of naturalism, such
as; making it a heightened version of realism, the stage time equals the real
time span that the play is on for (as if it’s a snippet of 2 hours of the characters’
lives) and it takes place in a single location in one day. One main thing that
makes naturalism stand out in theatre is that playwrights decided to write the
characters so that they are victims of their own problems and circumstances,
for example in Anton Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya, published in 1898, the
characters are all bored of the lives that they lead on the estate and how they
are stuck in a cycle of boredom within their lives, making them victims of
their own circumstances. By doing this and using Charles Darwin’s theories on
how humans adapt depending on their surroundings and natural selection, it
meant that the characters were being written in such a believable way that
audiences could relate to what they were going through and empathise with them.

There are many factors that make up
both Realism and Naturalism and what is included in each to give the
performance its style. The two styles are extremely alike, in the way that they
both concentrate on real life scenarios and they open up the societies by exploring
lower class people and their problems. The main thing about the two styles is
that they depict events that happen every day in life and really focus on
certain characters of families within these classes of people. However, there
are certain factors that separate these two styles to make them their own. One
of the main differences is the demand they have on the actor. As an actor that
is performing in one of these styles of theatre, deep characterisation is vital
to put on a believable performance for it to make impact. It is up to the actor
to understand what they are performing and relate to the character by using Russian
practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski’s system of; emotional recall, given
circumstances and character objectives. The plot of the stories is also what separates
these two genres, with realism being focused on a topic that audiences can
relate to and allowing characters to break out and find solutions for their
problems within in the play. However, Naturalism is about topics that are taboo
subjects within theatre, creating a piece of theatre that shocks an audience as
they are not used to the idea of watching certain themes on stage, such as
suicide.

There are many playwrights that focus
on naturalism in theatre. A playwright’s job is to write a play in a
Naturalistic or Realistic style, it is then the actor’s responsibility to be
able to perform it in the style that it was written for. To help actors do
this, Russian practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938) became a
practitioner of naturalistic theatre and begun to create techniques that actors
could use for these styles. It was a system designed for an actor to “utilize, among other things, his emotional memory (i.e., his
recall of past experiences and emotions)15”. It required the
actor to question; “Who am I? Where am I?
What time is it? What do I want? Why do I want it? How will I get what I want?
What must I overcome to get what I want?16” Stanislavski then created
techniques that help to answer these questions for in-depth characterisation; he
used the idea of discovering the characters personal objectives, super
objective and through lines of the play, find the given circumstances, explore
the ‘magic if’ to put characters in different situations and use emotional
recall to feel the experiences that the character goes through. Stanislavski
created a method that allowed a character to come alive on stage and be
performed in a naturalistic way. “Not to
study the Stanislavski system… is as dangerous for an actor as it is for
writers to not study the rules of language”17. Stanislavski’s system
allowed the acting style of naturalism to develop alongside the development on
naturalistic writing.

The introduction of Naturalism was a
process that occurred from a range of factors that influenced the change in
theatre. Theatres purpose became a way to move an audience and create a world
that could be a snippet of everyday life. Zola’s opinions on how theatre should
be staged became the definition of Naturalism, with playwrights pushing the
boundaries on their writing subjects and actors using Stanislavski’s techniques
to become characters in a true believable way, meaning that theatre could start
to create an impact on everyone. Re-creating a real-life situation was about
making a performance that was true and believable, one that someone could
easily relate to. By using the factors that help create naturalism and realism,
this was made possible. Theatre became a place to tell stories of people all
classes and ages, it was a way of expressing issues and the reality of life. The
development was also helped by the events that were happening outside of the theatre,
that meant new aspects and knowledge were being contributed, helping to create
this idea of naturalism on stage. For example, the scientific theories on
Charles Darwin impacted how writers developed characters and their
personalities. This style has been shown on stage for many years, with
playwrights work still being performed all around Europe, naturalism in theatre
is still developing, even today.

1
CrossRefIt.Info. (2018) Developments in
Drama: Naturalism and Realism, http://crossref-it.info/articles/518/naturalism-and-realism

2
Schumacher, C. (1996) Naturalism and
Symbolism in European Theatre 1850-1918, Cambridge University Press, Page
1.

3
Innes, C. (2002) A Sourcebook on
Naturalist Theatre, Literary Criticism, Page 5.

4
Innes, C. (2002) A Sourcebook on
Naturalist Theatre, Literary Criticism, Page 5.

5
Folgerpedia (2016) David Garrick,
1717-1779: A Theatrical Life Exhibition Material, https://folgerpedia.folger.edu/David_Garrick,_1717%E2%80%931779:_A_Theatrical_Life_exhibition_material

6
Folgerpedia (2016) David Garrick,
1717-1779: A Theatrical Life Exhibition Material, https://folgerpedia.folger.edu/David_Garrick,_1717%E2%80%931779:_A_Theatrical_Life_exhibition_material

7
Zola, E. (1881) Naturalism on the Stage,
Cooper Square Press, Page 6.

8
Zola, E. (1881) Naturalism on the Stage,
Cooper Square Press, Page 7.

9
Zola, E. (1881) Naturalism on the Stage,
Cooper Square Press, Page 7.

10
Zola, E. (1881) Naturalism on the Stage,
Cooper Square Press, Page 7.

 

11
CrossRefIt.Info. (2018) Developments in
Drama: Naturalism and Realism, http://crossref-it.info/articles/518/naturalism-and-realism

12 Pilbrow,
R. (1997) Stage Lighting Design: The Art,
The Craft, The Life, Nick Hern Books, Page 175.

13
History.com, Staff. (2017) Irish Potato Famine, A+E Networks, http://www.history.com/topics/irish-potato-famine

14
Chekhov, A. (1895) The Seagull, Penguin
Classics.

15 Encyclopaedia,
Britannica. (2016) Stanislavsky System,
Britannica INC.

16 Kamtilaftis, H. (2015)
Stanislavski in 7 Steps:
Better Understanding Stanislavski’s 7 Questions. New York Film Academy

17 Moore,
S. (1984) The Stanislavski System: The
Professional Training of an Actor, Second Revised Edition, Penguin, Page
12.