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Modern British Drama

Examines the role theater has played in British culture and society over the past 100 years.

Modern British Drama is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 26.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from NEED MORE OF THE SAME I enjoyed this but found it dated. We need the next chapter. The professor's enthusiasm is great and helps but the period while exciting 30 years ago seems distorted and out of date. There needs to be a course called CONTEMPORARY BRITISH THEATRE.
Date published: 2022-06-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Should be called Modern Irish Drama Prof. Saccio should be up before an academic tribunal for cultural appropriation. Samuel Beckett = Irish, not British. George Bernard Shaw = Irish, not British. Oscar Wilde = Irish, not British. Samuel Beckett hardly lived in Britain at all - All three were born in Ireland to Irish parents and educated in Ireland through to university. If you look up the Wikipedia entries for all three of them the first line describes them as Irish, not as British. Samuel Beckett was a saoi of Aosdana - the Irish equivalent of a French person being a member of the Academie Francaise. It's grossly offensive that Prof Saccio is putting forward a course called "British drama" when half of the authors on the course are Irish not British. It shows a level of cultural ignorance, in every sense of the word, that is shocking.
Date published: 2021-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly informative and enjoyable! I chose this course as an older course that I did not already have after all these years (7). It is a subject that I had not become familiar with and wished to give it a try. No regrets!
Date published: 2020-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Good This is a theatre lover's dream course. My only complaint is that I want more lectures, on more playwrights. I am very well versed in drama and had read and/or seen nearly every play Dr Saccio mentions in the lectures. I found his analyses fresh, interesting and inviting. each lecture is sprinkled with biographical info on the playwright, and anecdotes which kept the lectures from bogging down. I did wonder if the course might be difficult for people with little background in theater but reading the other reviews I doesn't seem to be the case.
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Need more courses These lectures are over two decades old. That's not really a problem except that now there has been that much more history. Where are the NEXT courses to "take" after listening to this course? "History of American Theatre." "Innovations in Stagecraft Since the Greeks." "From Page to Stage: How to Produce a Play." I would like to see "tracks" developed so that I after I listen to one course I can then follow up and listen to additional courses in sbsequence.
Date published: 2018-01-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Quality Good: Quantity, Not So Much Audio Download version Professor Saccio does an admirable job in covering the major themes of the last hundred years or so of British drama, given the constraints of eight lectures. Along the way we are treated to some brief, though interesting biographical sketches of several major writers, such as Beckett, Shaw, Wilde and Coward. I found out most about Stoppard, simply because I knew the least about him, and in his last lecture about the feminist writer Caryl Churchill, about whom I knew nothing. Further Dr. Saccio manages to spend enough time on each writer and one or two plays to give one a very fine feel for the play and how it fits in its place in time and culture. So what is not to like. In short, too short. Would that he could have spent more time and really examined more writers, plays and in more depth. Recommended even though this course is obviously quite old. Not so old, however, as the plays themselves, some3 of which are timeless.
Date published: 2016-06-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Fine Essay Professor Saccio does a fine job of teaching an overview of British drama during most of the 20th century. There is good introductory attention to the most notable playwrights, their times, their work, and elements of a few of their major plays. Further, the professor draws out a clear trajectory of the development of drama from each playwright to the next over the course of these decades. Saccio goes into some depth in one or two plays in each lecture. And, to the extent he does it, his exploration of character, plot, narrative, language, and meaning is satisfying. My review, however, is not without criticism. I continue to be frustrated with these extremely short courses. Six hours is simply an insufficient amount of time to do an excellent job of teaching this material. The professor understandably wants to devote time to matters that surround but are not fundamental to the drama itself. Yet, his decision to do so leaves his exploration of the plays undernourished. This is too bad because it would have been wonderful to have had Saccio's insightfulness better utilized. This is really more of an essay or a collection of reflections than a course. Nevertheless, even with its shortcomings, I do recommend it.
Date published: 2015-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lively, Entertaining, Revealing This short audio course (eight lectures of 45 minutes) produced in 1998 features the lives and writings of the best known and most successful British (English and Irish) playwrights of the 20th century, presented by an accomplished professor of drama from Dartmouth College, who has also both acted in and directed a number of professional theatrical productions. As a big fan myself of British stage plays in the 1950s and ‘60s in both London and New York, I was particularly pleased to hear Dr. Saccio’s admiring assessment of such luminaries of the theater as Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. Next he moves to an analysis of more recent major playwrights like John Osborn, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard, whose cited plays present themes reflecting social and economic issues of the day (Osborn’s “Look Back in Anger”, Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”), as well as modern twists on classical themes (Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”). The final lecture addresses political theater from a liberal perspective, offered by Caryl Churchill and David Hare, concentrating heavily on criticism of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory policies as Prime Minister. Dr. Saccio’s approach is first to describe the cultural and socio-economic environment in which the playwright sets his drama, then to select a single major play (sometimes two) to illustrate the philosophical theme and principles that the writer wishes to impress upon his audience. Major characters are discussed in detail, revealing through their dialogue their personalities and motivations and reflecting their respective places in society. Some plays offer very little action, minimal scenery or props and lack sophisticated dialogue, yet have had a significant cultural impact and have earned a place in 20th-century theater history. For example, the avant-garde “Waiting for Godot” features two tramps waiting by a tree for someone named Godot, who never shows up, leading to various interpretations, including comments like “a play about nothing” or “the theater of the absurd”. Nevertheless, while originally written in French by the expatriate Beckett and first performed in Paris, with all its controversy and mystique, it has become a landmark of British theater of the 1950s and beyond. This course is well worth a serious listen, based not just on its descriptive and analytical content, but also on Professor Saccio’s flair for delivering both a substantive and entertaining narrative on this complex and provocative subject. Even for those with prior familiarity with these playwrights, it is very helpful to read the accompanying short (27-page) course guidebook, plus biographical notes and a list of major plays by the featured authors.
Date published: 2015-06-07
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Since Shakespeare's time, no period has produced more brilliant and varied theater in Great Britain than its last 100 years. Explore the fascinating ways that drama can celebrate (or satirize) the manners of the elite, assault the socio-political establishment, probe the existential anxiety of the modern age, and more.


Peter Saccio

Shakespeare found brilliant ways to make the complex inner self speak.


Dartmouth College

Dr. Peter Saccio is Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies and Professor of English Emeritus at Dartmouth College. He also served as a visiting professor at Wesleyan University and at University College in London. He earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

At Dartmouth, Professor Saccio was honored with the J. Kenneth Huntington Memorial Award for Outstanding Teaching.

Professor Saccio is the author of Shakespeare's English Kings, which has become a classic in its field. He is also the editor of Thomas Middleton's comedy A Mad World, My Masters, for the Oxford Complete Works of Thomas Middleton.

Professor Saccio is also an accomplished actor and theatrical director. He directed productions of Twelfth Night, Macbeth, and Cymbeline, and devised and directed several programs of scenes from Shakespeare and from modern British drama. His acting credits include the Shakespearean roles of Casca, Angelo, Bassanio, and Henry IV, as well as various parts in the ancient and modern plays.

By This Professor

British Theater—1890–1990

01: British Theater—1890–1990

We are introduced to the history and traditions of theater in Great Britain. Professor Saccio discusses the nature of dramatic art. We examine the origins of government involvement in theater and learn about the political framework in which playwrights have operated in the past 100 years.

48 min
Comedy of Manners—Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward

02: Comedy of Manners—Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward

This lecture focuses on two of the most prominent British playwrights of the modern age—Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. Although both came from middle-class backgrounds, their success and personae brought them into elite circles, and their plays reflect the lives and concerns of the upper class. Their plays both gently mock and loosely reflect the drawing room conversations and relationships of the idle rich.

48 min
George Bernard Shaw—Socialist and Prophet

03: George Bernard Shaw—Socialist and Prophet

George Bernard Shaw was one of the most important and prolific authors since Shakespeare. He used the stage as a forum for discussing social and political issues. As a Socialist he felt the root of all evil in society was the inequitable distribution of wealth; as a realist, he took issue with the prevailing "myths" of Victorian morality. He believed the desires and needs of individuals should be held more sacred than abstract moral imperatives imposed by society.

48 min
John Osborne Looks Back in Anger

04: John Osborne Looks Back in Anger

Postwar Britain created an atmosphere ripe for dissatisfied young writers and audiences. This play is significant because it marked a turning point in dramatic expression and was epitomized by the archetypal "angry young man." Osborne's language broke literary conventions and expressed his generation's frustration with social conventions in English society.

48 min
Samuel Beckett Waits for Godot

05: Samuel Beckett Waits for Godot

Samuel Beckett is one of the most important authors in modern drama. His plays represent the drama of alienation represented by his "theater of the absurd" and his intensely minimalist style. The crux of absurdism is that no single system or formula fits or explains the inexplicable facts of our condition. In "Waiting for Godot", elements of set, plot, characters, and dialogue are handled in a way unlike anything that came before. The play is penetrating, powerful, and impossible to analyze in any linear, tidy, or lucid manner.

48 min
The Menace of Harold Pinter

06: The Menace of Harold Pinter

This lecture focuses on Harold Pinter, one of the most prestigious English playwrights of the 1950s and 1960s. Pinter surrounds the stage with Beckett's void and blankness, but the action is realistic. Professor Saccio describes three Pinter plays, then focuses on "The Homecoming", first produced in 1965. This play is a powerful example of Pinter's use of defensive-aggressive behavior. Both Beckett and Pinter changed drama by what he omitted, but Pinter added a sense of foreboding about those things that were left out.

48 min
The Inventions of Tom Stoppard

07: The Inventions of Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard is known as one of the most witty, inventive, and highbrow authors of modern British drama. His works may be defined as the "comedy of mental manners," full of literary and philosophical references. Characteristics of Stoppard's works include: complicated plots; clever parodies; word games and allusions; sight gags; and a constant concern with ideas. "Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead" is Stoppard's most famous work. By revisiting and manipulating central themes, characters, and dramatic devices, Stoppard creates a stimulating take on the grim absurdist drama.

48 min
Political Theater—Caryl Churchill and David Hare

08: Political Theater—Caryl Churchill and David Hare

Political theater is significant in modern British drama. Plays written to awaken the nation's conscience have become a central part of British culture. The model for 20th-century political drama was furnished in large part by the German Bertolt Brecht. Radical artists such as Caryl Churchill and David Hare focused the action of their plays on these issues and made bold statements about what was wrong with society. The proletarian drama, which grew out of fringe workshops in the 1970s, became a central part of the repertory of subsidized theater.

48 min