realism

Definitions

General English

Media Studies

  • noun the concept that filmmaking and television reproduce a realistic situation, one which could occur in our world under all the given conditions. It is distinct, e.g., from fantasy, which does not imply reality.

Theater

  • A movement in late 19th-century drama that aimed to replacethe artificial romantic style with accurate depictions of ordinarypeople in plausible situations. In attempting to create a perfectillusion of reality, playwrights and directors rejected dramatic conventionsthat had existed since the beginnings of drama. Euripideshad taken a tentative step towards realism in the 5th century BCbut in later European theater ordinary people speaking colloquiallyhad only appeared in comedy or farce; even in such plays no attemptwas made to create realistic sets or scenery. The 19th-century realistmovement revolutionized contemporary theater in every aspect, fromscenery, to styles of acting, from dialogue to make-up.

    The first moves towards modern realism were made in 16th-centuryItaly with the introduction of perspective scenery. By the mid 19thcentury realistic gas lamps had exposed the unnatural appearance ofcanvas backdrops; the realistic box set with three wallsand furnishings was subsequently popularized by the US director andplaywright David Belasco. The Victorians also pioneered mechanicaldevices that were capable of producing convincing scenic illusionsand sensational effects, such as fires and train crashes. In the 18thcentury David Garrick initiated the use of historically accuratecostumes and sets, a trend that was followed by directors includingSir Henry Irving and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

    Despite these developments, it was not until the end of the19th century that the drama began to emulate the serious treatmentof contemporary themes achieved in the novel. The move away from melodramaand stilted dialogue to "the plain truthful language of reality"was led by Henrik Ibsen, who is often called the father ofmodern realism. Ibsen also broke with convention by taking the everydaylives of his middle-class audience as subject matter for serious drama.In this he was followed by the Russians Chekhov and Gorki:while the former explored the ennui of outwardly uneventful middle-classlives, the latter depicted the drudgery and suffering of the poorestclasses. The first serious steps to codify realism in acting weremade by Konstantin Stanislavsky for productions at the MoscowArt Theatre. Before his production of Gorki's The Lower Depths(1902), Stanislavsky sent his actors into the Moscow slums to preparefor their roles as beggars. This technique was later developed andsystematized by Lee Strasberg as the Method.

    Other playwrights to contribute to the realist movement includedT. W. Robertson, Henry Arthur Jones, Harley Granville-barker,and George Bernard Shaw in Britain, Eugene O'Neillin America, Victorien Sardou and Augustin Eugène Scribein France, and Gerhart Hauptmann in Germany. see alsocup-and-saucer drama; kitchen sink; naturalism.

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