well-made play

Definition

Theater

  • English translation of the French phrase une piècebien faite, used in the early 19th century to describe plays thatdepended on a well-crafted plot. In the hands of Eugène Scribe,the well-made play developed a formulaic structure still sometimesused today: the protagonists meet with complications that build towardsa climax followed by a denouement. By the late 19th century, however,'well-made play' became a pejorative term because characterizationwas subordinated to an articifial action that depended upon such manipulationsas coincidental meetings and mistaken identity. The genre was particularlyridiculed by Zola, who helped to usher in the fashion for naturalism.

    Besides Scribe, French exponents of the well-made play includedSardou, Labiche, and Feydeau. In Britainits techniques were adopted by Henry Arthur Jones, A. W. Pinero, TerenceRattigan, Noël Coward, and even George Bernard Shaw (who attacked Sardou'shigh-class melodrama as 'Sardoodledom'). Well-made plays were also turned outby such US playwrights as Lillian Hellman.

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