Some theatre each day keeps the doctor away…

STED #8: The Five Greatest Dramatists of History?

with 15 comments

I was reading about Ibsen today.  Here he is:

Henrik Ibsen

Now then, let me find the quote once more…  Found it.  Now let me try and get the book to stay open…  Urgh.  Argh.  That’s the problem with paperbacks – very hard to keep open.  I have the book between my half-crossed legs, delicately balanced, the page ready to fling back to the other side – so why am I typing about this instead of copying the quote out?  Good idea, Adam.

Ibsen was the first Norwegian of modern times to lead the world in any of the arts; he is one of the five greatest dramatists of history.

Okay, so I probably could have just memorised that line.  Anyway.  The person who wrote this (as an introduction to ‘Hedda Gabler and Other Plays’), Una Ellis-Fermor, failed to specify exactly who the other three dramatists were.  She mentioned Shakespeare, and, anyway, he’s the given on any list.

Ibsen.  Shakespeare.  Who on earth are the other three?

I assume Chekhov was probably one.  Beckett definitely wasn’t, because this introduction was written in 1950, and I don’t think he’d done all his stuff back then, right?  I’m guessing there’s maybe a Greek in there but I have no idea – maybe even two…  I’d be most appreciative if someone could please illuminate for certain who the other three ‘greatest dramatists of history’ are.  If only so I can study them.

Speaking of greatness, I was thinking about it today.  Or rather, thinking about whether it is beneficial for an artist to know whether they will be great or not.  This came about because I was watching an episode of Doctor Who (and spoiler alert here if you’re not watching it direct from Britain) and at the end of this week’s episode the Doctor took Vincent Van Gogh in his TARDIS to the future to see his works being exhibited at the Musee d’Orsay.  Van Gogh received very little acclaim in his life, and died not knowing how great the world now thinks he is.

And so this made me think a bit – is it actually beneficial for an artist to know whether they will be great or not?  Obviously, it’s not really possible to know anyway, but if you did, would it affect you?  I would think that if I knew that I was destined not to be great, then I’d either give up now or not believe the prediction.  On the other hand, if I knew that I was destined to be great, I’m not entirely sure that that would give me the motivation I needed to keep producing works of art.  If you knew that you would produce greatness everytime you set out to do it, for instance…  Well, it would almost rip all the motivation out of me, methinks.  Indeed, it is the mystery that makes it so intriguing, I suppose.  Hmm.

Anyway.  Three other great dramatists.  Who are they?


Written by epistemysics

June 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

15 Responses

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  1. Yes, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov – but the other two were not of this planet and their names cannot be written on our crude human technology.

    Chris T

    June 6, 2010 at 1:26 pm

  2. Oh dear… So I’m guessing the bookshop probably doesn’t stock them either? Damn…


    June 6, 2010 at 1:32 pm

  3. Why five?

    Aeschylus, Europedies and Sophcles…

    then the roman guys…

    then the Russian guys, then the english, American, Australian, french, then spanish… then chinese, then every other country.

    5 is too few. It’s a whole and it can’t be boiled down to 5 guys.

    Zen (the rat)

    June 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm

  4. Racine?
    Does Wagner count?
    Oscar Wilde?

    I don’t know many…

    Zen (the rat)

    June 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm

  5. Shortlist: from ancient Greece: Aeschylus, Euripides (my pick); from 16th century Spain – Calderon (my pick), Lope de la Vega; Moliere; 20th century – Strindberg, Shaw, Lorca (my pick); after 1950 – Beckett (my a long stretch), Albee, Miller, Churchill, Joanna Murray-Smith (arguably)

    James Waites

    June 6, 2010 at 1:43 pm

  6. Churchill wrote plays?!? What a talented man! Who knew he could win wars and pen farces at the same time?

    (I assume you mean…I don’t know, is it Carol or something?)

    I’m adding Stoppard to the list, but that’s because I’m a fanboy.

    I was thinking that Racine might’ve been one of the other two, and then maybe either Aeschylus or Euripides, or even Sophocles…I don’t have enough knowledge to be able to distinguish between the three Greeks…

    But then again, I’m only saying Racine because that’s the one I know from that period (and I don’t even know what period it is, to be honest) – having seen Phedre.

    And James – if I have nightmares tonight about JMS, I’m blaming you.

    Anyways, I’m starting to think that maybe this woman was saying “Ibsen’s in the top five”, as in “I don’t know who the top five are, but Ibsen definitely is one of them”. This is starting to really annoy me now…damn Penguin introductions!


    June 6, 2010 at 3:21 pm

  7. As the guy (you) destined to take over from JMS at the top of heap – or hang out there with Daniel Keene (saying this in case Alison drops in – lol) – you should look at how Ibsen puts his best plays together – like Picasso – you go look at the early work and how he mastered the timeless conventions before he smashed em up. ie ibsen puts together some perfect plots – look how the letter sits waiting on the table in Doll House etc before it explodes the story apart – and go check just how many plays he wrote and how poor and and unloved he was before he cracked it – so your starting well with the poverty thing and haven’t seen you yet in the social pages!! or have I?? oh Ibsen never smashes up – he is the master builder – you study then you go smash…PS I think its Caryl…

    James Waites

    June 7, 2010 at 12:18 am

  8. JMS? James, I’m shocked you’d put her next to Aeschylus, and ahead of White, or Hibberd or Hewett or any number of other Australian playwrights. No, I’m not listing Daniel: if his reputation and work counts for nought here outside my claims, forget it. He’d be better off staying in Europe.

    Some of those Penguin introductions are creaky, EP. I wouldn’t bother your head with them. And I know I shouldn’t be shocked, but if you are writing plays, shouldn’t you have read these classics already?

    Alison Croggon

    June 7, 2010 at 12:39 am

  9. Alison I was joshing with EP – JMS does not come up on my radar wotsoever – bottom of the heap – tho that may be a bit mean as we have not seen as much of her in Sydney as you have in Melbourne – from what I have seen she is Williamson without the jokes and a decade behind the zeitgeist – I loved what EP had to say about her (with the freedom of youth in his sails)- yes White, Hibberd, Hewett – then Sewell, Romeril, Bovell – your flatmate – and many many one-off achievements by many others: names, names, names.

    Doing homework on early Belvoir atm – didn’t remember D Keene was author of Cho Cho San!

    Wishing I could get to Melb to see R3 and Pirate Jenny ….money and time…..sucks

    James Waites

    June 7, 2010 at 1:22 am

  10. James – I wouldn’t be talking about destiny too much – you haven’t seen my first play (I gave it to a friend and he couldn’t even recite the plot back to me correctly!). Goodness knows what the poor readers at Griffin will make of it (fuel for a fire, I’m guessing).

    And yes, I’ve been meaning to get around to Ibsen – that book by William Archer talked a lot about him (yesterday I discovered that Archer was the guy who introduced Ibsen into English apparently). He had some especially interesting things to say about how Ibsen developed the backstory in his plays over the years (from using useless characters at the start to introduce it, to more fully integrating it as his technical powers rose).

    And Alison, you should be shocked! All I can plead is a naive and unexamined wish to see all the plays before I read them, though I’ve come to the realisation that that could take thirty years or so… That combined with a hesitation that I could even write a whole play (you would know that writing part of a book and writing a whole book are two entirely different things), although now that I have I see things differently. (It was something along the lines of “I haven’t written a complete play, therefore I’m not a serious writer, so why I should I read plays?”, which I know is completely irrational, and I’m not even sure if that was it, but there was some mental block there.)

    ANYWAY, the fog has lifted, and I’m moving forward (theoretically). I read Death of a Salesman today and was blown away. So. Yes. Progress!


    June 7, 2010 at 6:57 am

  11. James, you need to put little irony marks around your posts. I thought your brain was disintegrating and was parcelling up some emergency medication.

    The sad fact EP is that it would take you years to see most great plays. How often is Strindberg done here? Caryl Churchill? Marlowe? Von Horvath? Buchner? Even (shamefully) Ibsen? We never see Koltes, seldom Barker, and has there even been a mainstage Sarah Kane? If you want to know what they are, you have to read them.

    In any case, it’s good to read the texts without the interpetation of productions. You get to see the bones of the writing.

    And I’m very glad you loved Death of a Salesman, which is, indeed, a great play.

    Alison Croggon

    June 8, 2010 at 2:51 am

  12. Even my best friends can’t work out when I’m joking – it’s all the botox – no choice but work with a straight face…

    James Waites

    June 8, 2010 at 2:59 am

  13. Not entirely sure that I want to know what Kane is, but yes, I agree with the general sentiment! I did see an Ibsen last year, though (so all hope is not lost)…well, an ‘adapted’ one, called The Only Child, so, considering the name changed, it probably can’t be considered an Ibsen anymore…

    Now I just need to find some way to borrow plays from the NIDA library without my being a student there. (Queue Mission Impossible theme.)

    James – botox, eh? Now all you need is an 80s haircut and then you can truly be a ‘stunned mullet’.

    (It’s 2.40 at night, if you’re wondering why that joke was so bad.)


    June 8, 2010 at 4:48 pm

  14. No mention of Kaldissa by anyone ?

    Donnie Bradley

    March 10, 2012 at 9:09 pm

  15. *Kalidasa

    Donnie Bradley

    March 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm

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