enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


Naturalism in Theatre

During the 19th century, modern civil society emerged, scientific empiricism and rationalist thought proliferated, and the green shoots of modern individualism surfaced. It was against such a backdrop that Émile Zola dramatised his novel “Thérèse Raquin” in 1873. In the preface of the play, Zola argued that fictional characters should be the result of a careful scientific study of human nature. In doing so, he forged the foundational beliefs of modern theatre, in which dramatists seek to reproduce the minutiae of human life so that audiences can observe these accurate depictions and contemplate the truths of life.

Naturalistic plays are grounded in reality; the protagonists are common people rather than kings or legendary heroes, and the plays focus on realistic (rather than flamboyant) psychological depictions and stage presentation to reproduce reality as accurately as possible. To communicate a play’s themes clearly, its elements have to be integrated in a thematically consistent manner. This requirement led to the rise of theatre directors. Theatre directors active at this time included Konstantin Stanislavski, André Antoine, and Edward Gordon Craig.

During the late 1870s, the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen was producing socially conscious plays such as “A Doll’s House”, and the plots and forms of these plays influenced theatre around the world. In the years that followed, Swedish playwright August Strindberg produced “Miss Julie”, and the Russian Anton Chekhov produced his four great works: “The Seagull”, “Uncle Vanya”, “Three Sisters”, and “The Cherry Orchard”. Meanwhile, naturalistic drama was being vigorously promoted by André Antoine’s Théâtre Libre and Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre. Consequently, naturalism became the dominant trend in European theatre.