Nineteenth-century theatre

Nineteenth-century theatre describes a wide range of movements in the theatrical culture of the 19th century. In the West, they include Romanticism, melodrama, the well-made plays of Scribe and Sardou, the farces of Feydeau, the problem plays of Naturalism and Realism, Wagner's operatic Gesamtkunstwerk, Gilbert and Sullivan's plays and operas, Wilde's drawing-room comedies, Symbolism and Russian Symbolism, and proto-Expressionism in the late works of August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen.

Realism began around 1850 as the Romanticism period was ending around 1870, and gave way to the 'isms' of Modernism in the theatre of the 20th century. Henrik Ibsen is considered to be the father of Realism in theater. In the UK, Thomas William Robertson was an early proponent.

The theme of Realism in theater was likeness to life and this movement sought to create theater that was a laboratory for the nature of relationships. The goal of a realism-era play was to set forth a functional or dysfunctional situation in an objective manner to an impartial audience. The audience is meant to view the characters as a visitor observes animals in a zoo.

  • Dialogue only, no asides, soliloquys or monologues (except when addressed to another onstage character)
  • An individual represents a societal problem
  • Fourth wall removed convention is strictly followed



  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0521434378.
  • Brockett, Oscar G. and Franklin J. Hildy. 2003. History of the Theatre. Ninth edition, International edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 0205410502.

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