What Is Naturalism in Drama?

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Naturalism in drama refers to the belief that a play should try to represent reality as closely as possible. In naturalistic theater, stage time reflects real time, costumes and settings portray as many details of the time as possible, the play takes place in a single location over the course of a day, and characters are normally from working or lower classes.

The actions of a play are also affected by the naturalistic theatrical philosophy as well. Dramatic naturalists believe that the characters of a play are heavily influenced by their social and economical environment, as well as by other determining factors such as heredity. In effect, a character’s ability to change or evolve on his own over the course of a naturalistic play is severely hampered.

One criticism of naturalistic plays is that characters depicted in a naturalistic play are unable to change socially. This leads to naturalistic characters being expressed as victims of external forces over which they have no control. Some critics argue that this detracts from the overall complexity of life and makes the play unnatural rather than natural. This theatrical philosophy stemmed from the scientific findings of Charles Darwin who stated that an organism’s environment has an enormous role in the evolution of the organism.