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Modernism, as a movement in literature and the arts, is often described as difficult. Since “difficult” is a description of the reaction of readers, analysing the difficulties resolve into issues of (1) qualities inherent in the works and (2) qualities of specific readers who might find works difficult. One issue has to do with range of allusion. In ancient and Elizabethan drama, writers could assume a shared body of religious and cultural knowledge among the entire audience; modern drama refers to a wider canon, but thereby loses members of the audience who are not aware of the specific range of references invoked by a particular playwright (e.g. the classical and philosophical references of Stoppard, Brecht’s political philosophy, Eliot’s history and theology, etc.) inherent in the texts is an interest in overt theatricality and lack of closure. Often the point of works by playwrights like Beckett and Pinter is that parts of the story always remain frustratingly unknown and unclear, something that is difficult if the audience wants a familiar and reassuring form of closure.
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