Harley Granville-Barker Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)
ph_0111207661-Granville.jpg Harley Granville-Barker in 1915. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Harley Granville-Barker’s concern for a serious drama, and for a serious theater to interpret that drama, informs much, if not all, of his prose writings. With William Archer, Granville-Barker compiled A National Theatre: Scheme and Estimates (1907, revised by Granville-Barker in 1930), a working blueprint for a national repertory theater. The Exemplary Theatre (1922) presents Granville-Barker’s conception of the theater from the perspective of a director-actor-playwright. His other writings on the theater, On Dramatic Method (1931), The Study of Drama (1934), On Poetry in Drama (1937), and The Use of Drama (1945), focus primarily on his conception of a theatrically viable drama. This particular concern is evident as well in his famous series Prefaces to Shakespeare (1927-1947) and in its predecessor, the various prefaces and introductions Granville-Barker wrote for the volumes of The Player’s Shakespeare (1923-1927). The remainder of Granville-Barker’s literary works consists of a handful of articles on drama and on the theater; six short stories, of which only three have been published; and numerous translations.

Harley Granville-Barker Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In addition to his full-length plays, Harley Granville-Barker wrote three one-act plays, Rococo, Vote by Ballot, and Farewell to the Theatre. “Agnes Colander” (wr. 1901) and the unfinished “The Wicked Man” (wr. 1910-1914) were never published or produced. Also never published were the four plays Granville-Barker wrote in collaboration with Berte Thomas between 1895 and 1899. Two of his other collaborations, however—Prunella: Or, Love in a Dutch Garden, with Laurence Housman, and The Harlequinade, with Dion Calthrop—were published. The remainder of Granville-Barker’s dramatic writing consists of translations or adaptations, most notably a translation of Arthur Schnitzler’s Anatol (pr. 1911) and an adaptation of Sacha Guitry’s Deburau. He also translated plays by Jules Romains and, with his wife, Helen Huntington Barker-Granville, by Gregorio Martínez Sierra, and by Searfín Álvarez Quintero and Joaquín Álvarez Quinteroro.

Granville-Barker’s reputation as an homme de théâtre began to suffer a decline after he left active theater work and became a “mere professor.” His plays, already looked on with suspicion by his contemporaries, suffered an even greater decline. Although Granville-Barker’s plays were lauded by such fellow dramatists as George Bernard Shaw, John Masefield, and Gilbert Murray, external factors, such as the growing dominance of Shaw and changes in dramatic and theatrical styles, hastened the decline of his plays into obscurity. However, in the late twentieth century, a revival of interest occurred in the plays of Granville-Barker (The Madras House, for example, was produced for television by the British Broadcasting Corporation). This revival of interest betokens Granville-Barker’s significance as a dramatist.

The Granville-Barker play is singular among plays of the Edwardian period in its use of heterosexual relationships to define the worth of human actions and to signify the larger moral concerns that are the prime concern of his plays: the necessity of what he termed “the secret life,” the inner reality that puts into perspective the trivialities of everyday life. Granville-Barker was lauded by his fellow dramatists not only for the superb “actability” and polish of his plays but also for his dramatic portrayal of the real, vital dilemmas of human sensibility and of absolute morality beneath the superficialities of daily existence. Granville-Barker’s greatest achievement as a dramatist, and his significance as a dramatist to our age, lies in his successful deployment of heterosexual relationships as signs of our fragile hold on our essential selves and our humanity.

Harley Granville-Barker Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Henderson, Archibald. European Dramatists. Cincinnati, Ohio: Stewart and Kidd, 1913. Henderson considers Granville-Barker along with August Strindberg, Henrik Ibsen, Maurice Maeterlinck, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw. He describes Granville-Barker’s prominence with theatrical production and then praises his plays for their originality and for enlarging the boundaries of drama by breaking new ground, thereby creating new laws of drama.

Kauffmann, Stanley. “Rediscovering a Self-made Giant of the British Stage.” The New York Times, March 12, 2000, p. 5. A tribute to Granville-Barker that provides biographical information and a discussion of his plays, in particular The Voysey Inheritance.

Kennedy, Dennis. Granville Barker and the Dream of Theatre. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. A detailed examination of Granville-Barker’s work as a producer and director of theater. Richly illustrated, a comprehensive listing of his productions, and an index.

McDonald, Jan. The New Drama, 1900-1914. Basingstoke, England: Macmillan, 1986. Examines the “new drama” movement in the British theater, its theaters and major playwrights, Granville-Barker, John Galsworthy, and John Masefield. Provides a brief biography and extensive discussion of each of Granville-Barker’s major...

(The entire section is 465 words.)