What are the major themes of modern British drama? Who are the most famous playwrights of that era?

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Modern British drama typically refers to the period from the end of the nineteenth century through the present. The term "modernist" is generally applied to a group of early twentieth-century writers who shared similar approaches to literature and were marked by a rejection of realism and traditional forms. Some late twentieth- and twenty-first-century drama is called "post-modernist" and responds to the themes of modernism. Themes vary from playwright to playwright.

Among the best known British dramatists are:

Oscar Wilde (16 October 1854 to 30 November 1900): Although Wilde is best known for his sparkling wit, his comedies also attack what he sees as the hypocrisy of his contemporaries and address issue of gender and class.

George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 to 2 November 1950): Shaw was a committed vegetarian, pacifist, socialist, and reformer of English spelling. His works also use humor to advance serious ideas. In technique, he was greatly influenced by Ibsen and tried to portray characters realistically.

John Osborne: One of the "angry young men," Osborne was concerned with the working-class experience and the injustice of the British class system.

Samuel Beckett was an absurdist who subverted theatrical and realistic conventions and explored issues such as memory, death, futility, and the limits of knowledge.

Tom Stoppard is one of the more interesting recent playwrights. His work is allusive and witty, often exploring serious historical, philosophical, and literary themes.

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The modern era in British drama is generally considered to begin in the late 19th century and some would argue that it continues up to the present. Some of the playwrights work within the conventions of modernist drama, while others aim to break free. The rise of absurdism is an especially prominent feature.

The themes of the individual in and against society, including alienation; social issues; coping with global warfare; and the impact of colonialism are all well represented. Keep in mind as well that "British" pertains to the U.K., not just England, so numerous countries are included. British colonies pre-independence have their own traditions but the writers often wrote in English.

Prominent earlier playwrights include G. B. Shaw, Oscar Wilde, J. M. Synge (all Irish or Anglo-Irish). The 1930s comedies of Noël Coward have had lasting influence. T. S. Eliot authored several verse dramas.

Postwar theater flourished with writers such as John Osborne, Harold Pinter, and Lamont Stewart (Scotland). Female dramatists also began to have an impact, notably Shelagh Delaney and, from the 1960s on, Caryl Churchill. Absurdism is strongly identified with Samuel Beckett (Irish), who won the Nobel Prize. It also influenced Tom Stoppard (originally Czech).

Beyond specific playwrights, directors and companies were extremely influential. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford-upon-Avon, under Peter Brook, revitalized King Lear among others, and also staged contemporary works such as Marat/Sade. The National Theatre, founded by Laurence Olivier, especially in its 1960s new London complex and later under the direction of Peter Hall--he moved there from the RSC--staged countless important productions.

British music hall (similar to vaudeville) was a strong influence on comedy, such as Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore's improvisational troupe, and later TV's Monty Python.

Among the British-associated African playwrights, Nigeria's Wole Soyinka began writing pre-independence and later won the Nobel Prize.

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British modern dramatists include Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, and George Bernard Shaw. One of the major themes of modern drama was the importance of psychology. Psychoanalysis was new, and playwrights were anxious to delve into the human psyche. This was especially true for Samuel Beckett. Another theme involves criticism of high society. Oscar Wilde especially satirized the extraordinary emphasis on wealth and social status.

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