What are the important elements of 20th century drama?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Twentieth century drama is comprised of many different literary movements. At the turn of the century, Expressionism and Symbolism were important, especially in Northern Europe. Both involved non-realistic styles of acting, staging, and language, with expressionism concentrating on using unusual technical devices to project the interior states of characters. SUrrealist drama, including the work of Eugene Ionesco, is an outgrowth of Expressionism, but no longer presumes internal coherence and follows the illogic of dream states or random occurrences. Another group of plays focused on social and political critique, in the case of Berthold Brecht combined with techniques of alienation (which emphasize the unreal nature of the play) to force the audience to think critically rather than empathetically. The Angry Young Men of England also engage in socially aware portraits of the working class but in a more aesthetically conservative style. Other important movements included comedies of manner (Coward, Pinero), musical drama, absurdist drama, and many varieties of late 20th century experimental drama.

salimj | Student

After the World War I western mostly lost its separate literary identity and more internationally unified. Realism, naturalism and symbolism continued to dominate the plays. In English drama John Galsworthy’s plays are considered to be plays of naturalism. Another important movement in early 20th century drama was expressionism. They tried to depict the dehumanizing aspects of 20th century technological life. Even though we cannot find much playwrights of expressionism in English other western writers followed this.  The dramas of Ernst Toller and Georg Kaizer are examples for expressionist plays.

World War II and its attendant horrors produced a widespread sense of the utter meaninglessness of human existence. This sense is brilliantly expressed in the body of plays that have come to be known collectively as the theater of the absurd. By abandoning traditional devices of the drama, including logical plot development, meaningful dialogue, and intelligible characters, absurdist playwrights sought to convey modern humanity's feelings of bewilderment, alienation, and despair—the sense that reality is itself unreal. In their plays human beings often portrayed as dupes, clowns who, although not without dignity, are at the mercy of forces that are inscrutable.