A closet drama is a piece of literature written in a dramatic form that is not intended to be performed by actors. It is therefore intended just to be read, like other types of literature. While all plays can be read as literature without being performed, closet dramas were never intended for the stage at all. These plays do not require a performing space, and are called closet dramas because they can be read in a "closet" (a small, domestic area), either to oneself or aloud to a group.
The philosophical dialogues of ancient Greek and Roman writers such as Plato were written in the form of conversations between "characters" and are therefore similar to closet drama. In fact, it is speculated that Plato based his dialogue form on scripts for mime farces.
The tragedies of Seneca in the first century BC, though modeled on Greek tragedy, were probably never meant for performance. They were intended to be read or recited at small gatherings of the wealthy . John Milton's play Samson Agonistes, written in 1671, is another relatively early example of drama never intended for the stage.
Closet drama written in verse form became very popular in Western Europe after 1800; these plays were by and large inspired by Classical models. Faust, Part 1 and Faust, Part 2 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, among the most acclaimed pieces in the history of German literature, are closet dramas. Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as a host of other figures, also devoted much time to the closet drama.
This was both a sign of, and a reaction to, the decline of the verse tragedy, so popular during the Neoclassical period, on the European stage in the 1800s. Popular tastes in theatre were shifting toward melodrama and comedy, and there was little commercial appeal in staging verse tragedies. Playwrights who wanted to write verse tragedy had to resign themselves to writing for readers, not actors and audiences. Nineteenth-century closet drama became a longer poetic form, without the connection to practical theatre and performance.
According to Robertson Davies, closet drama is "Dreariest of literature, most second hand and fusty of experience!". However, a great deal of it was written in Victorian times and afterwards. Some continues to be written today, although it is no longer a very popular genre.
List of writers who have created closet drama
Last updated: 08-17-2005 10:08:29