Byron’s Dramatic Theory: Writing for Theatre in an Age of Revolts

By Sergio Costola.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) never wrote a systematic exposition of the dramatic principles that could be considered the keystone of his plays. This is probably the reason for Byron’s glaring absence from the theoretical works dedicated to dramatic theatre. However, while writing his plays, Byron was following an original and personal dramatic theory, as is possible to evince from the prefaces to his plays, as well as from some of his letters and journals. My paper attempts to investigate Byron’s dramatic theory by linking it to specific scientific theories of the time. As Marvin Carlson notes (1993), “the rejection of the organizing principles of neoclassic theory left the late eighteenth-century innovators with the necessity of finding another basis of organization, especially for their beloved Shakespeare” (180). Schlegel and Goethe created metaphors–the “organic principle”, for example–that derived from natural science and were partially influenced by Lamarck’s evolutionist theory. However, Byron rejected Lamarck and embraced Cuvier’s theory. This scholar, considered the founder of comparative anatomy and paleontology, strongly opposed the “metaphysics” of Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, who had proposed the theory of evolution of the species for the first time. Lamarck’s idea that in nature there was a spontaneous tendency to more complex forms of organization was contrasted by Cuvier’s belief in periodical cataclysm. Byron’s unwillingness to invest in orthodox systems of beliefs together with his rejection of evolutionism in favor of Cuvier’s theory of cyclical destruction affected, as we shall see, some aspects of his dramatic theory and his idea of ‘mental theatre’.

Keywords: Dramatic Unities, Georges Cuvier, George Gordon Byron, Mental Theatre

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp.67-74. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 609.860KB).

Sergio Costola

Associate Professor, Theatre Department, The Sarofim School of Fine Arts, Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX, USA

Sergio Costola is the Resident Dramaturg for the Theatre Department at the Sarofim School of Fine Arts, where he teaches Theatre History, Dramatic Literature, and Critical Studies. He also works as Dramaturg for Fourthworld Theare Projects and the Rhodopi International Theatre Laboratory. He holds a PhD from UCLA and a BA Magna Cum Laude from the University of Bologna in his native Italy. He previously taught at UCLA and Loyola Marymount. His focus is Italian Renaissance Theatre and Theatre Iconography.

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