Annotated Bibliography


Davis, Tracy C. “The Independent Theatre Society’s Revolutionary Scheme for an Uncommercial Theater.” Theatre Journal 42 (1990): 447-54. JSTOR. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

In “The Independent Theatre Society’s Revolutionary Scheme for an Uncommercial Theatre” Tracy C. Davis argues the fact that the Independent Theatre Society was not a commercial, capital, or competitive theater because it produced plays that other theaters at the time did not want or cared for. Davis mentions that various schemes for an uncommercial theater were proposed by many, including George Moore, who wrote The Strike at Arlingford, which was produced by the Independent Theatre Society. But it was Jacob Grein who was a manager for the Dutch East India Company and a part-time drama critic who accomplished this goal and in 1891. Grein’s proposal for the first of the five subscription seasons was implemented. Although Davis talks about the Independent Theater Society and how it came about with it founder Jacob Grein, most of her article talks mainly about Ibsen’s Ghosts which was the first play produced by the Independent Theatre Society. She mainly emphasizes the effects Ghost had on the overall image of the Independent Theatre Society. Davis explains that because of the sexual content, among other themes, in Ghosts, many thought that the Independent Theatre Society did nasty things and should be considered illegal. Despite the problems that the Independent Theatre Society faced, according to Davis it demonstrated “that an independent, free theater was intractable, and that organized and committed professionals and amateurs would give modernism a season” (454).

—Ramata Cisse

In Victorian London, plays required by law to obtain approval from the Lord Chamberlain before the could be produced. Prior to the establishment of the Independent Theatre Society, plays were highly censored. The Independent Theatre Society gave writers the freedom to experiment and perform daring plays. The Independent Theatre’s performance of Ibsen’s “Ghosts” and the lack of any repercussion from the Lord Chamberlain left many critics, like Clement Scott, frustrated due to the fact that they felt that the Independent Theatre Society “presented a threat to the very organizational stasis of theater production.”

The first production of “Ghosts” served as a test for the Independent Theatre Society and, according to Davis, this controversial play was key to the success of the theatre; however, it was not the subject of the play that was most offensive to the public, since the public had already been exposed to the subject in earlier writing. What was considered most offensive was the implicit political and class friction that play focused around. Apart from the socio-political issue brought up by the play, the fact that the play circumvented the traditional structures of the theatre, such as the traditional actor-manager system, and the typical approval of the Lord Chamberlain brought a lot of opposition to the play. Yet, ironically, the same issues that got play-goers talking about the play were what helped the Independent Theatre Society strive.

— Juan C. Hernandez


Davis, Tracy C., and Ellen Donkin, eds. Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-century Britain. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.

Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-Century Britain, edited by Tracy C. Davis and Ella Donkin, contains essays that highlight the involvement of women as playwrights in Victorian theatre. The essays cover a variety of topics concerning the motivation, perception, and reception of women who wrote plays in this time period. Davis and Donkin establish that women wrote plays as a sort of social involvement. The collection highlights the disadvantages and inequalities in the field of theatre and examines how the playing field in playwriting mimicked real life, in that the involvement of women in the writing and production of these plays was as overlooked as women and their participation in society. An example of the focus of these essays is one by Donkin that discusses Mrs. Catherine Gore and the criticism of a play that won her the Haymarket prize for being the best comedy “illustrative of British manners.” Gore submitted her work anonymously, and when it was revealed to have been written by a woman it was received negatively by male critics—despite having won the award.

—Amy Dipre


Kelly, Katherine E. “Alan’s Wife: Mother Love and Theatrical Sociability in London of the 1890s.” Modernism/modernity 11 (2004): 539-560. Web.

Kelly’s article is an analysis of Alan’s Wife as a modern drama and its relevance to theater in London during the 1890s. The more fascinating and useful part of the article is when Kelly strays from analysis of the play and writes about its production in the second season of the Independent Theatre Society. We begin to see the ITS as a theater community that was able to work via underhanded sociability: “gentlemen’s agreements”(551) and the ability of women such as Elizabeth Robins to balance “befriending men and becoming intimate”(550) in order to achieve upward mobility and respectability in the non-commercial theatre. The ITS modeled itself after the “Free Theatre” (547) by rejecting “not only the aesthetics but also the funding mechanisms and managerial style of commercial theatres” (547). Controversial dramas were represented on the stage and the ITS also made sure not to manage itself as commercially licensed theaters did. As a result, public and private realms were often blurred when bringing about a production such as Alan’s Wife. Robins, while working on the production of her play, faced bigotry at the hands of William Archer, a man closely linked to the avant-garde artistic and socialist political parties and a man who could either help or destroy her career. Despite the ITS approaching many important and controversial social issues, women still faced gender limitations.

—Denise Conejo

Katherine E. Kelly’s “Alan’s Wife: Mother Love and Theatrical Sociability in London of the 1890s,” discusses the new meaning of “private” and “public” in the history of events that constitute London avant-garde sociability of that time, when the theatrical performance and its variants provided a “familiar and flexible” form for displaying the very social life (540). Particularly, Alan’s Wife (1893), a short play in three acts, authored in a secret collaboration between Florence Bell and Elizabeth Robins, offers a perfect example of how the avant-garde London theatre provided a staging ground for displaying and shaping modernist sociability. In fact, the play explores the gap between the family’s intimacy and motherhood, and the public sphere of law and commerce. Furthermore, Kelly illustrates the history behind Alan’s Wife, mainly its original author and the plot of the original story, and describes changes that were made by Florence Bell and Elizabeth Robins in order to adapt it for an English audience. The article continues to reveal information about the play’s production and publication. The author notes that the two co-writers struggled to complete the script due to William Archer’s constant criticism and editing. Moreover, a close friend of Archer, George Bernard Shaw, even suggested that Archer should have written Alan’s Wife himself. At last, the play was submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s office for approval, and, by omitting its controversial scene, it was permitted to be performed. Even though it occupied a brief moment in the history of London new drama, Alan’s Wife nevertheless delivers striking evidence that theatrical productions functioned as “vehicles for modernist sociability” (554). The play’s story represents a conflict between the intimate sphere of motherhood and the instrumental realm of law, and, at the same time, its creation and production provide an indirect view of gender and class interactions among women and men of the London avant-garde.

—Lena Matos


Kelly, Katherine E. “Pandemic and Performance: Ibsen and the Outbreak of Modernism”.

South Central Review 25 (2008): 12–35. Web.

This article analyzes the influence of playwright Henrik Ibsen on both English theatre culture and its practices and traditions, and on the society of the city. Kelly argues that the negative reactions towards English productions of Ibsen’s plays caused a positive ripple-effect towards modernity in London society while the complex structure of his plays changed the ways that theater companies performed. Kelly argues that the “inward” and “outward” actions of characters in Ibsen’s plays broke away from the traditional narrative structure of the popular melodramas of the late-Victorian Era and necessitated a change in the way actors worked with each other as well as how they interpreted the texts for performance. The subtleties of Ibsen’s narrative required a study of all characters in the production, not simply that which each actor or actress him/herself would be playing. Kelly supports her argument with careful textual analysis of the London productions of Ghosts, A Doll’s House, and Rosmersholm and contextual analysis of the London society that would have been the audience and subject of the social commentary of these productions. Although many productions of Ibsen’s plays in London were the target of a great amount of public scrutiny and opposition, a counter-opposition developed, led, in part, by prominent “activist woman” who supported not only the performances of Ibsen’s work in London, but also pushed for the social reform that was the subject of many of his plays.

—Kaitlyn D’Agostino


Langbauer, Laurie. “Children And Theatre In Victorian Britain: ‘All Work, No Play’/The Nineteenth-Century Child And Consumer Culture.” Victorian Studies 51 (2009): 536-539. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Laurie Langbauer’s article highlights children’s theatrical appeal in the nineteenth century by providing a review of Anne Varty’s Children and Theatre in Victorian Britain. She outlines different views of Varty’s thesis that the cultural impact of the legislation for regulating child labor influenced playwriting and the subject matter of theater. Langbauer also notes the breadth of Varty’s argument, as the shifting social constructions of Victorian children and childhood provided a change in the responses to children’s death both on and off stage, and to child actors’ authenticity.

Langbauer also outlines shifts in social construction by referencing popular pantomimes, such as Lucy Clifford’s “The New Mother” and “Wooden Tony,” that exposed class inequities and childhood obscurity. Explaining Varty’s report that many didn’t believe that children authenticity as an actor. Langbauer further explains Varty’s reasoning about the recognition of child acting came from the new form of characterizing of children as being both innocent and monstrous after the legislation. Where she highlighted Varty’s report that characterizing both the purity and monstrosity of children although transient provided a chance for the considering of both the Victorian child actor and childhood because it shed light the child roles on stage and in society.

—Kashamire Jean-Baptiste


Moore George. “The Independent Theatre.” Times [London], Tuesday, 13 Oct.1891, 5.

This is an article addressed to the editor of The Times written by George Moore, in regards to the influence of the Independent Theatre Society on English drama. Moore describes the effect critical reviews of the Society’s first play, “Ghosts,” had on the Independent Theatre Society. The article goes on to note that the popularization of theatre had a negative effect on dramatic writing. The article provides information on the history of the Independent Theatre, detailed analyses of the plays it produced, and a description of its mission.

Moore goes on to explain how The Independent Theatre Society took the idea for this theater from Paris and Berlin, specifically the Théâtre Libre and the Freie Volks Buhne as they were very successful. His idea was to have a theater that did not focus on the popular culture, but instead on the quality and depth of the play itself. In England, though, Moore expresses that it will not be such an easy success, because England has dwelled in a slumber of dramatic writing for a while. Overall, this article places the Independent Theatre Society in the context of recent theater history in order to gain support for the Society.

— Samantha Gomez


Stokes, John. “Varieties of Performance at the Turn of the Century.” The Cambridge Companion to the Fin de Siècle, Ed. Gail Marshall. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

In his article, “Varieties of Performance at the Turn of the Century” John Stokes argues that fin de siècle drama turned away from the premise of cultural theatre, which focused on the political and nationalistic motifs of Empire, instead focusing on issues reflecting the purpose of religion, the idealism of engaging with the future, and most importantly, the changing role of women. He examines the works of Henrik Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw as forerunners in these themes and notes that the three wrote social satire with women, who were often sexually or in some other way deviant, as the moral compasses. The thematic change that occurred during the fin de siècle, Stokes notes, created a performance by women and is reflected in the topos the theatre often borrowed from novels and short stories published between 1880 and 1910. He argues that these roles often allowed women to achieve an impressing degree of cultural autonomy by portraying the fallen and treacherous—the female outsider. Stokes claims that the phenomenon of the internationally successful actress, making a case study out of Sarah Bernhardt and more specifically her portrayal of Hamlet, aided in this. He argues that despite the critics of early feminism who argued that Bernhardt’s portrayal of the Danish prince was overly and wrongly educated, among other horrors, her performance crossed the line of the gender binaries commonly found in fin de siècle drama. Within Hamlet Bernhardt portrayed femininity as adaptability and masculinity as self-determination, but she used her femininity as a way to tap into Hamlet’s masculinity. Stokes argues this role and other similar roles portrayed by notable actresses of the time aided in taking the theatre from pure decadence into social progress.

—Olivia Blasi


Woodfield, James. “Ibsen, J.T. Grein and the Independent Theatre Society. ”English Theatre in Transition: 1881-1914. London: Croom Helm, 1984. Google Books. Web.

The chapter “Ibsen, J.T. Grein and the Independent Theatre” discusses the beginnings of the independent theatre in and its influence by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s plays. In this particular period, English theater was not being received well by the middle and upper class audiences the plays attracted, for the conservative art that was once popular was losing its appeal. This was because in a sense, the elements of drama were overplayed but not necessarily progressing and evolving to meet the desires of its audiences. People wanted plays that were intellectually and socially more sophisticated than what was popular and being showcased. Ibsen’s plays, however, possessed the sophisticated artistic expression and commentary that was lacking in England, even though reviewers were generally appalled by their controversial subjects and the commentary that plays like Ghosts and A Doll’s House made about society. A Dutchman who was drawn into the world of theater, Jacob Thomas “J.T.” Grein, began the Independent Theatre Society in London in 1891. His goal for the Independent Theatre Society was “to stimulate the production of new, original English plays independent both of the censor and of commercial, profit-oriented management” (Woodfield 43). Grein and the Society’s focus was very much on the literary value of plays rather than their theatrical qualities, and this perhaps contributed to the Society’s ultimate failure (Woodfield 49). But the nature of the Independent Theatre Society’s membership-based organization allowed it to legally showcase plays that were at once disturbing and memorable and normally banned under English law, and this fulfilled its intention.

—Anais McAllister


Wearing, J. P. “The London West End Theatre in the 1890s.” Educational Theatre Journal 29 (1977): 320–32. Web.

This article covers many different aspects of the theater in the 1890s. It provides information on how many plays in a certain genre were produced, how many of the plays took place in certain time periods, and the seating capacity of theaters. It provides information on different authors of the time and the frequency with which their work was produced. This article tries to give a large overview of the plays of the time period instead of focusing on the most popular plays. Wearing explains that the plays that were mostly being produced sought to please the middle class and, thus, the middle class was controlling what was being produced in the commercial theaters because if the masses weren’t coming to the shows, there wouldn’t be money for the production. This article clarifies that the Independent Theatre Society and J. T. Grein were working toward plays that were more intellectually intriguing. Subscribers to the Independent Theatre Society helped shine a light to playwrights like Shaw and Ibsen who were struggling to gain a fan base in the beginning of the decade. The mainstream plays were so unimpressive that they actually gave a chance to the “experimental” pieces that the Independent Theatre Society were producing. The article concludes that these same patterns of commercial and experimental plays still occur today.

—Taynara Giandoso


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