Radio texts : the broadcast drama of Orson Welles, Dylan Thomas, Samuel Beckett, and Tom Stoppard
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Radio drama developed as a genre as new media proliferated and challenged the cultural primacy of print. The methods of production and distribution and the literary genres that developed during the age of print provided models for radio playwrights to follow but also cultural forces for them to challenge. This dissertation considers these dual influences of print on the radio drama of four playwrights: Orson Welles, Dylan Thomas, Samuel Beckett, and Tom Stoppard. Each playwright “remediates” the printed page in radio plays by adapting or evoking the form of various literary texts, including novels (Welles), travel writing (Thomas), diaries and transcribed speech (Beckett), and historical writing (Stoppard). By representing written texts in an electronic, primarily oral medium, these authors examined the status of literary expression in an age of ascendant electronic media. Welles’s The War of the Worlds and Huckleberry Finn, Thomas’s Under Milk Wood and other broadcasts, Beckett’s Rough for Radio II and Embers, and Stoppard’s In the Native State highlight defining features of the print tradition and reveal how practices of writing and “reading” changed in the radio environment. These plays suggest that radio prompted writers to reconsider the literary author’s creative role, the text’s stability, and the audience’s interaction with the work. “Radio Texts” ultimately argues, therefore, that radio drama’s significance transcends its place in media history and dramatic criticism; the works I examine also point to radio plays’ important role in authors’ re-evaluation of literary expression in a changing twentieth-century media ecology.