Myths of home and nation : conventions of Victorian domestic melodrama in O'Casey, Osborne, and Pinter

Kim, Dasan
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This dissertation demonstrates that twentieth-century dramas by Sean O'Casey, John Osborne, and Harold Pinter continue the convention of nineteenth-century domestic drama. From the expressionist movement, theatre of the absurd, and theatre of anger, to the theatre of extremes, diverse theatrical experiments in the twentieth century urged critics to focus on the contemporary theatrical effort to break away from convention. Consequently, critics have often emphasized the disconnectedness of the twentieth-century avant-garde theatre from nineteenth-century conventions, especially from the tradition of the well-made drawing room drama. My thesis focuses on the trajectory of the nineteenth-century domestic melodrama. Despite the seeming disconnection, nineteenth-century domestic melodrama still lurks within political theatre in the twentieth century as a cultural inheritance. This study argues that the aforementioned twentieth-century playwrights participate in political critique through the discourse of domesticity. Despite the geographical and temporal differences, the characters in the plays all struggle in the absence of communal integrity or national consensus. They suffer from war trauma, from disillusioned nationhood, from abuses of power, and from fascist violence. In addressing the fractured nationhood, these playwrights reference the Victorian perceptions of the home, the mother, and the nation. While the Victorian discourse of domesticity celebrated the idea of the home as a non-material, sacred haven and admired female virtue in support of patriarchal/national stability, Victorian domestic dramas displayed the anxieties surrounding domesticity. This dissertation examines how the twentieth-century plays considered here enhance the vision of late nineteenth-century domestic drama and exploit the myths of the home, the woman and the nation.