In our study of Victorian era authors, the only play that we had the chance to read was The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. However, I noticed in reading the authors’ introductions, many of them also engaged in playwriting alongside their more famous works. Oscar Wilde is one example, but Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson, and Charles Dickens all wrote pieces for the stage as well. I thought it would be interesting that a lot of famous authors and poets also wrote plays so I decided to take a look into the theater of the Victorian period.
The Victorian period, in general, was a time where the arts flourished. Traditional British values began to be challenged and that was especially felt on the stage. Theater in Britain had been created for the upper class for the past couple hundred years, but during this time, that began to change. Theater became widely popular with the larger masses, with most of the audiences during this period being lower class. This huge increase of theatergoers led not only to the rapid expansion of the countries theater scene backed by the Queen herself, but also to the increasing amount of plays being published. The Victorian period is one of the most prolific times for playwrights in British history. However, instead of the more traditional plays of yesteryears, like historical or fantastical dramas, the plays of the Victorian era leaned towards contemporary stories, tackling the social problems that the whole Victorian period was combating through drama or comedy.
Oscar Wilde is undoubtedly the most famous playwright that we had the chance of reading. In fact, he is the only one where we actually read one of his plays. But because this period was so heavily invested in theater, it is not hard to find plays written by some of the other authors we read. Lord Tennyson first published a play called The Cup before publishing The Foresters a play about the legend of Robin Hood, which found great success in New York. Robert Browing wrote a play called Strafford that was performed several times as well as writing other plays, some of which were never performed or met critical failure. Charles Dickens wrote a few plays but is probably best known for always being at war with those who adapted his most famous works for the stage.
So often we only look at a period of literature only through the eyes novels and poems and ignore playwrights. However, the stage has always had a role in British history and the Victorian era especially. Plays act in a similar way to other works of literature, acting as a snapshot of the period they were written in, with the added bonus of possibly being able to watch them be performed instead of reading.