Drawing on extensive interviews with playwrights and directors, Kirsten Shepherd-Barr discusses such works as Michael Frayn's Copenhagen and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. She asks questions such as, What accounts for the surge of interest in putting science on the stage? What areas of science seem most popular with playwrights, and why? How has the tradition evolved throughout the centuries? What currents are defining it now? And what are some of the debates and controversies surrounding the use of science on stage?
Organized by scientific themes, the book examines selected contemporary plays that represent a merging of theatrical form and scientific content--plays in which the science is literally enacted through the structure and performance of the play. Beginning with a discussion of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, the book traces the history of how scientific ideas (quantum mechanics and fractals, for example) are dealt with in theatrical presentations. It discusses the relationship of science to society, the role of science in our lives, the complicated ethical considerations of science, and the accuracy of the portrayal of science in the dramatic context.
The final chapter looks at some of the most recent and exciting developments in science playwriting that are taking the genre in innovative directions and challenging the audience's expectations of a science play. The book includes a comprehensive annotated list of four centuries of science plays, which will be useful for teachers, students, and general readers alike.
The stage proved to be no mere handmaiden to evolutionary science, though, often resisting and altering the ideas at its core. Many dramatists cast suspicion on the arguments of evolutionary theory and rejected its claims, even as they entertained its thrilling possibilities. Engaging directly with the relation of science and culture, this book considers the influence of not only Darwin but also Lamarck, Chambers, Spencer, Wallace, Haeckel, de Vries, and other evolutionists on 150 years of theater. It shares significant new insights into the work of Ibsen, Shaw, Wilder, and Beckett, and writes female playwrights, such as Susan Glaspell and Elizabeth Baker, into the theatrical record, unpacking their dramatic explorations of biological determinism, gender essentialism, the maternal instinct, and the "cult of motherhood."
It is likely that more people encountered evolution at the theater than through any other art form in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Considering the liveliness and immediacy of the theater and its reliance on a diverse community of spectators and the power that entails, this book is a key text for grasping the extent of the public's adaptation to the new theory and the legacy of its representation on the perceived legitimacy (or illegitimacy) of scientific work.