Closet drama

A closet drama is a play that is not intended to be performed onstage, but read by a solitary reader or sometimes out loud in a small group. The contrast between closet drama and classic ‘stage’ dramas dates back to the late eighteenth century. Although non-performative in nature, closet drama is "a quite legitimate product of literary art."[1]


A closet drama (or closet play) is a play created primarily for reading, rather than production. Closet dramas are traditionally defined in narrower terms as belonging to a genre of dramatic writing unconcerned with stage technique. Stageability is only one aspect of closet drama: historically, playwrights might choose the genre of 'closet' dramatic writing to avoid censorship of their works, for example in the case of political tragedies. Closet drama has also been used as a mode of dramatic writing for those without access to the commercial playhouse, and in this context has become closely associated with early modern women's writing.[4] Closet dramas were published in manuscript form, including dramatis personae and elaborate stage directions, allowing readers to imagine the text as if it was being performed.[5] This created an "unusually tight fusion between book and reader as it endeavours to stimulate the theatrical imagination."[2] The playwrights did not have to worry about the pressure to impress an audience due to their audience being who they chose. Thus, it was considered to be a freeing style of writing.[1]

Marta Straznicky describes the form as "part of a larger cultural matrix in which closed spaces, selective interpretive communities, and political dissent are aligned."[2] Print is the crucial factor behind closet dramas: "a play that is not intended for commercial performance can nevertheless cross between private playreading and the public sphere" through this medium.[2]

Women in closet drama

In the early modern period, women writers who were unable to ‘use their voice’ in public were able to emphasize their opinions using the form of closet drama. This outlet for communication provided women with the ability to "engage in political discourse without exposing her views to an indiscriminate public," [2] since they could choose to restrict their readership. However, women's writing could be influenced by societal pressures and occurrences.

Margaret Lucas Cavendish, author of fourteen folio volumes,[2] explored writing closet dramas during her exile and became one of the most well known women playwrights due to her interest in philosophical nature. [1] Although living in relative oppression, women dealt with the risks of public shame and rejection in the effort to have their writing recognized.

Other notable women involved in closet drama include Anne Finch, Jane Lumley, and Elizabeth Cary.


The philosophical dialogues of ancient Greek and Roman writers such as Plato (see Socratic dialogue) were written in the form of conversations between "characters" and are in this respect similar to closet drama, many of which feature little action but are often rich in philosophical rhetoric.[3]

Beginning with Friedrich von Schlegel, many have argued that the tragedies of Seneca the Younger in the first century AD were written to be recited at small parties rather than performed.[4] Although that theory has become widely pervasive in the history of theater, there is no evidence to support the contention that his plays were intended to be read or recited at small gatherings of the wealthy. The emperor Nero, a pupil of Seneca, may have performed in some of them. Some of the drama of the Middle Ages was of the closet-drama type, such as the drama of Hroswitha of Gandersheim and debate poems in quasi-dramatic form.[3]

Elizabethan and Jacobean

Fulke Greville, Samuel Daniel, Sir William Alexander, and Mary Sidney wrote closet dramas in the age of Shakespeare and Jonson.[5]

Between 1642 and 1660, the English government banned public performance. During this time, playreading became a "substitute" for playgoing. Thus, playwrights were moved to take on "propagandist aims" against parliament and topics beyond the theatre in their writing, meaning reading such work could be considered a revolutionary act. However, playwrights could write in relative security, protected by the anonymous means of print. Thomas Killigrew is an example of a stage playwright who turned to closet drama when his plays could no longer be produced during this period; he was in exile from England during the English Civil War.[6]

Following the Restoration in 1660, some authors continued to favour closet drama, proving that the form "served a cultural function distinct from that of commercial drama." [2] John Milton's play Samson Agonistes, written in 1671, is an example of early modern drama never intended for the stage.[4]

Nineteenth century

Several closet dramas in verse were written in Europe after 1800; these plays were by and large inspired by classical models. Faust, Part 1 and Faust, Part 2 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, among the most acclaimed pieces in the history of German literature, were written as closet dramas, though both plays have been frequently staged. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Alexander Pushkin devoted much time to the closet drama.

The popularity of closet drama at this time was both a sign of, and a reaction to, the decline of the verse tragedy on the European stage in the 1800s. Popular tastes in theater were shifting toward melodrama and comedy and there was little commercial appeal in staging verse tragedies (though Coleridge, Robert Browning, and others wrote verse dramas that were staged in commercial theaters). Playwrights who wanted to write verse tragedy had to resign themselves to writing for readers, rather than actors and audiences. Nineteenth-century closet drama became a longer poetic form, without the connection to practical theater and performance.

See also


  1. ^ Matthews, Brander (1908). "The Legitimacy of the Closet-Drama". The North American Review. 187 (627): 213–223. JSTOR 25106077.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Straznicky, Marta (2004). Privacy, playreading, and women's closet drama, 1500-1700. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Publishing. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-521-84124-5.
  3. ^ a b STRAZNICKY, Marta (1998). "Recent Studies in Closet Dramas". English Literary Renaissance. 28 (1): 142–160. JSTOR 43447570.
  4. ^ a b STRAZNICKY, Marta (1994). "Profane Stoical Paradoxes': 'The Tragedie of Mariam' and Sidnean Closet Drama". English Literary Renaissance. 24 (1): 104–134. JSTOR 43447747.
  5. ^ Randall, Dale J. B. Winter Fruit: English Drama 1642–1660. Lexington, KY, University Press of Kentucky, 1995.
  6. ^ Kennedy, Dennis. Theatre & Performance. Oxford University Press, 2003 p.282
1646 in Ireland

Events from the year 1646 in Ireland.


Antilabe (from the Greek: ἀντι "mutually" or "corresponding", λαβή, "grip" or "handle") is a rhetorical technique in verse drama or closet drama, in which a single verse line of dialogue is distributed on two or more characters, voices, or entities. The verse usually maintains its metric integrity, while the line fragments spoken by the characters may or may not be complete sentences. In the layout of the text the line fragments following the first one are often indented ("dropped line") to show the unity of the verse line.


Peace then. No words.CLITUS:

I'll rather kill myself.

These are three sentences spoken by two persons. But it is only one single line in blank verse:

Peace then. No words. I'll rather kill myself.

Cain (play)

Cain is a dramatic work by Lord Byron published in 1821. In Cain, Byron dramatizes the story of Cain and Abel from Cain's point of view. Cain is an example of the literary genre known as closet drama.

Cicilia and Clorinda

Cicilia and Clorinda, or Love in Arms is a 17th-century closet drama, a two-part, ten-Act tragicomedy by Thomas Killigrew. The work was composed in Italy c. 1650–51, and first published in 1664.

Closet (disambiguation)

A closet is a small, enclosed storage space, often used for clothes. Historically, the term referred to a small private room in a large house.

Closet may also refer to:

Various forms of toilet, notably:

Water closet (W.C.), another term for a flush toilet

Earth closet, one type of dry toilet

Pail closet, several types of dry toiletCloset drama, a play intended for reading rather than performing

Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind, 1980 spoof film

""Closet Clown / Seat to Stardom", an episode of Rocko's Modern Life

Closet screenplay

Related to closet drama, a closet screenplay is a screenplay intended not to be produced/performed but instead to be read by a solitary reader or, sometimes, out loud in a small group.

While any published, or simply read, screenplay might reasonably be considered a "closet screenplay," 20th- and 21st-century Japanese and Western writers have created a handful of film scripts expressly intended to be read rather than produced/performed. This class of prose fiction written in screenplay form is perhaps the most precise example of the closet screenplay.

This genre is sometimes referred to using a romanized Japanese neologism: "Lesescenario (レーゼシナリオ)" or, following Hepburn’s romanization of Japanese, sometimes “Rezeshinario.” A portmanteau of the German word Lesedrama ("read drama") and the English word scenario, this term simply means "closet scenario," or, by extension, "closet screenplay."


Delilah (; Hebrew: דלילה‎ (meaning "She dwindles") Dəlilah, Dəlila, Tiberian Hebrew Dəlilah; Arabic Dalilah; Greek Δαλιδά Dalida; meaning "faithless one") is a woman mentioned in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible.

She is loved by Samson, a Nazirite who possesses great strength and serves as the final Judge of Israel. Delilah is bribed by the lords of the Philistines to discover the source of his strength. After three failed attempts at doing so, she finally goads Samson into telling her that his vigor is derived from his hair. As he sleeps, Delilah orders a servant to cut Samson's hair, thereby enabling her to turn him over to the Philistines.

Delilah has been the subject of both rabbinic and Christian commentary; rabbinic literature identifies her with Micah's mother in the biblical narrative of Micah's Idol, while some Christians have compared her to Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus. Scholars have noted similarities between Delilah and other women in the Bible, such as Jael and Judith, and have discussed the question of whether the story of Samson's relationship with Delilah displays a negative attitude towards foreigners. Notable depictions of Delilah include John Milton's closet drama Samson Agonistes and Cecil B. DeMille's 1949 Hollywood film Samson and Delilah. Her name has become associated with treacherous and voluptuous women.

Jill Magid

Jill Magid (born 1973) is an American conceptual artist and writer. In Magid's work, she forms intimate relationships with systems of power, including police, secret service, CCTV and forensics, subverting these through seduction and embedding herself within them. Countering the wide-angle, depersonalizing operations of such entities, Magid seeks – in her own words – "the potential softness and intimacy of their technologies, the fallacy of their omniscient point of view, the ways in which they hold memory (yet often cease to remember), their engrained position in society (the cause of their invisibility), their authority, their apparent intangibility and, with all of this, their potential reversibility."

Johann Georg Faust

Johann Georg Faust (; c. 1480 or 1466 – c. 1541), also known in English as John Faustus , was an itinerant alchemist, astrologer and magician of the German Renaissance.

Doctor Faust became the subject of folk legend in the decades after his death, transmitted in chapbooks beginning in the 1580s, and was notably adapted by Christopher Marlowe in his play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (1604). The Faustbuch tradition survived throughout the early modern period, and the legend was again adapted in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's closet drama Faust (1808), and Hector Berlioz's musical composition La damnation de Faust (premiered 1846).

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe bibliography

The following is a list of the major publications of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). 142 volumes comprise the entirety of his literary output, ranging from the poetical to the philosophical, including 50 volumes of correspondence.

1771: "Heidenröslein" ("Heath Rosebud"), poem

1773: "Prometheus", poem

1773: Götz von Berlichingen, drama

1774: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther), novel

1774: "Der König in Thule", poem

1775: Stella, tragedy in five acts

1782: "Der Erlkönig" ("The Alder King"), poem

1787: Iphigenie auf Tauris (Iphigenia in Tauris), drama

1788: Egmont, drama

1790: Versuch die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklären (The Metamorphosis of Plants), scientific text

1790: Torquato Tasso, drama

1790: Römische Elegien (Roman Elegies), poetry collection

1793: Die Belagerung von Mainz, (The Siege of Mainz), non-fiction

1794: Reineke Fuchs, fable

1795: Das Märchen (The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily), fairy-tale

1794–95: Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten, novella, which also includes the fairy tale Das Märchen

1795–96 (in collaboration with Friedrich Schiller): Die Xenien (The Xenia), collection of epigrams

1796: Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship), novel

1797: "Der Zauberlehrling" (The Sorcerer's Apprentice), poem (which was later the basis of a symphonic poem by Paul Dukas, which in turn was animated by Disney in Fantasia)

1797: "Die Braut von Korinth" ("The Bride of Corinth"), poem

1798: Hermann und Dorothea (Hermann and Dorothea), epic poem

1798: Die Weissagungen des Bakis (The Soothsayings of Bakis)

1798/01: Propyläen, periodical

1799: " The First Walpurgis Night", poem

1803: Die Natürliche Tochter (The Natural Daughter), play originally intended as the first part of a trilogy on the French revolution

1805: "Winckelmann und sein Jahrhundert" ("Winckelmann and His Century")

1808: Faust Part One, closet drama

1809: Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities), novel

1810: Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colours), scientific text

1811–1830: Aus Meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (From my Life: Poetry and Truth) autobiographical work in 4 volumes

1813: "Gefunden" ("Found"), a poem

1817: Italienische Reise (Italian Journey), journals

1819: Westöstlicher Diwan, variously translated as The West-Eastern Divan, The Parliament of East and West, or otherwise; collection of poems in imitation of Sufi and other Muslim poetry, including that of Hafez.

1821: Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, oder Die Entsagenden (Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years, or the Renunciants/Wilhelm Meister's Travels), novel

1823: "Marienbad Elegy", poem

1828: Novella, novella

1832: Faust Part Two, closet drama

1836: Gespräche mit Goethe (Conversations with Goethe) also translated as: Conversations with Eckermann

Le Pape

Le Pape ("The Pope") was a political tract in verse by Victor Hugo, supporting Christianity but attacking the rigid organization of the Catholic Church. Although written in 1874-5, it was not published until 29 April 1878, two months after the beginning of the papacy of Leo XIII. Leo's predecessor, Pius IX, had revealed deep divisions in the Church with his definition of the dogma of papal infallibility in July 1870. Hugo had long disliked Pius because of his support for Napoleon III, commenting in his diary:

Pope Pius IX is simple, mild-mannered, timid, fearful, slow-moving, negligent of his person. He usually goes around with two or three days' growth of beard, which gives him a disreputable appearance. Like Charles X, he emits more smiles than words. You'd think he was a country curé. [...] Just at present, Pius IX is spending his time writing a book on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. [...] the immaculate conception of the Holy Virgin, grog with a pretty Englishwoman -- those are the things that occupy Pius IX in Rome and Louis Bonaparte in Paris. Those are the things that fill two brains on which the fate of Europe is hanging.

Pius IX was to place Les Misérables (1862) on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1864, where it remained until 1959. Notre Dame de Paris had been banned in 1834.

The work, a closet drama, depicts an unnamed pope falling asleep, and having a dream in which he participates in a pageant of scenes which represent generic situations in human history. Through a sequence of discussions and soliloquies, the Pope reevaluates his beliefs, and concludes by giving a speech in which condemns war and capital punishment, endorses the Republican ideals of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, and, in instructing the people to love one another, asserts that he abandons Rome for Jerusalem and Caesar for Christ.

The poem ends with an ironic envoi in which the Pope awakens and shakes off his momentary insight.


Manfred: A dramatic poem is a closet drama written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Gothic fiction.

Byron commenced this work in late 1816, only a few months after the famous ghost-story sessions with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley that provided the initial impetus for Frankenstein. The supernatural references are made clear throughout the poem.

Manfred was adapted musically by Robert Schumann in 1852, in a composition entitled Manfred: Dramatic Poem with Music in Three Parts, and later by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in his Manfred Symphony. Friedrich Nietzsche was inspired by the poem's depiction of a super-human being to compose a piano score in 1872 based on it, "Manfred Meditation".

Mary Sidney

Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (née Sidney; 27 October 1561 – 25 September 1621) was one of the first English women to achieve a major reputation for her poetry and literary patronage. By the age of 39, she was listed with her brother Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare as one of the notable authors of her time in the verse miscellany by John Bodenham, Belvedere. The influence of her Antonius is widely recognized: it stimulated a revived interest in the soliloquy based on classical models, and was a likely source (among others) for both the 1594 closet drama Cleopatra by Samuel Daniel and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1607). Sidney was also known for her translation of Petrarch's "Triumph of Death" (from Triumphs), but it is her lyric translation of the Psalms that has secured her poetic reputation.

Our Gang (novel)

Our Gang (1971) is Philip Roth's fifth novel. A marked departure from his previous book, the popular Portnoy's Complaint, Our Gang is a political satire written in the form of a closet drama. Centered on the character of "Trick E. Dixon", a caricature of then-President Richard Nixon, the book takes its cue from an actual quote from Nixon:

As the book is written entirely as dialogue, Roth uses stage directions, such as "impish endearing smile", when Dixon is talking.

Paradise Regained

Paradise Regained is a poem by English poet John Milton, first published in 1671. The volume in which it appeared also contained the poet's closet drama Samson Agonistes. Paradise Regained is connected by name to his earlier and more famous epic poem Paradise Lost, with which it shares similar theological themes; indeed, its title, its use of blank verse, and its progression through Christian history recall the earlier work. However, this effort deals primarily with the temptation of Christ as recounted in the Gospel of Luke.

An interesting anecdote recounted by a Quaker named Thomas Ellwood provides some insight into Paradise Regained's development. After studying Latin with Milton and reading the poet's epic Paradise Lost, Ellwood remarked, "Thou hast said much here of Paradise lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise found?" Hearing this, Milton at first "sat some time in a muse" before changing the subject; however, sometime thereafter he showed to Ellwood a new manuscript entitled Paradise Regained. Some maintain that although he seemed to express gratitude to Ellwood in a letter, Milton in truth "passed on a friendly if impish fabrication" that made Ellwood feel like the inspiration for the poem. Milton composed Paradise Regained at his cottage in Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire. The poem is four books long, in contrast with Paradise Lost's twelve; 2,065 lines long, while Paradise Lost comprises 10,565. As such, Barbara K. Lewalski has labelled the work a "brief epic".

Whereas Paradise Lost is ornate in style and decorative in its verse, Paradise Regained is carried out in a fairly plain style. Specifically, Milton reduces his use of simile and deploys a simpler syntax in Paradise Regained than he does in Paradise Lost, and this is consistent with Jesus's sublime plainness in his life and teachings (in the epic, he prefers Hebrew psalms to Greek poetry). Modern editors believe the stylistics of Paradise Regained evince Milton's poetic maturity. No longer is the poet out to dazzle his readers with bombastic verse and lengthy epic similes. This is not to say that the poem bears no affinities with Milton's earlier work, but scholars continue to agree with Northrop Frye's suggestion that Paradise Regained is "practically sui generis" in its poetic execution.

One major concept emphasized throughout Paradise Regained is the idea of reversals. As implied by its title, Milton sets out to reverse the "loss" of Paradise. Thus, antonyms are often found next to each other, reinforcing the idea that everything that was lost in the first epic will be regained by the end of this "brief epic". Additionally, the work focuses on the idea of "hunger", both in a literal and in a spiritual sense. After wandering in the wilderness for forty days, Jesus is starving for food. Satan, too blind to see any non-literal meanings of the term, offers Christ food and various other temptations, but Jesus continually denies him. Although Milton's Jesus is remarkably human, an exclusive focus on this dimension of his character obscures the divine stakes of Jesus's confrontation with Satan; Jesus emerges victorious, and Satan falls, amazed.


Samson (; שִׁמְשׁוֹן‬, Shimshon‎, "man of the sun") was the last of the judges of the ancient Israelites mentioned in the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible (chapters 13 to 16) and one of the last of the leaders who "judged" Israel before the institution of the monarchy. He is sometimes considered to be an Israelite version of the popular Near Eastern folk hero also embodied by the Sumerian Enkidu and the Greek Heracles.

The biblical account states that Samson was a Nazirite, and that he was given immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats, including slaying a lion with his bare hands and massacring an entire army of Philistines using only the jawbone of a donkey. However, if Samson's long hair was cut, then his Nazirite vow would be violated and he would lose his strength.Samson was betrayed by his lover Delilah, who ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping and turned him over to his Philistine enemies, who gouged out his eyes and forced him to grind grain in a mill at Gaza. When the Philistines took Samson into their temple of Dagon, Samson asked to rest against one of the support pillars; after being granted permission, he prayed to God and miraculously recovered his strength, allowing him to grasp hold of the columns and tear them down, killing himself and all the Philistines with him. In some Jewish traditions, Samson is believed to have been buried in Tel Tzora in Israel overlooking the Sorek valley.

Samson has been the subject of both rabbinic and Christian commentary, with some Christians viewing him as a type of Jesus, based on similarities between their lives. Notable depictions of Samson include John Milton's closet drama Samson Agonistes and Cecil B. DeMille's 1949 Hollywood film Samson and Delilah. Samson also plays a major role in Western art and traditions.

Samson Agonistes

Samson Agonistes (from Greek Σαμσών ἀγωνιστής, "Samson the champion") is a tragic closet drama by John Milton. It appeared with the publication of Milton's Paradise Regain'd in 1671, as the title page of that volume states: "Paradise Regained / A Poem / In IV Books / To Which Is Added / Samson Agonistes". It is generally thought that Samson Agonistes was begun around the same time as Paradise Regained but was completed after the larger work, possibly very close to the date of publishing, but there is no agreement on this.

Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery

Sodom is an obscene Restoration closet drama, published in 1684. The work has been attributed to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, though its authorship is disputed. Determining the date of composition and attribution are complicated owing mostly to misattribution of evidence for and against Rochester's authorship in Restoration and later texts.

Verse drama and dramatic verse

Verse drama is any drama written as verse to be spoken; another possible general term is poetic drama. For a very long period, verse drama was the dominant form of drama in Europe (and was also important in non-European cultures). Greek tragedy and Racine's plays are written in verse, as is almost all of Shakespeare's drama, Ben Jonson, John Fletcher and others like Goethe's Faust.

Verse drama is particularly associated with the seriousness of tragedy, providing an artistic reason to write in this form, as well as the practical one that verse lines are easier for the actors to memorize exactly. In the second half of the twentieth century verse drama fell almost completely out of fashion with dramatists writing in English (the plays of Christopher Fry and T. S. Eliot being possibly the end of a long tradition).

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