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This report is taken from PN Review 92, Volume 19 Number 6, July - August 1993.

Speaking of Drama, PEN International Writers Day Nicolas Tredell
PEN INTERNATIONAL WRITERS DAY, 27 MARCH 1993

The circular chamber of Church House, Westminster which, not so many months ago, was the setting for the real-life drama of the Church of England General Synod debate on women priests became, for the PEN Writers' Day, the arena in which the topic of language in 20th century drama was explored. The morning lectures were delivered by two figures who have made major contributions to modern theatre, as playwright and director respectively - Arthur Miller and Sir Peter Hall. Both speakers stressed the importance of language in drama.

Miller - still, at 77, a powerful, wryly assured figure - offered a fascinating, shrewd, sometimes folksy and humorous talk. Recalling the old joke about the man who went to see a Shakespeare play for the first time and was disappointed to find that all it seemed to be was a lot of quotations, Miller suggested that memorable quotations from 20th century English language plays were pretty difficult to recall. The rhetorical impulse had been quietened down and the skin of language pulled tight around the bones of the action. There was an emphasis on other elements of drama or of theatrical production itself, such as characters, moods, situations, themes, mise-en-scene.

The subduing of the rhetorical impulse had not been universal, of course. Miller pointed to a line of Irish and/or comic playwrights who had been, in their different ways, 'language freaks': for instance, Wilde, Shaw, Coward, Orton. In American drama, Miller instanced Clifford Odets's obsession with words, ...


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