Community and Conflict: A Practitioner’s Perspective on Verse Drama

O'Brien, Richard (2018) Community and Conflict: A Practitioner’s Perspective on Verse Drama. Connotations, 27. pp. 120-154. ISSN 2626-8183

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When I started writing plays in iambic pentameter, my self-interrogations inevitably returned to questions of politics, ethics and power. There has undeniably been a historical association between verse drama and elitism. Anthony Easthope sees iambic pentameter as the voice of ‘solid institutional continuity’ — a ‘hegemonic form’ implicitly confirming cultural norms. In Sara Ahmed’s terms, a contemporary verse play by a white, male, middle-class subject risks being solely ‘citational-relational’ to other such plays and subjects. What, then, is my own complicity in choosing these particular formal restrictions? In what ways can my chosen way of writing — structured, metred verse — engage with power without merely endorsing or replicating it?In this paper, I will argue for how the pentameter form can allow for and facilitate a challenge to such positions. The inherent polyphony of a playscript challenges the singular: although in metrical terms, everyone is speaking the same language, the creation of a shared baseline permits individuality and resistance to stand out more starkly in variation. As such, shared-metre verse worlds have served me as an appropriate canvas to explore shifting tensions between the community and the individual, who might appear as a rebel against unquestioned institutional norms or as a threatening outsider to a self-sustaining system. I argue that by writing characters who follow or subvert metre — who are in or out of line — or who steal lines from others, I can stage conflicts over authority, control, freedom and restraint at the microcosmic level of the line.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Q200 Comparative Literary studies
Q300 English studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
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Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2020 11:26
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 14:03

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