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Contemporary gay drama: the end of a modern crusade?

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Keywords
  • Pn56 Themes And Subjects In Literature
  • Pn2181 Modern
Disciplines
  • Medicine

Abstract

This study examines changes in representation of dissident male sexualities in twentieth century British and American theatre, from early attempts to depict the homosexual as a distinct identity to more recent depictions of sexual dissidence which threaten the traditional boundaries of the gay/straight dichotomy. It relates a selection of plays to thought and to later theories of postmodern sexuality. It examines commentaries of contemporary critics of gay theatre, and takes reference from interviews conducted with the playwrights Neil Bartlett, Kevin Elyot and Michael Wilcox. Examination of the earlier plays reveals a range of strategies employed by playwrights who attempted to represent the homosexual identity, despite censorship. This study describes how pseudo-medical/scientific constructs of sexual ‘otherness’ established heterosexual normativity and how those constructs influenced theatrical representations of homosexuals. It shows how contemporary commentators have criticised these plays, applying a critique that fails to take into account the social context in which they were written. After the relaxation of censorship, the more overt characterisations of homosexuals created in the I 970s and 1 980s by Gay Sweatshop and playwrights concerned with the issue of AIDS often served to confirm rather than challenge concepts of sexual ‘otherness’. The second half of the thesis considers the work of British playwrights Kevin Elyot, Jonathan Harvey and Mark Ravenhill, identifying aspects of their work which reflect changing attitudes to sexuality. While some of these plays are influenced by postmodern concepts of diverse sexualities and the relationship between sex and consumerism, others continue to reinforce traditional stereotypes of the homosexual as a distinct entity confined within the gay/straight binary. This thesis concludes that personal narratives of sexual identity in contemporary drama, which transgress the heterosexual hegemony (notably those found in the plays of Mark Ravenhill), are beginning to usurp the modern grand narrative of gay emancipation

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