Alien nation: David Hare's history plays
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis will examine seven plays by David Hare, which together constitute a social history of Britain since the Second World War. Hare's main project is to demonstrate to the members of his audience, most of whom will be "middle class", that they are psychologically damaged by the capitalist-patriarchal system. The ideological fictions which have evolved to justify the existing structure of society and to discourage the oppressed from challenging that structure create psychological contradictions which cannot be resolved without radical social change. The middle classes are suffering from alienation no less than the oppressed, even though they may not be aware of it, and the loss of their privileged economic and political positions would be a small price to pay for the greater happiness which would accompany the removal of these contradictions. The history plays are therefore an attempt to create a counter-hegemony, by undermining established myths about the nature of contemporary British society. Chapter 1 provides brief accounts of British political theatre since the 1960s and the origins of Western Marxism. It also introduces the Marxist concepts of alienation, ideology and hegemony (in particular, the theories of Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse), relating them to the oppression of women as well as the oppression of classes. Chapters 2-8 examine the plays separately in the light of these concepts, with different emphases determined by the content of the plays. Specific issues which are examined in these chapters include the loss of individuality in contemporary capitalism, and the stultifying effects of certain current myths - about the transcendent power of romantic love, the liberating force of the sexual act, the social revolution which took place during World War Two and the alleged benevolence and contentment of the 1950s. Chapter 9 provides some brief comments on political theatre in general, and realist political theatre in particular, and considers how far the intentions of the playwright may be sabotaged by theatrical conventions and the preconceptions of the audience.