Books  General Natural History  Literary & Media Studies 

Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett

By: Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (Author)

384 pages, 6 b/w illustrations

Columbia University Press

Hardback | Mar 2015 | #219644 | ISBN-13: 9780231164702
Availability: Usually dispatched within 48 hours
NHBS Price: £34.50 $42/€39 approx

About this book

As early as the 1840s, playwrights incorporated evolutionary theory into their work, reacting to a scientific advancement that changed the world. Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett follows evolutionary theory in mainstream European and American drama and other theatrical entertainments, including circus, pantomime, and the "missing link" show. It writes female playwrights into the theatrical record, as they explored biological determinism, gender essentialism, the maternal instinct, and the "cult of motherhood" in their work.

"Shepherd-Barr's knowledge of the theater and of theater history is striking. This is manifestly original, deep scholarship."
– Christopher Collins, author of Paleopoetics: The Evolution of the Preliterate Imagination

"Dr. Shepherd-Barr is the perfect person to write a book on theater and evolution, a long-overdue topic given the lively debate that has sprung up around the novel and evolution. Her chapters on Ibsen and Shaw are masterful, easily the best writing on these two important playwrights in recent years."
– Martin Puchner, Harvard University

"Kirsten Shepherd-Barr is one of very few scholars equipped to do authoritative cultural history in this area. She offers new and original perspectives even on such figures as Ibsen, Shaw and Beckett, each of whom has spawned a field of critical literature in their own right. This is a distinctive and significant contribution to the field, and a work of high quality intellectual engagement. The scholarship is substantial, and the writing so lucid and well paced the whole book is a pleasure to read."
– Jane Goodall, author of Performance and Evolution in the Age of Darwin



1. "I'm Evolving!": Birds, Beasts, and Parodies
2. Confronting the Serious Side
3. "On the Contrary!": Ibsen's Evolutionary Vision
4. "Ugly... but Irresistible": Maternal Instinct on Stage
5. Edwardians and Eugenicists
6. Reproductive Issues
7. Midcentury American Engagements with Evolution
8. Beckett's "Old Muckball"

Epilogue: Staging the Anthropocene

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Kirsten Shepherd-Barr is on the faculty of English at the University of Oxford and is a fellow of St. Catherine's College, Oxford.

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