The National Drama

An extract from Barbara Bell’s article, ‘The National Drama’, published in Theatre Research International, Volume 17, Issue 2, Summer 1992, pages 96-108, and published online by Cambridge University Press in 2009, describes it as:

“… a nineteenth-century dramatic genre unique to Scotland, dealing with Scottish characters in Scottish settings. It has been neglected this century by scholars of theatre and of Scottish history in general. This is a curious oversight given the importance of the National Drama in the development of the Scottish theatre and to the image of Scotland as a nation at home and abroad. The omission may have been the result of a too close association with Sir Walter Scott in the minds of many for whom the phrase ‘High Tory Romanticism’ summed up Scott’s career and influence. But, the National Drama is worthy of fresh consideration because, although it is true that dramatizations of some of Scott’s Scottish works formed the core of the national repertoire, the National Drama comprised a wide variety of pieces from a range of sources and its influence over the Scottish theatre was considerable.”

In A History of Scottish Theatre, edited by Bill Findlay, 1998, Barbara Bell states in Chapter Three, ‘The Nineteenth Century’, page 143:

The progress of the National Drama can be viewed in four periods:

1. 1800-1817  The restricted eighteenth-century repertoire was repeated with slight variations in the form of the works of Joanna Baillie and adaptations of poems such as Scott’s The Lady of the Lake.

2. 1817-1835  The first wave of popularity of adaptations of Scott’s Waverley Novels brought about a huge upsurge in the writing and performance of national plays.

3. 1835-1860  The National Drama established a unique niche in the Scottish theatre. Around 1850 the major theatres began to restrict and specialise their use of the National Drama.

4. 1860-1900 A split appeared in the kind of treatment accorded the National Drama in the major theatres as against on the popular stage.