Survival of the dispossessed: a study of seven Athol Fugard plays.

Shelley, A., 2005. Survival of the dispossessed: a study of seven Athol Fugard plays. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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With Wole Soyinka as his only possible rival, Athol Fugard is the best known African playwright. However, where the Nigerian is actively involved in politics - he has in the past been imprisoned as a result of this involvement, and as recently as June 2005 a rally was held in Ibadan, backed by Soyinka, to promote a conference to end ethnic and political violence in Nigeria - Fugard's politics are to be found in his texts rather than his actions. Fugard, who was born on a farm near the South African Karoo village of Middleburg, has had a most distinguished career as playwright, director and actor, and at the age of seventy three, he is still writing. For the general public he is more likely to be remembered for his role as General Smuts in the Richard Attenborough film, Gandhi, but his most substantial acting performances came when he starred in some of his earliest plays, notably Blood Knot and Boesman and Lena. This thesis does not concern itself with his career as an actor or a director or even with Fugard as playwright per se, but rather with a set of texts and the South African politics within them.

It was reported in 1992 that after Shakespeare, Fugard was then the most performed playwright in the USA, but compared to the continuous stream of Shakespearian research, the analyses of the works of the South African dramatist are limited in the extreme and, where scholarly research has been undertaken, it has almost never seen these plays as thoroughly political in their own right. This may arise because all of Fugard's plays are small-scale intimate domestic dramas concerned with the personal, but to ignore their profound political dimension is to ignore ways in which the 'personal is political', and it is that important intersection - the personal in/as the political - which this thesis sets out to analyse. The research into these texts, and the social and political history that informs them, is used to demonstrate how this focus on the politics in these plays, whether conscious or unconscious, results in an analysis that provides a new interpretation of some of the most important political drama of the 20th Century.

The introductory chapter includes some description of the dispossessions suffered by the majority of South Africans during the apartheid era, extending from such basic rights as land ownership and freedom of movement to a respect for human dignity, while the politics at the core of these dispossessions are reflected in all of the seven Fugard plays analysed in this thesis. In these works the characters represent a cross-section of South African society, from the Afrikaner with an impeccable background and two white women of English origin, through to the black men incarcerated on Robben Island and the homeless Coloured couple, made homeless by the poverty resulting from apartheid. Each of the plays painstakingly and painfully exposes, within the ordinary lives of Fugard's people, different aspects of the politics of life in South Africa and the strategies for attempting to survive those politics.

The thesis concludes with a comparison between the oppression revealed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and that so evocatively presented in these dramas, together with a projection of the survivals that occur in the examples of witness presented to the Commission and those that are explicated from the Fugard texts.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Shelley, A.
Date: 2005
ISBN: 9781369316452
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Jeremy Silvester
Date Added: 25 Sep 2020 14:59
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2023 12:56

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