Problem Play

The problem play, or play of ideas, contains strong characterisation and topical social issues. The genre is typically thought to have emerged with some of the works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in the late 1800s, such as A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1882) and An Enemy of the People (1882). These realistic social dramas frankly portrayed current social issues on stage. Some scholars have loosely characterised a small number of Shakespearean dramas as problem plays, including Troilus and Cressida (1602), Measure for Measure (1603) and All’s Well That Ends Well (1623).

Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on the problem play.

Only in the problem play is there any real drama, because drama is no mere setting up of the camera to nature: it is the presentation in parable of the conflict between Man’s will and his environment: in a word, of problem.

George Bernard Shaw.

Interesting article exploring the similarity in dramatic form and structure between the well-made play and the problem play.

Discussion about the origins of the term “problem play” and how this Ibsenian model was retrospectively applied to several of Shakespeare’s dramas.

Useful article for students of theatre as to why Shakespeare’s problem plays are labelled as such?

Wikipedia entry on the Shakespearean problem play.

Wikipedia entry on the problem play.

Academic discussion of some of the characteristics of Shakespeare’s problem plays.