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Louis Nowra Cosi Essay Definition

Lewis Nowra’s semi autobiographical play ‘Cosi’ is a touching yet biting portrayal of human relationships in a Melbourne mental institute, where the patients are astracised by society. Throughout the play Lewis Nowra illustrates each and every character that suffers with a mental illness as normal people with a desire to do or think things different to others from the society of the 1970s. Throughout the play Nowra poses a question, can anybody be classified as insane?

When there is insanity all around us. The play they are to perform ‘Cosi fan Tutte’ is a play about love and fidelity which becomes a topic of disagreement of the cast. Act 1 Scene 3 addresses love and fidelity & Confusion with reality & illusion With Nowra’s intelligent use of dramatic techniques such as Characterization, Dialogue & Symbolism to present his central ideas within ‘Cosi’. ‘Cosi’ is a dramatic play written by Lewis Nowra, which is set in the early 1970s in the midst of the Vietnam War.

The inmates in the asylum are to performance of Mozart’s opera ‘Cosi fan Tutte’ as a therapeutic technique to the patients and is directed by an insecure university graduate Lewis, who brings the patients together and becomes as involved into the play as every other member of the cast and gets labelled as ‘one of them’ by society outside the asylum. In act 1 scene 3 moments after the toilets in the theatre have been a result of Doug’s pyromaniac problem.

The cast re assemble and continue on with the play, during the play Ruth is confused between reality & illusion and the number of steps she needs to take in each scene “I was wondering where you wanted me to walk and how many steps? ” Nowra canvases Ruth’s confusion between reality and illusion through to the audience with the use of characterization, amplifying Ruth’s obsessive disorder through to us the audience in a way where we get a sense of understanding on the obsessive-ness in Ruth’s character and her disorder. The theme of love and fidelity demonstrates individual’s ideas throughout the play ‘Cosi’.

Notably we see Nowra canvas the idea of love & fidelity through dramatic techniques within each characters dialogue & characterization such as Lewis, Lucy, Julie, Nick & Roy. Lewis’s changing attitude towards love throughout the play becomes a pivotal turning point for Lewis & Lucy’s relationship. As time goes on we definitely see Lewis becoming more compassionate and warm and Lucy showing her true colours towards their relationship. Lucy without a doubt becomes somewhat shallow and expresses that she sees love as out dated and unimportant in modern day society.

Julie questions Lewis on his relationship with Lucy “You two are into free love? ” “Does she play around? ” “You trust her? ”, Julie thinks against love & fidelity and thinks men are useless referring to her knowledge learnt from studying Mozart’s ‘Cosi fan Tutte’. Lewis’s thoughts of love and fidelity are antithetical of his actions with Julie later in the play, to have love we must trust. Throughout Act 1 scene 3 in ‘Cosi’ Lewis Nowra canvases symbols within many factors. A large factor produced as a symbol through the whole play is the burnt out theatre which they rehearse in.

This theatre is a symbol of them escaping the reality in which the patients & Lewis are as equal to each other. Society outside the asylum portrays Lewis as ‘insane’ for working with ‘mad people’. The burnt texture of the theatre is also a symbol for the patient’s reality as being excluded from reality as being excluded from reality outside the asylum “Cosi allows you a chance to do something successful at least once in your dismal life” Roy ironically says to Henry whose life if not much different to his own, but society still labels them as ‘insane’.

The coffee mugs in which Ruth and Julie are to use as props in the play is a symbolic technique Nowra applied, “I can live with illusion as long as I know its illusion, but this coffee is not real, is it? ” Ruth’s confusion and reality is illustrated within the coffee as being coffee cups with no coffee is also a metaphor for the patients in the mental asylum, “An illusion of reality”.

Lewis Nowra not only wrote a play containing aspects such as love & fidelity & illusion vs. eality but through the use of dramatic techniques like characterization, dialogue & symbolism throughout characters such as Lewis, Julie, Roy, Lucy & Nick in act 1 scene 3 and the rest of the play, but to give the audience a broader understanding on the plays meaning, but we also question although the play was set in the 70s, this era was experimental with ‘free love’ the reality is without fidelity, love is anything but a meaning. We still hold old fashioned values about love.

The aspect the audience gain from another message from Nowra’s ideas expressed throughout the text & dramatic techniques is the frequently noticeable question, are the people in the asylum really mad? When there is insanity all around us. Society labels these people as ‘insane’ when they are no different to each and every one of us, only with different desires to some. The only people who should be classified “insane” are those who classify insaneness in another.

Louis Nowra
Born(1950-12-12) 12 December 1950 (age 67)
OccupationPlaywright, screenwriter, librettist, author
GenreTheatre, screenwriting

Louis Nowra (born 12 December 1950) is an Australian writer, playwright, screenwriter and librettist.

He is best known as one of Australia's leading playwrights. His works have been performed by all of Australia's major theatre companies, including Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre Company, State Theatre Company of South Australia, Belvoir, and many others, and have also had many international productions. His most significant plays[1] are Così, Radiance (both of which he turned into films), Byzantine Flowers, Summer of the Aliens and The Golden Age. In 2006 he completed The Boyce Trilogy for Griffin Theatre Company, consisting of The Woman with Dog's Eyes, The Marvellous Boy and The Emperor of Sydney.

His 2009 novel Ice was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. His script for 1996 movie Cosi, which revolves around a group of mentally ill patients who put on a play, won the Australian Film Institute Award that year for Best Adapted Screenplay. Nowra's work as a scriptwriter also includes a credit on the comedy The Matchmaker and the Vincent Ward romance Map of the Human Heart, which was invited to the Cannes Film Festival.

His radio plays include Albert Names Edward, The Song Room, The Widows and the five part The Divine Hammer, which aired on the ABC in 2003.[2]

He has written two memoirs, The Twelfth of Never (1999) and Shooting the Moon (2004). In March 2007, Nowra published a controversial book on violence in Aboriginal communities, Bad Dreaming. He was also one of the principal writers for the multi award-winning 2008 SBS TV series, First Australians.

Nowra is also a cultural commentator, with essays and commentary appearing regularly in The Monthly and the Australian Literary Review as well as major newspapers. He has been married three times, and has also had homosexual periods.


Nowra was born Mark Doyle[3] in Melbourne, to the second of his mother's three husbands. His birthdays were never celebrated with parties when he was growing up, and he could never quite understand why. His mother told him as a boy that he would hear stories about her having killed a man, but he was not to believe any version but her own, which she would not reveal until his 21st birthday. His sister later told him that their mother had killed her own father, their grandfather. On his 21st birthday, 12 December 1971, his mother confirmed this, and revealed that it had occurred on 12 December 1945, exactly five years before he was born, which was why there were no celebrations of his own birthday. His mother was charged with murder but acquitted on the ground of extreme provocation after years of alcohol-fuelled violence. She in turn was abusive towards her own son, often telling him he was stupid and worthless, making him walk down the street in his sister's dresses as a punishment, and telling him he was "behind the door when looks were given out".[4] His father was also abusive when he was around, but he was an interstate truck driver who was not often home. His mother has not seen, heard or read any of his work, and he has had almost no contact with her since he left Melbourne. He has had no contact with his father at all.[5] He developed an early love of theatre through his uncle Bob Herbert (or Bob Herbert-Hay), a stage manager for J. C. Williamson's productions.[3]

In his early teens he realised he was bisexual. In early adulthood he had a series of same-sex encounters.

In the early 1970s he walked out of his Australian literature studies at Melbourne's La Trobe University. The subject of a tutorial was Patrick White's novel The Tree of Man. Nowra stood up, said he thought it was dreadful, walked out and never returned to finish his degree.[6]

He later had a difficult personal relationship with Patrick White. White championed Nowra's early work (Visions, Inside the Island), even taking out a paid advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald when they refused to publish his letter admonishing the theatre critic H. G. Kippax, who had been negative about the plays. But Nowra never liked White's work.[6] White could also be very negative about Nowra. He attended the premiere of Nowra's translation of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, but left the auditorium before the start because he thought, sight unseen, it would be uninteresting. His partner Manoly Lascaris refused to leave, so White sat out the performance in the foyer.

Nowra had a similarly challenging relationship with the actress Judy Davis, who appeared in some of his plays. Nowra considered both White and Davis had personalities that combined self-loathing, narcissism, ruthlessness and haughty egos.[6][7]

His first plays were written at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne in 1973.[3] Soon after abandoning his university degree, he got into his car one day and decided to drive north, as far away from his parents as possible, but without any clear destination. He reached the NSW coastal town of Nowra, when his car broke down. He had already decided to abandon his birth name, and chose Nowra because of this enforced stop.[4] He worked in several jobs and lived an itinerant lifestyle until the mid-1970s, when his plays began to attract attention. Since this time he has lived in Sydney, mainly in Kings Cross.

In late 1974 he married the composer Sarah de Jong;[8] they co-wrote some of the music for his stage works.[3] In 1976 they lived in Munich, Germany for six months.[8] They divorced ten years later, after he had an affair with her best female friend. He also used de Jong's father's suicide when she was 7 years old, as material for his 1982 play Spellbound, in which the main character is in an unhappy marriage and drowns herself in the same river as de Jong's father did. He did not advise her he was using this story, and when she found out, she felt unable to forgive him.[4] During his marriage to de Jong, he was resident playwright of the Sydney Theatre Company in 1979–1980, and Associate Director at Adelaide's Lighthouse Theatre in 1982–1983.[3]

He returned to a gay lifestyle for some time, before marrying his second wife, television presenter Gerri Williams, at the Soho Bar in Kings Cross, in early 1997. It was attended by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.[4] He married his third and current wife, the author Mandy Sayer, in 2003. They had worked together when they co-edited the anthology In the Gutter ... Looking at the Stars in 2000. They have separate homes not far from each other, in which their daytime writing activities are conducted, and they come together in the evening.[9][10] In February 2014 they were named joint holders of the 2014 Copyright Agency Non-Fiction Writer-in-Residence at the University of Technology, Sydney.[11]

Nowra's plays are studied in Veronica Kelly's work The Theatre of Louis Nowra.




  • Kiss The One-Eyed Priest (1973)
  • Death of Joe Orton (1974)
  • Inner Voices (Currency Press, 1977)
  • The Lady of the Camellias (1979)
  • Visions (Currency Press, 1979)
  • Beauty and the Beast (1980)
  • Cyrano De Bergerac (1980; translation of Edmond Rostand's French play)
  • Inside The Island (Currency Press, 1981)
  • The Precious Woman (Currency Press, 1981)
  • Lulu (1981)
  • The Prince of Homburg (1982)
  • Royal Show (1982)
  • Spellbound (1982)
  • Sunrise (Currency Press, 1983)
  • Albert Names Edward (Currency Press, 1983)
  • The Golden Age (Currency Press, 1985)
  • The Song Room (Editions Rodopi, 1987)
  • Capricornia (Currency Press, 1988; adapted from Xavier Herbert's novel)
  • Byzantine Flowers (1989)
  • Watchtower (1990)
  • Summer of the Aliens (Currency Press, 1992)
  • Così (Currency Press, 1992)
  • Radiance (1993)
  • The Temple (1993)
  • Crow (1994)
  • Incorruptible (Currency Press, 1995)
  • Jungle (1995)
  • Miss Bosnia (1995)
  • Language of the Gods (Currency Press, 1999)
  • Beatrice (2003)
  • Devil Is A Woman (2004)
  • Boyce Trilogy:
  • Page 8 (2006)

Non-fiction writing[edit]

  • The Cheated (Angus & Robertson, Australia, 1979)
  • Warne's World (Duffy & Snellgrove, Australia, 2002)
  • Bad Dreaming (Pluto Press, Australia, 2007)
  • Kings Cross: A Biography (NewSouth Publishing, Australia, 2013)
  • Woolloomooloo: A Biography (NewSouth Publishing, Australia, 2017)


  • The Misery of Beauty (Angus & Robertson, Australia, 1976)
  • Palu (Picador, Australia, 1987)
  • Red Nights (Picador, Australia, 1997)
  • Abaza (Picador, Australia, 2001)
  • Ice (Allen & Unwin, 2008)
  • Into That Forest (Allen & Unwin, 2012)





  • In the Gutter ... Looking at the Stars: A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross (2000; ed. Louis Nowra, Mandy Sayer)


Nowra has also published a number of essays:[12]

  • "Nowhere Near Hollywood: Australian Film". , The Monthly, December 2009 – January 2010, pp. 44–52.
  • "The Whirling Dervish: Tony Abbott". ,The Monthly, February 2010, pp. 22–29
  • "The Better Self?: Germaine Greer and the Female Eunuch". , The Monthly, March 2010, pp. 40–46.


  1. ^"Plays by Louis Nowra". The Playwrights Database. Retrieved 25 June 2008. 
  2. ^ abUlman, Jane. "The Divine Hammer: Episode 5: The Bar of Crocodiles". ABC Radio National. Retrieved 30 June 2008. 
  3. ^ abcdeNational Library of Australia. Guide to the Papers of Louis Nowra, MS 10042. Retrieved 26 April 2014
  4. ^ abcdBurke, Kelly, "That was then, this is Nowra", Sydney Morning Herald, 13 November 1999, Spectrum, p. 3s
  5. ^Graeme Blundell, "Secrets and ties", The Weekend Australian, 6–7 November 1999, Review, p. 10
  6. ^ abc"Louis Nowra: Patrick, Judy and me", edited extract from Shooting the Moon, Weekend Australian magazine, 24–25 July 2004, pp.18–21
  7. ^Albert, Jane, "Nowra plays with Davis fire", Weekend Australian, 24–25 July 2004, The Nation, p. 3
  8. ^ abKelly, Victoria, ed. Louis Nowra, p. 41. Retrieved 26 April 2014
  9. ^Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 2004. "Under the covers". Retrieved 26 April 2014
  10. ^Maley, Jacqueline, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 2014. "Two Lives". Retrieved 26 April 2014
  11. ^UTS Newsroom, 21 February 2014. "Leading literary duo appointed to UTS residency". Retrieved 26 April 2014
  12. ^ ab"Guide to the Papers of Louis Nowra, MS 10042". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 30 June 2008. 
  13. ^"Awards for Cosi (1996)". IMDb. Retrieved 30 June 2008. 

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