Chapter 7 American Drama
I. Brief Introduction
1. 17th century
l Ye Bare and Ye Cubb (1665) by William Darby
2. 18th century
l American subjects began to be treated seriously. The first tragedy is The Contrast (1787) by Royal Tyler. It is considered “typical American play” about American soldiers.
3. 19th century
l poetical plays, esp in the first half of a group of playwrights
l after civil war: realism, melodrama, emotional incidents (domestic melodrama), with simple plots
4. 20th century
separation from the old tradition
l 1920s: “Little Theatre Movement” began after 1912, Washington Square Players, Provincetown Players (New York City, Greenage Village). They are freed from the conventional theatre and can be as experimental as they like.
l 1930s: Eugene O’Neil, Clifford Odets
l Post-war: second climax of American drama, Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman
l 60s: Theatre of the Absurd, Edward Albee
II. Eugene O’Neil
2. works (来源：www.EnglishCN.com)
(1) Bound East for Cardiff
(2) Beyond the Horizon
(3) The Emperor Jones
(4) The Hairy Ape
(5) Desire under the Elms
(6) The Iceman Cometh
(7) Long Day’s Journey into Night
3. point of view
His purpose is to get the root of human desires and frustrations. He showed most characters in his plays as seeking meaning and purpose in their lives, some through love, some through religion, some through revenge, all met disappointment. The characters seem to share O’Neil’s perplexities of human nature. As a result of his tragic and nihilistic view of life, his works, in general, indicated chaos and hopelessness.
4. The Hairy Ape
(1) O’Neil was a tireless experimentalist in dramatic art. He paid little attention to the division of scenes. He introduced the realistic or even the naturalistic into the American theatre.
(2) He borrowed freely from the best traditions of European drama, especially the stream of consciousness.
(3) He made use of setting and stage property to help in his dramatic representation.
(4) He wrote long introduction and directions for all the scenes, explaining the mood and atmosphere.
(5) He sometimes wrote the actors’ lines in dialect.
6. His position
He was the first playwright to explore serious themes in theatre. With him, American drama developed into a form of literature. And in him, American drama came of age (mature). He came only after Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw in the world of drama.
III. Tennessee Williams
2. point of view and themes
He writes about violence, sex, homosexuality (taboos in drama). Some of his plays rooted in southern social scene. The characters are often unhappy wanderers; lonely, vulnerable women indulged in memory of the past or illusion of the future. He was attracted to bizarre characters and their predicament. He looked deeply into the psychology of the outcasts of society. He saw life a game which cannot be won. Almost all his characters are defeated.
3. his plays
(1) The Glass Menagerie
(2) A Streetcar Named Desire
(3) Summer and Smoke
(4) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
(1) combination of coarseness and poetry
(2) vivid southern speech
(3) He helped to break taboos, long imposed on the American literature.
IV. Arthur Miller
2. theme: dilemma of modern man in relation to family and work
3. his plays
(1) The Man Who Had All the Luck
(2) All My Sons
(3) Death of a Salesman
(4) The Crucible
(5) A View for the Bridge
V. Theatre of the Absurd
1. introduction: existentialist philosophy, mainly in Europe
2. four founders: Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov
3. What is “absurd”?
Humorous and meaningless
(1) The basic assumption: human life lacks coherence and is chaotic. Life operates without any rules.
(2) The world is meaningless, so the play appears meaningless.
(3) It examines the problems of life and death, of isolation and communication.
(4) It satirizes people who are unaware of the ultimate reality (death).
(5) In absurd drama, situation is more important than characters and events. The dramatist wants to show people what their situation in their life is. Therefore, he constructs a play which presents a picture of the universal situation. One result of these is that the characters are often comic and humorous.
5. Edward Albee
a. Zoo Story
b. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?