Sie sind auf Seite 1von 316

Robert Cardullo

Play Analysis: A Reader

Robert Cardullo

Play Analysis: A Reader

ibidem-Verlag
Stuttgart

Bibliografische Information der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek


Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der
Deutschen Nationalbibliografie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im
Internet ber http://dnb.d-nb.de abrufbar.
Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek
Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie;
detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de.

Gedruckt auf alterungsbestndigem, surefreien Papier


Printed on acid-free paper
ISBN-13: 978-3-8382-0838-1
ibidem-Verlag

Stuttgart 2016
Alle Rechte vorbehalten
Das Werk einschlielich aller seiner Teile ist urheberrechtlich geschtzt. Jede Verwertung
auerhalb der engen Grenzen des Urheberrechtsgesetzes ist ohne Zustimmung des Verlages
unzulssig und strafbar. Dies gilt insbesondere fr Vervielfltigungen,
bersetzungen, Mikroverfilmungen und elektronische Speicherformen sowie die
Einspeicherung und Verarbeitung in elektronischen Systemen.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval
system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act
in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

Printed in Germany

Table of Contents
Table of Contents.................................................................................... 5
Introduction ............................................................................................ 9
A Step-by-Step Approach to Play Analysis ........................................ 21
I. Analysis of Plot and Action ............................................................ 21
II. Analysis of Character.................................................................... 22
III. Analysis of Language ................................................................... 23
IV. General ........................................................................................ 26
MODEL ESSAYS:
PLOT AND ACTION, OR FORM AND STRUCTURE .................. 29
Key Analytical Question: What type of structure does a particular
play have, and how does this structure help to express the dramatist's
meaning?
In the End Is the Beginning:
The Conclusion of Odets's Awake and Sing!................................... 29
Dreams of Journey: O'Neill's
Long Day's Journey into Night ........................................................ 33
Scene 11 of Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire ........................ 36
The Ending of Behan's The Hostage ............................................. 42
Time and Mystery in Fugard's
People Are Living There ................................................................. 45
Appearance and Essence in Kaiser's
From Morn to Midnight................................................................... 48
The Nightmarish Quality of Pinter's
The Homecoming and Albee's A Delicate Balance ......................... 53
Pinter's Betrayal: Play and Film ................................................... 56

MODEL ESSAYS: CHARACTER AND ROLE ............................... 63


Key Analytical Question: What is the dramatic function of a
particular character: why is this character in the play, and what does
he or she contribute to the development of its theme?
The Chorus in Greek Tragedy . . . and Beyond, with Special
Reference to Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos ..................................... 63
Friar Laurence in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet ...................... 68
The Fate of Jessica in Shakespeare's
The Merchant of Venice .................................................................. 71
The Pious Peacockery of Johnny Boyle in
O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock...................................................... 76
The Jew That Miller Drew: Religion, Ethnicity,
and Miller's Death of a Salesman .................................................... 81
Nick in Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ......................... 86
Uncle Sam in Pinter's The Homecoming ...................................... 88
The Ghost in Bond's Lear .............................................................. 90
MODEL ESSAYS: STYLE AND GENRE ......................................... 95
Key Analytical Question: What is the style or genre of a particular
play, and why did the playwright use such a style or genre to express
the theme?
Futurism and O'Neill's The Hairy Ape.......................................... 95
Brecht's A Man's a Man and the Grotesque .................................. 99
Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page and Farce .................... 102
Tragedy in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men ................................... 105
Comedy and Meaning in the Work of Pinter:
The Birthday Party and The Homecoming .................................... 115
The Love of Money Is the Root of All Evil:
Orton's Loot .................................................................................. 118
Comedy and Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago ................... 121
A Soldier's Play, A Soldier's Problems:
Notes on the Fuller Play ................................................................ 123
Mamet's Edmond and German Expressionism ............................ 130

MODEL ESSAYS:
LANGUAGE, SYMBOL, SOUND, AND ALLUSION ................... 137
Key Analytical Question: How would you distinguish the use of
language and imagery in a particular play from that of other plays?
Music in Shakespeare's Othello................................................... 137
The Ending of Bchner's Leonce and Lena ................................. 139
Liebestod, Romanticism, and Poetry in Williams's
The Glass Menagerie ..................................................................... 143
Anonymity and Inscrutability in Pinter's
The Birthday Party ........................................................................ 154
Names and Titles in Baraka's Dutchman .................................... 159
The 'Eagle-and-the-Cat' Story in Shepard's
Curse of the Starving Class ........................................................... 167
Light, Darkness, and Sound in Hare's Plenty .............................. 170
Literary Allusions in Shepard's Buried Child.............................. 173
Title and Aside in Brenton's Sore Throats ................................... 176
MODEL ESSAYS: THEME, THOUGHT, OR IDEA .................... 179
Key Analytical Question: How do the given circumstances of a
particular playits geographical location, historical period, political
situation, and religious systemconspire to create its meaning?
Love and Death in Lope de Vega's
The Knight of Olmedo................................................................... 179
Context and Meaning in Molire's Tartuffe ................................ 184
Transfiguration and Ascent in Shaw's
Major Barbara................................................................................ 189
Whose Town?: Wilder's Our Town Revisited .............................. 197
Taking Orders in Pinter's The Dumb Waiter .............................. 206
Conception in Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane .......................... 208
Salvation in Bond's Saved ........................................................... 211
In Celebration, in Sorrow:
A Note on the Storey Play .............................................................. 215

MODEL ESSAYS:
COMPARISON, CONTRAST, AND INFLUENCE ....................... 219
Key Analytical Question: Of two plays similar in style, structure, or
meaning, what are the differences in socio-historical context between
them (if there are any), and which thematic threads do they share?
Parallelism and Divergence: The Case
of Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer and O'Neill's Long Day's
Journey into Night ......................................................................... 219
Ibsen's Ghosts and Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos....................... 226
The Endings of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler and Ghosts....................... 231
Simon Harford in O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet and More Stately
Mansions ....................................................................................... 233
Thomas's Under Milk Wood in Light of Wilder's Our Town ...... 236
Walcott's The Sea at Dauphin and Synge's
Riders to the Sea: A Comparison................................................... 240
Orton's Loot and Shakespeare's Hamlet ..................................... 244
Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross and Selling in American Drama 247
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL RESOURCES .............................................. 255
GLOSSARY OF DRAMATIC TERMS ........................................... 265
STUDY GUIDES ................................................................................ 283
I. Table of Contrasts: Theater and Film .......................................... 283
II. Table of Contrasts: Tragedy, Comedy, and Farce ...................... 287
III. Table of Contrasts: Realism and Naturalism ............................. 290
IV. Types of Theater Criticism or Production Criticism .................. 292
TOPICS FOR WRITING AND DISCUSSION ............................... 294
INDEX ................................................................................................. 303

Introduction
From the short essays included in this book, one will quickly discover
that my preoccupations as a critic are not theoretical. I am, rather, a
close reader committed to a detailed yet objective examination of the
structure, style, imagery, characterization, and language of a play. As
someone who once regularly worked in the theater as a dramaturg, moreover, I am concerned chiefly with dramatic analysis that can be of benefit
not only to playreaders and theatergoers, but also to directors, designers,
and even actorsthat is, with analysis of character, action, dialogue, and
setting that can be translated into concepts for theatrical production, or
that can at least provide the kind of understanding of a play with which a
theater practitioner could fruitfully quarrel. Many of the plays considered
in this volume are regularly produced, especially by university theaters,
and it my hope that these explicatory essays and notes will in some small
way make a contribution to future stagings. A number of these dramas
like Oedipus Tyrannos, Hamlet, King Lear, Tartuffe, Hedda Gabler,
Major Barbara, and Death of a Salesman are also routinely treated in
high school and college courses on dramatic literature, so it is also my
hope that the relatively short (and therefore less intimidating, more accessible) pieces contained in Play Analysis: A Reader will serve students
as models for the writing of play analyses.
What follows is the explication of a method for playreading and
analysis, not in the conviction that such a method will exhaust every
value in a play, but in the hope that it will uncover the major areas the
reader of plays should consider. Let no one assume that fruitful analysis
of plays is a matter of simple enumeration or of filling in blanks on a
comprehensive questionnaire. Analysis also involves judgment. There is
no shortcut to cultivating an ear for good dialogue, an eye for effective
staging, or a feeling for proper balance and structure in the work as a
whole. Just as the reader will better understand what a play is by reading
and seeing as many plays as possible, so will he or she better analyze and
interpret plays by having read, seen, and extensively thought about them.

10

Play Analysis: A Reader

All I can do here is to cite some of the approaches that have proved useful to readers in the past.
Although some beginning readers assume a hostility between
reading and analysis, I must stress that the two activities are thoroughly
compatible. Indeed, beginning students sometimes evidence a mistrust of
any kind of literary analysis. It gains expression in the form of such
statements as I enjoyed the work for itself. Why spoil it by taking it
apart? Analysis, literary criticism, and the consideration and discussion
of ideas are not designed, however, to spoil literary works; they are intended to widen and deepen our appreciation of those works. We may
even say that consideration and discussion are different stages in the
same process: that of enjoying and understanding a play. Good analysis
grows out of a thorough and informed reading and only out of such a
reading.

Reading the Play


As one sits down to read a play, one ponders the question, What is it
about? Before one can answer this or any other query, one needs some
general conception of what a play, any play, is supposed to be. To emphasize only the central idea of drama, I can remind the student of the
Aristotelian dictum that a play is an imitation of an action in the form
of an action. The reader should therefore seek to experience in reading,
even as one experiences in the theater itself, the depiction of a total coherent action in terms of a number of subordinate actions. Moreover, the
reader ought to be disposed toward a high degree of imaginative participation in a play. Since the playwright himself always has an eye on some
ideal performance in a theater, the reader should allow his or her imagination to supply some of the details of that performance just as the dramatist has done. The willing suspension of disbelief that Coleridge asked
from readers of poetry must be paralleled, or exceeded, by a willing entry
into the world of the play's action on the part of the playreader.
All of the above is general. What, specifically, does a reader do?
The following observations are meant to make clear what a reader may
do. First, read the play through for story and plot. Your first reading

Introduction

11

should concentrate on continuity, mood, and impact. After reading the


play, review the plot and story in your mind. Seek to apprehend what the
total action of the play is. Here, aids such as plot summaries are not bad
or wrong, provided they are used as aids and not substitutes. No reliance
should be placed on plot summaries by themselves; however, as a means
of clarifying the play and reminding the reader of the major events and
their sequence, plot summaries can serve a useful purpose.
It is always advisable, in reading a play for the first or second
time, to make brief notes about problem passages by any method the
reader find convenient. These notes may refer to matters other than the
meanings of archaic or difficult words and expressions. For example, one
may want to ask oneself about certain characters or events. Questions
like these could form the basis for subsequent reading in detail, which
should take place when one is satisfied that one knows the action of the
play well and has a good idea of its overall import and pattern. At this
point, however, one can go back and either read the whole at a slower
and more reflective pace or concentrate on particular passages that initially presented problems or seemed to carry special weight.
During a reading of this kind, some of the issues that will later
figure in analysis will occupy an important place in one's considerations.
Ask oneself whether one can see the necessity for all the characters in the
play. Why is a certain character there? What does his or her presence
contribute? Examine language and tone. Try to imagine how a key scene
would be staged. These matters, and many more, can be examined at
length and in depth as one rereads with a solid knowledge of the whole's
play's action; but in one's initial readings, one is still primarily concerned
with getting to know the play as thoroughly as possible. When one has
the play and its events clearly in mind, one can begin to analyze in a
more abstract sense, although analysis has in fact been taking place in
one's mind all along.

Analysis
Critical analysis, I have already said, must grow out of a thorough reading. So necessary is this that, as a general rule of procedure in analysis,

12

Play Analysis: A Reader

we can say: When in doubt reread the work, whether this means a scene,
an act, or even the whole play. Careful reading and verification through
reference to the play are the only ways to guard against an analysis that is
spun out on a slender thread and has become irrelevant to the work in
question. A good analysis will touch on the literary text point after point.
The best way to proceed in analysis is to begin with questions of
technique and then move to matters of interpretation. In this way, one
can again begin with the work itself and base one's evaluation on a careful study of the work. Analysis of technique can be thought of as a more
penetrating kind of reading. It must rest on an understanding of the entire
play because, in general, it seeks to answer the question, How is this or
that done? Let us assume that one has a good overall picture of the play;
one has a view of its total meaning as well as solid conceptions of character and situation. One should then ask oneself how the dramatist conveyed the view one has, always leaving open the possibility that one's
reading has been incomplete or improperly weighted. What one will be
doing, in effect, is applying what one knows about the drama to a particular play.
Reading and the detailed analysis of technique should lead to
something more, something we may call understanding or interpreting
the meaning of the play. The question of a play's meaning is sometimes
expressed in terms of theme; sometimes in terms of the dramatist's attitude toward his or her subject; and, sometimes, in terms of Aristotle's
identification of thought (dianoia) as one of the ingredients of drama.
Theme in literary works is taken to denote an abstract idea that a work
embodies and somehow, in its totality, expresses. In the epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton states his them early: to assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to man. Plays rarely contain such
explicit declarations of theme. Moreover, the statement of a single theme
may not necessarily capture all of work; there may be several themes or
several ways of expressing a general theme. Thus, some speak in terms
of understanding the dramatist's attitude toward his or her subject. How
does the play present events? What does the playwright intend us to
comprehend through the action he or she has captured? In Aristotle's

Introduction

13

terminology, what is the thought of the play as a whole? Since plays


use words and actions based on, or related in a meaningful way to, human life, they must inevitably convey some thought about life. I discussing the meaning of a play, one endeavors to make clear what that thought
is.
However we term our pursuittheme, attitude, thoughtwe must
not forget that it lies embedded in the work as a whole and that we perceive it from the experience of reading or seeing the play and analyzing
that play as thoroughly as possible. But we must guard against making a
drama a tract and against overemphasizing the specific verbal expressions of characters in the drama. Instead, we must attempt to make our
apprehension of meaning consistent with the total action the play depicts.
Therefore, if a statement by a character in the play is taken as the theme,
it should be because that statement is a fair assessment of the entire direction of the drama.
The problem of determining theme may be illustrated by referring
to plays in which there are clear spokespersons for the author's ideas. In
the nineteenth-century well-made play (pice bien-faite), there was usually a character who spoke for the dramatist. This character is called the
raisonneur (literally, the reasoner) of the play because he or she advances
the author's ideas on a subject of interest that is also the issue of the drama. The device did not die with the well-made play, and raisonneurs in
various guises are still encountered in plays and films. Often they are
second characters rather than protagonists, and, not infrequently, the
action stops while the reasoner presents the message of the play. This
device is considered too artificial to make truly excellent drama, since it
relieves the author of the task of making his point or idea a part of the
texture of the play itself; such messaging can even backfire if the author's head is at war with his or her heart. For example, Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings' What Price Glory? is supposed to be an antiwar play, according to the authors' stated intentions; but the total impact
of the play seems to argue more that war is fun than that war is hell.
Determining the meaning of a play, then, is not a question of finding an

14

Play Analysis: A Reader

official spokesperson for the dramatist, but of finding the center of gravity of the work itself.
It is in determining the meaning of a play that we should call upon
our thorough knowledge of the work obtained through our analysis. One
could well say that the final purpose of analysis is synthesis. We examine
the parts of a play in detail in order to attain a better understanding of the
whole; we analyze in order to know, in the deepest sense, what the play
is about. Analysis assumes that there has been a pattern of action presented through plot, structure, character, language, music or rhythm, and
(imagined) spectacle, a pattern that has a meaning of its own which
emerges only through the congruent interaction of the parts of a play.
Therefore, characters as we know them through their words and actions;
the language of the drama as it both explicitly defines what is going on
and projects an atmosphere that suggests it; the symbolism as it brings
together a group of associations within the play as well as over and above
itall of these together constitute the meaning of the play. It seems necessary that they be experienced before such meaning can be fruitfully
discussed. For this reason, we want to guard against the facile summation
offered by a raisonneur.
Although the device of the raisonneur may be contrived, one must
still formulate one's experience of the play in words, and there may well
be characters in plays who utter remarks that seem, to the reader or spectator, to sum up the essential meaning of the work. Some would find in
Gloucester's comment in King Lear, As flies to wanton boys are we to
the Gods. / They kill us for their sport, an instance of Shakespeare's
expressing his own convictions. This may be the case. However, the test
lies not so much in determining which (if any) character is the spokesperson, as in determining whether the action of the play bears out the
alleged summation. In King Lear, it is not Gloucester's saying it that
constitutes the most important argument for the truth of his comparison
(indeed, his saying it might argue against its truth), but the belief that this
sentiment adequately conveys the central idea of the drama as the action
reveals it. Were we to seek a spokesperson as such, Gloucester's son
Edgar would serve much better. He is a sympathetic character who,

Introduction

15

among other things, remains loyal while others are shedding old loyalties, and who leads his father to self-understanding despite his father's
rejection of him. Because of Edgar's character and conduct, what he says
is likely to be of consequence in the play. Nevertheless, the true test is
still whether his words are borne out by the total action of the play.
The question that arises in the case of any statement by a character in a play must always be the same: Does this statement fairly represent the thought of the play as a whole? Is it wrongheaded or, perhaps,
only a partial view? Here is where careful reading and the careful analysis of techniquein this case, verbal techniquewill make the difference. If in King Lear, Gloucester's statement is true, how do we account
for the sensation of triumph in defeat that great tragedies, including this
one by Shakespeare, so often project? Gloucester's remark may be paralleled, it is true, by Lear's own haunting, I am bound upon a wheel of
fire. And there is no question that the two observations epitomize the
intense suffering endured by both men in the play. However, do these
two observations account for the action in its entirety? If so, why does
Shakespeare arrange for order to reassert itself at the end of the play in
the form of Albany? Why does Shakespeare not feel impelled to show
the world in total chaos at the drama's conclusion, so as to drive home the
idea that men are meaningless insects to wanton gods?
Is it not more likely, then, that Gloucester's comment, like Lear's
in his agony, must be balanced by the other side shown in the playthe
one represented by Cordelia, by the loyal and perceptive Edgar, by Lear's
own understanding of himself? What of the serenity of Lear as he rises
above the petty intrigues and selfish squabbles of his world when he
declares, We two will sing like birds i' the cage? Or Edgar's comment
to Gloucester himself: Men must endure / Their going hence, even as
their coming hither: Ripeness is all. Even more significant, what about
Edgar's forgiveness of his brother, Edmund, when he urges, Let's exchange charity and says, of the same gods his father earlier had likened
to wanton boys, The Gods are just, and of our pleasant vices / Make
instruments to plague us? This certainly suggests a more purposeful
procedure in the universe than Gloucester's assertion. Finally, what of

16

Play Analysis: A Reader

Albany's statement close to the end of the play: All friends shall taste /
The wages of their virtue, and all foes / The cup of their desertings?
In a play as rich as King Lear, we perhaps cannot expect to find a
spokesman to sum up all that Shakespeare wanted the play to contain.
Nor need we feel that single line or two from any one character must be
found. Certainly, though, some of the major issues of the drama are powerfully evoked by the lines cited above, and they can at least form the
basis for an intelligent and thoughtful examination of the play's meaning.
If the one's analysis leads to such an examination, one will be justified in
believing that analysis has been worthwhile. In the end, the statement of
a play's meaning, the result of thorough analysis and careful interpretation, comes very close to answering the deceptively simple question with
which one begins the reading of any drama: What is it all about?

Aids in Interpretation
Plays, like every other work of art, occur in definite times and places and
bear upon them the marks of a specific culture and set of circumstances.
Great interest attaches to such matters of context because they often
contribute to our understanding of works from the past. But beginning
students are sometimes distrustful of this interest. As they distrust analysis and abstraction for their presumed deadening effect on the work of
art, so too do they distrust external considerations for their presumed
irrelevance. Both suspicions are misplaced, at least as far as the sincere
and measured lover of literature is concerned. We do not want the tail to
wag the dog in this instance, but neither do we want to chop the tail of.
we must keep in mind that the reason we do not always have to read
social history or literary biography or comparative religion to understand
the latest novel is simply that it is of our own time. However, once the
concerns of a period transform themselves into other concernsthat is,
once current events become historythe same problems that beset us in
reading older literary works will present themselves to our descendants
when they read the works of our day. These supposedly external matters,
then, are actually part of the culture that any writer assumes as he or she
writes.

Introduction

17

The problem for students of literature is in knowing what else to


study and how to evaluate it. Each work of art will present different
problems because some works will be more complex than others. Countless periods and times come under our scrutiny, and each play will make
different demands on our knowledge and offer different rewards. This is
precisely why the study of literature, dramatic or otherwise, is so fundamentally humanizing: it constantly directs the student to wider fields of
investigation and thus to a wider understanding of life. I shall now briefly
review the areas that frequently impinge on literature in order to suggest
the scope of possible auxiliary study.
Literary history and biography. Literary history, broadly construed, is the study of literature as a extended body of material with innumerable interconnections among its constituent parts (individual
works) and innumerable influences and parallels that exhibit a continuity
and pattern over time. Besides being an individual literary work, every
play occupies a place in literary (not to speak of theatrical) history. Literary history is that discipline concerned with establishing the context in
which a work appears, that is, the shifts in taste and practice that have
exerted influence on writers at different times. Plays can frequently be
better understood when we know something about their literary context.
Biographies of authors, in turn, arise from our interest in literary works
and the men and women who produced them. Occasionally, biographical
information will illuminate a literary work, although extreme caution
must be urged on the beginner not to treat an individual play as a biographical document. For the most part, the non-specialist will derive the
greatest assistance from what we may call literary biography, or an understanding of the author's literary development, his or her interest in
certain themes, styles, and the like at various points in his or her career.
The application of personal biography to literature is perhaps nowhere so
delicate as in the drama, where an autobiographical spokesperson for the
author is even rarer than an ideological spokesperson. Still, a knowledge
of literary history and literary biography will contribute considerably to
our understanding of the development of drama in general and of the

18

Play Analysis: A Reader

place a particular play occupies in that development, as well as in the


culture at large.
Political and social history. Since the drama inevitably reflects
life, it does so in terms of a particular time, a particular place, and particular issues. Indeed, a knowledge of the political and social conditions of
the time of the play can be so important as to be indispensable to an understanding of an individual work. (Non-literary historical elements are
similarly important in considering the various playhouses that have been
used throughout the evolution of the drama, for the design of a theater
can become a matter of literary consequence as well.) Generally, the
more one knows about life and society during the period in which a play
was written, the greater will be one's comprehension of the work itself.
Of course, we do not want history, as such, to usurp the place of the
literary artifact; as in all such auxiliary studies, one investigates the social and political history of the period in which a play was written so as
to understand the work better.
Other disciplines. There are any number of other disciplines that
we can call upon in interpreting plays, in particular, and literary works in
general. Again, these disciplines these should be approached with caution. Yet plays do treat human psychology; they have social dimensions;
and they may embody certain religious tenets or philosophical beliefs.
They may even have affinities with other arts or literary types. Verse
plays, for example, are also poetry and can be looked at from the perspective of poetry. Many critics approach all literary works from one or
another point of view. Some apply Freudian or Freudian-based psychology in their interpretations; some consider certain plays as an expression
of existentialist philosophy and other plays as exemplars of the Christian
religion; others see all literary works in terms of their attitude toward
social classes. Since dramatists frequently treat psychological, social,
political, and religious matters in their plays, we can hardly rule out the
aid derived from disciplines like psychology, sociology, religion, philosophy, and arts other than theater when we examine plays. As always, the
key lies in maintaining a proper perspective on the literary work so that it

Introduction

19

does not become a mere excuse for our discovery of a favored theory or
doctrineMarxist, feminist, post-colonial, and the like.

A Note on Organization
Since students typically get essay assignments of the following kind,
Play Analysis: A Reader is designed to show them how, through carefully grouped, concrete examples, they might set about completing such
assignments:
1.

Choose an important character in such-and-such a play and analyze his or her dramatic function. That is, why is this character
in the play and what does he or she contribute to the development of its theme?

2.

What type of structure does such-and-such a play have: climactic, episodic, or cyclical? From a thematic point of view, why
did the playwright use such a structure?

3.

Choose two plays that are similar in style, structure, or meaning and compare, as well as contrast, them. Has one work directly (or indirectly) influenced the other, as in the case of a drama
made into a film? What are the differences in socio-historical
context between the two works if they are plays from different
periods? Is one of these works superior to the other, and, if so,
why?

As Play Analysis: A Reader is divided into the sections Plot and


Action, or Form and Structure, Character and Role, Style and Genre, Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion, Theme, Thought, or
Idea, and Comparison, Contrast, and Influence (naturally, with some
overlap among the sections)with each heading introduced by a Key
Analytical Questionthe reader can easily go to the appropriate section
and find a number of specific examples of the kind of essay he or she has
been assigned to write. Supplementing the essays in this book is a useful

20

Play Analysis: A Reader

critical apparatus consisting of a Step-by-Step Approach to Play Analysis, a Glossary of Dramatic Terms, Study Guides, Topics for Writing and
Discussion, a list of Bibliographical Resources, and a comprehensive
Index.
There remains to be said only a word about playreading and theatergoing. These activities should never be considered as mutually hostile.
Reading is no substitute for the experience of a live performance; neither,
however, is it a secondary or useless activity. Certainly, one will be a
better reader of plays by becoming a spectator of productions; similarly,
one will be a better spectator by becoming a reader. We must remember
that good theatrical productions are the result of intelligent readings.
There is, finally, an advantage enjoyed by the reader of plays. Once the
performance is over, these our actors, as Prospero says in Shakespeare's Tempest, prove to be all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin
air. For the reader, they may come back to life again, and again, on the
printed page.

A Step-by-Step Approach to Play Analysis


I. Analysis of Plot and Action
1.

What are the given circumstances of the play's action? Geographical location? Historical period? Time of day? Economic
environment? Political situation? Social milieu? Religious system?

2.

From what perspective do we see the events of the play? Psychological? Ethical? Heroic? Religious? Political? Etc.

3.

What has the dramatist selected of the possible events of the story to put into actual scenes? Which events are simply reported
or revealed through exposition?

4.

Drama is action and the essence of action is conflict. Insofar as


a situation contains conflict, it is dramatic: no conflict, no drama. Drama is the process of resolving conflict, and what is most
important in dramatic analysis is to perceive the conflict inherent in the play. Conflict creates characters, or characterstheir
opposing desires or needscreate conflict. To understand a
dramatic text or playscript, it is necessary to discover and expose the conflict. What, then, is the conflict in the play in terms
of opposing principles? What kinds of qualities are associated
with either side, or with all sides? Or, considering the principal
characters as ideas or ethical / moral agents, into what sort of
dialectic can you convert the plot? What is opposing what?

5.

Where has the dramatist pitched the emphasis in his story, as an


unfolding action? (For example, the long and careful approach
to the kill in Hamlet versus the relatively quick kill followed by the long and haunted aftermath in Macbeth.) What has
happened before the play, and what happens during the play?
21

22

Play Analysis: A Reader


(For instance, the late point of attack in Oedipus Tyrannos,
whose plot has a considerable past, versus the early point of attack in King Lear, in which the past is virtually nonexistent.)
6.

How many acts and scenes are there? Did the play's author note
them or were these divisions added later? What motivates the
divisions of the play and how are they marked (curtains, blackouts, etc.)?

7.

Are there subplots? If so, how is each related to the main action?

8.

What alignments, parallels, or repetitions do you notice? (For


example, the triple revenge plot in Hamlet; the blind Teiresias
who can really see from the start as contrasted with the blind
Oedipus who can really see only at the end of the play.)

9.

What general or universal experience does the plot seem to be


dramatizing?

II. Analysis of Character


1.

Assuming that each character is necessary to the plot, what is


the dramatic function of each? (For instance, why does Shakespeare give Hamlet a close friend, but no friend to Macbeth or
Othello?)

2.

Do several characters participate in the same flaw or kind of


fallibility? (For example, Gloucester and Lear are both blind to
the true nature of filial love.)

3.

Is there a wide range of character positions respecting such


antitheses as innocence-guilt, good-evil, honorablenessdishonorableness, reason-irrationality, etc.?

A Step-by-Step Approach to Play Analysis

23

4.

What qualities or aspects of character are stressed: the physical,


the social, the psychological, or the moral or ethical? (For instance, Ibsen's ethical character versus Chekhov's character of
mood or frustrated sensibility: Aeschylus's grand, sculptural
character versus Euripides' psychopathic character.)

5.

How is character revealed? By symbols and imagery (Macbeth's


preoccupation with blood and time)? By interaction with various
other characters (Hamlet with Horatio and Ophelia)? By what
the character says? By what others say about the character? By
what the character does? (the most important). By descriptions
of the character in the stage directions?

6.

How do character traits activate the drama? (Note how a character's traits are invariably involved in his or her acts as motives
for, or causes of, those acts.)

7.

Consider each character as a voice in the play's overall dialectic, contributing to theme, idea, or meaning.

8.

What evidence of change can you detect? What seems to have


been the source of this change, and what does it signify for the
play's theme or the final nature of the character's identity?

9.

How is the character's change expressed dramatically? (For example, in a recognition speech, in a newfound attitude, in a
behavioral gesture, etc.)

III. Analysis of Language


1.

The dialogue is the primary means by which a play implies the


total makeup of its imaginative world and describes the behavior
of all the characters that populate that world. For any one passage of dialogue in a play, ask yourself the following questions:

24

Play Analysis: A Reader


a.

What happens during this dialogue and as a result of this dialogue?

b.

What does this passage reveal about the inner life and motives of each character?

c.

What does this scene reveal about the relationships of the


characters to each other?

d.

What does this section reveal about the plot or about any of
the circumstances contributing to the complication or resolution of the plot?

e.

What are the most notable moments or statements in this


dialogue?

f.

Are there any implicit or unspoken matters in this scene that


deserve attention?

g.

What facial expressions, physical gestures, or bodily


movements are implied by the dialogue?

h.

What props or set pieces are explicitly or implicitly called


for in the dialogue or the stage directions?

i.

What vocal inflections or tone of voice does a line suggest?

j.

Where might the characters increase or decrease the volume


or speed of their delivery?

k.

Where might the characters pause in delivering their lines?

l.

Where might the characters stand on stage and in relation to


each other at the beginning of the scene and at later points
in the same scene?

A Step-by-Step Approach to Play Analysis

25

2.

Do all the characters use language in much the same way, or


does each have his or her own verbal characteristics?

3.

What are the dominant image patterns? (For instance, diseasedecay-death imagery in Hamlet.) Do characters seem to share a
particular pattern, or it exclusive to one character? (For example, Othello gradually begins to pick up Iago's sexual-bestial
imagery as he becomes more convinced of Desdemona's guilt.)

4.

What combinations or conflations of image patterns can you detect? (For instance, in Hamlet, in the lines By the o'ergrowth of
some complexion, / Oft breaking down the pales and forts of
reason, the imagery of cancer, or pollution by overgrowth, is
conflated with military imagery.)

5.

Explain the presence of such rhetorical devices as: sudden shifts


from verse to prose; rhymed couplets; set speeches that give
the appearance of being standard or conventional (Polonius's
advice to Laertes in Hamlet); choral speeches; formal debates;
etc. These devices are often used to emphasize, or italicize, certain aspects of meaning and theme.

6.

How, generally, would you distinguish the use of language and


imagery in this play from that of other plays? (For example,
dramatic verse speech tends, on the whole, to recite the content directly and faithfully, presenting all the implications on the
word-surface; as dialogue in plays becomes more realistic
becomes prose, that isparticularly from the nineteenth century
forward, there is an increasing rift between what is actually said
and what is implied, or latent, in the language.)

7.

In what ways does the language of the playits imagery; style;


tempo or rhythm; tone; descriptive, informational, or ideational
content; and level of probability or internal consistencyhelp to
create the sense of a unique world, or circumscribed space,

26

Play Analysis: A Reader


appropriate to this play and no other? (For instance, Macbeth's
dark, metaphysical space versus Hamlet's dense and various
world of objects, people, animals, and processes.)

IV. General
1.

What is the dramatist's attitude toward the materials of his or her


play? (Skeptical? Critical? Ironic? Sympathetic? Neutral or objective? Etc.)

2.

What features or elements of the play seem to be the source of


the dramatist's attitude? (A reasonable or reasoning character
you can trust? A choral element? A didactic voice detectable in
the content as a whole? An allegorical quality? The way in
which the incidents are arranged? A set of symbols? A balance
or equilibrium of opposed readings of the world?)

3.

What is the nature of the play's world order? (Fatalistic? Benign? Malignant? Just? Neutral?) Another way of asking this:
Are there operative gods, and what share of the responsibility
for events do they hold?

4.

What is the source of your impression of this world order? Remember that meaning in drama is usually implied, rather than
stated directly. It is suggested by the relationships among the
characters; the ideas associated with unsympathetic and sympathetic characters; the conflicts and their resolution; and such devices as spectacle, music, and song. What, then, is the source of
your impression of the play's meaning?

5.

If the play departs from realism or representationalism, what


devices are used to establish the internal logic of the action?

6.

Are changes in the dramatic action paralleled by changes in visual elements such aslighting, costume, make-up, and scenery?
How important is such visual detail to the dramatic action?

A Step-by-Step Approach to Play Analysis

27

7.

For what kind of theatrical space was the play intended by its
author? Are some of the play's characteristics the result of dramatic conventions in use at the time the work was written?

8.

How extensive are the stage directions? Were they written by


the author or interpolated by someone else? What type of information do they convey? Are they important to the dramatic action?

9.

Is the play a translation? Can you compare it to the original?


Can you compare it with other translations? Are there significant differences between the source and a translation, such as
the rendering of the author's original French verse in English
prose?

10. Is there any difference between playing time (the time it takes to
perform the play) and illusory time (the time the action is supposed to take)? What is the relationship between the two, if any?
11. Is there anything special about the title? Does it focus on a character, the setting, or a theme? Is it taken from a quotation or is it
an allusion? Does the title contain a point of view, suggest a
mood, or otherwise organize the action of the play?
12. Does the play clearly fall into one of the major dramatic categories (tragedy, comedy, etc.)? What conventional features of its
type does the play exhibit (subject matter, situations, character
types)? Does knowledge of the genre contribute to an understanding of this play?

MODEL ESSAYS: PLOT AND ACTION, OR


FORM AND STRUCTURE
In the End Is the Beginning:
The Conclusion of Odets's Awake and Sing!
Though the ending of Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing! (1935) has been
much criticized for its contrived optimism, I would like to re-examine
at least one aspect of it: the (re)union of Moe Axelrod and Hennie Berger. (See this negative judgment of the play's ending in the treatments of
it by Gabriel Miller, Clifford Odets [New York: Continuum, 1989]; Gerald Weales, Odets: The Playwright [New York: Methuen, 1985]; Malcolm Goldstein, The Political Stage: American Drama and the Theater of
the Great Depression [New York: Oxford University Press, 1974]; Gerald Rabkin, Drama and Commitment: Politics in the American Theatre of
the Thirties [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964]; R. Baird
Shuman, Clifford Odets [New York: Twayne, 1962]; and John Howard
Lawson, Theory and Technique of Playwriting and Screenwriting [New
York: Hill and Wang, 1960].)
In the first version of this play, called I Got the Blues (1933)as
its title reveals, not, like the later Awake and Sing!, the affirmation of
Isaiah about dwellers in the dust who arise to find, or to create, a new
worldMoe is arrested for bookmaking at the conclusion, which means
that Hennie doesn't get to desert her child and her deceived husband to
join her first love on a cruise ship bound for Havana. And if Havana is a
suspicious goal within the social context of Awake and Sing! (at the time,
Cuba was ruled by the Mendieta-Batista dictatorship), so the argument
goes, so too are Hennie and Moe unlikely heroes of proletarian optimism
at the close of this, the second and final version of the play.
Indeed, Hennie shares the materialistic yearnings of her mother,
Bessieenlarges on them if Moe is correct in his estimate of her (How
you like to spend it! . . . Lizard-skin shoes, perfume behind the ears
[248])and her attitude is cynical from the beginning, not even masked,
29

30

Play Analysis: A Reader

as Bessie's is, by conventional bourgeois platitudes. Moe, for his part, is


a gangster. (Oddly, only in the list of the play's characters do we learn
from Odets that he has killed two men in extra-martial activity[225];
and Hennie herself implies in Act II, Scene i, that Moe has been in prison
by calling him Kid Jailbird [248].) But, ironically, it is not that fact
which condemns him so much as the idea for which his racketeering
(bootlegging during Prohibition, which ended in 1933, and bookmaking
during the play) stands. For Moe is a businessman first and a killer only
second, and he himself parallels gangsterism and capitalism in a speech
to Bessie's brother, Morty (a wealthy dress manufacturer), also in Act II,
Scene i: It's all a racketfrom horse racing down. Marriage, politics,
big businesseverybody plays cops and robbers. You, you're a racketeer
yourself (250).
Yet, if it's all a capitalistic racket, when Moe departs with Hennie
at the end of Awake and Sing!, unmarried and childless, he is indirectly
conforming to her grandfather Jacob's judgment on the Berger family
and on petit bourgeois marriage and family in generaldelivered in Act
I: Marx said itabolish such families (238). (The real reason that this
young man urges his sister to leave with Moe at the end with the words
do it, Hennie, do it! [273] may be that Karl Marx said such a thing, and
not because of what some critics have called Ralph Berger's unchanged
immaturity. See the following critics on Ralph's purportedly unchanged
immaturity: Gabriel Miller, Clifford Odets [New York: Continuum,
1989], 4143, 49; and Gerald Weales, Clifford Odets: Playwright [New
York: Pegasus, 1971, rev. 1985], 73.) As a gangster, of course, Moe is
already a rebel or outlaw: someone outside the politico-economic system.
Paradoxically, he is in addition not only a capitalist, but the quintessential capitalist in his (and Hennie's) extreme materialism: he wants money,
clothing, things, for her more than for himself, and he will do anything
(including kill) to get themexcept work in the conventional meaning of
the word.
Ralph will work at an ordinary job, as he has been doing at the
silk-manufacturing plantsomething he underlines when he promises to
give the $3,000 in insurance money (a considerable amount at the time)

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

31

from Jacob's death to his grasping motherbut he may ultimately also


try to foment the revolution for which Jacob had called. In this sense he,
too, is a rebel (unmarried and childless, like Moe), hoping to remain
within the system as a labor organizer only in the end to smash that system from without, if necessary, as a Marxist revolutionary. At that point,
Ralph and Moe would be working at cross-purposes, to be sure. But
who's to say that Moehimself a victim of the money-men and their
interests during his service in World War I, who knows now that war
ain't so damn necessary (243)could not be reformed or enlightened
as well? He comes from the lower middle class, he can take a hit (as he
showed when he lost his leg in the trenches), and he has proven, in the
cases of Jacob and Ralph, that he is always on the side of the underdog
(as he also selflessly was when he supported his mother and five siblings
after his father abandoned their family). Just the sort of man the revolution could use.
And remember: Moe is headed to a place, Cuba, which will have
its own political revolution in the not-too-distant future (the late 1950s).
Will Moe be kicked out of Havana, like other American gangsters and
businessmen at the time, or will he be drawn to the cause of the Cuban
people? Will he be selfless or selfish? That is one of the implicit, integral
(not contrived) questions with which Awake and Sing! closes, the other
one being whether Ralph will become just another Jacob, or whether,
unlike his grandfather, he will in fact be able to turn dreams or ideals
the uncut pages of Jacob's books, as it wereinto action.
As for the spirited Hennie, she forms a characterological triumvirate with Moe and Ralphas opposed to the triumvirate of Bessie, her
nebbish of a husband named Myron, and the doormat known as Sam
Feinschreiber (Hennie's husband). And my guess is that Hennie would
rather continue playing reveille with her boyfriend, no matter what he
ends up doing, than return to singing the domestic blues back in her native borough of the Bronx. There, moreover, with the domineering Bessie
as his (grand)mother, the ineffectual Sam stepping in to play Myron's
role as father, and feisty Ralph as his political mentor (together with
Morty, the archetypal boss-capitalist, as a role-model-in-reverse), Hen-

32

Play Analysis: A Reader

nie's son, Leon, could grow up to be just like his uncle Ralphin Moe's
extolling words, a fighter! (271).
Bibliography
Odets, Clifford. Awake and Sing!. In Cohn, Ruby, and Bernard Dukore,
eds. Twentieth-Century Drama: England, Ireland, the United
States. New York: Random House, 1966. All quotations are
from this later, and final, version of the playnot from the earlier draft known as I Got the Blues.

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

33

Dreams of Journey: O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night


Eugene O'Neill's naturalistic Long Day's Journey into Night (1941) is not
normally thought of as a dream play, but its actionproceeding from
8:30 in the morning until some time after midnight of the same daycan
be seen as a kind of nightmare of drugs, alcohol and recrimination from
which the characters wish they could easefully awaken. It is while the
three men sleep the night before that mother Mary, pacing in the spare
room, worries about her son Edmund's illness and considers returning to
morphine for comfort. Moreover, at least two passages in the play make
explicit the idea that life is a bad dream from which man will completely
awaken only when he dies, if then. The first is by Edmund, who quotes
from Dowson sardonically:
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream. (130)

The second passage is delivered, soon after, by James, who quotes from
Shakespeare's The Tempest using his fine voice: We are such stuff as
dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep (131).
The dream play, as a genre, dates back at least to The Tempest and
Caldern's Life Is a Dream, both from the seventeenth century; continues
in the nineteenth with Grillparzer's own Life Is a Dream; and reaches
fruition in the early twentieth century with Strindberg's To Damascus, A
Dream Play, and The Ghost Sonata. Even Strindberg's naturalistic Miss
Julie (1888), howeverunlike the three aforementioned works, not normally thought of as a dream playfeatures, in addition to such nonnaturalistic elements as ballet, mime, and a musical interlude, the narration of two dreams in which the playwright, anticipating Freud, locates
the very life-drives of his central characters, Jean the valet and Julie the

34

Play Analysis: A Reader

aristocrat. Miss Julie takes place on Midsummer Eve (June 23rd, close to
the longest day of the year), when daylight persists throughout the night
and the country folk enjoy an annual bacchanalia, which makes the play
a sort of tragic Midsummer Night's Dream.
Long Day's Journey into Night, written by the man who had long
since become Strindberg's most passionate and self-conscious American
disciple, takes place in August 1912the first week of August, by my
reckoning, since that would literally place it at midsummer and thus
connect it with Strindberg's midsummer tragedy as well as Shakespeare's
midsummer comedy. (The Scandinavian as well as British midsummer, June 24th [Midsummer Day]the feast of John the Baptist, the
forerunner and baptizer of Jesusis not popularly celebrated in the United States; but neither is August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of Mary,
the mother of Jesus, into heaven after her death, and the day toward
which Long Day's Journey into Night points, given Mary Tyrone's oftstated if now lapsed faith in the Blessed Virgin [see 94, 107, 121 and
176, for example].)
The works of both Shakespeare and Strindberg are included in the
Tyrone library (11), and, although Long Day's Journey into Night is
dominated by tragedy, it has its share of comic moments, not least of
which are the repeated sight and sound of the three alcohol-addicted male
Tyrones bemoaning Mary's relapse into drug addiction. Several characters in the play enjoy a midsummer bacchanalia of sorts in the thencountry town of New London: Jamie goes to drink and consort with the
prostitute Fat Violet, while Tyrone and Edmund settle for whiskey alone,
as do the servants Bridget and Cathleen (who resists the advances of the
chauffeur Smythe between Acts II and III, but who, at the start of Act III,
consorts with her morphine-besotted mistress, Mary).
But this midsummer day-cum-night is almost wholly one of lamenting rather than celebration, and the play's tragic or mournful tone is
suggested by the fact that it takes place during the dog days of summer,
the uncomfortably hot, stagnant period between mid-July and September.
That sorrowful tone is also suggested by the content of the characters'
dreams. Mary says she had had two dreams as a convent-school girl,

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

35

before she met and fell in love with James Tyrone: To be a nun, that
was the more beautiful one. To become a concert pianist, that was the
other (104). Mary chose the actor Tyrone over the Lord Jesus and gradually lost the great religious faith that might have comforted her during
the pain of bearing the future artist Edmund, and during the unhappiness
of being married to the matine idol James. As for her musical art, it too
was sacrificed to the acting-art-become-ham-artifice of her husband. At
play's end, Mary stares before her in a sad dream (176) of what might
have been had she denied herself and dedicated her life to Christ or art,
as her husband sits beside her, holding in his arms the wedding gown she
has given over to him.
Edmund, too, has a recurring dream: of union with Nature, of dissolution of the self, of belonging to the universe as opposed to feeling
isolated inside one's own body and mind. He has occasionally felt this
longing / belonging at sea (see his speech on 153154), but never on
land, and he knows that he, like the rest of humanity, will achieve it once
and for all only in death. Or through his art, which at this stage in his
career is limited to a few poems in a hick town newspaper (163), but
which will achieve immortality in the plays he, or his alter ego Eugene
O'Neill, is to write from 1920 to 1943. One of those plays, of course, is
Long Day's Journey into Night, in which Edmund reincarnates the character of the young O'Neill as imagined by an older Eugene, the mature
playwright himself, soon to begin his own long descent into the darkness
of death, or the sleep of dreams.
Bibliography
O'Neill, Eugene. Long Day's Journey into Night. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956.

36

Play Analysis: A Reader

Scene 11 of Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire


Scene 11, the last scene of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named
Desire (1947), occurs some weeks (131) after Scenes 710, which take
place on September 15, Blanche DuBois's birthday. I would like to suggest that some weeks could be six weeks or so, and that Scene 11 occursin the largely (Franco-Spanish) Catholic city of New Orleanson
November 2nd, All Souls' Day. On this feast day, Roman Catholics pray
for the resurrection of those suffering in Purgatory, where souls destined
for heaven are purified of all sin and imperfection. The evidence for my
conclusion can be found in both Scenes 9 and 11.
Scene 9 contains the short confrontation between Blanche and the
Mexican Woman Vendor, who is clearly meant to be a kind of death
figure, with whom Blanche comes face to face as she begins to experience the spiritual death thatparadoxically, on her birthdaywill lead
to her being committed to a mental asylum. However, the blind Mexican
woman, wearing a dark shawl, is a symbol not only of death but also of
potential resurrection. She carries bunches of those gaudy tin flowers
that lower-class Mexicans display at funerals and other festive occasions (119; emphasis mine), and therefore can be seen as a harbinger of
the Mexican Day of the Dead (All Souls' Day). This religious festival is
the greatest single manifestation of the Mexican preoccupation with
death (see note 1) and is pervaded both by an atmosphere of gaiety, intemperance, and affirmation, and by an atmosphere of piety, reverence,
and abnegation.
The fact that the Woman Vendor is Mexican and is selling her
wares on the anniversary of Blanche's birth, long in advance of November 2, is significant for four reasons. First, September 15th falls under the
sixth sign of the zodiac, Virgo (Virgo is the Virgin, Blanche tells Stanley in Scene 5 [77]), and it is the feast day of the Virgin Mary as Our
Lady of Sorrows, the Mater Dolorosa (see note 2); second, the Blessed
Virgin Mary, in her dark-skinned incarnation as the Virgin of Guadalupe,
is the patron saint of Mexico; third, the feast commemorating the Assumption, Mary's ascension into heaven, is August 15th, a month before
the action of Scene 9, and thus prefigures Blanche's own assumption

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

37

(we know from the following statement by Blanche that Scenes 56 of


Streetcar take place in August: Oh, my birthday's next month, the fifteenth of September [77]); and fourth, as someone conceived without
original sin, Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ, is believed to be
especially efficacious at petitioning God on behalf of supplicants and
sinnersespecially those sinners consigned to Purgatory but awaiting
elevation to Paradise.
That the Mexican Woman Vendor is a symbol not only of death
but also of resurrection is further emphasized by the fact that she sells
corones para los muertos in addition to flores para los muertos (119
120). Corones are wreaths for the dead, but a corona can also be a white
or colored circle seen around a luminous body, hence a halo, or symbolic
ring of radiant light encircling the head in pictures of divine or sacred
personages such as the Virgin Mary. As used by the Mexican woman,
then, the word corones has a double meaning: it signifies crowns of victory, of ascent, as well as wreaths of death or decline.
Other events in the play pointedly suggest Blanche's potential resurrection, most notably the appearance of the Kowalski baby onstage for
the first time in Scene 11 (142) at the very moment that Blanche DuBois
is being led away to an asylum by the Doctor and the Matron. The baby's
brief, symbolic presence here contrasts with, as well as complements,
that of the blind Mexican woman two scenes earlier. These two events,
the birth of the baby and Blanche's incarceration in a mental institution,
may not initially seem to be related, but in fact they are. As Henry I.
Schvey has argued,
Stella's baby, born at approximately the same time as Blanche's violation by Stanley in the previous scene, is associated with Blanche in the final moments of the
play. . . . Williams clearly suggests an identification between the tragic fall of one
and the birth of the other. [He suggests] that Blanche's fall is actually part of a process that goes beyond death and hints at something like heroic transcendence, . . .
[at] spiritual purification through suffering. (109)

Schvey believes that this process of transcendence or purification,


or what I am calling resurrection, is augmented by Blanche's changing in
the final scene (significantly, after a bath) from a red satin robe (133)in

38

Play Analysis: A Reader

which she flirted with Stanley during Scene 2 (37) and with Mitch during
Scene 3 (53)into a blue outfit. It's Della Robbia blue, declares
Blanche, the blue of the robe in the old Madonna pictures (135), and
thus a blue that associates her with both the Virgin Mary in Renaissance
art and the Kowalskis' baby boy, whom Eunice brings onstage wrapped
in a pale blue blanket (142) and who had been sleeping like a little
angel (132). (Even the sky cooperates: it is more or less the same color
that Williams described at the start of the play as a peculiarly tender
blue, almost a turquoise [13, 131].)
Blanche's anticipated transcendence or resurrection is further
augmented by the cathedral bells that chime for the only time in Streetcar during Scene 11 (136) and lend increased support to the idea that this
scene occurs on All Souls' Day; by her fantasy that eating an unwashed
or impure grape, let us say one that has not been transubstantiated into
the wine / blood of Christ, has nonetheless transported her soul to heaven
and her body into a deep blue ocean (136); and by the Doctor's raising
Blanche up from the floor of the Kowalski apartment, to winch she
dropped after the Matron had pinioned her arms crucifixion-style (141),
together with Blanche's spiritedly leading the way out of the hell of her
sister's home (without looking back), followed by the Doctor and Matron
instead of being escorted by them (142).
Blanche is being sent to a purgatory of sorts, a psychiatric hospital, a kind of halfway house between the heaven of lucidity and the hell
of insanity, the renewed life of the mind and the final death of the spirit.
And it is while Blanche is in purgatory that she will be cleansed of her
sins, particularly the sinwhich she herself admits and laments (95
96)of denying her homosexual husband, Allan Grey, the compassion
that would have saved him from suicide. Perhaps this cleansing will
come through the intercession of the Virgin Mary herself, whose own
sorrow and suffering made her compassionate. Blanche's religious origins are Protestant, not Roman Catholicshe tells Mitch that her first
American ancestors were French Huguenots (55)and many Protestant
denominations object to the veneration of Mary, but that would not prevent so independent or willful a spirit as Blanche DuBois from either

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

39

appealing to Mary for help or receiving the Blessed Virgin's ministrations. Indeed, Blanche has long since strayed from her religious origins,
and her errant ways together with her lapse into madness put her in special need of God's gracea grace, the Catholic Church teaches, for
which Mary is the chief mediatrix.
A number of commentators have pointed out the irony of
Blanche's spending several months on a street in New Orleans named
Elysian Fieldsin Greek mythology the dwelling place of virtuous people after deathand the further irony of her having previously lived in
Laurel, Mississippi (laurel wreaths, of course, were used by the ancient
Greeks to crown the victors in athletic contests, military battles, and
artistic competitions). These ironies are compounded in the play by the
names of the people who surround Blanche, with the important exception
of Stanley: Mitch (derived from Michael, meaning someone like God
in Hebrew), Stella (from the Latin for star), Eunice (from the Greek for
good victory), and Steve (from the Greek for crown). Critics regard
these various names as ironic because in fact Blanche DuBoiswhite
woodsfinds herself, not in heaven, but in what amounts to hell
(Redhot! the tamale Vendor cries out at the end of Scene 2 [44]) in a
conflict with stone-age Stanley the blacksmith (whose first name derives
from the Old English stone-lea or stone meadow, while his last, Kowalski, is Polish for smith); and, these critics argue, this conflict will
obviously not send her to an eternal life of bliss in any Elysian Fields, but
rather to the misery of a living death without chance of redemption in the
madhouse.
It seems possible, however, that these celestial or winning names
are not ironic, but instead suggest what they appear to suggest: that
Blanche, brutally defeated in her crucible with Stanley in New Orleans,
will ultimately triumph on Judgment Day in the kingdom of God if not
on treatment day in the realm of secular ministrymodern (psychiatric)
medicine. Blanche's own name, which appears to be ironic in that it suggests a virginity which she no longer possesses in deed, attests to her
virginity of spirither beauty of the mind and . . . tenderness of the
heart (126), as she puts it. Thus her name links her not only to the purity

40

Play Analysis: A Reader

of the Virgin Mary, but also to the reclaimed innocence of Mary Magdalene, who was cured of her sexual waywardness by Jesus (just as Blanche
was suddenly cured of hers when she remarked to Mitch, Sometimes
there's Godso quickly! [96]) and later saw Christ after he had risen
from the dead.
Scene 11 of Streetcar can be regarded, then, as a scene of celebration as well as mourning, of eternal life as well as transitory deathlike
the Mexican Day of the Dead itself. Hence Williams not only introduces
the Kowalskis' newborn child into the action precisely at the moment of
Blanche's passing, a child of whom Blanche said in Scene 8, I hope
that his eyes are going to be like candles, like two blue candles lighted in
a white cake! (109). Williams also creates a combination festivemacabre atmosphere: Stanley, Steve, and the Mexican, Pablo, sit around
the table playing cards, eating, and drinking, while Mitch sulks, slumps,
and sobs at the same table over the loss of Blanche (the same Mitch who
contributed to the festive-macabre atmosphere of Scene 9 by demanding
sex from a drunken, distraught Blanche DuBois); and we hear, woven
into the action, the music of the Varsouvianathe polka tune to which
Blanche and Allan were dancing the night he committed suicide (137,
139)the simultaneously melancholic and inspiriting sounds of the
Blue Piano, (142), and the harsh cries as well as lurid shadows of the
jungle (139, 141).
Moreover, Williams concludes the final scene of Streetcar on a
sexual note: after Blanche has departed, Stanley voluptuously kneels
beside the weeping Stella and places his hand inside her blouse, as Steve
opens a new round of cards with the words This game is seven-card
stud (142). Clearly, life goes on for the Kowalskis and their friends
(Life has got to go on, Eunice admonishes Stella [133]), but life goes
on for Blanche tooin purgatory and beyond.

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

41

Notes
1.

Williams himself was to be preoccupied with his own death for


much of his life. Moreover, he had begun writing Streetcar in
Chapala, Mexico (near Guadalajara), convinced that he was dying, that this would be his last play, and that therefore he should
put his all into it. (Williams thought that the agonizing abdominal pains he had been experiencing were the result of lethal
stomach cancer, but in fact they were caused by a ruptured appendix.) See Tischler, 133.

2.

See Kolin, 8187, for a detailed discussion of the striking parallels between Blanche DuBois and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Kolin builds on the work of Henry I. Schvey, who was the first
critic to link Blanche to Mary in Streetcar. Here I am linking
Blanche to the Virgin through the Mexican Woman Vendor,
who, I have argued elsewhere, is a kind of fateful double for
Williams's tragic heroine.

Bibliography
Cardullo, Bert. The Blind Mexican Woman in A Streetcar Named Desire. Notes on Modern American Literature, 71 (1993): entry 14.
Kolin, Philip C. Our Lady of the Quarter: Blanche DuBois and the Feast
of the Mater Dolorosa. ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, 4.2 (1991): 8187.
Schvey, Henry I. Madonna at the Poker Night: Pictorial Elements in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. In Modern Critical
Interpretations: Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.
Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. 103109.
Tischler, Nancy M. Tennessee Williams: Rebellious Puritan. New York:
Citadel Press, 1961.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: New American Library, 1951.

42

Play Analysis: A Reader

The Ending of Behan's The Hostage


Written in 1958 and addressing the subjects of nationalism, colonialism,
and terrorism in general as well as the British-Irish conflict, The Hostage
was Brendan Behan's second full-length play. Set in a Dublin brothel in
the late 1950s, The Hostage satirizes the Irish Republican Army's fanatical nationalism and senseless glorification of the past, while asserting
through song, dance, and love (between the Irish maid Teresa and the
English soldier Leslie) the worth and community of all human souls.
Leslie, the hostage of the title, is to be shot in reprisal by the I.R.A. if one
of its members being held in a Belfast jail is executed by the British.
Leslie's captors themselves are hostages of the past, of a political program that has lost its urgency in a world threatened by economic depression, on the one hand, and nuclear destruction, on the other. That the
I.R.A.'s headquarters in The Hostage is a brothel, moreover, is its own
comment on this organization's cause.
Behan had originally written the play in Gaelic with the title An
Giall. Aside from other differences between the two versions, there is a
major difference between the endings of The Hostage and An Giall. In
the English-language version, the British soldier Leslie is accidentally
shot amid the pandemonium of the police raid; since the lights go out at
the same time that the raid begins, he falls dead on a stage whose darkness is only intermittently lighted by explosions and gunfire outside. In
An Giall, there is a large press (Irish English for cupboard) in the room
in which Leslie is kepta press that does not appear in The Hostage.
During the police raid, he is hurriedly bound, gagged, and hidden in the
press by his captors (who wish to retain the kidnapped Leslie as a hostage and bargaining chip), the Irish Republican Army Officer and the
Volunteer; by the time the raid is over and they can remove him, he is
dead of suffocation.
What is good about An Giall's ending is that it gives a strong visual image of a hostage: someone bound and gagged and completely helpless. It also gives a strong picture of what Ireland's being held hostage by
its sectarian past has done: suffocate the possibility of amicable relations
between England and Ireland, as symbolized by the love affair between

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

43

Leslie and Teresa. The problem with the An Giall ending is that it places
responsibility for Leslie's death squarely in the hands of the I.R.A. men
who placed him in the presshowever much they did not intend to kill
him by doing so. One loses, as a result, the irony of Leslie's being killed
by a random bullet: in other words, by the situation as a whole that exists
between England and Ireland, and between the legal government of Ireland and the Irish Republican Army.
Nonetheless, the ending of An Giall better serves Behan's play.
Leslie's dead body, properly displayed on stage (ideally it should be erect
for a few moments, then fall), becomes a stunning national or supranational metaphor, a sight whose greater sociopolitical value outweighs the
generalized thematic underlining achieved by the accidental shooting of
this English soldier. Moreover, the point is made with the An Giall ending that, in attempting to hold on to Leslie in order to be able to execute
him in reprisal if the I.R.A. youth in Belfast is put to death, the I.R.A.
men have inadvertently killed Leslieand done so before his time, for
the British boy was not to have died until the lad in Belfast did (see note
1). This robs the I.R.A. men of the satisfaction of murdering Leslie directly but, more important, it nicely stresses their ineptitude and even
cowardlinessin telling contradistinction to media glorification of the
Irish Republican Army, then as now.
Note
1.

The former I.R.A. soldier Pat is mistaken at the end of The Hostage when he responds to Teresa's line, But he's [Leslie] dead,
with, So is the boy in Belfast Jail (182). The boy in Belfast
Jail is not dead yet; he will not be executed until 8 A.M. (92).
This is important, because it means that Leslie died before he
was supposed to, according to the rules of reprisal. What time is
it at the end of The Hostage? Teresa says that it is only 11 P.M.
(177); Pat says that it is closer to 1 A.M. (177). Either way, it is
not 8 A.M or laterstage time is not that flexibleand Leslie
has died before his time.

44

Play Analysis: A Reader

Bibliography
Behan, Brendan. The Quare Fellow and The Hostage. New York: Grove
Press, 1964.

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

45

Time and Mystery in Fugard's People Are Living There


In Act I of Athol Fugard's People Are Living There (1968), the following
exchange takes place between the landlady Milly and her young boarder
Don:
Milly.
Don.
Milly.
Don.
Milly.
Don.
Milly.
Don.
Milly.
Don.
Milly.

Can't be.
What?
Ten o'clock. I counted nine and then it struck again.
Then it's ten o'clock.
No, Don.
All right, so it's eleven.
No, no! It's nine o'clock.
Never.
The last time that clock struck it was eight.
We must have been talking and didn't hear it.
Nonsense. (133134)

Milly is right: it is only nine o'clock. The last time the clock
struck it was eight (121); it struck seven at the start of the play (101).
Surely if only one hour passed between pages 101 and 121, then two
hours could not pass between pages 121 and 133stage time is not that
flexible. The clock mechanism is faulty: it must be pounded either to
keep the clock from chiming on and on (158), or to get it to chime
enough times to reach the correct hour (101, 121). In this instance, not
only does the clock chime one more time than it is supposed to, but its
hands jump from nine to ten as well. Milly does go offstage to check the
clock, but she returns to reluctantly agree with Don that is ten o'clock. So
the real time becomes a mystery to her for the rest of the play: she does
not know what it is.
The audience itself never sees Milly's grandfather clock; it remains somewhere else in the house, according to Fugard's stage direction (101). In the same way, we never see Ahlers, Milly's boyfriend and
boarder of ten years, who has recently ended their relationship. Just as
the clock tells its own brand of erratic time, Ahlers has begun to live his
own brand of erratic life. After emigrating from Germany to South Africa
after World War II and settling in Milly's rooming house in Johannes-

46

Play Analysis: A Reader

burg, he ran a small business, Ahlers' Artificial Flowers, and took her out
every Saturday night. Regular as rent. Beer and sausages for two at the
Phoenix. Until tonight (106107). Milly could just as well have said
regular as clockwork. But, like the clock's, Ahlers' mechanism has
sprung: he has suddenly decided that he wants to see women younger
than the fifty-year-old Milly, in the hope of marrying, starting a family,
and keeping his family name alive.
Just as another of Milly's boarders, the boxer Shorty, wants to discard the moths that are left over after his silkworms have produced silk,
Ahlers wants to discard the human being that remains in Milly now that
her procreative womanhood, her silk, is past. His behavior is a mystery
to her, just as the real time is. Even as she asks Shorty to hit the clock so
that it will chime the correct hour, she asks Don to hit Ahlers so that he
will know he has behaved improperly toward her. When Milly yells into
the hallway at her ex-boyfriend both on his departure for and return from
a date, he neither stops nor says anything. She might as well be yelling at
a clock.
It is not by accident that Fugard gives Ahlers only a last name and
does not have him appear onstage, while he gives the first and last names
of Milly, Don, and Shorty, who participate directly in the action and pass
over five hours of their lives during the play. In having only a surname
and remaining offstage, Ahlers achieves a kind of immortality. Without a
first name, he becomes less a specific Ahlers than the eternal embodiment of the Ahlers family line. By not appearing onstage, he seems to
transcend space and time, to be above the aging process that dogs the
other characters and that is called attention to by the hourly chiming of
the grandfather clock (itself failing with age). In the same way that he
now seeks a new life away from Milly, with a younger woman, Ahlers
sought a new life away from his native, devastated Germany after World
War II in the younger, more promising country of Australia.
Moreover, unlike Milly, Ahlers' artificial flowerscreated primarily for funeral homeswill not wilt. They are made to last; they are
used to mark people's deaths. Milly's old house itself is in an area associated with death: Hospital Hill in the Braamfontein suburb of Johannes-

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

47

burg, where ambulance sirens can be heard offstage throughout the night.
People Are Living There takes place in winter, by which time all natural
flowers have died. And when we first come upon Milly, it is as if she has
risen from the dead: she has slept away the day and rises in the dark at 7
P.M., waiting for a long time before she turns on the light. Ironically, it is
her birthdaysomething that we do not learn until almost the end of Act
I, because the day of her birth shrinks in importance next to the day
marking her rejection by Ahlers and her death as a woman.
Pondering her unhappiness in general and the change in Ahlers'
feelings for her in particular, Milly says:
I try to remember when. The Moment Whenthe way they say. And from then
on so and so . . . and so on. But I can't. There doesn't seem to be a day or a date.
Once upon a time it wasn't, now it is, but when or where . . .? It's not easy to pin
down. (128)

Milly will never know when Ahlers lost his affection for her, or why he
stayed with her for ten years before deciding that he wanted a woman
who could bear children. A gap in her life will remain that she cannot fill
and to which she herself will apply the word mystery (168).
Similarly, Milly does not know what the actual time is at the end
of play, nor does she know that her clock began telling the wrong time
whensignificantlyit read ten. Fugard thus uses the mystery of time in
People Are Living There to underline the mystery of Ahlers' rejection of
Milly. In doing so, he has equated the mute Ahlers, the seller of artificial
flowers, with an immense object: the unthinking, unfeeling grandfather
clock.
Bibliography
Fugard, Athol. People Are Living There. In Fugard's Boesman and Lena
and Other Plays. London: Oxford University Press, 1978. 99
169.

48

Play Analysis: A Reader

Appearance and Essence in Kaiser's


From Morn to Midnight
By 1912, when Georg Kaiser wrote From Morn to Midnight, he already
had more than twenty plays to his credit, but none had been performed
publicly. With From Morn to Midnight, Kaiser began his expressionist
period, which catapulted him to fame and turned him into Germany's
most successful and widely performed dramatist until 1933. This play,
among the earliest German expressionist Stationendramen, is the best
example of its kind. It consists of two parts and contains seven stations
or episodes that depict a day in the life of a small-town bank cashier; in
characteristic expressionist fashion, these scenes are only loosely linked
and their action takes place in different locales in, around, and outside
Berlin.
The motivating agent of From Morn to Midnight is money, which
determines the Cashier's fate after he robs his bank of 60,000 marks, then
drives him from one station to another in a misguided attempt to buy
something of value: a new, exciting, and meaningful life. It is the Cashier's resulting pilgrimage or quest that unifies the play; he stands at its
expressionistic center, and through his eyes all characters and events are
viewed or projected. In the opening scene the Cashier is little more than
an automaton, taking in and paying out money in a bank: his human
spirit crushed or dehumanized beneath the social conventions, economic
system, and political structure of Wilhelminian Germany. Then he is
jarred out of his daily, monotonous routine with the appearance of the
exotic, sensual Lady from Italy. Desiring her, he knows of only one path
to fulfillmentthrough moneyso he stuffs his pockets and follows her.
But when she turns out to be unattainable, the Cashier is faced with a
crisis: unable to go back and undo what he has done, and unfitted by his
past to be anything more than a cog in society's vast machine, he decides
instead to seek some deeper meaning from life than he has previously
known.
The remainder of From Morn to Midnight is devoted to the Cashier's search, which leads him to flee his narrow-minded, petit bourgeois
family and seek salvation first in revolutionary passion, then in sensual

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

49

ecstasy. Finally, after a series of disappointing experiences in Berlin, he


comes to recognizeat a Salvation Army meetingthat the road to
fulfillment lies through the soul. But when the Cashier flings away his
stolen money, the supposedly repentant sinners fight like animals over it,
and the Salvation Lass, in whom he had perceived his soul mate, betrays
him to claim the reward offered for his arrest. Thus does the Cashier
realize that even religion has succumbed to the materialistic urge and
that, in the end, you can buy nothing worth having, even with all the
money of all the banks in the world; you get less than you pay, every
time (506). In other words, it is futile to try to escape the material world
through material means. Disabused of his illusions, the Cashier commits
suicide when police officers come to arrest him.
From Morn to Midnight is a modern morality play, for, as the title
suggests, it uses a day to symbolize the period of a man's life, during
which time this Cashier-Everyman moves through the principal types of
human experience. Because he is concerned with essences, Kaiser reduces the characters to generic types devoid of all individuality (or, to show
the mechanization of modern life, the playwright reduces them to numerical designations) and places them in archetypal situations. They stand
for all people engaged in the same function or profession, and they function not so much as dramatic antagonists of the Cashier as existential
instances of the life he comes to reject. These figuresamong them the
Stout Gentleman, the Cashier's Wife, the Jewish Gentlemen, and the
Salvation Army Penitentsemploy a language that conforms to their
own abstract state: theirs is not a natural, colloquial speech but instead an
artificial, heightened diction cut down to its bare essentials.
Similarly, Kaiser reduces his plot to a series of coincidences that,
on the surface, makes the action of From Morn to Midnight appear to be
contrived. For example, the arrival at the German bank of the Italian
Lady's letter of credit from her native country (proving that she is honest
as well as virtuous) just after the Cashier absconds with the 60,000
marks; the bank manager's two telephone calls to the Lady's hotel room
with the news that her letter of credit has arrived, one call (mysteriously
unanswered) coming before the Cashier has been rejected by the Lady,

50

Play Analysis: A Reader

and another coming just after the Cashier has departed the scene; the
bank manager's visit to the Cashier's home in the hope of finding him
there and talking him into returning the 60,000 marks to the bank, with
impunity, just after the Cashier has left his family for good.
The effect of all these coincidences in so otherwise short a play is
to make them seem intentional on Kaiser's part; from the Cashier's point
of view, they could be said to be less accidental than inevitable. That is,
the coincidences, by their sheer number, point out that the Cashier is
determined, no matter what, to break out of his mechanized and soulless
existence through the theft of a large sum of money. It is thereby implied
that, had the Cashier run into the conciliatory bank manager at his, the
Cashier's, house or at the Lady's hotel room, he still would have run off
with the bank's funds. Or even had the Italian Lady's letter of credit arrived at the bank precisely while the Cashier was cramming his pockets
with bank notes, he would nevertheless have persisted in stealing the
money, using it if not to try to seduce an exotic woman other than the
Italian Lady then to seek something else, and greater, from life than the
meager satisfactions of his petty middle-class existence.
Typical of all Kaiser's expressionist plays is this theme of searching for something more or better, even for the ethical renewal of man. It
could be said that Kaiser, in fact, created the figure of the New Man
who will always be associated with expressionistic drama; he was also
the first to realize that this figure might be nothing more than an idealistic chimera. In From Morn to Midnight, the playwright tests the idea of
regeneration through wealth: in other words, can one buy the essence or
ultimate meaning of life? From the very beginning of his new venture,
the Cashier discovers to his horror that money does not reveal the essence or truth but, on the contrary, hides or distorts it. What was originally meant to be a carefree outing with a woman of easy virtuethe Italian
Ladyturns into a nightmarish journey where nothing is what it seems
to be, including the people he meets.
The Italian Lady herself, who unwittingly causes the Cashier to
commit a criminal act, turns out to be an honest character, while the
Salvation Army Lass, who preaches unselfish love and forgiveness, re-

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

51

veals herself in the end to be nothing more than a greedy hypocrite. (She
herself coincidentally if fatefully appears at the velodrome in station five,
trying to sell the Salvation Army newspaper, The War Cry, to the Cashier, before the latter's own visit to the Salvation Army Hall in station
seven.) The sixth station of From Morn to Midnight depicts most graphically the distorted, delusionary world encountered by the Cashier. (The
Salvation Lass also presciently shows up here, at the cabaret, and again
attempts to sell the Cashier a copy of The War Cry.) In seeking erotic
diversion with various, apparently beautiful, masked girls, he finds out
that their masks cover their physical ugliness or spiritual deadness; they
are thus symbolic of the grotesque discrepancy between reality and appearance. Something similar could be said about the audience members
at the velodrome in station five: they appear to want the passionate freedom called for by the Cashier (and incited through his offers of substantial prize money to the top bicycle racers), to desire the eradication of the
hierarchies of class and wealth; but the moment His Royal Highness
enters his private box, the people fall back into their preordained places
in Wilhelm II's virtually absolute, decidedly imperial monarchy.
Closely related to the question of what of value money can buy is
the problem of how to determine life's quintessence, a subject integral to
Kaiser's work. In From Morn to Midnight, for example, the Cashier discusses this problem and its relationship to death in station three's visionary snowfield scene, which forms the climax of part one and whose eerie
atmosphere bears apocalyptic traits. In another powerful scene at the
close of From Morn to Midnight, death, in the form of a skeleton created
by the tangle of wires in a large hanging lamp, is finally revealed to be
the answer to the Cashier's quest or search, his frenzied and frustrating
race from one station to another. He has arrived at Terminal Station
(number seven) and, in a surprising move, as the Cashier shoots himself,
Kaiser associates him with Christ: he falls back, with arms outstretched
. . . his husky gasp . . . like an Ecce, his heavy sigh . . . like a Homo
(507). These words, of course, are the same ones uttered by Pontius Pilate in the Bible, in John 19:5, immediately before Jesus's crucifixion:
they mean Behold the man.

52

Play Analysis: A Reader

This ending has two aspects: On one hand, it underscores man's


disillusionment as well as his consequent inability to become truly regenerateafter all, the Cashier has never wasted a thought on the feelings or troubles of the wife and family he has abandoned, the waiter he
cheated, the whores he abused, or the stadium spectator whose death he
engineered. On the other hand, the ending may reveal Kaiser's belief that,
if the world is not yet ready for the Cashier's messageif humanity as
pure as Christ is not yet realizablethen at least it has been shown the
way. Which is the truth, and which of these propositions only appears to
be the truth? Which proposition is contrived, and which is essential to the
play's meaning? These are questions that run throughout Georg Kaiser's
expressionist drama From Morn to Midnight.
Bibliography
Kaiser, Georg. From Morn to Midnight. Trans. Ashley Dukes. In Masters
of Modern Drama. Ed. Haskell Block and Robert Shedd. New
York: Random House, 1962. 489507.

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

53

The Nightmarish Quality of Pinter's


The Homecoming and Albee's A Delicate Balance
The events in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming (1965) and Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance (1966) are so bizarre that one could look at
either play as the nightmare of one of its characters.
Teddy and Ruth are husband and wife in Pinter's drama and are
visiting his family in North London. By the end, she has carefully decided to remain with his father and two brothers as their mother-whore,
while Teddy quietly leavesto return to their two sons and a professorship at a university in the American Southwest.
Tobias and Agnes are husband and wife in Albee's play and receive a visit in their Connecticut home from their best friends, Harry and
Edna. The latter two claim to be frightened. They say that they cannot
remain alone and wish to occupy a room in their friends' house indefinitely. Julia, Tobias and Agnes's daughter, then returns home after separating from her fourth husband, only to find Harry and Edna ensconced
in her room. She eventually demands, at gunpoint, that they leave. After
insisting that they will not leave and even returning to their own home
briefly to get some clothes and belongings, Harry and Edna do leave
amid pleasantries and plans for future visits.
The nightmarish quality of The Homecoming is underscored by
Teddy and Ruth's arrival after everyone else has gone to bed, the continuation of the action into the night, and his departure the next evening
still trapped in a bad dream, as it were. The nightmarish quality of the
drama is also underscored by the dreariness and darkness of North London in contrast with the cleanness and light of the university city in the
American Southwest (as described by Ruth and Teddy [54]).
The nightmarish quality of A Delicate Balance is underscored by
Harry and Edna's arrival on a Friday night and departure on a Sunday
morning, when everyone wakes up from the weekend's traumatic
events. Although the action of this play takes place over three days, it is
at its most pointed late Saturday night. Harry and Edna go to bed soon
after arriving on Friday and remain in their room all the way up to early
Saturday evening, when they leave it; they exit their room, it could be

54

Play Analysis: A Reader

said, like sleepwalkers otherwise in the embrace of a nightmare. Similarly, Ostensibly in bed, Lenny in The Homecoming leaves his room in Act
I, after the nighttime arrival of Teddy and Ruth, to initiate the nightmarish action that will follow.
The very title of The Homecoming suggest the action of the
dreamer's mind, which comes home to roost, to mull over and act uninhibitedly upon the ideas, images, and people in its vast catalogue. The tile
of A Delicate Balance itself suggests the condition of the dreamer's mind,
where such a delicate balance is ever kept between nightmare and reality
that the dreamer does not really know whether he has only been dreaming until he fully awakes.
Agnes even makes a speech at the end of the Albee play in which
she contrasts the light and order of the waking state with the darkness
and chaos of the dreaming one:
what I find most astonishing, I think, is the wonder of daylight, of the sun. All the
centuries, millenniumsall the historyI wonder if that's why we still sleep at
night, because the darkness still . . . frightens us? They say we sleep to let the demons outto let the mind go raving mad, our dreams and nightmares all our logic
gone awry, the dark side of our reason. And when the daylight comes again . . .
comes order with it. (170)

Agnes could as well be describing here the generative principle behind


the action of both A Delicate Balance and The Homecoming.
If, as Eric Bentley once wrote, Melodrama is the Naturalism of
the dream life (205), then these two reverse melodramas of sorts are the
naturalism of the nightmare vision. On the one hand, the victory of the
underdog and the defeat of the villain in conventional melodrama are our
wishful, dreamy thinking. On the other hand, Teddy's almost complete
lack of resistance to Ruth's, his brothers', and his father's behavior in The
Homecoming, and Tobias and Agnes's eerie capitulation to the intrusion
of Harry and Edna in A Delicate Balanceindeed, Teddy nearly invites
Ruth to remain with his family, while Tobias does finally invite Harry
and his wife to stayare among our dreaded nightmares.

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure


Bibliography
Albee, Edward. A Delicate Balance. New York: Atheneum, 1967.
Bentley, Eric. The Life of the Drama. New York: Atheneum, 1964.
Pinter, Harold. The Homecoming. New York: Grove Press, 1967.

55

56

Play Analysis: A Reader

Pinter's Betrayal: Play and Film


Along with Harold Pinter's plays No Man's Land (1975) and Old Times
(1971), Betrayal (1978) has often been described as cinematic in its
use of time-jumping or time-eliding strategies more common to film. In
this connection, the three plays exhibit some of the impact of Pinter's
work as a screenwriter on his playwriting. In fact his movie career has
included screen adaptations of some of his plays (The Caretaker [1964]
and The Homecoming [1973]), as well as of such novels as Robin
Maugham's The Servant (1963), Nicholas Mosley's Accident (1967), L.
P. Hartley's The Go-Between (1970), John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), and Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers
(1991). In the case of each of the novels, Pinter exploited the structural
flexibility of film to make a more complex narrative out of a conventional one, or to find an equivalent in film for the book's narrative voice and
deployment of time.
The playwright's foremost achievement in this regard is his adaptation of A Remembrance of Things Past (literally, and better, titled In
Search of Lost Time), Marcel Proust's fictional reminiscence about childhood, love, and sexual awakening. Pinter did the adaptation between his
writing of Old Times and No Man's Land, which, taken together with
Betrayal, form a trilogy on the nature of memory and the play of time;
and, where those works bear the imprint of the dramatist's experience as
a film scenarist, so too does Pinter's interest in Proust's novel gain significance in light of his own memory plays, including Landscape (1968)
and Silence (1969). Unfortunately, The Proust Screenplay, as it is
known, was never filmed, although it was successfully adapted by Pinter
for staging at London's National Theatre in 2000.
Among Pinter's screen adaptations, Betrayal (1983) is the subject
of this essay, so let us begin with the play itselfa filmic drama that was
turned into a dramatic film. Betrayal concerns three middle-aged people:
Jerry, a London literary agent who is married and a father; Emma, his
lover for seven years, an art dealer who is married and a mother; and
Robert, Emma's husband and Jerry's best friend from university days,
who is a publisher. The story begins at its conclusion, in 1977, and

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

57

moves backward to its beginning, in 1968. But Pinter doesn't use the
reverse-chronological method slavishly, for three of the play's (and the
film's) nine scenes occur temporally after the scene immediately preceding.
Betrayal opens when Jerry and Emma meet for a drinkagain, in
1977; this is the first time they have seen each other in the two years
since their affair ended (an affair that included a rented flat for the couple's afternoon meetings). Emma tells Jerry that she and Robert are separating, that they had a long talk the night before, that Robert confessed to
a number of affairs and she told him about the long-finished affair with
Jerry. (Thus her affair could have no real bearing on the break-up of her
marriage.) As the story progresses backward, Jerry learns, to his astonishment, that Emma actually had told Robert about the affair four years
ago. Robert had thus known about it while continuing his friendship and
publishing relationship with Jerry, while remaining married to Emma,
and while he had also been busy with his own dalliance (apparently
much more casual than his wife's). The last scene is a party in 1968;
Jerry, who had been best man at Emma and Robert's wedding, declares
his love for her. And, in a long moment of quiet during which she considers the affair we know has occurred, the play endsor begins.
The chief interest of Betrayal could be said to lie in imagining a
question mark after the title. Jerry and Emma use the term betray in the
first scene, but who is betrayed, even in the most conventional lovetriangle manner? Robert knew of his wife's affair, but he did nothing
about it, in part clearly because he was having affairs of his own. Jerry
and Emma were faithful (or is it faithful?) to each other during their
affair. The title Betrayal thus sounds oddly rigid in contrast with the play
that follows it, in which extramarital affairs are practically de rigueur for
everyone. The backward journey of the action does show us one thing,
though: that the desire which precipitated an affair was bound to fade in
time. And it is amoral time that is probably the play's true Pinteresque
resonancethe poignancy of passing time, the humorous-melancholy
immanence of mortalitynot any suggestion that its characters are immorally betraying the very idea of marriage, honor, or self.

58

Play Analysis: A Reader

The film of Betrayal, because of the inherent flexibility of cinematic form, makes the overall temporal pattern of the play seem less of a
stunt. Beyond this, Pinter found new possibilities for the play in its film
adaptation (itself directed by David Jones, essentially a theater director
who has done extensive television work for the BBC). This matter of
genre is one of distinction, not hierarchy; the play has qualities that the
movie could not have. For example, in the London-New York stage production, directed by Peter Hall and designed (scenery, lighting, and costumes) by John Bury, every scene began with the actors immobile in dim
silhouette, with city sounds behind them, and they were brought to motion by the coming of light. Each of the London settings was done in
spare line and color; the one Venice scene was executed in curves. These
theatrical devices helped to distill the play's realism poetically.
Film could not accommodate those devices: they would have
worked against both realism and poetry. The film of Betrayal needs
rooms that are rooms, with life going on in them before and after the bits
of life we see. In the theater, plaques of action were placed before us as
in a three-dimensional mosaic; on screen, the camera just seems to arrive
at opportune moments in these people's ongoing livesopportune for us,
that is. Growing out of such an approach, Pinter fills in material around
the edges that eases the play into this second form and, without fuss,
corroborates it as film. For instance, we glimpse Emma's daughter at
different ages, which makes her a kind of calendar; we see Emma getting
into her car after the breakup of the affair and sitting there for a moment,
crying; we see her husband in his office, verified as a publisher; we even
see the landlady who rents the lovers their rendezvous and, without rudeness, disbelieves everything they tell her. Pinter handles these additions
so that they don't flatten suggestion into explicitness, as they would in
many a movie derived from a play: here the supplements certify and
expand.
Moreover, in his first feature film, David Jones makes it plain that
he understands how to use a camera, how to look and choose and move.
Look at the opening sequence, for onepossibly planned by Pinter but
perfectly fulfilled by Joneswhich takes place outside Robert and Em-

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

59

ma's house in 1977 as they bid good-night to departing guests. The pair
shut their front doora kind of cut without actually cutting. Then the
camera comes closer to the house, moving along to the kitchen window
through which we see the couple conversing, not calmly. They proceed
to slap each other. All this occurs in one long take, which visually certifies the essential contiguousness or inextricability of this couple's social
and personal livesin part because the camera itself begins here as a
public observer, only to become a private voyeur.
In the next scene, focusing on Jerry and Emma in a pub the following day, Jones begins the cat-and-mouse editing technique that fills
the rest of the picture, and he is greatly aided in this regard by the work
of John Bloom. Jones and Bloom craft the film like jewelers, right to the
finish where Jerry persuades Emma to start the affair whose end we have
already witnessed. Her hand slides down the length of his phallic arm to
his hand, and the two entwined handsa pretty wrynessare the last
things (things) we see. For all such cinematic adroitness, however, the
film of Betrayal doesn't finally deepen the play, though it does deepen
an element or tone that was in the original.
That tonal element can also be found in Pinter's No Man's Land,
as well as in many of the plays of lesser English dramatists like Tom
Stoppard and Simon Gray. Such works delineate a radical change in the
locus of English comedy. (And make no mistake: Betrayal, on stage and
screen if not on the page, can breathe only in the rarefied air of such
comedy.) From the Elizabethan age until well into the twentieth century,
that is, high comedy was virtually the exclusive preserve of wealthy,
aristocratic characters. One reason was that the plots of high comedy
were possible only to people with time on their hands, people who didn't
have to work for a living. Another reason was that these peopleI mean
these people in the real world, not the characters based on them by Congreve and Sheridan and Wildedeveloped comedic skill in their otherwise idle lives, qualities that distinguished them from everyone else beneath their station: of arch and elegance, of tease and (brusque) politeness, of rapier skill in the drawing-room duel of words.

60

Play Analysis: A Reader

Increasingly through the twentieth century and beyond, as those


upper classes dwindled proportionately against an educated, reasonably
affluent middle class, the talent for high comedy in life has been acquired
by the middle class. Of course, the action now has to be worked around
office hours and carefully planned vacations and nannies for the children,
but many members of the English middle class today conduct their lives
and conversations in a style as smoothly cruel and tacitly affectionate as
they can make it, based on upper-class paradigmsthemselves perhaps
impelled by a quite English imperative to maintain poise, to keep the
social backbone arched.
Harold Pinter, preeminent among his contemporaries, perceived
this social shift and here writes a kind of high comedy about these middle-class people who, as far as the dailiness of their lives will permit, try
to live those lives with high-comedic panache. And the tonal change in
Betrayal from stage to screen has as much to do with the opening up of
the play as it does with the intensification of this high-comic style in
middle-class London lifepartly because such opening up, or breaking out, permits the stylistic intensification through the situating of
haute bourgeois existence in as realistic, even mundane, a daily context
as possible.
Bibliography
Gale, Stephen H. Sharp Cut: Harold Pinter's Screenplays and the Artistic
Process. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.
Gale, Steven H., ed. The Films of Harold Pinter. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.
Kane, Leslie, ed. The Art of Crime: The Plays and Films of Harold Pinter and David Mamet. New York: Routledge, 2004
Klein, Joanne. Making Pictures: The Pinter Screenplays. Columbus:
Ohio State University Press, 1985.

Model Essays: Plot and Action, or Form and Structure

61

Pinter, Harold. Betrayal. London: Eyre Methuen, 1978.


Renton, Linda. Pinter and the Object of Desire: An Approach through
the Screenplays. Oxford, U.K.: Legenda / European Humanities Research Centre, Oxford University, 2002.

MODEL ESSAYS: CHARACTER AND ROLE


The Chorus in Greek Tragedy . . . and Beyond,
with Special Reference to Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos
Aristotle speaks of tragedy as engendering pity and fear in the hearts of
spectators and somehow thereby purging them of these presumably excessive emotions. Being the son of a physician, Aristotle easily turned to
medical terminology; being a student of Plato, he shared his teacher's
penchant for casting ideas in metaphor. But the celebrated purgation of
pity and fear may be nothing more than the demystification or even disenfranchisement of nature through the formal denial of issue to any tragic
dialogue by means of the intervention of the chorus.
As evidence, consider the structure of Greek tragedya structure
that changed remarkably little over a period of nearly 100 years. The
tragic drama consisted of dialogues interspersed with choral odes. The
chorus sang groups of metrically coordinated lyrical lines at the same
time as they danced. The choreography of these odes is lost to us, but
what we can honestly imagine is something spectacular combining
words, music, and dance. What we must ask ourselves, however, is how
this series of choral interludes worked in tandem with the dialogue sections of the tragic dramathat is, what the relationship was between
choral ode and dramatic action.
One is reminded here of a related phenomenon: the key feature of
temple architecture (which was everywhere in ancient Greece), namely
the alternation of metopes and triglyphs. This occurs at the top of columns and below the roof of the temple and constitutes a horizontal element or band as it must have appeared visually, but which consists in fact
of verticals carved to represent three shaftsthe triglyphswith rectangles or squares in betweenthe metopes. The metopes were carved into
scenes in relief. The particular aspect of temple architecture relevant to
my discussion here is that, from the available evidence, it is extremely
rare to find elements of a scene in one metope carried over into the next

63

64

Play Analysis: A Reader

metope so as to constitute a visual whole incorporating a triglyph. (Perhaps only in the Sicyonian Treasury, preserved in fragments in the Museum at Delphi, do we find some faint continuity.) In effect, the triglyphs
cancel out any communication or continuity between the metopesthat
is, any sense of visual coherence.
I should say that the same is true of the choral odes in ancient
Greek tragedy. In the introduction to his Bride of Messina (1803), Friedrich Schiller even goes so far as to remark that the choral odes effectively cancel out the realism of Greek tragedy, but there is more to it than
this. Like Hesiod in his artful construction of meaning through form in
the Works and Days (700 B.C.), the Greek tragedians were able to impose a sense of resolutionnot mere cancellation or negationwhere
none obtained through the device of the chorus. In this way the openended, hence frightening and mysterious, dynamic of the dialectical collision of the protagonists is itself effectively stopped in its tracks. The
inherent failure or fatality of life is thus denied, and we are freed from
our own fear of failing as well as dying.
In Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos (430 B.C.), for example, the ode
to the vanity of human aspiration, which precedes the messenger's graphic description of Jocasta's suicide and Oedipus's self-blindingfrom
which actions we are already safely at one remove, since they occur
offstagedulls the horror of these actions, even as they are occurring, by
engulfing us in a calming sea of lyrical generalities. What is more, choral
odes in general deny the validity of horrible events, in art as in life. That
is, erga (deeds) are always related to logoi (words), the intellectual process whereby man intervenes in the mythological or the historical process. It is man's ability to transform the realism-cum-reality, to make it
over to serve his own ends, which is significant in this regard. Moreover,
the very beauty of choral lyrics, their art, their complexity, is an act of
redemption in the face of the tragic dilemma posed by the action. Such
self-conscious artistry itself blunts the tension of the drama in the dialogue, even as the group, through the chorus, takes over the private anguish of Oedipus and recasts it into one platitude or another. In so doing,
the group robs the individual human experience of its particularity, its

Model Essays: Character and Role

65

specialness or uniqueness, swallowing it up into a socialized response on


the part of the community.
Related to this, it has been said that when tragedy flourished, in
the fifth century B.C., the breakdown of the oikos family structure caused
every person to realize that he dies alone. It has also often been remarked
that prominent in the definition of the tragic hero is his isolation. The
chorus of Greek tragedy, by contrast, is a constant visual reminder that
all human experience is social, that private values and actions are eventually cancelled out or at least transformed in society's assimilation of
them. Hence individual mortality is rendered immaterial or insignificant
and the tragic hero himself is cast aside like a well-chewed bone after the
chorus has digested the meat of his actions. So it follows that we must be
careful in our interpretation of choral passages, trying not to see them as
direct commentary upon the action or even as deriving immediately from
the action.
For example, again from the Oedipus, the choral ode that speaks
of arrogance and ends by noticing the dangers of impiety in rejecting
oracular pronouncementsat first blush this ode may seem to be the
poet's commentary on Jocasta's sophistic rationalizing of the oracles,
which came before it. Indeed, this is frequently held to be the case. But
instead we may say that the choral ode works contrapuntally in this instance. Let me explain. Jocasta wants to comfort Oedipus here; furthermore, as can be seen more clearly later on, she passionately resists the
revelation to come. Her speech about oracles displays her way of prevaricating or equivocating in order to confront an ominously materializing
reality.
Sophocles is showing us here, among other things, how three human beings react before the imperative to discover a hideous truth: Jocasta rationalizes the evidence away; Creon ignores it supinely; while Oedipus is the only one prepared to go forth to meet it head-on. Jocasta seizes
upon the presumably verifiable piece of data that there were three highway robbers and argues logically from this that the oracle must be altogether false. But she is not really taking on oraclesthe Oracle of Apollo
at Delphi or any other. And when her analysis only makes Oedipus the

66

Play Analysis: A Reader

more certain that he may have been Laius's murderer, Jocasta desperately
insists upon the plurality of the highwaymen, going so far in her insistence as to deny oracles in their entirety. But, again, this is rhetoric, for
the woman feels cornered, and understandably so.
She and Oedipus have edged far out on thin ice, where the cracks
are sounding louder and louder; yet, courageously, they both hold on.
Get me that peasant witness, demands Oedipus. And Jocasta rushes out
as she says, I'll do anything to make you happy. This has been a terrifying and immensely sad dialogue; we witness two people moving on a
now inexorable path or train toward self-revelation, in the process gaining inklings of what hideous stain besmirches their lives together. Victims both, they nonetheless move with dignity, trying all the exits but
finding every door, one by one, locked. After all this the chorus sings of
arrogance and impiety, crime and punishment. The contrast with the
preceding dialogue is almost shocking. The chorus is in fact quite off the
subject, which may be in character, of course; like le peuple in general,
they simply don't get the point. But by talking in easy moral terms, tidying up the ominous irresolutions with their high-blown words (especially
on the theme of crime and punishment), the chorus comforts the spectator, deflects him from the passion of Oedipus and Jocasta, protects him
from the horror of the spectacle of arbitrary and irrational evil slowly
closing in on the royal couple.
Similarly in Euripides' Medea (432 B.C.), when Medea's plan to
kill her children is so far advanced that their fate is sealed, the chorus
sings a remarkable ode quite off the subject of this woman's murder of
her progeny or the sacrifice of her motherhood. They sing instead about
the problems of parenthood and the work of rearing children, saying that
in fact it is better never to have any. The chorus translates Medea's tragic
agony, in other words, into commonplace domestic terms that dull the
sharp and terrifying pain of her dilemma.
Notice by contrast the sarcastic, ironic tone of the brother, Tom
Wingfield, in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie (1944), who
functions somewhat like a choral figure in this domestic play. However,
Tom is also very much an actor in the dramainvolved, almost too

Model Essays: Character and Role

67

much, in the lives of his sister and mother. Moreover, his ironic tone
sometimes provokes the audience to laughter, to which they find themselves reacting with embarrassment. And the ambivalence, even confusion, of their response comes from Tom's undertone of bitternessthe
actual token of his commitmentwhich darkens or diminishes his attempts at distancing himself, and us, from the action. This has the effect
of forcing the audience to commit themselves utterly to the terms of the
drama, even if Tom the individual drops his own commitment at the end
by abandoning the stage and his family in a way that the socially-minded
Greek chorus is never permitted to do to its fellow citizens, the heroes
and heroines of ancient tragedy.
Bibliography
Sophocles. The Oedipus Cycle: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. Trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. 1939. New
York: Harcourt, 2002.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New York: New Directions,
1966. First published, New York: Random House, 1945.

68

Play Analysis: A Reader

Friar Laurence in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet


Romeo's and Capulet's impulsiveness or rashness in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1595) has always been evident. Capulet's offer of Juliet
in marriage to Paris without first consulting his daughter is followed by
the equally impulsive, and ultimately disastrous, action of advancing the
wedding from Thursday to Wednesday. The most obvious example of
rash behavior on Romeo's part occurs when, upon hearing from Balthasar
that Juliet is dead, he goes immediately to the Apothecary's to buy poison
with which to kill himself at her sideinstead of first investigating the
circumstances of young Juliet's death. Unlike Romeo's and Capulet's
rashness, Friar Laurence's has not been explored; it is, however, essential
to an understanding of the play as a character-driven work of fateful
tragedy, as opposed to a contrived drama of accidental or fortuitous pathos.
The clearest instance of Friar Laurence's rashness or impulsiveness occurs in Act II, when he decides to honor Romeo's request to marry
Juliet. The Friar's intentions are good, to be sure; he hopes, by joining the
lovers in marriage, to turn [their] households' rancour to pure love
(II.iii.88). But he acts without considering fully the possible consequences of such a secret marriage between members of feuding families. Ironically, he violates his own dictum: Wisely and slow; they stumble that
run fast (II.iii.90). Indeed, after telling Juliet that, unfortunately, nothing
can postpone her marriage to Paris and hearing her declare that she will
kill herself rather than break her vow to Romeo, Friar Laurence says,
Hold, daughter (IV.i.68), and on the spur of the moment offers Juliet,
in the sleeping potion, a desperate way out of her dilemma.
The Friar compounds his ill-advised haste here when, later, he
sends Friar John to Mantua with a letter telling Romeo to come and take
Juliet away after she awakens, in her tomb, from her long sleep. Friar
John is delayed by the plague afflicting Verona, since he chose for a
traveling companion a brother who had been attending the afflicted; as a
precaution, John and the brother are quarantined to prevent the spread of
the disease, and Romeo never receives Friar Laurence's letter. (For purposes of the dramatic action, Friar John himself has not been exposed to

Model Essays: Character and Role

69

infection, nor has Friar Laurence: they are victims of the spiritual
plaguethe feudthat besieges the Montague and Capulet families.) In
other words, Laurence's haste caused him rashly to send John by himself
to Romeo in Mantua, when he should have remembered the rule of the
Franciscan order that forbade one friar to travel anywhere without the
company of another Franciscan (221, note).
Even if it is argued that it was Friar John's responsibility to find
his own traveling companion, not Friar Laurence's to find one for him,
the latter should still have foreseen the improbability of his confrere's
choosing a safe Franciscan companion in a city beset by the plague.
(The Franciscans, of course, would be ministering to the sick and would
therefore be capable of spreading the infection.) Friar John, for his part,
does not have much time to deliberate the wisdom of traveling with a
possible carrier of infection; he has been told by Friar Laurence to speed
to Mantua (IV.i.123124), and he must be accompanied there by a fellow
Franciscan. Laurence should have gone to the trouble of providing a
Franciscan companion for Friar John, or perhaps he should even have
gone with John himself. Had Friar John left Verona immediately in the
company of an uninfected member of his order, he would never have
been detained and would consequently have been able to deliver the allimportant letter to Romeo.
In my view, then, Friar Laurence's rash or impulsive behavior
helps to account for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. It is Laurence's
rashness that is responsible for Friar John's detention, and it is equally
responsible for Balthasar's reaching Mantua, undeterred, with news of
Juliet's apparent death. It is Friar Laurence's fault that Balthasar is unaware of Juliet's feigned death, for he never apprises him of the plan to get
Juliet out of the marriage to Paris so that she can be reunited with Romeo. Had he sent Balthasar instead of Friar John to Mantua with the
letter to Romeo, the deaths of Juliet and Romeo would have been prevented. Presumably, Romeo would have returned to Verona at the appointed time to take Juliet away. Just as, in his haste to aid Romeo and
Juliet, Friar Laurence forgets about the infectious disease that afflicts
Verona and that will ultimately detain Friar John, he forgets to send Bal-

70

Play Analysis: A Reader

thasar in John's place (as he had told Romeo he would) and even to inform Balthasar of the plan to reunite the lovers.
In sum, Friar Laurence and Balthasar are acting independently to
serve Romeo, whereas they should be acting in concert. Similarly, Friar
John is acting independently when he leaves Friar Laurence's cell
without a Franciscan companion free of infection. The image of John and
a fellow brother, finally acting together but quarantined for it, and hopeless to prevent the tragedy, is the opposite of that of Friar Laurence and
Balthasar at the end of the play, finally discovering each other's separate
actions but freed or pardoned for them by the Prince, and therefore
able to join in the ultimate reconciliation of the Capulet and Montague
families.
Bibliography
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Brian Gibbons. London:
Arden / Methuen, 1980.

Model Essays: Character and Role

71

The Fate of Jessica in Shakespeare's


The Merchant of Venice
(Music.)
Jessica.
Lorenzo.

I am never merry when I hear some sweet music.


The reason is your spirits are attentive:
For do but note a wild and wanton herd
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood,
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn'd to a modest gaze,
By the sweet power of music: therefore the poet
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones, and floods,
Since naught so stockish, hard, and full of rage,
But music for the time doth change his nature,
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is for treasons, stratagems, and spoils,
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted:mark the music.
(V.i.6988)

No one has ever attempted to explain why Jessica is never merry when
she hears sweet music in The Merchant of Venice (1600). But Lorenzo
gives the reasons at the end of his speech. In deserting her father,
Shylock, and stealing his money and jewels as well as a ring given to him
by his wife, Jessica has been, not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
but fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. Even as Shylock could be
said to steal through usury, Jessica steals from him: she takes the spoils
of his usury. Launcelot Gobbo says as much to her: Yes truly, for look
you, the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children, therefore . . .
truly I think you are damn'd . . . (III.v.12, 5). From the moment Jessica
enters the play in Act II, scene iii, then, her only thought is to flee her
father's house well provided for; in her first appearance onstage she asks
Launcelot Gobbo, who is also leaving Shylock (for Bassanio's service),

72

Play Analysis: A Reader

to deliver to Lorenzo a letter detailing her plan for escape. Like a wanton
plunderer, she will soon squander fourscore ducats of Shylock's money
in one night in Genoa and trade his ring for a monkey.
Jessica signifies spy or looker-out in Hebrew (Brown, 3, note),
and the daughter has indeed been a kind of spy in her father's household.
She commits treason, in a manner of speaking, by marrying the enemy,
the Christian Lorenzo, and she compounds her treason by revealing
before the trial scene that Shylock has said he would rather have
Antonio's flesh / Than twenty times the value of the sum / That he did
owe him (III.ii.285287). This revelation is the first real clue to Portia
that Shylock wants Antonio's life more than any sum of money. It is after
Act III, scene ii, I would argue, when she recalls Jessica's words, that
Portia decides to go in disguise to Venice as the lawyer Bellario's
representative with a plan to defeat Shylock.
Like those of the man that hath no music in himself, the
motions of Jessica's spirit are as dull as night. That is, the pangs of her
conscience have been dulled or repressed in the excitement of elopement.
After her lines, Alack, what heinous sin is it in me / To be ashamed to
be my father's child! (II.iii.1617), she expresses no further guilt over,
nor attempts any rationalization of, her desertion and robbery of Shylock.
If the motions of Jessica's spirit are as dull as night, then her affections
are as dark as Erebus. She communicates her affections to Lorenzo in
two scenes, both under cover of night. She flees her home in Act II,
scene vi, in darkness, saying to Lorenzo,
I am glad 'tis nightyou do not look on me,
For I am much asham'd of my exchange:
But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit,
. . . (II.vi.3437)

The literal meaning here is clear: Jessica is happy that she cannot
be seen, for she is ashamed to be disguised in boys' clothes. The
implication, howeverunconscious on Jessica's partis that she is
ashamed of the exchange of Shylock for Lorenzo, of the folly she is
committing in darkening her affections toward her father. Launcelot

Model Essays: Character and Role

73

Gobbo has said that he thinks she is damned, and her damnation is
suggested in Lorenzo's likening of the darkness of affections to the
darkness of Erebus. Erebus, according to H. L. Withers, is the covered
place, the under-world, dim region of dead corpses (148, note 87) on
the way to Hades.
In Act V, scene i, Jessica and Lorenzo sit outside Portia's house at
night, in the moonlight, and speak of love (their conversation leads to the
exchange quoted at the start of this essay). Each describes a moment in
two legendary love affairs that occurred on a night such as the one they
are experiencing. Lorenzo recalls the loves of Troilus and Cressida and
of Aeneas and Dido; Jessica, those of Pyramus and Thisbe and of Jason
and Medea. All these love affairs, of course, were finally doomed or
benighted. When a messanger arrives, Jessica says to Lorenzo, I
would out-night you did nobody come (V.i.23). She means that she
would continue the game of describing moments from famous love
affairs, including her and Lorenzo's own. What is implied, however, is
that, had they not been interrupted, she would have continued to describe
their love in terms as benighted as these :
In such a night
Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well,
Stealing her soul with many words vows of faith,
And ne'er a true one. (V.i.1720)

I do not mean to suggest that Jessica and Lorenzo's marriage is


doomed; clearly, in the design of the comedy, it is not. But surely
Shakespeare is suggesting that something is wrong with Jessica, since
she is not moved with concord of sweet sounds. That something, I
wish to argue, is her mixed emotional state at leaving her father:
paradoxically, part latent or dulled guilt over her betrayal of Shylock,
part joy at casting off the influence of this usurer with his ever attentive
spirits, or circumspect mind. (This mind, it is suggested, makes Shylock
himself unable to respond to music. He speaks at one point of the vile
squealing of the wry-neck'd fife [II.v.30], and at another point he makes
fun of those who, when the bagpipe sings i'th'nose, / Cannot contain
their urine [IV.i.4950].) As John Russell Brown has written, a usurer

74

Play Analysis: A Reader

was cunning and deceitful by profession (xliv). Yet, just as Shakespeare


has not created a simple villain in Shylock, but a complex man who can
elicit alternately our condemnation and our sympathy, so too has he not
created in Jessica solely the unfilial daughter of a persecuted Jew or, in
John Middleton Murry's words, a [charming] princess held captive by
an ogre (194), but instead a combination of the two.
Shylock would certainly say that Jessica cannot be trusted; and
Lorenzo playfully compares her, in their love duet at the start of Act V,
to a little shrew who did slander her love (V.i.2122). Before the
entrance of Portia and Nerissa (returning from Venice) in this scene,
Lorenzo intimates that until Jessica can be moved or made merry by
sweet music, he will not be able to trust her. His last words to her are
mark the music, which she does for the rest of the play. Lorenzo
speaks on five more occasions after this line; Jessica does not speak
again. When Antonio and Bassanio return from Venice, she does not
once inquire after her father's fate. She learns only that she and Lorenzo
will receive From the rich Jew, a special deed of gift / After his death,
of all he dies possess'd of (V.i.292293). Jessica, it seems, is silently
coming to terms with her betrayal of Shylock: regretting it, but
simultaneously understanding its necessity.
Music, writes Nevill Coghill, is Shakespeare's recurrent
symbol of harmony (17). In finally responding to music, Jessica will
have resolved the paradox of her betrayal of / salvation from her father,
and will have achieved harmony with herself, with nature (as represented
by the wild and wanton herd / Or race of youthful and unhandled
colts, on the one hand, and the trees, stones, and floods, on the other),
and with her new, Christian, non-usurious world in Belmont.
Bibliography
Brown, John Russell, ed. The Merchant of Venice, by William
Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 1955.
Coghill, Nevill. The Governing Idea. Shakespeare Quarterly, I
(Summer 1948): 917.

Model Essays: Character and Role

75

Murry, John Middleton. Shakespeare. 1936. London: Jonathan Cape,


1959.
Withers, H. L., ed. The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare.
Boston: D. C. Heath, 1916.

76

Play Analysis: A Reader

The Pious Peacockery of Johnny Boyle


in O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock
In the bedroom of the two-room apartment occupied by the Boyle family
in Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock (1924), Johnny, the son, keeps a
statue of Saint Anthony, below which sits a crimson bowl where a floating votive light is burning. The action onstage takes place in the living
room of the apartment, so we never see the inside of the bedroom and,
with it, the statue of Saint Anthony. Why does Johnny Boyle pray to
Saint Anthony, and why do we not see his miniature shrine to the saint,
which is only described in the stage directions? (By contrast, we do see
his picture of the Virgin Mary in the living room, below which also sits a
crimson bowl where a floating votive light is burning.)
To answer these questions, we must first discover who in fact
Saint Anthony is. He could be either Saint Anthony of Egypt (ca. 250
356) or Saint Anthony of Padua (11951231). The latter was a Franciscan friar renowned for his eloquent preaching as well as for his holy life.
This Saint Anthony has a reputation as a miracle worker, and his favor is
sought by travelers together with those who have lost something of value; his feast day is June 13th (the month in which Johnny, his mother,
Juno, and his sister, Mary, were all born). Saint Anthony of Egypt, for
his part, was a hermit and the founder of Christian monasticism. His type
of asceticism, based on eremitism or solitude, is one of the two strains in
monasticism, the other being typified by the communal rule of Saint
Benedict of Nursia; this Anthony's feast day is January 17th, and he is the
patron saint of herdsmen (see note 1).
Johnny Boyle himself is certainly praying for a miracle during
Juno and the Paycock, and that miracle is his rescue from the Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) Irregulars, who wish to prosecutethen executehim for the betrayal of his fellow soldier and good friend Robbie
Tancred (see note 2). Robbie was murdered by Free-State soldiers (unlike the I.R.A. Irregulars, they did not insist on full independence from
England and a union including Northern Ireland), who had been informed of his whereabouts by Johnny (see note 3). Johnny Boyle could
be praying to Saint Anthony of Padua, as well as to the Virgin Mary, for

Model Essays: Character and Role

77

the miracle of literal salvation, since this Anthony's favor is sought by


travelers in need. And Johnny has become a traveler of sorts in his attempt to save himself from capture by the Irish Republican Army, as the
following dialogue reveals:
Mrs. Boyle.
Johnny.
Mrs. Boyle.
Johnny.

. . . sleepin' wan night in me sisther's, an' the nex' in your father's


brother'syou'll get no rest goin' on that way.
I can rest nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.
Sure, you're not thryin' to rest anywhere.
Let me alone, let me alone, for God's sake. (103)

The favor of Saint Anthony of Padua is also sought by those who


have lost something of value, and Johnny Boyle undoubtedly has done
so: he has lost both his left arm (blown off by a bomb in the fight in
O'Connell Street [71, 93]) and his ability to walk properly (the result of
the bullet he got in the hip in Easter Week [71]). But he has sacrificed
something else in addition: his honor or integrity, which he gave up when
he sold out Robbie Tancredthe commandant of the I.R.A. battalion for
which he, Johnny, was quartermasterto the enemy.
It is just as plausible, however, that Johnny Boyle is praying to
Saint Anthony of Egypt, not Saint Anthony of Padua. In his attempt to
elude or hide from the Irish Republican Army, as well as on account of
his difficulty in walking, Johnny has become a kind of hermit wherever
he has been staying in Dublinat an uncle's apartment, an aunt's, or his
family's own place. During the play, he never goes outside until the end,
when he is dragged off by two Irregulars; furthermore, he remains
unseen, inside the bedroom of the two-room Boyle apartment, for much
of the action. It is there that he prays to his fellow recluse, Saint Anthony
of Egypt, the patron saint of solitary herdsmen and, by extension, their
military counterparts, quartermasters (who supply troops with food,
clothing, shelter, and equipment).
Unfortunately, Johnny's prayers to the eremitic Saint Anthony,
like his prayers to the Virgin Mary, do him no good. Indeed, it is precisely when he is all alone in the Boyle apartment, and therefore vulnerable,
that he is questioned by the I.R.A. (at the end of Act II, after his family
has gone down to the streetironically, to observe the passing of Robbie

78

Play Analysis: A Reader

Tancred's funeral cortege) and later taken away for execution (at the end
of Act III, after the Boyle family has scattered over the twin revelations
that Mary is pregnant out of wedlock and no money is coming to them
from the will of their deceased relative William Ellison).
Johnny's prayers do him no good because they are the wrong
prayers: he prays for rescue from the Irish Republican Army rather than
for the salvation of his soul; he confesses his fear of reprisal instead of
his guilt for betraying Robbie; he asks for the protection of his life,
whereas he should be asking for the forgiveness of his sin. Johnny
Boyle's religious faith, like his loyalty to the Republican cause, is thus a
sham. It is one more pose adoptedhowever unconsciouslyout of
convenience and necessity, just like the pose of ardent Irish nationalism.
And even as Johnny betrayed his putative Irish nationalism by turning
against a fellow Irish nationalist (for reasons never made clear in the
play, which makes the betrayal seem all the more petty or self-serving),
he probably would have betrayed his seemingly fervent Catholic faith the
moment his prayer for release from the clutches of the I.R.A. had been
answered.
Johnny Boyle, then, is one more peacock in a play in which
peacockeryempty ostentation, egotistical adoption of false ideals, attitudes, or beliefsmust consistently confront the harsh reality of life in a
poverty-stricken, war-torn, politically divided land. With his maimed hip
and missing arm, Johnny himself is a symbol of the tormented body
politic of Ireland; yet he persists, even unto death, in imitating the strutting spectacle of a peacock instead of recognizing himself for the halting
shadow of a man he in fact is. Despite his betrayal of Robbie Tancred,
Johnny arrogantly insists at the end that he is still a comrade: Are
yous goin' to do in a comrade? he entreats the two Irregulars who
have come to take him away (141). Despite his failure to acknowledge
his sinfulness, he vainly continues at the end to pray to God for deliverance from Robbie's avengers, even as the reclusive, sometimes peripatetic Johnny prayed to Saint Anthonyof Padua or of Egyptfor protection from the I.R.A. during the play. But he will get no forgiveness or
deliverance in this life, and he will not rest in peace hereafter. I can rest

Model Essays: Character and Role

79

nowhere, nowhere, nowhere, Johnny Boyle had declared to his mother


in Act II of Juno and the Paycock, and, from a Catholic point of view,
those words will come back to haunt him in the endin the afterlife.
Notes
1.

Though born into the Church of Englandafter the Roman


Catholic Church the second largest denomination in the Republic of Ireland and the third largest in Northern IrelandSean
O'Casey (18801964) would have been somewhat conversant
with Catholic theology. Like other Anglican churches, the
Church of England has retained elements of pre-Reformation
practice while rejecting papal authority. Nevertheless, in theological and liturgical matters, it incorporates many reforms of
the Reformation, in particular the English Reformation. In accommodating both influences, the church formally identifies as
both Catholic and Reformed, though for historical as well as
cultural reasons it is generally identified as a Protestant denomination. Within the church itself, differences exist between those
members whose subculture is more Catholic-leaning and those
members whose subculture is more Protestant-leaning.

2.

O'Casey himself was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (I.R.B.), a secret, oath-bound fraternal organization dedicated, between 1858 and 1924, to the establishment of an independent democratic republic in Ireland. From 1914 to 1916, he
was also a member of the Irish Citizen Army (I.C.A.), a small
group of trained trade union volunteers established in Dublin for
the defense of worker's demonstrations from the police; in 1916,
the I.C.A. took part in the Easter Risingan armed insurrection
aimed at ending British rule in Ireland.

80

Play Analysis: A Reader


3.

Some historical and political background seems called for here.


The Irish Civil War (June 28, 1922-May 24, 1923) followed the
Irish War of Independence (January 21, 1919-July 11, 1921) and
accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State (with its
capital in Dublin), an entity independent from the United Kingdom but within the British Empire. (The six-county Northern
Ireland remained within the United Kingdom.) The conflict was
waged between two opposing groups of Irish nationalists over
the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The forces of the Provisional Government (which became the Free State in December 1922) supported the Treaty, while the Republican opposition saw it as a
betrayal of the Irish Republic (which had been established during the War of Independence). Many of those who fought in the
conflict had been members of the Irish Republican Army
(I.R.A.) during the War of Independence. The Civil War was
won by the Free State forces, which were heavily armed and assisted by the British government. The conflict may have claimed
more lives than the War of Independence that preceded it, and it
left Irish society divided and embittered for generations.

Bibliography
O'Casey, Sean. Three Dublin Plays: The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and
the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars. London: Faber & Faber,
1998.

Model Essays: Character and Role

81

The Jew That Miller Drew: Religion, Ethnicity,


and Miller's Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman (1949) is set in the late 1940s and reaches back
some fifteen years to the early 1930s. I would not imply, howeveras
some critics have donethat by virtue of its flashback structure, Salesman would have made a better film (with its dissolves, cross-fading, and
minutely detailed realism as opposed to realism of the modified, simplified, or theatricalized kind) than a play. In fact, in the case of Arthur
Miller's drama, the theater has a superior ability to suggest both the childishness of Willy's sons (by having the adult actors of Biff and Happy
unrealistically play their boyhood selves onstage) and the momentousness of Willy's adultery (by having it occur, not on location in Boston,
but on the forestageright in the Lomans' living room, as it were). And
some of the play, as play, is touching or poignant still: Willy when he is
at his most salesman-like, the Requiem over his coffin, and even the very
flashback structure of Salesman. For it suggests that, without the flashbacks originating in Willy's mind, the information conveyed by them
about such subjects as adultery, lying, cheating, and failurewould not
be revealed in the present in dialogue among the Lomans, who, unlike
the Tyrones of Eugene O'Neill's great, and overtly Irish-American Catholic, family drama Long Day's Journey into Night (1941), do not communicate so well or so openly.
But the flashback structure of Death of a Salesman suggests
something ominous as well, something connected with what I shall call
Miller's divided impulse between composing a Jewish domestic drama
and writing a representative play on the American experience. (For some
critics a better play than Death of a Salesman and therefore Miller's best,
The Crucible [1953] itself suffers from a similar defect or division: its
last act is a moral-metaphysical drama of adultery, while its first three
acts compose a political parable in which the Salem witchcraft trials of
1692 are used as a parallel with McCarthyism during the 1950s.) This
division on Miller's part was elucidated by David Mamet in an essay
about the play, in which he wrote the following:

82

Play Analysis: A Reader


The greatest American play, arguably, is the story of a Jew told by a Jew and cast
in universal terms. Willy Loman is a Jew in a Jewish industry. But he is never
identified as such. His story is never avowed as a Jewish story, and so a great contribution to Jewish American history is lost. It's lost to culture as a whole, and,
more importantly, it's lost to the Jews, its rightful owners. (Mamet is quoted on
821822 of the Fall 1998 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review, in an interview in
which Arthur Miller agreed only with Mamet's characterization of Willy as a Jew
and of his story as a Jewish one.)

That is, Miller seems not only structurally to have split his play
between a climactic frame covering the last hours of Willy's life up to his
climactic suicide, and an episodic form that enacts the Loman past in a
series of flashback scenes. The dramatist seems also to have created a
formal equivalent for his own divided consciousness on the subject of a
Jewish protagonist versus a Christian one. For who is to say that Willy's
flashbacks are objectively true, as they are always assumed to be? Might
they not be the subjective or expressionistic visions, even hallucinations,
of a feverish mind on the verge of collapse, instead of a mere device for
explicating past events that the Lomans otherwise do not, or do not want
to, talk about? (This is a kind of memory play, after all, and memory,
even in a mentally healthy person, is notoriously fallible as well as selectively creativeas we know from at least one other famous memory
play, Harold Pinter's Old Times [1971].)
Further, might Willy's flashbacks therefore not only be his attempt
to remember a pivotal year in his and his family's past, 1931 or 1932
(football star Biff's senior year of high school, during which he discovers
his father's adulterous relationship with the Woman in Boston, and when
Willy purportedly turns down a job in Alaska working for his brother
Ben); might these flashbacks also be Willy's attempt to fictionalize part
of his past as well as to portray some of it truthfully? After all, no character in the play, except Willy, uses Ben's name or refers to the elder brother's South African business ventures, nor does any character besides
Willy refer to his wagon-travels West, as a boy, with his flute-carving
father. And most of these references, by Willy, occur in his flashbacks
themselves, during conversations with Ben.

Model Essays: Character and Role

83

Could Ben and the wagon-travels, then, be Willy's invention, his


attempt, if you will, as a proxy for Miller (a Jew whose three marriages
were all to Christian women, and who never took the stance of a public
Jewish intellectual during his long career), to Christianize or universalize
his past? Might this not be suggested somehow in production, visually as
well as vocally, through the use of different actors in the flashbacks in
the roles of Linda, Biff, and Happywhose appearance and manner of
speaking would make clear that they were Willy's idealized Christian
versions of his real wife and sons? Would such an interpretation of the
context of Death of a Salesman's flashbacks not be truer to the play as it
stands, particularly if this re-imagining were an exculpatory move on
Willy's part, to blame his failings on anti-Semitism and thereby suggest
that his life would have been bettermaterially, domestically, psychologicallyhad he only been a Protestant? And wouldn't such an interpretation be true as well to Miller's acknowledgment in the Michigan Quarterly Review interview, in response to David Mamet's remarks, that Willy
was in fact a Jew and his story a Jewish one?
Indeed, much of the power Death of a Salesman still has derives
from the sure-fire conventions of Yiddish domestic theater. (Death of a
Salesman was in fact performed in Yiddish, in Brooklyn in 1951, in a
translation by Joseph Buloff, with Buloff and his wife, Lyuba Kadison
gifted actors from New York's Yiddish theaterin the roles of Willy and
Linda.) As if it were in a direct line from such Jewish-immigrant drama
through Clifford Odets, Miller's play climaxes with a rebellious son being reconciled with his estranged father. Compare Al Jolson, in the film
The Jazz Singer (1927), being forgiven by his stern Orthodox father for
having become a teaterzinger rather than a cantor. And compare Salesman with Miller's own The Creation of the World and Other Business
(1972), which was meant to be a Jewish domestic comedy on the first
father-son story, that of God and Adam, but where, ethnically speaking,
the playwright fiddled, faltered, and fumbled once again.
Related to this matter of Jewish ethnicity, consider the diction of
the play, because a play is its language, first and finally. And Death of a
Salesman falters badly in this regard, possibly also on account of Miller's

84

Play Analysis: A Reader

divided impulse between writing a Jewish family play and composing a


universal drama about American life. At its best, its true and telling best,
the diction is first-generation Brooklyn Jewishthe kind of English that
not only is spoken with a muscular, guttural, sing-songy Brooklyn accent, but that also retains the poetic imagery, forceful expression, and
ritualistic repetition of Yiddish while discarding German syntax, grammar, and of course words. Here are some examples from the play: Life
is a casting off [15]; A man is not a bird, to come and go with the
springtime (54); Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a
person (56); Money is to pass (64); I slept like a dead one (71);
He's only a little boat looking for a harbor (76); Spite, spite, is the
word of your undoing (130).
Often, however, the dialogue slips into a generalized fanciness
that is slightly ludicrous. To hear Biff say, I've been remiss (60); to
hear Linda say, He was crestfallen (15); to listen to Willy declare,
There's such an undercurrent in him (15) or That's just the spirit I
want to imbue them with (52); to listen to Biff asking Happy, Are you
content? (23), to Happy arguing that Biff's just a little overstrung
(115), and to Charley finally opining that Nobody dast blame this man
(138)all of this is like watching a car run off the road momentarily
onto the shoulder. The same goes for Miller's deployment of the nominative and accusative cases as well as the subjunctive mood. This is a play
in which you can actually hear these less-than-educated, parochial
Brooklyn Jews incongruously use the subjunctive were correctly (24),
in addition to unabashedly uttering I and Biff (17), You and I (23,
31, 63), and Biff and I (135) as if they were reading out of a grammar
book.
The division between Christianity and Judaism in Death of a
Salesman, as I have posited it, suggests finally that in the deepest sense,
Miller's crisishere as in other works of his like The Crucible and The
Creation of the World and Other Businessis religious. Set in a solid
Jewish or Christian, or Marxist or even ancient Greek cosmos, with the
terrain open and the compass steady, with hope clear and anguish purposeful, he could have lived to make dramas out of his life, dramas

Model Essays: Character and Role

85

meaningful to his fellow citizens and constructive of society as a whole.


Instead, Miller found himself in a world with a wispy ethos and a dim
cosmology, where there was no common sounding board of aspiration
around him to echo his words, no grand, austere design against which his
characters could measure themselves. This was, and is, a desolate world
in which to look for tragic art; and some of that desolation must necessarily have been in Miller himself.
He was a youth in the Depression, one should recall, and grew up
an acolyte of social justice. (His behavior in the 1950s before the Congressional committee that investigated Communist infiltration of the arts
was probably the most dignified of any witness in that committee's long,
inglorious record.) As with so many others, however, his socio-political
beliefs failed to sustain him, and he found himself a god-hungry man
without a god. Miller always had in him the fever of large issues; he
showed no interest in plays, however fine, about domestic triangles or
sensitive adolescents. He wanted to create works every one of which
was, by implication, about everything. But he could not find the enduring
moral backdrop or the large emotions possible only in a world with some
sort of religious faith. And, in this sense, Miller's artistic life
disconnected from a society that defies connection, searching for a temple it can serveis a truer tragedy than Death of a Salesman or any other
one play he tried to write. As an artist, that is, Arthur Miller himself was
the tragic agonist he had always tried to depict in his work.
Bibliography
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking / Penguin, 1949.
Responses to a Question and Answer Session: An Interview with Arthur
Miller. Michigan Quarterly Review, 37.4 (Fall 1998): 817827.

86

Play Analysis: A Reader

Nick in Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


C. W. E. Bigsby thinks that Edward Albee named his character Nick,
from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), after Nikita Khrushchev
(18941971) because Nick is a totalitarian interested in power (267).
But it is more likely that Nick's name derives from his profession of
biologist, just as George's name derives from his profession of historian,
thus making him a kind of George Washington who, along with his wife,
Martha, embodies the archetypal American couple. To wit: as a verb,
nick can mean to complement each other genetically to produce a
single offspring; as a noun, a nick may be defined as a break in a
strand of DNA or RNA.
In the play, Nick is in fact engaged in experiments that may alter,
and permanently improve, the human species. As George puts it in Act I,
[T]his young man is working on a system whereby chromosomes can be altered
. . . well, not all by himselfhe probably has one or two co-conspiratorsthe genetic makeup of a sperm cell changed, reordered . . . to order, actually . . . for hair
and eye color, stature, potency . . . I imagine . . . hairiness, features, health . . . and
mind. Most important . . . mind. All imbalances will be corrected, sifted out . . .
propensity for various diseases will be gone, longevity assured. We will have a
race of men . . . test-tube bred . . . incubator born . . . superb and sublime . . . we
will have a civilization of men, smooth, blond, and right at the middleweight limit
. . . a race of scientists and mathematicians, each dedicated to and working for the
greater glory of the super-civilization. (4546)

But Nick himself, whom Albee describes as being blond, well


put-together, good-looking (7), has not yet fathered a child by his wife,
Honey. He married her because he thought she was pregnant, but he
discovered that the pregnancy was hysterical; now Honey takes precautions to avoid having a child altogether. Moreover, after going off to
make love with Martha toward the end of Act II, Nick returns at the start
of Act III without having consummated the sexual act.
Perhaps Nick's self-proclaimed superiority and virility are an illusion, as Martha suggests when she tells him that he is no better than
anyone else (111), just as George and Martha's son was an illusion used
to sustain their barren marriage. Indeed, Nick is something of an illusion

Model Essays: Character and Role

87

himself, or at least an insubstantial creature, since his name is used in the


stage directions but never mentioned or spoken in the play's dialogue.
The name Honey is spoken by another character, her husband. But the
fact that Honey is used by almost all spouses in the United States as a
term of endearment makes it at once perfunctory, anonymous, and cloyinga kind of nick-name, I daresay, that complements her husband's
name almost as well as Martha complements George.
Bibliography
Albee, Edward. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. London: Penguin,
1965.
Bigsby, C. W. E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American
Drama. Vol. 2. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press,
1984.
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts:
Merriam-Webster, 1986.

88

Play Analysis: A Reader

Uncle Sam in Pinter's The Homecoming


At the end of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming (1965), right before Teddy leaves, his paternal uncle, Sam, with whom he seems to have a good
relationship, croaks and collapses (78). Sam is not dead, yet no one
does anything to help him, not even Teddy. Max, Lenny, and Joey
Teddy's father and two brothers, respectivelyare more interested in
whether Teddy's wife, Ruth, will really be remaining with them in England as their mother-whore. (She finally agrees to terms of employment.) Teddy is so concerned with getting out of the family home and
back to his teaching duties, as well as his three sons, in the United States,
that he neglects Sam. Now that his wife has joined his father and brothers, he believes he has no alternative but to depart. To remain with the
family is to become like themwhich is perhaps one of the reasons that,
six years before, Teddy left for America in the first place.
That Teddy sacrifices Sam in order to save himself, however, is a
sign of the desperateness of his condition and of his family's insidious
power to shape his behavior even as he takes steps to preserve his moral
autonomy. For it is Sam with whom Teddy is most identified during the
play, and whose physical breakdown can therefore be viewed as signifying his nephew's moral breakdown, as opposed to moral selfpreservation. Since Teddy, Sam's favourite (62), lives and works in the
United States, Sam's very title, Uncle Sam, as well as his job, driving
Yankee businessmen around London (12), connects him with his nephew's country of refuge and thus with his nephew himself.
Teddy married but apparently feared bringing his wife home to
meet the family, although he finally does so for the first time in the
playafter six years. Sam, for his part, never married, partly for fear of
having to bring his own bride home to meet the family, as the following
exchange with his brother suggests:
Max.

Sam.

When you find the right girl, Sam, let your family know, don't
forget, we'll give you a number one send-off, I promise you. You
can bring her to live here, she can keep us all happy. We'd take it
in turns to give her a walk round the park.
I wouldn't bring her here. (15)

Model Essays: Character and Role

89

After Teddy brings Ruth home from America, it is Sam, and only Sam, who insists that [Teddy is Ruth's] lawful husband. She's his
lawful wife (69), when Max, Lenny, and Joey get the idea of keeping
Ruth as their mother-cum-whore. And it is Ruth's coming to a business
agreement with her father-in-law and brothers-in-law, together with Teddy's acceptance of that agreement, that in the end drives Sam to collapse:
thus is he identified with the very manhis own nephewwho repudiates him.
Bibliography
Pinter, Harold. The Homecoming. New York: Grove Press, 1967.

90

Play Analysis: A Reader

The Ghost in Bond's Lear


The ghost in Edward Bond's Lear (1972) is the Ghost of the Gravedigger's Boy. The Gravedigger's Boy cares for the ragged, tired, dirty
and frightened (16; I.v.) Lear after the latter's army loses to the armies
of the Duke of North and the Duke of Cornwall; no longer kinghis
daughters Bodice and Fontanelle now have powerLear finds refuge on
the Boy's small farm.
The Boy's Wife does not want Lear to stay, since she thinks he is
a filthy old tramp. (Neither she nor the Boy knows that Lear was once the
king.) The Boy refuses to send him away, however:
Wife.
Boy.

I knew it! You're going to ask him to stay!


What else can I do? He can't look after himself. He's a poor old
manhow can I throw him out? Who'd look after him? I won't
do it! (21; I.vi.)

Lear will earn his keep on the farm by looking after the pigs. But soldiers
come in Act I, Scene vii, and kill the Boy, rape the Wife, and slaughter
the pigs, taking Lear prisoner in the name of Bodice and Fontanelle.
Thus Lear is indirectly responsible for the Boy's murder. In his
preface to the play, Bond goes as far as to say, I think [Lear] had to
destroy the innocent boy (xiii). Lear's policiesbuilding a wall around
his kingdom, executing an innocent worker accused of idleness and negligencegive Bodice and Fontanelle an excuse to rebel, and the Boy is
killed for harboring the fugitive king after the latter's army is defeated.
The Ghost is not to be thought of, however, as the Gravedigger's
Boy returned from the dead to haunt earthly life; the Ghost is the ghost
of the Boy's former self and therefore a diminution of that self. His behavior is the opposite of the Boy's. The Boy comforted Lear, for example, whereas Lear comforts the Ghost of the Boy:
Ghost.
Lear.

I'm afraid. Let me stay with you, keep me here, please.


Yes, yes, poor boy. Lie down by me. Here. I'll hold you. (42;
II.ii.)

Model Essays: Character and Role

91

Moreover, the Boy was selfless; the Ghost is self-serving. When


the imprisoned Lear calls for his daughters in Act III, Scene ii, the Ghost
can bring him only the ghosts of his daughters, the little girls Bodice and
Fontanelle, who can do little for their father. If the Ghost is the ghost
or diminution of the Boy's former self, the loving girls are the ghosts,
the lost or suppressed aspects, of Bodice's and Fontanelle's present, brutal
selves. They offer Lear only momentary comfort, for they are reminders
of his past as kinga past that he will endeavor to repudiate in the
course of the play.
When Lear allows the Small Man and (later) Ben to stay on the
farm of the Gravedigger's Boy, to whichafter escapingLear has
returned with the Ghost, the latter mercilessly declares,
[The Small Man's] a deserter. I suppose the fool didn't keep out of sight, moved by
day, asked everyone where you were. It won't take them long to follow him. Get
rid of the lot of them [the Small Man as well as Thomas, John, and Susan, Lear's
new hosts on the farm]! Then we'll be safe. (69; III.i.)

Later the following conversation takes place between Lear and a


similarly hard-hearted Ghost:
Lear.

Ghost.
Lear.
Ghost.

How do most men live? They're hungry and no one feeds them,
so they call for help and no one comes. And when their hunger's
worse they screamand jackals and wolves come to tear them to
pieces.
Yes. That's the world you have to learn to live in. Learn it! Let
me poison the well.
Why?
Then no one can live here [on the farm], they'll have to leave you
alone. . . . (81; III.ii.)

The Ghost is selfish for the last time in Act III, Scene iii, when
Lear has his audience with Cordelia (who in Bond's version, unlike in
Shakespeare's tragedy [1605], is not one of Lear's daughters) after the
defeat of Bodice and Fontanelle. Lear futilely tries to persuade her not to
make the same mistakes, in her new role as head of the government, that
he made as king. But the Ghost can think only of his past life with Cor-

92

Play Analysis: A Reader

delia (who was the Boy's Wife), insisting that Lear tell her that her late
husband is presentwhich the former ruler does not do.
When Cordelia leaves, the Ghost asks Lear, Why didn't you tell
her I was here? She wanted to talk to me. She couldn't forget me. I made
love to her in that house night after night, and on this grass. Look at me
now! I've turned into thisand I can't even touch her! (85; III.iii.). The
Ghost follows Cordelia off and is fatally attacked by pigs. Soldiers had
killed the Boy's pigs in Act I, Scene vii, and now in Act III, Scene iii, on
the farm that the Boy once owned, pigs kill the Ghost because, in his
utter self-concern, he has become just like the rapacious soldiers.
The Ghost may die in Act III, Scene iii, but in fact he has been
deteriorating throughout Lear. As evidence, note the following set of
descriptions of the Ghost and the points in the play at which they appear:
1.

The Ghost of the Gravedigger's Boy appears. His skin and


clothes are faded. There's old, dry blood on them (37; II.ii.).

2.

The Gravedigger's Boy's Ghost comes on. He is white and


thin (55; II.vi.).

3.

The Ghost comes in. It is thinner, shrunk, a livid white (80;


III.ii.).

4.

The Ghost comes in. Its flesh has dried up, its hair is matted, its
face is like a seashell, the eyes are full of terror (82; III.iii.).

As the Ghost deteriorates, Lear grows stronger. He is ragged,


tired, dirty, and frightened (16; I.v.) when we first see him after the
defeat of his army. Toward the end of the play he wears outdoor
clothes (82; III.iii.) and is collecting acorns to feed to the pigs. In the
final scene (III.iv.), Lear has discarded the stick that he began using to
feel his way after prison guards had removed his eyes (II.vi.). He finds a
shovel, climbs the wall, reaches the top, digs the shovel in, throws a
shovel of earth down the side and digs the shovel in again (87; III.iv.).

Model Essays: Character and Role

93

He is now beginning single-handedly to tear down the wall that Cordelia


herself has built.
Bond contrasts the Ghost of the Gravedigger's Boy with Lear in
spirit as well as body. Once Lear is literally blind, for example, he begins
to achieve insight. He sees the error of his ways as king and, as previously mentioned, wants to help Cordelia to avoid his mistakes, as the following lines reveal: Men destroy themselves and say it's their duty? It's not
possible! How can they be so abused? Cordelia doesn't know what she's
doing! I must tell herwrite to her! (67; II.vii.). Unlike the self-serving
Ghost, Lear then, becomes selflessas when Thomas wants to throw the
deserter Ben off the farm because, if the latter is found there, in the
Ghost's words, we'll all be responsible. They'll say we encourage them!
They'll blame us for everything! It's insane (73; III.i.). Lear replies,
echoing the Boy's words from Act I, Scene vi, He can stay. . . . where
else can he go?
What Lear learns is that his wall and his army have not achieved
freedom and peace for his people, as he had intended; they have brought
war instead. In his painfully acquired selflessness, he knows now how
best to serve his former subjects:
I've suffered so much, I made all the mistakes in the world and I pay for each of
them. I cannot be forgotten. I am in [the people's] minds. To kill me you must kill
them all. . . . Listen, Cordelia. You have two enemies, lies and truth. You sacrifice
truth to destroy lies, and you sacrifice life to destroy death. It isn't sane. . . . I've
learned this, and you must learn it or you'll die. . . . If a God had made the world,
might would always be right, that would be so wise, we'd be spared so much suffering. But we made the worldout of our smallness and weakness. Our lives are
awkward and fragile and we have only one thing to keep us sane: pity, and the man
without pity is mad. (84; III.iii.)

Right after the deposed king completes this speech, the Ghost criesnot
in sympathy with the position put forward in it, but because Lear has not
called the Ghost's presence to Cordelia's attention.
In sum, since Act II, Scene ii, when he entered the play, the selfserving Ghost of the Gravedigger's Boy has been the foil of the penitent
Lear; by contrast, the Boy, in his selflessness and wisdom, was the foil of
the power-crazed and foolish Lear. The Boy is dead. The Ghost dies

94

Play Analysis: A Reader

when Lear, living on the farm, has finally taken on the Boy's outlook
completelyhas himself become the Boy, in a manner of speaking.
The Boy says to the incognito ex-king in Act I, Scene vii, The
king was mad. He took all the men from the village. But we hid. . . . We
used to dig his wall up at nights . . . (25). As Lear begins digging up the
wall in Act III, Scene iv, it is surely no accident that Bond gives the following stage direction: A Boy comes on and stares at Lear. Lear throws
another shovel of dirt down. The Boy goes out in the direction he came
(87; III.iv.). The Boy's presence is no longer required, in other words, for
he and Lear are now one.
Bibliography
Bond, Edward. Lear. London: Eyre Methuen, 1972.

MODEL ESSAYS: STYLE AND GENRE


Futurism and O'Neill's The Hairy Ape
Robert Yank Smith of The Hairy Ape (1922) is meantif only by
Eugene O'Neill's choice of his nickname, together with his melting pot of
a language, Brooklyneseto be the archetypal American, analogous to
the archetypal Italian of futurist drama. (Futurist drama was still being
produced in Italy at the same time as The Hairy Apewhich is otherwise
a quasi-expressionist, German-influenced workwas being staged in
New York.) The central preoccupations of the futurists were speed and
technology; like Yank, they were particularly drawn to the intoxicating
power of machines, as Yank himself describes it in the following speech
from early in the play:
Sure I'm part of de engines! . . . Dey move, don't dey? Dey're speed, ain't dey? Dey
smash trou, don't dey? . . . Dat's new stuff! Dat belongs! . . . I start somep'n and de
woild moves! . . . I'm de ting in coal dat makes it boin; I'm steam and oil for de engines; I'm de ting in noise dat makes yuh hear it; I'm smoke and express trains and
steamers and factory whistles . . . And I'm what makes iron into steel! Steel, dat
stands for de whole ting! And I'm steelsteelsteel! (176177)

The futurists welcomed steel and all the other products of industrial societywith its electricity, urbanization, and revolution in the
means of transport and communicationwith an all-embracing optimism, for they saw them as the means by which people would be able to
dominate their environment totally. The speed, change, and motion of the
industrial age were also fundamental to the futurists' love of the modern
and their rejection of the static, lethargic pastthe very natural past
about which Paddy rhapsodizes in Scene 1 of O'Neill's play. As these
Italians realizedin such plays as Genius and Culture (1915, by Umberto Boccioni), The Arrest (1916, by F. T. Marinetti), and Lights (1922, by
Francesco Cangiullo)the effects of the speed of transport and communication on modern sensibility were such that people were aware not just
of their immediate surroundings but of the whole world.
95

96

Play Analysis: A Reader

In essence, then, the limits of time and space had been transcendedas they are, in a sense, in any production of The Hairy Ape, which
moves from a transatlantic ocean liner bound for Southampton, England,
to several locations on the streets of New York, and which takes place
over a period of two months. Now it was possible to live through events
both distant and near at hand: in fact, to be everywhere at the same time.
Accordingly, Marinetti and his followers held that the speed of modern
life called for a corresponding speed of communication in contemporary
art, which shouldunlike the conventional theaterbe far briefer and
more compressed or synthesized than even The Hairy Ape, yet at the
same time incorporate simultaneous action occurring in different places
or at different times.
Futurism took hold in Italyand, in somewhat different, more
metaphorical, as well as more short-lived, theatrical form, in the former
U.S.S.R. (which, unlike soon-to-be Fascist Italy, restricted or completely
suppressed the freedom even of those artists, like the Russian futurists,
who supported the Communist revolution)as in no other Western nation partly because this country, like the Soviet Union, underwent industrialization (as well as nationalization or consolidation) much later than,
say, the United States. For this reason, Italian futurists embraced the
machine age and all that it made possibleincluding war, which they
labeled the supreme, health-bestowing activityto an extent unknown in
American artistic circles. Indeed, Yank's nicknamecommonly used at
the time to refer to an American soldier in World War I (which ended
only three years before the writing of The Hairy Ape)may have been
bestowed on him by his ship's largely immigrant or European crew, including Italians (see the Voices on 168169), because he was a recently returned war veteran. This would have made him the ideal dramatic
hero, in the futurists' viewespecially as one who had served in the first
fully mechanized global conflictbut it could also lead the attentive
reader or spectator to see Yank's self-proclaimed machine-like state at
least in part as a kind of shell-shocked alienation of which he himself is
blithely unaware.

Model Essays: Style and Genre

97

Witness O'Neill's overall treatment of his protagonist in The Hairy


Ape, where Yank Smith becomes representative of the displacement of
modern humanity in general: of people who, in the Marxist sense, become alienated from themselves because their work is not part of their
life; because their work (particularly the all-consuming work of war)
takes over their life entirely, as in the case of Yank; or, in the case of the
idle, upper-class Mildred, as opposed to an unemployed member of the
underclass, because work is something that they do not even want. As a
result, these people find themselves alienated from other human beings
as well, with whom they no longer share a social essence or to whose
society they no longer feel they belong.
In Yank's case, that alienation translates into a kind of permanent,
fatal existentialisma paralyzing clash, if you will, between Dante's
medieval-cum-Renaissance Christianity and Marinetti's twentiethcentury, totalitarian godlessness (or elevation of science and technology
to godlike status). And the very structure of The Hairy Ape reveals this
clash, which itself, in a sense, prevents Yank from moving either backward or forward, on to the past or back to the future. For, on the one
hand, the episodic form of the play may be conducive to the illustration
of a progressive if incremental journey toward spiritual wholeness or
organicity; on the other hand, however, that same episodic form, in the
rapidity with which it can transcend or condense time and place, suggests
the Machine Age of which Yank is a part, with its ease of transport, atomization of human existence, speed of tempo, and even simultaneity of
experience.
Looked at another way, the eight scenes of the play break down
half and half between modernism in the form of futurism and medievalism in the form of the stations-of-the-cross drama. The first part of The
Hairy Ape, all on the ship, is modern. Here, the principles of Marinetti's futurism seem evident in the stokehole as Yank and his cohorts feed
the machine at the same time they are, in a way, fed by it. The stokers'
language in Scene 1, for example, incorporates simultaneous speech
during which they talk over one another, and actions themselves occur
simultaneously when, in Scene 2, the men (whom we should be able to

98

Play Analysis: A Reader

see on stage) work below in the stokehole even as Mildred and her aunt
are visible on top on the ocean liner's promenade deck.
After Mildred meets the filthy beast, of course, the play completely changes. Following one more scene aboard ship, Scene 4, the
underlying structure of The Hairy Ape switches to that of a medieval
station drama, relying now upon sequence rather than simultaneity. Thus,
just as the play's own dramatic journey moves away from the modern and
into the past, Yank devolves to see himself ultimately as the Hairy Ape
(in both his description and in O'Neill's final stage direction [232]). The
fateful meeting with Mildred, one could say, is the end of modernismcum-futurism for him: thought or (self-) reflection kills Yank's forward
movement in the present, and then in Scenes 58 he learns that, although
he may call himself a Hairy Ape, he can't go back in time, either.
Bibliography
O'Neill, Eugene. Three Plays: Anna Christie, The Emperor Jones, and
The Hairy Ape. New York: Vintage 1972.

Model Essays: Style and Genre

99

Brecht's A Man's a Man and the Grotesque


The structure, language, characters, and scenery of Bertolt Brecht's A
Man's a Man (1926, 1954) all stress the idea of changeabilityand so
does the generic form of this play. Brecht calls A Man's a Man a comedy,
but then he calls the protagonist Galy Gay in the list of characters, and
this man is not Galy Gay at the end: he is Jeraiah Jip. To be sure, A
Man's a Man is not a tragedy and Gay does not take tragic action; however, he does gain wisdom that has the potential to alter the fabric of his
society, and in this sense the play is not formally comic. Galy Gay's
wisdom is so momentous that, unlike truly comic characters, he has
changed by the end of the play not simply in his perceptions of the world,
but from one character into another. He is in fact Walter Benjamin's wise
or undramatic hero (see note 1): untragic because he chooses not to die
with the great insight he has gained about the world and his place in it;
uncomic because, although he survives, he does so as a different man
not just as a man with a different outlook.
A Man's a Man is neither a tragedy nor a comedy, then. It has altered the nature of both to become something else, a form that combines
to a new end the best feature of each: profound wisdom, on the one hand,
and abiding life, on the other; wrenching change and sure survival.
Brecht calls the play a comedy, but it changes into something else right
before our eyes. For if a man can change fundamentally and can change
the world, the dramatic form that represents him must necessarily change
as well: it cannot be exclusively comic, nor can it be solely tragic. It must
combine select elements from these two, because such forms are tied to
an unchanging world in whichso the mythology goesman either dies
in deep, painfully acquired knowledge or lives happily ever after in ignorance and compromise.
It would be a mistake, though, to call A Man's a Man a tragicomedy, for the premise of tragicomedy is that man suffers in ignorance. It
combines, if you will, the worst features of tragedy and comedy. Samuel
Beckett was probably our greatest modern writer of tragicomedy, and
there can be little doubt that he and Brecht are far apart in their views of
human existence. Rather, A Man's a Man has more affinities with the

100

Play Analysis: A Reader

grotesque than with the tragicomic (see note 2). The grotesque, writes
Bert O. States, is the phenomenon we characteristically get when the
serious and the comic attitudes seem about equally mixed and, as a result, appear to be mocking each other (75). States sees the grotesque as
a mode with an essentially detached view of humanity as an object of
manipulation for the idle ironist who has nothing better to do than to
make masterpieces of moral confusion (83). He regards the grotesque's primary tendency as to strip from tragedy its spiritual equilibrium, yet leave it with its sense of inevitability and defeat (78).
A good example of a grotesque tragedy, according to States's
definition, is John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (1614). Webster
seems to use the grotesque in this drama to detach himself from humanity and express his fundamental ambivalence toward human existence: he
would live, yet he finds life evil, loathsome, and hopeless. Brecht differs
from Webster in that he uses the grotesque in A Man's a Man to distance,
not himself, but the audience from the characters. What is important in
the play is not that one be inundated by the evil of existence, but that one
see evil as the result of specific sociopolitical conditions in societysee
that it is not inherent in humanity, as Webster would perhaps have us
believe. One must be distanced from the characters in order to understand
their origins and how they have become what they are.
Therefore, by the time we witness Galy Gay stuffing rice into his
mouth and singlehandedly knocking out the fortress of Sir el-Djowr with
five cannon shotsthe last of several superb grotesque images in A
Man's a Manwe should be aware that Gay is not merely evil but has
learned to kill in order to survive. Unlike the grotesque characters of
Webster, he must not die: he must live, to unlearn his murderousness. We
are not given the opportunity in the play to identify with a fixed and
unified, three-dimensional Galy Gay, one who could never change from
the murderer that he becomes. Instead, we concentrate on Gay the twodimensional character construct, the comic grotesque, who in the end
contains knowledge of human relations that can be applied to the creation
of a better world.

Model Essays: Style and Genre

101

Galy Gay, Brecht has shown us, is eminently changeable, so there


is no reason to believe that he will remain a murderous soldier: the very
nature of the drama, as well as his own character, contradicts this idea. A
man's a man, indeed.
Notes
1.

Benjamin writes that now Plato already recognized very well


the undramatic quality of the highest form of being, the wise
man (24 of Benjamin's Versuche ber Brecht [Essays on
Brecht; Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1966]; my translation).

2.

Marianne Kesting's Die Groteske vom Verlust der Identitt


(in Hans Steffen, ed., Das deutsche Lustspiel 2 [Gttingen:
Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1969], 180199) is the only study I
know of that brings up the grotesque in relation to A Man's a
Man. But Kesting's article is primarily a discussion of the differences between the first published version and subsequent editions, not an examination of the grotesque element in the play.

Bibliography
Brecht, Bertolt. A Man's a Man. Trans. Gerhard Nellhaus. In Collected
Plays, II. Ed. Ralph Manheim and John Willett. New York:
Vintage, 1977.
States, Bert O. Irony and Drama: A Poetics. Ithaca, New York: Cornell
University Press, 1971.

102

Play Analysis: A Reader

Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page and Farce


Though Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's The Front Page (1928) has
often been termed a comic melodrama, it is closer to a farcical or physical comedy, with a complicated and implausible pattern of intrigue,
concealment, coincidence, and situational absurdity, maximizing the
resource value of every door, window, desk, and even watch on stage. In
fact, one could argue that action leads to objects in farce of this kind, and
objects are always defeating the characters, no matter how single-minded
they have been in their fervent, fast-paced pursuit of a short-range goal or
immediate gratification. Where real-life characters think, such farcical
onescaught as they are in the thick of thingsuse instinct to get what
they want. And though they may finally be defeated in a high-stakes
game, even a life-and-death situation, there are no real consequences for
them, because there is no visible or irreparable harm.
Thus, despite all the (offstage) shooting and (onstage) brandishing
of weapons in The Front Page, no one gets killednot the psychiatrist
Dr. Eglehofer, whom Earl Williams shoots in the stomach; not the deputy
who gets shot in the buttocks during the city-wide manhunt for Williams;
not Mollie Malloy after she jumps out of the window of the press room;
not Mrs. Grant after the car in which Louie is kidnapping her crashes into
a police patrol; and not even Earl himself, who is reprieved instead of
executed. The one person who does die, the black policeman whom Earl
murders, gets shot well before the play beginsaccidentally, claims the
killer whose cause is all humanity.
Yet, for all the physical or corporeal survival of The Front Page's
characters, they become as objectified, mechanized, or dehumanizedas
spiritually extinctas the things that are always getting in their way or
frustrating their plans, from Hildy's cane to the sheriff's gun to
Bensinger's desk to Walter's watch. Without the time to think or reflect,
with only the time to move and shout and do, these figures are placed on
the same level as the antagonistic, inanimate objects, or props that not
only get deployed against, but also seem to take on a life of their own. In
this way The Front Page transcends the mere funniness of all farce to
become a serious comment on the unthinking, or animalistic, side of

Model Essays: Style and Genre

103

human lifeparticularly as it is lived at such fast pace by these opportunists.


What also takes the play beyond pure farce is the depth of its societal and characterological portraiture, as the characters' capacity for
childishness, callousness, and even sadism provides a subtext to every
laugh. The studied insensitivity of most of the journalists is tested
through the catalyst of minor characters such as Mollie Malloy, the prostitute who comforted Williams when she found him in a disturbed state
the day before the murder and thus became a key witness on his behalf.
The reporters, however, have sensationalized her connection with the
condemned man well beyond the point of exaggeration, and their brutal
baiting of her, which will result in her attempt at suicide in the second
act, emphatically registers how out of touch with her humanism they are.
Walter Burns's belief that women are murderers or Borgias is
scarcely substantiated by the conduct of Mollie, then, but the fundamental misogyny of the play's tribute to the newspaper world echoes
throughout the play. I was in love once, Walter tells us in an uncharacteristic moment of Sir Andrew Aguecheek tenderness, only to add, . . .
with my third wife. To an ailing reporter, Burns misanthropically
shouts, To hell with your diabetes, this is important. His passion for his
newspaper thus leaves him indifferent to any weaknesses, male or female, that aren't exploitable. Like the play itself, he has a cartilaginous
heart, and by the time he barks the play's famous final line, Walter Burns
has created a comic scoundrel unique in the annals of deception.
The Front Page, then, doesn't have a soft bone in its body.
Though its co-authors may originally have conceived the work (in their
epilogue to the published play) as a satire on ruthless reporters and sensationalistic journalism, only to end up in their view with a valentine to the
whole newspaper profession, the adduced evidence does not support their
claim. These reporters certainly have their engaging sideso do the hack
politicians and corrupt cops who serve as foils for their banter. But for all
the double crosses, competitive dodges, sardonic backbiting, goodnatured chicanery, and idiomatic wisecracks (expressed in that special
urban argot that Eugene O'Neill kept trying, unsuccessfully, to create),

104

Play Analysis: A Reader

the play provides a glimpse of the seamy side of American politics and
press practices.
Indeed, in the way that it takes a beady look at human corruption,
The Front Page suggests how soft we have since become as a democratic
republic and an artistic culture. One might even say that the play dramatizes Darwin's survivalist theory with a breezy sangfroid equaled before
only by Ben Jonson and John Gay, and only by Bertolt Brecht and David
Mamet in our own time.
Bibliography
Hecht, Ben, and Charles MacArthur. The Front Page. New York: Samuel French, 1950.

Model Essays: Style and Genre

105

Tragedy in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men


Critics' failure to appreciate the true position of the character of Candy in
Of Mice and Men has led to an under-appreciation of the tragic dimensions of John Steinbeck's play, from this work's first appearance in 1937
all the way up to 2009, with the publication of Michael Meyer's The
Essential Criticism of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
In a review of the 1975 New York production of Of Mice and
Men, for example, Stanley Kauffmann wrote that
the tragic inevitability at which Steinbeck aimed is dimmed by the creakiness of
the arrangements. We know with somewhat pleasant ironical foreknowledge in the
first scene, when the two friends discuss their plans to have a place of their own,
that they will never get it; but Steinbeck ensures the grim ending with the nervous
young husband at the ranch and his arbitrarily restless wife. Besides, Lennie's feeble-mindedness mitigates the tragedy. He is a case on the loose, not a man susceptible to trouble. If he were only slow-witted, instead of defective, there would
be some hint of what his life might have been. With the idiot Lennie there are no
alternatives. (158)

But Of Mice and Men is not Lennie's tragedy; Kauffmann seems to forget
that there is a character named George Milton in the play. And, though
Kauffmann does not say so, Of Mice and Men is hardly an Aristotelian
tragedy. Rather, it is a tragedy of the modern kind, of Arthur Miller's
common man living in a world where psychology, sociology, heredity,
and environment have replaced the ancient concern with gods, oracles,
prophecy, and fate as they affect the lives of noble or aristocratic characters.
Yet with psychology, sociology, and biology comes modern optimismour sturdy, scientific, and unquenchable belief that all problems
can ultimately be fixed, that man can change any undesirable aspect of
his conditionand such ameliorative optimism seems to be at odds with
the metaphysical pessimism of traditional tragedy. Classical tragedy, be
it ancient Greek, Shakespearean, or French Neoclassical, depicts man as
an unwelcome guest in the world and teaches us that it is better never to
have been born. Nourished by a sacred as well as hierarchical cosmology, this particular tragic flame understandably splutters and dies in the

106

Play Analysis: A Reader

inhospitable air of our secular, democratic times, where tragedy is perceived as the ideological enemy of politics because it promotes a sense of
hopelessness, defeatism, and resignation.
Nonetheless, fatalism or negativism of this kind, albeit atheistic,
clearly continues to exist in the modern and postmodern periods. More
pliant divorce laws could not alter the fate of Agamemnon, writes
George Steiner in The Death of Tragedy; social psychiatry is no answer
to Oedipus (8). To this I would add that pliant divorce laws are also not
the solution to every problematic modern marriage (a number of which
remain bad unions that, for one reason or another, never get dissolved),
and that, despite the progress of social psychiatry, incest persists in destroying some families (sometimes over generations) throughout the
world today. Hence, as suggested by the very title of one relatively recent
book on the subject, Tragedy in Transition (2007), and as Jennifer Wallace points out in the first chapter of her Cambridge Introduction to
Tragedy, tragedy
is not exclusive to the Greeks, and despite Steiner's warning, it is not dead. Rather
than seeing tragedy as basically retrospective, I prefer to see it as a natural
human response to particular historical circumstances or conditions. . . . Tragic
drama seems to be produced often in periods when beliefs are changing, when
there is a shift in values, when politics seem unstable. These revolutions create the
conditions in which what Felicity Rosslyn calls a social reorganization is profound enough to shake the individual into heightened self-consciousness and draw
all his old relations into question [6]. (8)

Surely something like this is happening in the mid-to-late 1930s


of Of Mice and Men, in Depression-weary and war-wary America, where
George Milton has taken on responsibility for the welfare of a mentally
defective man unrelated to him, Lennie Small, whom no amount of modern psychiatry could turn into an independent, self-sufficient, mature
human being; whom no one else will have in so individualistic, materially-driven, and genetically deterministic a country; and who prevents
George from having normal friendships with other men or romantic relationships with any women. Why does George do this? For what reason or
reasons does he make such a sacrifice? The play is silent on this matter;

Model Essays: Style and Genre

107

bravely, felicitously, even ferociously, Of Mice and Men takes George's


loving solicitousness of Lennie for granted and invites us to do the same.
And therein lies the rub of its tragic appeal. For, as Rita Felski maintains
in her introduction to Rethinking Tragedy, What renders the tragic so
resonant to modern theory is its gesturing toward what lies beyond the
limits of human understanding, its ability to play [in the words of
Vassilis Lambropoulos] an ethical role without acquiring a fixed moral
value [10] (3).
Nonetheless, scholars are often inattentive to the tragic qualities
inherent in modern drama, in general, and in Steinbeck's play, in particular. Harry T. Moore is more illuminating than Stanley Kauffmann on the
subject of Of Mice and Men as tragedy, but his view of George as no
more than a pathetic character is the opposite of the one put forward in
this essay:
Violence without tragedy: that is the weakness of [Of Mice and Men]. . . . There is
no authentic tragedy, which comes out of character. Even if we slur over the criticism that Lennie is a poor choice for a central figure in the story because from the
start the odds against him are too greateven if we get beyond this and admit
George as the true protagonist, we still don't find tragedy. George is no more than
pathetic. He attracts sympathy because he has to lose his friend Lennie, to whom
he has been so loyal, and whom he has to kill at the last in order to save him from
the others. But because this isn't genuine tragedy, it gives the reader a brutal shock
when George kills Lennie . . . (5052)

In a related argument, Howard Levant criticizes Of Mice and Men


for what he believes to be a split focus that diminishes its emotional
impact, i.e., its tragic weight. After declaring that the relative meaninglessness of [Lennie's] victims substitutes pathos for tragedy (138), Levant goes on to say the following about George:
The secondary hero is subordinate in Steinbeck's workexcept in Of Mice and
Men. There, Lennie's murder propels George into a sudden prominence that has no
structural basis. Is the drama concerned with Lennie's innocence or George's guilt?
. . . With Lennie dead, Steinbeck must use and emphasize George's guilt. The close
is formulatedthe result of a hasty switchnot structured from preceding events,
so it produces an inconclusive ending in view of what has happened previously.

108

Play Analysis: A Reader


And the ideal of the farm vanishes with Lennie's death, when George tells Candy
the plan is off. (143)

Warren French, for his part, not only denies tragic status to Of
Mice and Men, but he actually goes on to call this work a comedy:
Despite the grim events it chronicles, Of Mice and Men is not a tragedy, but a
comedywhich, if it were Shakespearean, we would call a dark comedy
about the triumph of the indomitable will to survive. This is a story not of man's
defeat at the hands of an implacable nature, but of man's painful conquest of this
nature and of his difficult, conscious rejection of his dreams of greatness and acceptance of his own mediocrity. (78)

Similarly, Louis Owens discusses Of Mice and Men in terms of


the post-Edenic nature of this work in a fallen, if not comic, world. In
such a fallen world, the world of the novel of Of Mice and Men, George
is reunited with Slim at the end and the two men walk off together, according to Owens, on a strong note of hopethe crucial dream, the
dream of man's commitment to man, [having] not perished with Lennie
(105106). But in the dramatic adaptation of Of Mice and Men, George
is alone and apart from humanity at the conclusion, after he kills Lennie
and with him their dream; in fact, the play ends with that killing. Not a
fallen character from the start, George, in the course of drama's action,
has fallen from gracethe grace of his saving relationship with Lennie.
And, like many another tragic hero, he is therefore finally isolated or
separated from the society of other mennot comically reunited with,
or reintegrated into, it.
There is tragedy in the drama Of Mice and Men, thenLevant,
Kauffmann, Moore, French, Owens, and others to the contrary. (By the
time we get to the twenty-first century, we either get books about Steinbeck with no essays on Of Mice and Men, let alone its tragedybooks
such as Barbara A. Heavilin's John Steinbeck Readeror essays like
Charles Johnson's and Mimi Gladstein's, which are not at all about the
play's main characters and their tragedy, but instead either about the
racial segregation of and discrimination against a minor character such as
the black stable-buck Crooks, or about Steinbeck's supposed view of
women as expressed through female characters like Curley's Wife.) That

Model Essays: Style and Genre

109

is why Candy is in the play: he and his dog are very important to the
action. The point of Carlson's shooting of the dogwhich is old and
blind and smellsis not to make an easy parallel with George's shooting
of Lennie. It is not so much the dog who is in the same position as the
imbecilic Lennie; it is the shooting of the dog that places Candy in the
same position. Once he does not have his dog to look after anymore,
Candy realizes the precariousness of his own position on the ranch: he is
without one hand and therefore only able to swamp out bunkhouses,
and he is fast approaching senility.
This point has escaped several fine critics. In an otherwise highly
laudatory reading of the play-novelette, as he calls it, as a Biblical
allegory (George=Cain and Lennie=Abel), Peter Lisca writes:
Less subtle, perhaps too obvious, is the relationship of Candy and his dog, which is
made parallel to that of George and Lennie . . . Thus the mounting threats to the
dog and his eventual shooting foreshadow the destruction of George's dog, Lennie, which eventually takes place, shot by the same gun in the same wayright in
the back of the head . . . (8485)

Harry T. Moore himself has gone as far as to say that one of the most
noticeable of the many little tricks [that] have been used throughout the
story to prepare us for Lennie's death is the obvious comparison of Lennie with a worthless old dog that must be shot, as Lennie must be at the
last (52).
As I am arguing, however, Steinbeck stresses the similarity between Candy's situation and Lennie's throughout the play. Candy, like no
other character in the play, treats Lennie as his mental equal. Furthermore, George never explains Lennie's condition to Candy as he does,
say, to Slim. Not accidentally, it is to Lennie that Candy describes the
figuring he has been doing, how, if they go about it right, they can
make some money on the rabbits they propose to have on their farm.
Candy sounds like Lennie when he says, We gonna have a room to
ourselves. We gonna have a dog and chickens. We gonna have green
corn and maybe a cow (129). And he acts like Lennie when he comes
into Crooks's room in the barn, saying only, This is the first time I ever
been in [Crooks's] room (128). Despite the fact that Candy has been on

110

Play Analysis: A Reader

the ranch for a long time, he seems honestly not to realize that the reason
he has never before entered Crooks's room is that, as the latter himself
declares, Guys don't come in a colored man's room (128).
Like Lennie, Candy needs someone to run his affairs, to make the
rest of his life easier and more congenial. He needs George. Slim promises Candy a puppy from his bitch Lulu's litter to compensate for the
shooting of his sheep dog, but Candy never gets that puppy, and he never
asks for it. Lennie can attempt to look after a pup, because he has George
to look after him. Candy is in search of a home for himself; he cannot
afford, at this point, to give one to a dog. But Candy, finally, is not Lennie, and George will not team up with him after Lennie is gone. Candy
does not accompany the men in their hunt for Lennie, after Curley's Wife
is found dead in the barn. He stays all alone on the ranch, deserted, as it
were, by everyone, even as he will be by George after Lennie has been
shot.
The tragedy of Of Mice and Men, then, really has nothing to do
with George's shooting of Lennie per se. As the film critic Otis Ferguson
once remarked, I have never been quite sure that George shouldn't have
shot [Lennie] before the story began (285). Ferguson was not trying to
be funny. His meaning, like Stanley Kauffmann's, was that Lennie is a
case on the loose, and that his killing of Curley's Wife, and being shot
for it by George, could just as easily have happened before the play or
after it as during it. Steinbeck arranges for it to happen during the play,
after the two men meet Candy. Does he do this just so that we can feel
sorry for poor Lennie, as many believe? No. His point was that George
deeply loved this idiot, with the result that he always wanted Lennie to
be with him in his travels and in his work.
Once he shoots Lennie, it is worth emphasizing, George can still
get the farm with Candy if he wants to. (Recall that it is largely Candy's
money which will buy the farm, and Candy is still more than willing to
put up that money.) But George declines, which proves that being in one
safe place with Lennie was more important to him than simply being in
one safe place. He elects to continue living the hard life of a ranch hand
rather than settle down to life on a small farm with Candy. George can

Model Essays: Style and Genre

111

have a better life, yet he turns it down. Unquestionably, he will suffer


more on the road, without Lennie, than on the farm, without Lennie. He
never gives himself a chance to, in his words, get used to Candy.
This is not simple pathos. It approximates tragedy because it suggests not simply that George loved Lennie too much, that he was unnaturally attached to him, but also that only by developing an unnatural attachment to Lennie could he ever have put up with (and done so much
for) someone like him in the first place. The implication of George's
rejection of Candy's offer is that he is sentencing himself to the same fate
as other guys that go round on the ranches alone (77): he will not have
any fun, and after a while he will get mean. He will live out the existence
predicted for him by Crooks: this is the accompaniment to, or extension
of, the tragic inevitability of the play, wherein characterLennie's,
George'sis destiny.
Crooks says, I seen hundreds of men come by on the road and on
the ranches, bindles on their back and that same damn thing in their head.
Hundreds of 'em. They come and they quit and they go on. And every
damn one of 'em is got a little piece of land in his head. And never a
goddamn one of 'em gets it (126). The implication of these words is that
George will have that little piece of land in his head once again, after
months of working hard and blowing his money in cathouses and pool
rooms, and that is when he will become tragically aware of how he really
lost his landnot by losing Lennie, but by rejecting Candyand how he
will never be given the chance to get it again. Like Othello, he will have
loved not wisely, but too well. Like any other tragic hero's, his awareness
will be one of self-acceptance more than self-reproach.
So while the play underlines the bond of friendshipand lonelinessthat exists between George and Lennie (a bond difficult for some
in today's audiences to accept on any but homosexual grounds), it also
makes that bond responsible for George's rash decision not to buy the
small farm with Candy's financial assistance. We are in full sympathy
with George when he makes this decision; still, we cannot help but feel
at the same time that he is making a mistake, that he is doing something
noble yet horrible and wastefulof Candy's life as well as his own. Even

112

Play Analysis: A Reader

as Candy's line Poor bastard (161), spoken to Curley's dead wife lying
in the hay, could just as well be applied to himself as to Lennie or
Curley's Wife, Poor bastard this time applies to George, whom we
leave alone, with the dead Lennie, at the end of the play.
George, it must be said, is not especially articulate or selfexamining and for this reason not the ideal tragic hero, even of a modern
tragedy in which prose is spoken instead of verse and subtext matters as
much as text. He has never married: Lennie is his emotional attachment.
He does not form lasting friendships or ask searching questions. Candy is
his only attachment to the ranch: Candy first fills him in about the
Boss, then about Curley and his wife, Crooks, and Slim. And Candy,
with his life savings, becomes George's way out of the ranch life. With
Lennie dead, he potentially becomes George's emotional attachment.
Candy is, in the end, the embodiment or articulation of all the aims and
emotions that George in his sorrow is oblivious to, but which will live to
haunt him again. That is why Steinbeck ends scenes one and two of Act
III with Candy and George in the same position: hunching over dead
bodies. They are in the same position, in need of each other, but inalterably separatedand silent.
The play's tragedy itself is quiet if not silent, understated and
not underlined. This is because Steinbeck sacrifices attention to George
for attention to Lennie. And this is why, unfairly, Of Mice and Men has
too often been called nothing more than a work of sentiment (See Moore,
51; Kauffmann, 157; Kazin, 398; and Seelye, 83). But the play is finally
much more than a work of sentiment. We come to George's tragedy the
long way around, through Candy. Lennie is not diminished by this; rather, George and Candy are elevated.
Bibliography
Felski Rita, ed. Rethinking Tragedy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.
Ferguson, Otis. The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1971.

Model Essays: Style and Genre

113

French, Warren. Arthurian Influence and Allegory in Of Mice and


Men. In John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Ed. Harold Bloom.
New York: Chelsea House, 1996. 7478.
Gladstein, Mimi. Of Mice and Men: Creating and Re-creating Curley's
Wife. In Beyond Boundaries: Rereading John Steinbeck. Ed.
Susan Shillinglaw and Kevin Hearle. Tuscaloosa: University of
Alabama Press, 2002. 205220.
Heavilin, Barbara A. A John Steinbeck Reader. Lanham, Maryland:
Scarecrow, 2009.
Johnson, Charles. Reading the Character of Crooks in Of Mice and
Men. In The Essential Criticism of John Steinbeck's Of Mice
and Men. Ed. Michael J. Meyer. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow,
2009. 236250.
Kauffmann, Stanley. Persons of the Drama. New York: Harper and Row,
1976.
Kazin, Alfred. On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1942.
Lambropoulos, Vassilis. The Tragic Idea. London: Duckworth, 2006.
Levant, Howard. The Novels of John Steinbeck: A Critical Study. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974.
Lisca, Peter. John Steinbeck: Nature and Myth. New York: Thomas Y.
Crowell, 1978.
Meyer, Michael J., ed. The Essential Criticism of John Steinbeck's Of
Mice and Men. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow, 2009.
Miller, Arthur. Tragedy and the Common Man (1949). In The Theater
Essays of Arthur Miller. Ed. Robert A. Martin. New York: Viking, 1978. 37.
Moore, Harry T. The Novels of John Steinbeck: A First Critical Study.
2nd ed. (1939). Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press,
1968.

114

Play Analysis: A Reader

Owens, Louis. John Steinbeck's Re-Vision of America. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.
Rosslyn, Felicity. Tragic Plots: A New Reading from Aeschylus to Lorca.
Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2000.
Seelye, John. Charges of Steinbeck's Sentimentalism in Of Mice and
Men. In John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Ed. Harold Bloom.
New York: Chelsea House, 1996. 8284.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men: A Play in Three Acts. New York:
Covici-Friede, 1937.
Steiner, George. The Death of Tragedy. 1961. New Haven, Connecticut:
Yale University Press, 1996.
Wallace, Jennifer. The Cambridge Introduction to Tragedy. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Model Essays: Style and Genre

115

Comedy and Meaning in the Work of Pinter:


The Birthday Party and The Homecoming
Harold Pinter's dramas can at times be hilarious as well as terrifying and
mysterious, yet few critics have given any serious attention to the comic
element in his work. The comedy is perhaps less apparent in reading the
plays than in seeing them on stage, where we have far less time to investigate the significance of every word and gesture and as a result respond
largely intuitively to the action. The comedy often comes from the collision of what the audience expects to happen and what actually happens.
It can be something as little and tried as the following exchange between
Goldberg and McCann in The Birthday Party (1958):
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.

Goldberg.

McCann.

This jobno, listenthis job, is it going to be like anything


we've ever done before?
Tch, tch, tch.
No, just tell me that. Just that, and I won't ask any more. (Goldberg sighs, stands, goes behind the table, ponders, looks at
McCann, and then speaks in a quiet, fluent, official tone.)
The main issue is a singular issue and quite distinct from your
previous work. Certain elements, however, might well approximate in points of procedure to some of your other activities. All
is dependent on the attitude of our subject. At all events,
McCann, I can assure you that the assignment will be carried out
and the mission accomplished with no excessive aggravation to
you or myself. Satisfied?
Sure. Thank you, Nat. (2930)

Or the comedy can be something as large and shocking as the


opening scene between Max and Lenny in The Homecoming (1965).
We expect father and son to treat each other as we think they should.
But a violent argument ensues over something as minor as a pair of
scissors, and Lenny calls his father first a daft prat and then a stupid
sod (9), while Max lifts his cane and threatens to chop his son's spine
off (9). Perhaps the most famous examples of Pinter's comedy of surprise, as I shall call it, are also from The Homecoming: two long
speeches by Lenny that are by now notorious. In the first, he describes
to Ruth in the calmest manner and the most matter-of-fact language his

116

Play Analysis: A Reader

beating and contemplated murder of a prostitute (3031). And in the


second speech, he begins by telling of his once agreeing, like an upstanding citizen and good Samaritan, to help an old lady move her mangle
from the front room of her house to the backonly to turn into a monster
and assault her (3233).
Throughout Pinter's plays, characters surprise us by the manner in
which they treat each other, or by the manner in which they express the
matter at hand. In the example I gave from The Birthday Party, note how
Goldberg describes their job (apprehending Stanley) to McCann in almost scientific jargon. The effect of this comedy of surprise is, of course,
to make us laugh, but, more important, it is also to shock, to disturb us
profoundly, because of the disparity between what is said and how it is
said; between what is said and who is saying it; between what we hear
and how we respond to it. Pinter gives us plays that are, finally, conundrums: characters speak in language that we do not feel is appropriate to
the situation, and we respond to what they say in a manner that seems
similarly inappropriate; behavior occurs whose origins are obscure; the
characters in fact know more than we do, which is a reversal of traditional dramatic irony. Nothing is explained, and that is the point. All our
ways of penetrating the world fall by the wayside.
I am not saying that reasons cannot be given, for example, for
what Lenny says to Ruth; I am simply maintaining that it is more a case
of the play's not contradicting such reasons than of its actually containing
them. Furthermore, any explanation of Lenny's behavior would pale
beside the fact, the outrage, of it. Pinter is right in calling his plays strictly (if bizarrely) realistic, as he has done a number of times in a number of
different places: seeing The Birthday Party or The Homecoming is like
looking through the fourth wall of a complete stranger's house and
taking in, but not fully comprehending, all the events that transpire there.
Pinter's art, at its best, could be called a running protest against the meaningfulness of life (not a protest against its meaninglessness, a kind of
attack on life, as the proponents of the Theater of the Absurd would have
it). This is the larger meaning in his work that has been overlooked, I
think, in the futile search for the motivation of his characters, for the

Model Essays: Style and Genre

117

causes of all the brutal and fantastic behavior we see, a search that mirrors our constant inquiry outside the theater into the significance of every
little action and event and ultimately into the meaning of life itself.
I see Pinter's plays as elements of one large ritualistic mystery,
and I see that mystery as a healthy corrective to a modern world that
wants to know everything, that seems to think everything can be explained. The comedy of life, according to Pinter, is in thinking that we
have all the answers when we don't, in believing that we control when in
reality we are often being controlled. The real drama in his plays is, in a
sense, less on stage than in the house. The characters, in knowing more
than we do, collaborate with the author to unsettle and, at best, re-create
us.
I don't think it is any accident that the more we have come to realizefrom, say, the 1990s to the early twenty-first centurythat much
about the world defies explanation (including, most obviously, its ultimate reason for being) even if human existence itself is not absurd, the
less popular Harold Pinter has become. (He began writing plays in the
late 1950s.) His later plays appear tired and repetitive (when they are not
being overtly political), as if they're telling us something that we already
know. We do, of course, thanks in large part to Pinter.
Bibliography
Pinter, Harold. The Birthday Party and The Room. New York: Grove
Press, 1968.
----------. The Homecoming. New York: Grove Press, 1967.

118

Play Analysis: A Reader

The Love of Money Is the Root of All Evil: Orton's Loot


The continued reluctance of some to value Joe Orton's art is comparable
to the reluctance of critics, then and now, to esteem Restoration comedy,
its nearest generic ancestor before the comedies of Oscar Wilde. Orton's
playslike William Congreve's and William Wycherley's and later
Wilde's, to whose Importance of Being Earnest (1895) Orton's What the
Butler Saw (1967) is close in spirit and sometimes in detailare designed to negate the conventional assurances of art and to corrode the
link between that art and the assumptions of liberal humanism. In fact the
work of all four dramatists is a form of social criticism, but through subversion of conventional morality, not through a call for the correction of
societal abuses: that is why their plays are sometimes criticized.
Orton's Loot (1964), for example, may satirize institutions such as
the police and the Catholic Church, but what is important is that the vehicles of this satire themselves remain unaffected by it. Indeed, the play
could be said to dramatize the triumph of evil: of greed, corruption, brutality, immorality or amorality, and sacrilege.
Truscott and Hal, for instance, get no comeuppance in the end,
which is what makes Loot so unsettling. Orton fiendishly satirizes authority through Truscott, yet Truscottat once the object and vehicle of
the playwright's scorngets away easily with beating suspects, taking
bribes, and in general abusing his power. He may be stupid in some
ways, but his stupidity never gets him into any real trouble. And I think
that this is Orton's point: the Truscotts of this world need to be satirized,
yet it must also simultaneously be pointed out that the Truscotts of this
world often go completely unpunished for their crimes. Orton thus makes
us laugh at Truscott at the same time as he makes us realize that a
Truscott is oblivious to our laughter, and will continue in his corrupt
ways well beyond the confines of the drama.
This British dramatist has gone beyond farce in Loot in the sense
that he has exploited the attractiveness of evil for audiences
paradoxically, the same bourgeois audiences at whom he is striking back.
Orton has proved to us that we can be amused by behavior we would
normally deplore, and that we can even attend raptly as evil goes unpun-

Model Essays: Style and Genre

119

ished. There are dire consequences in Loot, as there are not in traditional
farceHal gets a severe beating, Mr. McLeavy will probably die (of old
age) in prison for a crime he did not commitand Orton's art, or dramatic sleight of hand, is to make us not care while we are watching. We
think about what we have witnessed only later, after we've been takenlike Hal, Fay, and Dennis at the conclusion of the play. Truscott
leaves with the money, and these characters are left to wonder if they will
ever see any of it again, or how he managed to walk off with it all in the
first place.
What Orton shows us, then, in Loot, as in other of his plays, is
that evil, in the right amounts, has the power to arrest for our delight
certain bold lines of force which goodness simply doesn't possess. Good,
as such, is boring, because it is relatively undramatic; evil, by contrast, is
endlessly fascinating and suspenseful. Good is self-sustaining, whereas
evil is self-destructive: there is always the possibility that two evils will
cancel each other out and that we will be left withnothing. This is one
of the reasons we attend to evil, anticipating its sudden and spectacular
demise.
What playwrights like Joe Orton and his serious counterpart,
Harold Pinter, do for evil is almost to remove it from the sphere of morality and raise it to the level of respectability, as something worthy of
careful examination. (Orton claimed that the subversively sexual nature
of Pinter's The Homecoming [1965] was influenced by his first two plays,
The Ruffian on the Stair [1963] and Entertaining Mr. Sloane [1963].) We
don't judge evil: we watch it do its work. I don't know that we can speak
of this kind of dramatic writing as morally good or bad. But it is a kind of
achievement, the using up of one more artistic possibility.
In reality Loot is a reaction against, nearly a destruction of, artistic
forms that have preceded ittraditional farce and satire, on the one hand,
and melodrama with its happy ending and omniscient authority figure, on
the otherand thus it is always in danger, like the evil it portrays, of
going too far and destroying itself. One gets the uncanny feeling
throughout a reading or production of Loot that the next line or next bit
of action will simply be too much and the play will end abruptly and

120

Play Analysis: A Reader

abortively. It never does, of course, but the play's very potential for suddenly exploding its form keeps us on the every edge of our seats, waiting and watching in utter astonishment.
Joe Orton may be telling us basic things in Loot about the ways in
which art works, or the ways in which we respond to art, that we didn't
know before or haven't considered in a long time. Surely Orton did not
count on this response to his workin his own day his plays were either
liked or loathed for their satirical stance. Just as surely, he would have
been tickled by such a favorable reaction, for it is at a far remove from
the liberal humanist conception of the response that vile art should
engender.
Bibliography
Orton, Joe. Loot. In The Complete Plays of Joe Orton. New York: Grove
Press, 1976. 193275.

Model Essays: Style and Genre

121

Comedy and Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago


The last scene in David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago (1974) is
widely misunderstood, by audiences and critics alike. The scene, between Bernie and Dannywho are ogling women at the beachis very
funny. But not because the two friends objectify and degrade women.
What is funny is Bernie and Danny's real yearning for women they cannot have or reach and their actual rejection by one woman (the deaf
bitch [55]). Bernie and Danny are funny, that is, because what we see
happening to them is noticeably different from what they think is happening to them. We do not feel guilty as we laughwe do not think we
are laughing at the boys' (as opposed to the women's) expensebecause
we know that finally they have each other. Not in the homosexual sense,
as some have suggested, but in the best sense of male friendship, of male
bonding. Bonding, male and female, seems to be the true focus of this
play.
Sexual Perversity in Chicago is a modern American comedy that
comments on the sexual attitudes and coupling rites of its time; it is not a
drama that provides us with deep revelations about character. We see
effects, not causes; we experience tension, not genuine conflict. Like
traditional comedy, Mamet's play harnesses character to structure. Bernie
has Danny, loses Danny (to Deborah), and regains Danny; Joan has Deborah, loses Deborah (to Danny), and regains Deborah. Bernie and Danny
are reunited and their relationship is reaffirmed at the end of the play,
while Joan and Deborah, for their part, are also reunited and their relationship reaffirmed. In place of the marriage celebration, we get the I
told you so's of a friend.
Sexual Perversity in Chicago does not necessarily criticize or
dismiss out of hand heterosexual marriage or pairing off, however. It
shows two couples failingBernie and Joan before they can even get
startednot because Mamet wants us to think that pairing off of itself is
bad, or that all couples are destined to fail, but because the members of
these particular couples simply were not intended for each other. It is as
if Bernie and Danny and Deborah and Joan have so much freedom to
choose a mate in these modern times that, paradoxically, they have trou-

122

Play Analysis: A Reader

ble choosing. So they naturally resort to the security and safeness of


friendship with a member of the same sex.
In the end, nobody gets married in Sexual Perversity in Chicago
because today we do not find the promise and act of marriage as funny,
as filled with fun, as have past societies, where there was much less freedom to choose (and to divorce) and the concentration was therefore on
the act itself: on its wily avoidance, on the one hand, or utter preeminence in one's life, on the other. The fun or funniness for us nowadays is
in the search for and frequent failure to find the proper mate; it is in the
plotting to find and the commiserating with those who do not find. David
Mamet does not thereby suggest that we are the worse off for thisor
the better off, for that matter. We are simply still the subjects of comedyalbeit of a distinctly unromantic kind.
Bibliography
Mamet, David. Sexual Perversity in Chicago. New York: Samuel French,
1977.

Model Essays: Style and Genre

123

A Soldier's Play, A Soldier's Problems:


Notes on the Fuller Play
A Soldier's Play (1981) won the Pulitzer Prize at the time of its writing,
and, as produced by the Negro Ensemble Company under the direction of
Douglas Turner Ward, Charles Fuller's play deserved the award. But,
now that the smoke (see below) has finally cleared, we can see that it
deserves criticism as well as praise, and I'd like belatedly to offer some
here.
Set in 1944, A Soldier's Play could also have been written then; it
is a straightforward piece of psychological realism that takes the form of
a murder mystery. In the first scene, Vernon C. Waters, a Tech / Sergeant
in the 221st Chemical Smoke Generating Company, is killed by two unknown assailants. Waters is black, as are the other noncoms and enlisted
men at Fort Neal, Louisiana, in the year before the end of World War II.
Suspecting that the killers are white and fearing a racial conflict between
the soldiers and the residents of nearby Tynan, the white officers restrict
the troops to the base and order an investigation.
A black captain, Richard Davenport, assigned to the military police, arrives at Fort Neal to conduct the inquiry (and to narrate the play,
which consists largely of flashbacks in multiple locations, whose identity
therefore had to be suggested rather than replicated in detail). Davenport
is reluctantly assisted by a white captain, Charles Taylor, a West Pointer
who makes known his antagonism by aggressively announcing, I never
saw a Negro until I was twelve or thirteen (13). Still, it is clear to both
of them that the investigation is supposed to fail, since everyone assumes
that the murderers are white and that consequently it will be impossible
to bring them to justice in the South. Don't take yourself too seriously,
(48), Taylor warns Davenport, who has already sardonically acknowledged that the [whole] matter was to be given the lowest priority (17).
Nonetheless, the black captain persists, eventually daring to cast
suspicion on two white officers, Lieutenant Byrd and Captain Wilcox.
By this time, Taylor has grudgingly come to respect Davenport's efforts;
in fact, he is even more eager than his black colleague to bring charges
against his fellow whites. But Davenport has begun to believe that the

124

Play Analysis: A Reader

case is more than an incident of racial violence. His questioning of the


black soldiers gradually leads himand usto the uncomfortable realization that the murder was committed by someone under Waters' command.
As the captain digs deeper, a complex portrait of the dead sergeant emerges from the flashbacks that grow out of the interrogation
sessions around which the play is structured. A veteran of World War I,
Waters is a career man and a strict disciplinarian who expects his troops
to toe the white man's line as squarely as he does. When he busts Corporal James Wilkie to the rank of private for being drunk on duty, Waters
complains, No wonder they treat us like dogs (25). His favorite target
for abuse is a Southern black, Private C. J. Memphis, who represents
everything he despises. Pleasant but slow-witted, Memphis is the star of
the company baseball team, as well as a mournful blues guitarist and
singer. But to Waters, a Northerner, Memphis is nothing but an embarrassing exemplar of a clown in blackface (97). Niggers ain't like that
today (66), the sergeant sneers.
Waters is no simple Uncle Tom, however. This country is at
war, he tells his men, and you niggahs are soldiers (39). To him, they
must be more than good soldiersthey must be the best, for their own
sake if not the army's. Most niggahs just don't care, he claims. But
[not] havin's no excuse for not gettin'. . . . [W]e got to challenge this
[white] man in his arena (29) In his twisted way, Waters truly believes
that the black race can only advance by following his exampleby being
better than the white man at his own game. Do you know the damage
one ignorant Negro can do? (90) he asks Memphis. The black race
can't afford you no more. . . . The day of the geechy is gone, boy (72).
Davenport soon learns the lengths to which Waters went to close
our ranks to the chitlins, the collard greensthe corn-bread style (90).
During the year before his death, the company team had been so successful that a game with the Yankees was in the works if the Fort Neal soldiers were to win their conference title. But the better the troops do on
the field, the worse they do on the base. Every time we beat them at
baseball, the black soldiers complain about their white opponents, they

Model Essays: Style and Genre

125

get back at us in any way they can (37)in work details ranging from
KP (kitchen patrol) to painting the officers' club. Waters, of course, believes these men need all the work they can get (42), since he regards
their athletic achievements as frivolous, even dangerous, pursuits, because they reinforce the white man's stereotype of the strong, black
buck (89).
To his horror, Davenport discovers that Waters found a way of
eliminating Memphis while simultaneously sabotaging the baseball team.
The sergeant framed the hapless private for a mysterious shooting on the
base (one less fool for the race to be ashamed of [73]), and when
Memphis hanged himself in the stockade, the players threw the championship game in protest. But the ultimate cost of Waters' demented discipline was a growing desire for vengeance among his troops. As Davenport finally determines, two of themPrivate First Class Melvin Peterson and Private Tony Smallstook matters into their own hands and
killed their tormentor. Yet even at the moment of his death, Waters had
the last word, or wordsthe same ones that opened the play. You got to
be like them! he cries in torment. And I was! I wasbut the rules are
fixed. . . . [I]t doesn't make any difference. They still hate you! (8, 97).
Whatever else can be said about A Soldier's Play, Fuller must be
credited with attempting to create a tragic character for whom those
words are an anguished, self-proclaimed epitaph. It is in Waters, then,
that the toll of racism is most apparent. To be sure, all the black characters in the drama are representative of different modes of dealing with
white oppression: the cautious rationality of Davenport, the selfabasement of Wilkie, the unenlightened self-interest of Smalls. Likewise,
Memphis embodies the black past, stolid and humble, just as surely as
Peterson represents the future, or at least one possible future: righteous
but also arrogant.
Yet Waters is unique among the men by being both the engineer
of his own downfall and the victim of circumstances not of his own making; if he attains universality, as all truly tragic characters do, it is because of, rather than despite, the stubborn reality of his particularity.
From the smallest of his affectationsthe pompous, gravelly voice, the

126

Play Analysis: A Reader

pipe-smoking, the military carriage, the cultivated disdain for his inferiorsto the enormity of his crimes against his own people in their name,
the costs of Waters' unnatural, willful assimilation to the white man's
ways are painfully apparent. (Any man ain't sure where he belongs,
says Memphis, must be in a whole lotta pain [45].) Fuller's resolute
writing has created a positively unlikeable yet strangely sympathetic
character, a manifestly unpleasant man who is nonetheless unexpectedly
revealing of what we fear are the worst accommodationist impulses in
ourselvesracial or otherwise.
Even though Fuller makes Waters appear sinister in executing his
plan against C. J., then, the playwright refuses to offer Waters as a pure
source of evilinstead allowing him to be human (with a wife, and with
a son and daughter about whose futures he is deeply concerned), and
even suggesting that he eventually expresses keen remorse upon the
ultimate realization of the inhumanity of his plan. After C. J. commits
suicide, Waters is driven to drink because he supposedly both sees the
flaws in his master plan and realizes he is to blame for this man's
death. We are meant to believe that at first he internalizes his grief, but
finally he challenges the source that has so twisted him into his obsession: the white establishment. When in a drunken stupor Waters confronts the two white officers (the initial suspects in his murder) on the
night of his murder, he declares:
Followin' behind y'all? Look what it's done to me!I hate myself! . . . I've killed
for you! (To himself; incredulous) And nothin' changed! . . . And I've tried everything! Everything! (5253)

We are thus intended to conclude that Waters realizes his ends, in


fact, have failed to justify his means. He has been misdirected all along.
That Waters is murdered-cum-executed in this play, then, is a sort of
justice: retribution for all his past crimes and finally something that he
himself likely welcomed. The only problem with Waters' possible realization and remorse is that they don't make sense in this play. This is a
man who was willing to cut a black man's throat for cheating his race
out of its place of honor and respect (90) during World War I. So why

Model Essays: Style and Genre

127

would C. J.'s committing suicide during World War IIin effect, doing
Waters' dirty work for himbother the sergeant, if his stated intention
was to rid the black race of such a lazy, shiftless, backwater geechie, to
use his term (39)? Fuller never tells us, or never lets Waters tell us. The
white Captain Wilcox, one of the initial suspects in Waters' murder,
reports only that, on the night of his death, the sergeant told him regretfully that he'd killed somebody (80), which may be a reference to the
line quoted above: I've killed for you. And all that we hear from
Waters' flunkie, Private James Wilkie, is that his superior's plan backfiredC. J. killed his selfSarge didn't figure on that (89).
Waters may in fact internalize his grief, but he does so over a long
period of time: from April or May of 1943, when C. J. hangs himself, to
Waters' murder by Private First Class Melvin Peterson in April of 1944.
And during these eleven or twelve months, we neither see nor hear the
sergeant (if only in an interior monologue or soliloquy): Fuller doesn't
give us any scenesapart from the ones immediately prior to his death,
first with the two white officers and then with Peterson and Private Tony
Smalls, his accomplicedepicting a sad and penitent Waters. In other
words, we're told about his grief and contrition, but we don't see them
dramatized in action and dialogue and we don't discover their origins.
Moreover, Fuller handles the investigation into Waters' violent
death in as flawed a manner as he does his characterization of the sergeant's life. Somehow the murder mystery comes to dominate the other
elements of the play, such as the problems of human behavior in adverse
circumstancesrace war or world warwhich become secondary to the
whodunit questions of motive and opportunity. True, the investigation
gives the drama a certain forward momentum, but not enough to disguise
the fact that almost everything interesting takes place in the past. The
most compelling figure is the victim, whose life is revealed entirely in
flashback; while the action in the present is, for the most part, structured
according to the time-honored strategy of revelations leading to further
revelations and ultimately to a rather comfortable resolution.
Not too comfortable, mind you: Peterson and Smalls are apprehended, according to Davenport, but

128

Play Analysis: A Reader


In northern New Jersey, through a military foul-up, Sergeant Waters' family was
informed that he had been killed in action. The Sergeant was, therefore, thought
and unofficially rumored to have been the first colored casualty of the war from
the county and under the circumstances was declared a hero. . . . The men of the
221st Chemical Smoke Generating Company? The entire outfitofficers and enlisted menwas wiped out in the Ruhr Valley during a German advance. (99100)

Fuller is to be commended, as well, for honestly exposing how racism


distorts the soul of not just the oppressor but the victim.
For this genuine revelation (as opposed to the convenient revelations that advance the plot) to matter to us, however, it must matter to the
character through whose eyes we perceive it. And it is not unreasonable
to expect that Davenport's discoveries will change himsomehow. After
all, he began his inquiry more or less convinced that the killers were
white, and then had to overcome his own prejudices to uncover the truth.
He might also have seen something of himself in Waters. Though younger, the captain (who is also a lawyer) must have had to pay the same dues
as the sergeantperhaps even more, to rise to the higher rank and get the
college education. Yet Davenport maintains an eerie emotional distance
throughout the play. Perhaps Fuller thereby meant to comment on the
captain's notion of soldierly conduct, which causes him to be almost
color-blind. Indeed, early in the play, Davenport rebuffs Wilkie's presumption of racial familiarity (You all we got down here [23], the
private avers.) But this sort of irony seems absent elsewhere, particularly
from the author's decision to set the play so far in the past.
I do not think the drama required the segregated army, which
came to an end after the war; in fact, the play might have been more
pointed had it been set after integration. (As for the war itself, it could as
easily have been Korea or Vietnamor no war at all, for all the difference it makes to the action.) In setting the play before the period of integration, did Fuller believe that the attitudes represented by, say, Memphis
and Waters would seem outdated today? That Davenport, too, would
seem anachronistic, or even Peterson insufficiently militant? Or did he
think (or does he recognize) that setting A Soldier's Play in 1944 somehow lets all of usplaywright, cast, audienceoff the hook? Or was it
that he wanted all concerned to consider the drama purely as art rather

Model Essays: Style and Genre

129

than as relevant social comment? It is not that I suspect Fuller's motivesit is just that I don't know what they are.
Hence, impressive drama though it may be, A Soldier's Play is not
a totally satisfying work of art. I regrettably suspect that it has been indulged over the years far more than it deserves, for the mere fact of its
subject matter. To be sure, at a time when the problem of race relations
was fading from the public consciousness, it took some courage to confront itlet alone the subject of racial self-hatredat all on stage. But
though they are worth something, good intentions are not enough
particularly not in the drama, where action, not intent, is the modus operandi.
Bibliography
Fuller, Charles. A Soldier's Play. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.

130

Play Analysis: A Reader

Mamet's Edmond and German Expressionism


Originally produced as a long one-act play in 1982, Edmond is an underrated piece, having been written between Mamet's stellar (and original)
screenplay for The Verdict (1982) and his best drama, Glengarry Glen
Ross (1984), and consequently having suffered in comparison with those
two highly publicized works. But Edmond stands on its own two feet, in
part because it points upas none of Mamet's other plays doan aspect
of his writing style that, like this particular drama itself, has been neglected. I mean the fact that Mamet's staccato or minimalist dialogue,
with its occasional explosions, is essentially expressionistic, even when
the plays themselves are not thoroughgoing expressionist works.
Mamet's language thus underscores the paradox of verism-cumabstraction that inheres in all his work. The general linguistic texture is
naturalistic, nearly stenographicthe broken sentences, the repetitions,
the litanies of the everyday; then, suddenly, with a telegraphic word or
phrase, and especially with an entire quizzical or contorted sentence, the
vernacular lifts into an arch. As in, The path of some crazed lunatic sees
you as an invasion of his personal domain (American Buffalo [1975]).
Or, People used to say that there are numbers of such magnitude that
multiplying them by two made no difference (Glengarry Glen Ross).
And, from Edmond: [God] may love the weak, but he protects the
strong. With a lesser writer, such lines might seem to be fissures in
verism; but Mamet otherwise so thoroughly certifies the accuracy of his
ear that in these instances we feel we are flying past the character's actual
powers of expression into the thoughts in him that he isn't always able to
express. In this way the real is lifted into the abstractor what I am
calling the expressionistic.
That Edmond appears more expressionistic than David Mamet's
other plays stems less from its disgorged or deracinated language than
from its episodic form. It is what the Germans call both a station drama
and a Wandlungsdrama, a drama of transformation-cum-regeneration
that is composed of a series of stations, or stages (twenty-three brief
scenes in Edmond's case), through which a character progresses as he
takes the moral, spiritual, and emotional journey of his life. (A product of

Model Essays: Style and Genre

131

European religious drama of the Middle Ages, the original station play
consisted of stations that were sometimes literally stations of the cross.)
Several commentators have compared Edmond to Georg Bchner's proto-expressionistic play Woyzeck (1836), but Mamet's drama has more in
common with Georg Kaiser's lesser-known expressionistic work From
Morn to Midnight (1912).
In this play, a bank cashier, whose humanity has been crushed beneath the social conventions, economic system, and political structure of
Wilhelminian Germany, succumbs to sexual temptation and both robs his
bank and leaves his wifeto embark on a pilgrimage (to a bordello for
some sensual fulfillment, to a sports stadium for some passionate gambling, to the Salvation Army for some soulful religion) in search of
something beyond the material, the profane, the mechanized, the quotidian. When he does not find what he is looking for, he kills himself rather
than be imprisoned for his crime. Mamet's own play covers more than the
twelve or so hours of From Morn to Midnight, but it, too, is about a character in desperate search of some new intensity, truth, or meaning in his
life.
Edmund Burke is a forty-seven-year-old New York stockbroker
on his way home early from work after a meeting has been re-scheduled.
A quick quarrel with his wife discloses that Edmond has not loved her
for years and does not think she is attractive. For her part, the wife seems
angered less by the bad news than by her husband's detached manner in
delivering it. Edmond does not care: he just turns his back and walks out
on herand on his mechanical, workaday existence. Edmond thus takes
place, as it were, after the romance of the archetypal romantic comedy is
overwhen, in the absence of idealized, romantic love, a desire for a
different kind of union or devotion takes over.
In Edmond's case, at least initially, that desire is for sheer sex,
primarily of the oral kind. One of his stops after leaving his wife is a strip
club where he thinks he can slake his sexual needs. When a pretty, amiable B-girl there tells him her fee for oral sex and also asks him to buy an
exorbitantly priced drink, he becomes incensed. Soon Edmond's gotten
himself tossed outthe start of a long round of explosive confrontations

132

Play Analysis: A Reader

with hookers, grifters, and pimps in which he keeps heatedly complaining about the cost, navely trying to apply bourgeois standards to an inherently corrupt underworld into which he nevertheless keeps sinking
deeper and deeper.
His odyssey through New York's seedy underbelly takes Edmond
to a peep show next and then to a massage parlor, before he decides to try
to get his satisfaction out of a hand of three-card monte. When he accuses
the dealer of running a crooked game, however, the dealer and his shills
pull him into an alley, beat him up, and steal his money. So Edmond goes
to a pawnshop to trade his wedding ring for some cashand with no
such prior plan, comes out with a knife (unlike Woyzeck, who goes to a
pawnshop expressly to buy a knife with which to kill his common-law
wife). Thus armed, he first threatens a woman on a subway platform,
then uses the knife on a leering, gold-toothed pimp who promises to take
him to a prostitute but tries to hold him up insteadand in return gets a
knife-whipping from Edmond that leaves this black man half dead.
Invigorated by this act of violence and experiencing the delirious
liberation of living in the moment for the first time in his life, Edmond
goes on a manic jag during which he is unable to keep his mouth shut as
he babbles first to this stranger, then to that. One of those strangers turns
out to be Glenna, a twenty-three-year-old waitress in a coffeehouse,
whom he successfully propositions and whom he tells, in a highly racialized speech, how alive beating the pimp has made him feel. An aspiring
actress, Glennathe only named character besides Edmond because,
apart from him and in contrast to the generic secondary characters of
expressionistic drama in general, she is the most humanizedcompares
his feeling of almost Dionysian ecstasy to the one she gets when she is
acting. She thus fits into, shares, or even becomes a projection of, Edmond's narcissistic framework, but only for a time, since Glenna proves
to have a slightly different frame of reference from his. To wit: she refuses to join him in leaving normal and renouncing the past.
This provokes Edmond's rage and he kills her with his knife, as
the fever of his quest for a higher reality, which has been burning
through everything he has been doing, propels him past the rational into

Model Essays: Style and Genre

133

the hierophantic, the exalted, the truth. The truth, that is, according to
Edmond Burke, but a grotesque compound of his lifelong frustrations by
any other name. (Does Mamet call him by this name in order to connect
his reactionary thought with that of his real-life namesake, Edmund
Burke [17291797], often regarded as the father of Anglo-American
conservatism?) After he leaves Glenna's apartment, Edmond goes (like
the Cashier in From Morn to Midnight after his bordello-visit) to a religious mission to hear a minister preach another kind of truth: that every
soul can be redeemed through faith. But before he gets a chance to make
his testament in front of all those assembled, Edmond is identified by the
woman he accosted in the subway and arrested. And after a short reunion
with his wife, who serves him with divorce papers, he ends up in a prison
cell.
A big black man is assigned to his cell, and Edmond expresses
conciliatory feelings toward this African-American as well as blacks in
general. Uninterested, his cellmate beats Edmond into granting him sexual favors. In the last scene, the two men are simply living together,
affectionately; and the film ends as Edmond says good night, kisses the
other man, then turns over and goes to sleep. He thus ends in an unforeseen domesticity, enforced but safe, yet a domesticity, paradoxically,
through which he reaches his apotheosisand finds the gateway to spiritual freedom, inner peace, and personal transcendence.
Mamet's theme is not that we all share Edmond Burke's particular
frustrations and hungers, but that we all have them in one form or another and can be interested in a man who not only discovers his own, but
does so in such a way as to set himself apart from usby feeling nothing beyond his own suffering. In this he again resembles Kaiser's Cashier, who never wastes a thought on the feelings or troubles of the wife
and family he abandons, the waiter he cheats, the whores he abuses, the
stadium spectator whose death he engineers. Ironically, the Cashier indirectly compares himself to Christ with his last words, Ecce homo,
though Ecce homo was also the title of the 1888 book in which Nietzsche
unfavorably contrasted Christian ideals with his own superior ideal of the
bermensch, or superman. A cashier, of course, is no superman, but this

134

Play Analysis: A Reader

cashier is not (or has not behaved like) a Christian, eitherwhich is


precisely Kaiser's point in having him utter words that simultaneously
call to mind the Bible and Friedrich Nietzsche.
The same goes for Edmond Burke: he is a slave by the end of
Edmond, not a superman and not even a Christian slave, and he finds
himself in a hell of his own, self-satisfied creation. If Edmond is a martyr
of a kind, moreover, he is a martyr, not for mankind, like Christ, but for
menspecifically for American men of the 1980s, when the straight
white male was reeling from his loss of potency at the hands of women,
gays, and especially blacks in a climate of rigid political correctness as
well as institutionalized affirmative action. So, after sacrificing a female
waitress and an African-American pimp, Edmond sacrifices himself: to
the woman who identified him as her (and the pimp's) assailant, to the
wife who divorces him, and finally to the black who sodomizes him.
Edmond, like American Buffalo, to name only Mamet's secondbest drama, is above all a species of incantation: profane, yes, but so
desperate in its profanity as to take on spiritual overtones. Edmond may
not be as vacuous as Don and Teach in American Buffalo, but, even as
they do, he tries to create through language some sense of autonomous
being. The difference is that the middle-class Edmond is reaching for a
higher or more authentic beinghence the more singular and expressionistic his search as well as his speech; whereas Don and Teach (and to a
lesser extent young Bobby, the third character in American Buffalo) are
trying to create through their dialogue only some sense of their lowly
and sharedbeing, a verbal environment in which that being can at least
subsist.
There is nothing romantic about American Buffalo, then; it is solely (if superbly) an instance of dramatic naturalism. Edmond begins in
domestic naturalism but quickly extends beyond it, into a kind of superor supra-naturalism that I am calling expressionism. In the process Mamet's play invokes the spirit (if not religion itself), or the spiritual search
for order, meaning, and harmony, in part through its very form, that of a
morality or mystery play. Thus are we indirectly reminded that the theater began as a sacred event and eventually came to include the profane.

Model Essays: Style and Genre

135

But, in Edmond's case, paradoxically, we are talking about profanation of


a very high order.
Bibliography
Bchner, Georg. Woyzeck. Trans. Carl Richard Mueller. In The Modern
Theatre. Ed. Robert Corrigan. New York: Macmillan, 1964. 7
19.
Kaiser, Georg. From Morn to Midnight. Trans. Ashley Dukes. In Masters
of Modern Drama. Ed. Haskell Block and Robert Shedd. New
York: Random House, 1962. 489507.
Mamet, David. American Buffalo. New York: Grove Press, 1977.
----------. Edmond. New York: Grove Press, 1983.
----------. Glengarry Glen Ross. New York: Grove Press, 1984.

MODEL ESSAYS: LANGUAGE, SYMBOL,


SOUND, AND ALLUSION
Music in Shakespeare's Othello
Clown.

If you have any music that may not be heard, to't again, but (as
they say) to hear music the general does not greatly care.
(Othello [1603], III.i.1517)

The Clown says here that Othello does not like to hear music and, in
effect, tells the musicians to stop playing their instruments. An
explanation for Othello's inability to respond to music may be found in
the following speech by Lorenzo from The Merchant of Venice (1596):
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus. (V.i.8387)

Othello himself is clearly fit for treasons and stratagems; he is fit, that is,
to be the object of Iago's treachery and trickery, because he trusts his
villainous ensign yet suspects his honest and pure wife.
Othello may not be capable of spoils or acts of plunder, it's true,
but he is capable of worse: he will rob Desdemona of her life because he
believes that she has been unfaithful to him. The motions of Othello's
spirit are as a dull as night, then, and his affections are indeed as dark as
Erebus (the ancient Greek god of darkness who dwelt in the underworld).
His reason or judgment has been obscured by his jealousy; his love for
Desdemona has been clouded over by Iago's insinuation that she has a
passion for Cassio, Othello's lieutenant. Moreover, not only have Othello's affections become, at Iago's instigation, as dark as Erebus; by the end
of the play, his soul has also become just as dark. For Othello condemns
his soul to hell by committing suicide, which is to say, by adding another
barbarous act to his barbarous murder of the innocent Desdemona.
137

138

Play Analysis: A Reader

Tellingly, it is after the Clown persuades the musicians to leave


the stage in Act III, Scene i, that Iago comes in, meets Cassio, and hatches the plot which will take advantage of the absence of music in Othelloand thus lead to his destruction as well as damnation.
Bibliography
Evans, C. Blakemore, ed. Othello, by William Shakespeare. In The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. 1203
1240.

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

139

The Ending of Bchner's Leonce and Lena


Written in 1836 near the end of the German Romantic movement, Georg
Bchner's Leonce and Lena reflects the transitions of this historical periodin Europe in general as well as in German-speaking lands in particularfrom Romantic to realistic literature, from agrarian to industrial
society, and from absolute monarchy to popular democracy. In blending
romance and fairy tale, the play treats the major Romantic theme of union with nature; at the same time, however, it is a spoof on Romantics
who took themselves too seriously and a comic (if guarded) affirmation
of life after Romanticism and after monarchy. Something the Governess
says at the end of Leonce and Lena supports this interpretation of the
play.
The Governess's functions are inadvertently to lead Lena into Leonce's life and, just as inadvertently, to lead Leonce out of Lena's life.
Ironically, while the Governess is disapproving of LeonceJust don't
think about the man (26)he is winning Lena over, whereas while the
Governess is approving of himA wandering prince! (36)Leonce is
pulling back from Lena. When the Governess calls Leonce a wandering
prince at the end of the play, she means that she and Lena have finally
found the kind of man who will make life easy for them once againthe
very kind of man the Governess implicitly wished for earlier when she
complained, Oh, the world is revolting! A wandering prince is simply
out of the question in such a world! (22).
However, one can read the Governess's second utterance of wandering prince in its literal, active sense: Leonce is still a wandering
prince, or a prince who will continue to wander. In the original German
the Governess says, Dass meine alten Augen endlich das sehen konnten!
Ein irrender Knigssohn! Jetzt sterb' ich ruhig (see note 1). (These are
the Governess's final words, yet she remains onstage for the remainder of
the final sceneperhaps as a visual reminder of these very words.) Eric
Bentley translates these lines as follows: That I should live to see this
sightat lasta wandering prince! I die in peace (36). In Bentley's
English, wandering prince is clearly the direct object of to see, or is
in apposition to the object this sight. In the German, das (this,

140

Play Analysis: A Reader

translated as this sight by Bentley) is the object of the verb sehen


(to see), but irrender Knigssohn (wandering prince) is not in the
objective case; it is in the nominative, and thus could be the subject of a
new (uncompleted) sentence.
In other words, if one reads the text closely, one could conclude
that Bchner, through the Governess's slip in usage, is describing Leonce
as a wandering prince who has not yet ceased to wander. Ein irrender
Knigssohn irrta wandering prince wanders, or, literally, errs or
makes a mistakewould be to complete the sentence in the way a governess might during a schoolgirl's lessons. According to this interpretation, Leonce is still a wandering prince at the end of the play, and he has
momentarily gone astray in marrying Lena.
The answer for Leonce in this life, then, is not union with nature
(through marriage to Lena, who characterizes herself in words such as
these: I should have been brought up in a pot like a plant . . . I need dew
and night air, like flowers.Do you hear the harmonies of the evening?
. . . I cannot stay indoors [26]). Neither is marriage to absolute monarchy (through taking his father King Peter's place on the throne of the
imaginary kingdom of Popo) the answer for himnor were they answers
for the politically revolutionary Bchner in 1836. Leonce has been wandering since the beginning of the play, and there is little reason to believe
that he will stop wandering at the end of, or beyond, the play. Auf Wiedersehn! (133) he says to his would-be subjects before sending them
home, and I think we should take this to mean, not until we see one
another again (the literal meaning of the phrase), but Goodbye!
At the end of Leonce and Lena, Leonce is left dangling, or he
leaves himself dangling. The play doesn't end: it just stops with the Fool
Valerio's last words. On the one hand, Leonce could simply become
king, like his father before him; on the other hand, he would create a
kingdom that is at one with nature. In his final speech Valerio declares
his own wish to be Minister of State in such a natural kingdom, then
frivolously adds the following:

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

141

[A] decree will be issued that whoever gets calluses on his hands shall be placed
under surveillance; whoever works himself sick shall be punishable under criminal
law; whoever boasts that in the sweat of his brow he will eat bread shall be declared insane and dangerous to human society. And then we can lie in the shade
and ask God for macaroni, melons, and figs, for musical throats, classic bodies,
and a nice, cozy religion! (37)

After these words, Leonce says nothing; he makes no choice and


proposes no course of action. Is he perhaps too lazy to do so? Is he already slipping back into idleness and boredom? Or is Bchner's point
simply that Leonce has finally been drawn out of himself, out of his
extreme self-consciousness and ennui, to the point where he can choose
or act? And more he, the dramatist, cannot or need not do with him. The
comedy of the one interpretation is that a bored-again Leonce is at least
not a tyrannical King Leonce, and a chaotic Kingdom of Popo is better
than an orderly, over-policed one. The potential tragedy of the other
interpretation is that an active Leonce is ready to enter a world quite
different from the one in the play: the world of dramatic choice, with all
the negative consequences that erring choice can entail.
Perhaps the real accomplishment of the ending of Leonce and Lena is that it juxtaposes two worldsthe world of tyranny in government,
on the one hand, and the world of union with nature, on the otherthat
are equally insubstantial or fantastic, even insane. For human beings, that
is. Certainly not for the automatons of King Peter's court, nor for the
flower of Lena. For human beings there is only, in the end, the dilemma
of every human being: the burden and potential paralysis of selfconsciousness versus the pleasure of introspection, together with the joy
of self-fulfillment in action.
Or there is the life of the fool, of a Valerio. But Leonce is no fool;
he is heir to a throne. And Bchner's pairing him up with Valerio
throughout the play (Valerio is onstage only once without Leonce, for a
few moments, in Act II, Scene iv; similarly, Leonce is onstage only once
without Valerio, at the start during his brief scene with the Tutor), in
addition to having Valerio twice even call Leonce a fool, merely serves
to point up Leonce's dilemma even more: that he can never escape to a
life of mere foolishness.

142

Play Analysis: A Reader

Valerio, for his part, wants to stay at court in Popo, within whose
wallsbut not outside themfoolishness can be a form of eternal
escape. But Leonce does not want to be a fool or a king, and he never
officially accepts the crown from his father, Peter. Lena herself is, in fact,
a member of the court of Pipisomething that Leonce discovers only
late in the play. So union with nature, as prescribed by the Romantic life,
may be an escape, but only within certain court walls and only temporarily. It is for Leonce to break outside all those walls into the future, into
action and self-fulfillment.
Note
1.

This is the German as it reads in six editions from 1850 to 1974,


so there is no possibility that Ein irrender Knigssohn is in
any case other than the one intended by Bchner. The six editions are: Georg Bchner, Leonce und Lena, in Smtliche Werke
und Briefe (Mnchen: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1974), Vol. 1, 133;
in Werke und Briefe: Gesamtausgabe (Wiesbaden: Insel-Verlag,
1958), 146; in Werke und Briefe (Stuttgart: Janus-Bibliothek,
1949), 122; in Werke und Briefe (Leipzig: Insel-Verlag, 1926),
141; in Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Paul Cassirer, 1909), Vol.
II, 46; and in Nachgelassene Schriften (Frankfurt am Main: J. D.
Sauerlnders Verlag, 1850), 196.

Bibliography
Bentley, Eric, trans. Leonce and Lena, by Georg Bchner. In Bentley,
Eric, ed. From the Modern Repertoire, Series 3. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1956.
Bchner, Georg. Leonce und Lena. In Smtliche Werke und Briefe.
Vol. 1. Mnchen: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1974.

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

143

Liebestod, Romanticism, and Poetry


in Williams's The Glass Menagerie
Laura Wingfield of The Glass Menagerie (1944) hardly qualifies as a
Romantic superwoman, a majestic ego eager to transcend the mereness
of mundane human existence. In his narration of the drama at the same
time as he plays a part in it, together with his final, leave-taking from the
domestic misery-cum-mnage of his mother and sister, Tom owns that
role. But Laura does represent the kind of person for whom the Romantics of the early nineteenth century felt increasing sympathy. For she is a
fragile, almost unearthly ego brutalized by life in an industrialized, depersonalized Western metropolis filled with the likes of Gentleman Jim
O'Connor, or someone who blithely accepts the terms of his own material
as well as spiritual alienation.
This physically as well as emotionally fragile woman of almost
twenty-four escapes from her mid-twentieth-century urban predicament
in St. Louis, as someone of Romantic temperament would, through art
and musicthrough the beauty of her glass menagerie and of the records
she plays on her Victrola. Moreover, although she failed to graduate from
high school, Laura fondly remembers a choral class she took with Jim
O'Connor and the three performances of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance (1879) in which he sang the baritone lead. And instead
of attending Rubicam's Business College, as her mother had planned, this
high-school dropout went daily to the art museum and the bird houses at
the zoo.
Like a Romantic, then, Laura has a love for Nature in addition to
Arta nature that is artfully memorialized in her collection of little animals made out of glass, and that is painfully absent from the area surrounding the Wingfield apartment, which Williams describes as one of
those vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living units that flower
as warty growths in overcrowded urban centers of lower middle-class
population (21). Indeed, even Laura's name signifies her affinity for the
natural together with the transcendent: Laura is somewhat ironically
derived from the laurel shrub or tree, a wreath of which was conferred as
a mark of honor in ancient times upon dramatic poets, military heroes,

144

Play Analysis: A Reader

and athletic victors; and Wingfield brings to mind the flight of birds
across a meadow and on up into the sky.
Jim's nickname for Laura, Blue Roses, itself signifies her affinity for the naturalflowerstogether with the transcendentblue flowers, which do not occur naturally and thus come to symbolize her yearning for both ideal or mystical beauty and spiritual or romantic love. That
beauty is also symbolized by Laura's favorite among the animals in her
glass menagerie, the fabled, otherworldly unicorn, as well as by the place
where Laura has spent many of her afternoons, the big glass house at
the zoo called the Jewel Box, and by what she saw there: tropical flowers, which could be said to come from another world, and which can
survive in St. Louis only by being placed in the artificial environment of
a hothouse. And that love comes to her, however fleetingly, in the person
of her namer, Jim O'Connor, who beatifies Laura by emphasizing what is
special, even divine, about her and downplaying her physical disability:
A little physical defect is what you have. Hardly noticeable even! . . . You know
what my strong advice to you is? Think of yourself as superior in some way! . . .
Why, man alive, Laura! Just look about you a little. What do you see? A world full
of common people! . . . Which of them has one-tenth of your good points! (99)

In this speech Jim adopts a Romantic-subjective view of human


creation as opposed to a naturalistic, deterministic, objective one
ironically so, because he himself appears to be one of the common people with his freckle face, flat or scant nose, and mundane job in the same
shoe factory where Tom works, and also because, in his aspiration to
become a radio or television engineer, he identifies himself with the
utilitarian world of mathematics and machines. Commoner though he
may be, Jim O'Connor still idealizes rather than reifies Laura Wingfield
by placing her on a pedestal and equating this young woman with a blue
rose. In so identifying Laura, Jim unwittingly recalls that widely recognized Romantic symbol of longing for the infinite, of unrequited yearning for absolute emotional and artistic fulfillment: the blue flower, drawn
from the representative novel of early (German) Romanticism, Novalis's
Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802). This prose romance in two books is
about the evolution of a young poet of great potentialityin this case,

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

145

the legendary medieval poet and master singer Heinrich von Ofterdingen.
It chronicles his apprenticeship to his art and search for the archetypal
symbol, the blue flower, which had appeared to him in a dream.
For Heinrich, this flower comes to represent not only his artistic
longing but also his loving fiance, who has mysteriously died by the
time the second book of the novel begins; this book, never finished by
Novalis, was to have shown Heinrich's transformation into a poet, even
as the first book depicted his preparation for the artistic vocation. Similarly, The Glass Menagerie is about the evolution of the poet Toma
man in his early twenties who is not by accident given by Jim the nickname of Shakespeare, one of the heroes of the Romantic movement.
The Glass Menagerie is also about Tom's effort, through the art of this
play, both to find himself and to rediscover or memorialize his beloved
sister, a blue flower in human form.
Laura herself happens to think that blue is wrong forroses
(106), but Jim insists that it is right for her because she's pretty in a very
different way from anyone else. . . . The different people are not like
other people, but . . . other people are not [so] wonderful. They're one
hundred times one thousand. You're one times one! . . . They're common
asweeds, butyouwell, you'reBlue Roses! (105). Laura is indeed different, as Jim maintains, but her difference stems from her physical frailty in addition to her fragile prettiness. By physical frailty, I am
referring not only to the childhood illness that left her crippled, with one
leg held in a brace, but also to her frequent faintness, nausea, and colds
together with her bout with pleurosis as a teenager. Jim misheard Blue
Roses when Laura told him, back in high school, that she had had pleurosis, an inflammation of the thin membrane covering the lungs that
causes difficult, painful breathing. And his mishearing suggests the oxymoronic existence of Laura Wingfield, a young woman of this world
who simultaneously, like the lovely but easily broken creatures of her
glass menagerie, seems physically unfit for or unadapted to an earthly
life. She is too good for this world, the Romantics might say, and for this
reason she could be said to be sadly beautiful or bluely roseate, like the

146

Play Analysis: A Reader

soft-violet color of her kimono (29) in Scene 2the first scene where the
screen-image of blue roses appears.
Indeed, Laura's physical as well as emotional frailty betokens an
early demise, if not a death-wish on her parta death that would bestow
upon her the ultimate union with Nature so prized by the Romantics and
so elusive or unattainable in life. Death imagery may not pervade the
surface of The Glass Menagerie, but it is surely contained in Jim's nickname for Laura, Blue Roses, which, as I have attempted to show, emblematizes an ideal, mystical, or spiritual realm that can only be attained
by dying. In fact, the image of blue roses is used in precisely this way in
the poem The Far Away Country, by the British writer Nora HopperChessona Celtic revivalist influenced by the example of German Romanticism, like William Butler Yeats.
This particular lyric out of Hopper-Chesson's several collections
of poetry was written just before her death in 1906 but not published in
the United States until 1920, when it appeared as the preface to an anthology of ghost poems edited by an author whose fiction we know Tennessee Williams read: Margaret Widdemer, particularly her 1915 novel
The Rose-Garden Husband (see Mann). So Williams may have also read
Widdemer's compilation of what she calls ghostly poetry (vii), particularly Hopper-Chesson's featured prefatory poem (xiv), from which he
could have got the idea for Laura Wingfield's strikingly etherealand
therefore strikingly appropriatenickname.
Here is half of The Far Away Country, with its recurring image
of ineffably blue roses, its expression of a death-wish, and its evocation
of an enervatingly long journey through strange lands and over perilous
seas, at twilight or pre-dawn, be it taken by a grown man or a newly
christened child:
Far away's the country where I desire to go,
Far away's the country where the blue roses grow,
Far away's the country and very far away,
And who would travel thither must go 'twixt night and day.
...

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

147

Far away's the country, and strange the way to fare,


Far away's the countryO would that I were there!
It's on and on past Whinny Muir and over Brig o' Dread
And you shall pluck blue roses the day that you are dead.
(Widdemer, xiv)

Death imagery is not only contained in Laura's nickname of Blue


Roses, but it is also at the heart of two poems quoted or invoked by
Williams on the screen device included in the authoritative or reading
version of the play. The first is The Ballad of Dead Ladies (1450),
from a collection of ballads on death and love titled The Testament
(1461), by the medieval poet Franois Villon. The following, recurring
line from this poem is projected onto the screen as Amanda and Laura
appear onstage for the first time in Scene 1 (24), in addition to being
projected later in the same scene when Amanda reminisces about the
gentlemen callers she once entertained and would now like her daughter
to receive (27): O sont les neiges d'antan?, or Where are the snows
of yesteryear? Villon uses snow here as a symbol of worldly life's evanescence as well as its inevitably lost innocence or tarnished purity; and
Williams ironically connects the humble Laura and her humbled Southern belle of a mother with the great but departed women of Villon's part
historical, part legendary ballad.
Like much of Villon's work, this poem elevates death to the status
of a supreme law that ineluctably ends all earthly life yet ushers in the
eternity of the Christian afterlifean afterlife unironically intimated,
embraced, or augured in so modern a drama as The Glass Menagerie by
the title of Scene 5, Annunciation (56); by the winter-to-spring time
frame of the action; and by verbal references in the play to God the Father (62, 84), the Virgin Mary (33, 48), Christian martyrs (38, 55), resurrection (41, 71), baptism (110), paradise (57, 102), grace (24, 8384), the
spirit (52), transubstantiation (45), the erstwhile Catholic practice of
eating fish every Friday (61), angels (82), and an Episcopalian house of
worship called the Church of Heavenly Rest (8788). There are aural
references to resurrection as well in the early-morning church bells at the
start of Scene 4 (44), and we find a musical reference to Christ's rising
from the dead in the song The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise! from

148

Play Analysis: A Reader

Scene 5 (57). There is no direct reference to Easter in the play, but certainly such allusions to resurrection as Amanda's calls to her son to Rise
and Shine! in Scene 4 (46), together with Tom's own blasphemous tale
to Laura in the same scene (45) of Malvolio the Magician's escape from a
nailed-up coffin without removing a single nail, suggest that The Glass
Menagerie takes place around the time of this annual Christian commemoration of Jesus's return to worldly life and ultimate ascension into
heaven.
The second poem quoted by Williams is less obviously associated
with death, since the playwright uses two lines from itwhich, again,
appear on the screen between the living and dining rooms of the Wingfield apartmentto anticipate, then announce, the arrival of the Gentleman Caller, James Delaney O'Connor, for dinner in Scene 6. The poem is
Emily Dickinson's The Accent of a Coming Foot (1890), which I quote
in full:
Elysium is as far as to
The very nearest Room
If in that Room a Friend await
Felicity or Doom
What fortitude the Soul contains,
That it can so endure
The accent of a coming Foot
The opening of a Door (1180, Vol. 3, 1963)

Williams cites the penultimate line of the poem first, then the final line as
Tom brings Jim home to meet his sister (69, 74).
Now we know that all of Dickinson's transcendentalist-inspired
work was composed within the characteristically American, late nineteenth-century range of relationships among God, man, and naturea
range of relationships that itself derives from early nineteenth-century
German Idealism and English Romanticism. Furthermore, she was preoccupied in her poetry with the idea of death as the gateway to the next
existence, as a special glory that has something in common with the
conventional paradises offered in hymns and sermons of her day. Death
for Dickinson means leisure, grandeur, recognition; it means being with

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

149

the few, rare people whom it was not possible to know fully upon earth.
Much of life for her is anguish endured in an anteroom to death, which is
but a prelude to immortality.
In this sense, Jim is indeed, as Tom describes him in his narration,
the the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for
(23). The anticipated arrival of someone who will provide a form of
religious, political, or existential salvation and release to those awaiting
such a personthis is a familiar subject of modern drama, from Maeterlinck's The Intruder (1890) to Odets's Waiting for Lefty (1935) to Beckett's Waiting for Godot (1954). Although, ironically, the expected something usually does not arrive, the Gentleman Caller does make an appearance in The Glass Menagerieone that is tellingly heralded by
Tom's annunciation of his upcoming visit (59); by Jim's association
with a traditional symbol of Christ, the fish (61); and by Laura's mentioning of Jim's high-school yearbook picture right after she refers to the
picture of Jesus' mother in the local art museum (3334). Yet it is the
Gentleman Caller's departure rather than his arrival that provides a final
solution to Laura's problems, for in intensifying her desperation and
isolation, Jim's permanent disappearance after Scene 7in combination
with the subsequent disappearance of Tomcould be said to hasten her
physical and mental deterioration to the point of death.
The accent of a coming foot is, of course, Jim's, but it is also
that of the Grim Reaper, who awaits Laura, his friend, in the very
nearest room. Death will spell her felicitous doom, however, for it is
identified in Dickinson's poem with Elysium, which in classical mythology represents the paradisiacal abode of the virtuous and blessed after
they die. It is there that Laura may finally know fully Mr. James Delaney
O'Connor, a man who on earth remained for the most part a figment of
her imagination. It is on earth, as well, that Laura's soul may have had the
fortitude to endure the accent of Jim's coming foot, his opening of her
apartment door, because that accent and that opening would mean not
only momentary escape from the prisonhouse of her imagination along
with her shyness, but also ultimate, perpetual release from the cellblock

150

Play Analysis: A Reader

of her physically crippled body, the wasteland of her emotionally crippled mind, and the enslavement of urbanized subsistence.
As further evidence that Williams conceived of Laura as someone
experiencing life-in-death or death-in-lifeor would experience love-indeath of the kind we find in Tristan and Isolde (1859), the Wagnerian
opera where Liebestod is the title of the final dramatic ariaI offer a
third poem from which he quotes. This time in the quotation occurs in
the stage directions accompanying the screen title The accent of a coming foot in Scene 6. It is about five on a Friday evening of late spring
which comes scattering poems in the sky (69), the dramatist writes.
His direct quotation is slightly inaccurate, but he clearly has in mind
Impressions, IX (1923), by that anarchist of American poetry, E. E.
Cummings. I must refer the reader to this work in its entirety, for its
dominant imagesof life-in-death or death-in-life, ascent and descent, of
dawn's early light and the candlelight of dusk, harsh city life and the
starry, songful life of the mind, of the dreams of sleep or the dreaminess
of poetryrecapitulate those of The Glass Menagerie and of Romanticism in general.
Recall, for example, that the time from twilight to duskthe time
of dim or poetic lightingwas the Romantics' favorite because, in its
mixture of darkness and light, it is more infinite, more all-embracing,
than any other part of the day. In addition, twilight-to-dusk suggested to
them a mind that was half awake and half asleep, and therefore in sentient retreat from the workaday world but alive to the dreamlike workings
of memory, as the following stanzas from Cummings' poem reveal:
in the mirror
i see a frail
man
dreaming
dreams
dreams in the mirror
and it
is dusk on earth

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

151

a candle is lighted
and it is dark.
the people are in their houses
the frail man is in his bed
the city
sleeps with death upon her mouth having a song in her eyes
the hours descend,
putting on stars . . . (67, 1991)

The epigraph to The Glass Menagerie is itself from a poem by E.


E. Cummings, somewhere i have never travelled (1931): nobody, not
even the rain, has such small hands. Like Cummings' Impressions, IX,
Dickinson's Accent of a Coming Foot, Villon's Ballad of Dead Ladies, and Hopper-Chesson's The Far Away Country, this poem contains death imagery, or, better, it Romantically equates the ecstasy of
love with the sublimity of death, as in its first two lines (somewhere i
have never travelled,gladly beyond / any experience,your eyes have their
silence [263, 1954]) and in the following stanza:
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of our intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing (263, 1954)

But somewhere i have never travelled also equates the object of


the poet's love as well as the poet himself with a flowerspecifically, a
rose. Cummings depicts the rose both as it awaits the gentle hands of the
spring breeze, in combination with spring rain, to help it unfold its petals
and bring it to full blossom, and as this flower closes its petals and folds
into itself in preparation for the snow to come:
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose

152

Play Analysis: A Reader


or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
. . . (263, 1954)

Thus does somewhere i have never travelled join the Romantic


imagery of the flower to the idea of love-and-death, even as The Glass
Menagerie does the same. Clearly Williams had the tender, frail Laura
Wingfield in mind when he chose the epigraph to his play from this poem, for, like the flower in Cummings' work, Blue Roses opens her
petals when the Gentleman Caller touches her on a warm spring evening
after the cessation of a steady murmur of rain (85), only to close those
petals and die once Jim betrays her hopes and departs. But Williams's
alter ego-cum-narrator Tom Wingfield, like the i or voice of Cummings' poem in communion with his rose, cannot leave the memory of
his beloved sister behind despite his literally leaving her behind in St.
Louis; and one can infer that, as a result, his own loving petals slowly
closed themselves off from the world even as he himself may have blossomed as a poet.
Tom Wingfield, it must be recalled, is a member of the Merchant
Marine in the present or framing time of the play (19431944), even as
his father was a doughboy or infantryman in the First World War. This
means, of course, that he was a sailor on the ships that carried weapons
and supplies to our armed forces overseasunarmed ships that were
prime, and easy, targets for enemy submarines and cruisers, especially
when the merchant vessels went unescorted. In The Glass Menagerie's
past action of 19371938, as remembered by Tom, he twice discusses his
imminent joining of the Merchant Marine, and in each instance the image
of a sailing vessel with Jolly Roger is projected onto the screen (51,
78). Now such a vessel is normally a pirate ship flying the traditional
skull-and-crossbones flag, which obviously symbolizes death. Yet, as a
merchant seaman, Tom will be furnishing food, clothing, and arms to
other men and ships, not stealing such resources from them, as murderous pirates would do. So the image of a sailing craft with the skull-andcrossbones flag seems intended both to mock Tom's fantasy of high ad-

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

153

venture on the oceans of the world and to augur his own demise, or descent into darkness at sea.
Tom's death will leave the world in the hands of people like Jim
O'Connor, the mock-pirate of the Gilbert-and-Sullivan comic operetta.
But Jim's real-life adventures will be limited, as he himself says, to accumulatingor dreaming of accumulatingknowledge, money, and
power in that order (100). This is the triad on which democracy is built as
far as he's concerned, yet it is the foundation of rampant capitalism for
most of the rest of us. The Gentleman Caller's cravenly opportunistic
dream of material success, his coldly rationalistic strategy for achieving
monetary gain, may point the direction in which the American-led, postwar free world must go, but Laura and Tom Wingfield's heroically Romantic dream of spiritual or artistic fulfillment doubtless embodies what
that world will lose by going there.
Bibliography
Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 19231954. New York: Harcourt,
Brace, 1954.
----------. Complete Poems, 19041962. New York: Liveright, 1991.
Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. 3 vols. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University
Press, 1963.
Mann, Bruce J. Tennessee Williams and The Rose-Garden Husband.
American Drama, 1 (Fall 2001): 1626.
Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg). Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Trans.
Palmer Hilty. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1964.
Villon, Franois. Posies compltes. Ed. Claude Thiry. Paris: Libraire
Gnrale Franaise, 1991.
Widdemer, Margaret, comp. The Haunted Hour: An Anthology [of Ghost
Poems]. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New York: New Directions,
1966. First published, New York: Random House, 1945.

154

Play Analysis: A Reader

Anonymity and Inscrutability in Pinter's The Birthday Party


In Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party (1958) we don't know what Stanley has done wrong, and we don't even know if Goldberg and McCann
are apprehending the right man. Stanley is simply the victim, while
Goldberg and McCann are the victimizers. Although Goldberg and
McCann are each distinctively characterized by Pinter, as a team they
remain unidentified: they work for someone else (a man named Monty,
about whom we learn almost nothing), and are sent to the Boles house (if
it is the right house) to do a job. Pinter emphasizes the essential anonymity of Goldberg and McCann at two crucial moments in the play. The
first time, when they interrogate Stanley right before the birthday party in
Act II, just after they have met him. (We are not even sure that it is Stanley's birthday: Meg says it is; he says it is not.) Here is a selection from
the interrogation, which goes on for five pages in the text:
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
...
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.

Where is your lechery leading you?


You'll pay for this.
You stuff yourself with dry toast.
You contaminate womankind.
Why don't you pay the rent?
Mother defiler!
Why do you pick your nose?
I demand justice!
You betrayed our land.
You betray our breed.
Who are you, Webber?
What makes you think you exist?
You're dead.
You're dead. (5152)

Pinter emphasizes the anonymity of Goldberg and McCann for the


second time when they woo [Stanley], gently and with relish (82) the
morning after the birthday party, right before they take him away from
the Boles home for good. For two pages they carryon with lines such as
these:

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion


McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.
McCann.
Goldberg.

155

You're a dead duck.


But we can save you.
From a worse fate.
True.
Undeniable.
From now on, we'll be the hub of your wheel.
We'll renew your season ticket.
We'll take tuppence off your morning tea.
We'll give you a discount on all inflammable goods.
We'll watch over you.
Advise you.
Give you proper care and treatment. (82)

It is important to notice right away that the charges Goldberg and


McCann make against Stanley are either too specific (and ridiculous) or
too general. They do not charge him with any one crime; they charge him
with everything from leaving his fiance waiting at the church (if in fact
he was engaged) to betraying the organization, from not bathing regularly to being a traitor to the cloth (assuming that he was once a priest!). His
crime becomes unascertainable, because he could not possibly have done
all the things they say he has. We never know what he's done wrong.
Even the promises Goldberg and McCann make to Stanley about his
future life with them are either too specific or too general: they promise
him virtually everything, so we don't know what they are going to do for
him, if in fact they're going to do anything.
How Goldberg and McCann make their charges against and promises to Stanley is more interesting from the point of view of these two
characters' anonymity, however, than are the charges and promises themselves. Goldberg and McCann are anonymous in their comforting of as
well as in their attack on Stanley, because they share antiphonally a single point of view: they could exchange lines without changing the meaning of either sequence. This curiously stylized dialogue serves as an
instrument of great dramatic power. Here the playwright obtains the
suggestion of a cumulative force of opposition to the individual, intense
and relentless. Necessarily, the more sharply defined outlines of the characters blur as they merge with one another, but the abstract force of oppression comes clearer as a result. The effect is one of generalization,

156

Play Analysis: A Reader

minimizing distinctions between members of the oppositional force,


concentrating on outward action rather than inward character.
Goldberg and McCann are not themselves the oppressors of Stanley Webber. They have been sent by those oppressors to apprehend him.
They are agents of a higher force that has decided Stanley's fate. Indeed,
they seem to know as little about him as he knows about them; we sense
that they may not know his exact crime. They are in the end anonymous,
faceless, and Pinter points this up quintessentially in their two long duets. When Goldberg and McCann are finished with Stanley, he is an
anonymous victim: he wears a bowler hat, a dark well cut suit and white
collar (81) instead of his own clothes, and he can neither see (McCann
has broken his glasses) nor speak. Goldberg and McCann have to help
him out of his chair and escort him as all three leave the Boles house at
the end of the play. They leave behind a Lulu who has had anonymous
sex with Goldberg the night before and feels that she has been used, as
well as a Meg and a Petey who, in her senility and his preoccupation with
his work and his newspaper, are nearly strangers to each other. (Meg is
oblivious even to Stanley's final departure.)
More than most plays, The Birthday Party seems, finally, to be
about six characters with secret knowledge about themselves and only
partial knowledge of others and the world. These six meet and interact in
the living room of the Boles house over a twenty-four-hour period, but
nobody really gets to know anyone better and no character learns the
reason for Goldberg and McCann's mission. Precisely because no character gets to know another one well and no character finds out or reveals
what (if anything) Stanley has done wrong, the reader or spectator is held
more by the characters themselves, by their elusiveness, than by the overt
dramathe abduction of Stanley. The abduction of Stanley becomes an
excuse, if you will, for displaying the characters' inscrutability. This
inscrutability takes its extreme form in the anonymous duets of Goldberg and McCann, where Pinter blurs the identities of the two and multiplies their charges against Stanley, in order to discourage the audience
from blaming the men individually for Stanley's abduction and from
seeking to know the reason for it.

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

157

But inscrutability also takes subtle form in the speeches of four


characters. Stanley, Meg, Goldberg, and McCann all speak about their
pasts. Goldberg does this the most, Stanley a few times. Meg and
McCann speak of their pasts once, in tandem, during the party:
McCann.
Meg.
McCann.
Meg.
McCann.
Meg.

I know a place. Roscrea. Mother Nolan's.


There was a night-light in my room, when I was a little girl.
One time I stayed there all night with the boys. Singing and
drinking all night.
And my Nanny used to sit up with me, and sing songs to me.
And a plate of fry in the morning. Now where am I?
My little room was pink. I had a pink carpet and pink curtains,
and I had musical boxes all over the room. And they played me
to sleep. And my father was a very big doctor. That's why I never
had any complaints. I was cared for, and I had little sisters and
brothers in other rooms, all different colours. Tullamore, where
are you? (60)

Paradoxically, speeches like these, in revealing something about


the characters' pasts, reveal how little we actually know about these people, how much they keep to themselves. Ironically, Lulu and Petey, who
do not speak of their pasts at all, seem the most knowable, the most familiar. They are never onstage together in The Birthday Party, and one
suspects that this is through the playwright's design. If they were onstage
together right before Stanley's departure, one would expect them to question Goldberg and McCann more incisively than each does alone and
perhaps to get an answer or two. But it is not to Pinter's point to reveal
why Goldberg and McCann have come to get Stanley or what Stanley
has done to deserve abduction, so he keeps apart the two characters interested in obtaining this information. He is concerned above all to map his
characters' opaqueness or mystery. To this end, he makes Lulu and Petey
unknown to each other: neither speaks the other's name, and neither hears
the other's name spoken. It is as if they come to the play from separate
worlds. In the world of the play, they take their place among characters
who call attention to one another by contrast rather then illuminate one
another through conflict and disputation.

158

Play Analysis: A Reader

Bibliography
Pinter, Harold. The Birthday Party and The Room. New York: Grove
Press, 1968.

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

159

Names and Titles in Baraka's Dutchman


The title of Imamu Amiri Baraka's Dutchman (1964) and the names of its
two major characters are relevant to the play's meaning and deserve to be
explicated at length. All threethe title Dutchman and the names Clay
and Luladraw connections between black enslavement and original
sin, or the original American sin of importing slaves from Africa.
The provenance of the title of Dutchman has been much debated,
given that the title seemingly refers to a white man (or a European) in a
play whose two main characters are a black man and a white woman (or
two Americans). The play's title may refer to the first slave ship that
came to the colonies, a Dutch frigate that landed at Jamestown, Virginia,
in 1619 with twenty negars (Wood, 4) on board (not to speak of the
pervasive [and racist] Dutch presence itself in New York's Hudson River
Valley from 1609 to 1664). The hold of this ship is recalled by the subway setting of Baraka's play, which is sometimes designed onstage so as
to suggest the lower, interior part of a sea vessel as well as the inside of
subway car.
Taken together with the racially charged subject of Dutchman, the
Underground Railroadthe system of cooperation among anti-slavery
activists in the United States before 1863 by which fugitive slaves were
secretly helped to reach the North or Canadais also evoked. Alternatively, Baraka's title may allude to the legend of the Flying Dutchman,
the ship doomed to sail the seven seas forever (just as subway cars move
continuously, even inexorably, through the flying underbelly of the
city [Dutchman, 931]) because of its captain's blasphemy in making a
deal with the devil to achieve great speed; this ship was also thought to
be a Dutch slave-trading vessel.
No one has yet observed, however, that the title may also refer to
Dutch Schultz (19021935), the notorious American gangster of the
1920s and '30s, who was nicknamed the Dutchman. The name Dutch
Schultz was a pseudonym for Arthur Flegenheimer. Evidence that
Baraka may have had the Dutchman in mind when he wrote his play is
demonstrated by the English translation of Schultz's real surname, which
is German and Jewish; it means he who is, or that which is, flying

160

Play Analysis: A Reader

home (Dutchman, OED). Combined with Dutch or the Dutchman, the surname dovetails with the name of the legendary ship, the
Flying Dutchman (also the title of a Wagner opera, Der fliegende Hollnder [1843]), as well as with the frigate that arrived in Jamestown in
1619, a vessel known for its speed, its ability to fly across the waters.
(Baraka was later to write a bebop opera in which Dutch Schultz appears as an actual character: The Life and Life of Bumpy Johnson, from
the early 1990s.)
Arthur Flegenheimer, or Dutch Schultz, was the first to bring organized crime to Harlem, or was at least the first white man to take over
such crimeespecially the numbers racket, or the holding of illegal
daily lotteriesfrom blacks (Wintz and Finkelman, 938). In doing so, he
and his cohorts criminally exploited blacks on a scale not previously
known. To black inhabitants of Harlem at this time, the name Dutchman could only mean enslavement of economic kind. So it is only logical that Baraka would seize upon Schultz's nickname for the title of his
play, to give it a relatively contemporary resonance as well as an historical one, and to connect the legitimate exploitation of blacks, via slavery (beginning in 1619), with their illegal exploitation via organized
crime by Dutch Schultz and others during the '20s and '30s. Thus, the
title of the play suggests that there is little difference between the economic enslavement enforced by Schultz and the economic as well as
physical enslavement enforced by the American government for almost
250 years.
Dutchman may also refer to another government: that of South
Africa, whose national Party, which was largely composed of male
Dutch immigrants, conspired to create the system of apartheid, or racial,
political, and economic segregation against the indigenous blacks (as
well as Asians, Indians, Pakistanis, and colored or biracial people) of
that country. In this sense, Baraka's title for his play functions metaphorically to call attention not only to the Dutch participation in the slave
trade starting in the seventeenth century, but also to a late-twentiethcentury racist African government of Dutch origin that had much in
common with historical racist and segregationist practices in the United

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

161

States. A number of pejorative terms referring to the Dutch have entered


the English language, and these also resonate in the title of Baraka's twoscene play, as a kind of reminder of the European nation that was once
partly responsible for institutionalizing the original enslavement, denigration, and ultimate dehumanization of blacks: in Dutch (in trouble or
disfavor), Dutch uncle (a stern, scolding one), Dutch courage (stimulated by intoxicants), and Dutch treat or to go Dutch (that is, to pay
one's own way, but, ungenerously, no one else's) [OED].
Further, Dutchman is even a term used in theatrical design to
refer to the technique of soaking strips of cloth (usually muslin or a similar material) in glue and applying them over the seams or joints in scenic
flats, to give the appearance of a smooth, unbroken wall unit. Thus, according to several dictionaries, a Dutchman is a device for hiding imperfect construction or structural defects; the Oxford English Dictionary
takes this meaning even further when it notes that in the phrase I'm a
Dutchman, Dutchman signifies someone that I am not at all. In
Lula's view, this is something Clay tries to do in Dutchmanbe someone
he is not, or disguise imperfection or defectby dressing and acting
white. It is something Lula herself does by concealing her demonic,
racist, murderous intent beneath the guise of a beautiful and seductive
woman. Moreover, it is something the subway passengers, white as well
as black, do in the play by assisting Lula in disposing of Clay's body and
following her orders; otherwise, they might have been innocent bystanders. (In underworld jargon or the argot of organized crime, appositely, a
Dutchmannot unlike Dutch Schultz and his gang of Dutch-menis
a killer whose duties include disposing of the corpse so as to escape detection.)
Unlike the title Dutchman, the names of Lula and Clay have never
been investigated in detail. They are important, however, because, like
Baraka's title, these names shed light on the play's meaning. Clay's name
clearly stands for the clay of the earth, perceived as a symbol for the
material of the human body: as the matter is put in Genesis 3:19, Out of
[the ground] wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou
return. (Like the character of Clay himself in Dutchman, the term clay

162

Play Analysis: A Reader

also suggests material that can be molded into something other than its
original appearance or nature.) In suggesting the mortality, vulnerability,
or mutability of the human body, the name Clay evokes the figure of
Adam, and all the more so when one considers that Adam's name in
Hebrew, Adamah, means ground, dirt (Genesis 2:7).
Indeed, taken together, the names Clay and Adam recall the
name of the Democratic New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell,
Jr. The thrice-married Powell was a handsome, charismatic black leader
with Caucasian features who was serving in the United States House of
Representatives at the time Dutchman was written and produced. He was
educated at Colgate University and Columbia at a time when few blacks
attended such elite schools and served in Congress from 1945 to 1971.
(His career as the first powerful African American in the U.S. House was
ended by his misappropriation of Education-and-Labor-Committee funds
to support his own lavish life-style [see Hamilton].)
Lula's name, in contrast to Clay's, suggests the immortality or imperishability of love-become-lust and temptation and of its opposite,
hatred-become-disgust and repulsion. Such emotions are immortal or
imperishable because they are part of the fallen human condition, thus
linking (sexual) enslavement with original sin. In offering an apple to
Clay, Lula is clearly meant to be seen as an Eve-figure. Like Shakespeare's Iago, she descends from the Vice in medieval mystery and morality plays; Lula is thus, like the biblical Eve as well, the stereotypical
figure of temptation and sin, even evil and damnation. But like the title,
Dutchman, Lula may have a more recent ancestor or sourcefour of
them, in fact.
First, she resembles Frank Wedekind's Lulu (in the plays Earth
Spirit [1895] and Pandora's Box [1904]) both in name and in the lustful
way men perceive her. A precursor of German Expressionist protagonists, Wedekind's Lulu is barely conscious of the operating principle in
herself. Instead, she is the drive itselferosits essence, its fundamental manifestation; she is the vessel through which sexuality operates and
is perceived by men, all of whom understand it in completely different,
subjective terms. As a result, it could be said, Lulu is more the working

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

163

out of the dramatist Wedekind's love-hate toward women than she is the
expression of her own individual feelings toward the opposite sex. Unlike Wedekind's Lulu, Lula is very conscious of the effect she has on
men, and on blacks in particular; and she uses her sexuality to manipulate, taunt, and finally kill the black Clay. Like the Pandora of Greek
mythology, Lula looses evil on (black) mankind as she indiscriminately
tosses items from her boxa net bag (where she also keeps her apples)onto the floor of the subway car in which she and Clay ride (933,
lines 2829).
Baraka's Lula is closer in character, however, to Lola of Josef von
Sternberg's movie The Blue Angel (1930, from Heinrich Mann's novel
Professor Unrat [1905]); Lula may be Baraka's conflation of Lulu
and Lola. (Lula may also be the dramatist's shortening of the first
name of Tallulah Bankhead [19031968], the beautiful, brilliant, and
sexually uninhibited white American stage actress to whom Clay refers
in Scene 2 of Dutchman [939].) The cabaret artist Lola (played by Marlene Dietrich in the film) is a knowing temptress whose initial kindly
feeling for Professor Rath eventually turns into a deep aversion, provoked in part by his fawning behavior toward her; Lola's aversion becomes so great, in fact, that Rath is finally destroyed by his relationship
with her. Not only does he lose the woman whom he genuinely loves, as
well as his means of livelihood as her toady, he also loses his Beruf,
his profession or station in life as a high-school teacherwhich he gave
up in order to travel from town to town with Lola's theatrical company
and hence his reputation and dignity as well.
In von Sternberg's film, Dietrich's nightclub act is billed as Lola,
Lola, and we hear Rath call her by her double name on several occasions. In Dutchman, the actress Lula at one point directs Clay to
address her as Lula, Lula and invite her to the party to which he is
going. When he calls her simply Lula, she commands him to say her
name twice, as previously ordered. He does so: Lula, Lula, why don't
you go with me to this party tonight? (934). Lula's desire to hear her
name said twice, in tandem with her ability to elicit servile obedience
from men, thus recalls Lola of The Blue Angel. Lula's name may also be

164

Play Analysis: A Reader

an oblique reference to the central female figure in Vladimir Nabokov's


novel Lolita (1955)which is about the overwhelming (and ultimately
self-destructive) infatuation of a stolid professor with a sexually precocious young teenager. (Stanley Kubrick's film Lolita [1962], adapted
from Nabokov's novel, was released only two years before the production
of Dutchman.)
Lula herself says at one point that her name is Lena the Hyena,
the famous woman poet (934). Lena the Hyena was a character created
by the cartoonist Al Capp in the 1940s to be the ugliest woman in the
worldso ugly that anyone who saw her face would immediately go
insane. Lula herself is beautiful, according to the stage directions (931)
and Clay himself (933), so surely she uses the name Lena the Hyena
ironically. Just as surely, Clay would know that, as illustrated by the
white Capp, Lena the Hyena had several stereotypically AfricanAmerican features, including large lips, big teeth, and a wide smile, all of
which made her look like a white person in blackfaceand therefore he
would also know that Lula's invoking of Lena's name is prejudicial as
well as ironic.
As for Lula's own looks, she is tall and slender in addition to being beautiful, with long red hair hanging straight down her back, wearing only loud lipstick . . . (931): a devil-figure in female guise. Lucifer
himself, it must be remembered, had once been the most beautiful of all
the angels, and he is traditionally depicted as being entirely red in color.
Moreover, Lucifer's name is derived from the Latin for light-bearing;
and, while Lula herself is no figure of light, it may be worth pointing out
that Baraka's mistress at the time he was writing Dutchman was a white,
red-haired woman by the name of Lucia, or light in Italian (see Watts
as well as Baraka's autobiography).
Lastly, Lula's name and character may also be connected to those
of the biblical Lilith (whose own name derives from that of the Mesopotamian demon Lilatu or Lili, which means night in Semitic). Lilith
mentioned only once in the Bible, in Isaiah 34:14is conjectured to be
the first wife of Adam, well before Eve's creation, as well as the mother
of Cain. But Lilith and Adam were not suited to each other. She wanted

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

165

to be his equal (not just his helper, as she had been created to be) and
even his superior. After convincing Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, to
allow her to depart from the Garden of Eden, Lilith came to be known as
the Queen of the Night, the Mother of Demons, and Satan's concubine:
she is depicted as an irresistible temptress whose lower body, like a
mermaid's, fused into that of a serpent (see Gaines). Seductive, domineering, diabolical, and willing to kill to advance her own aimsthis is
Lula of the Dutchman by another name.
In sum, in its origins, Lula's name harks all the way back to the
Bible (like Clay's), and simultaneously alludes to Euro-American literature and culture. Clay's name, however, alludes to a prominent African
American politician from the '60s whose early life, in its Caucasian
outlines, has something in common with that of the character Clay. In
this, Clay's naming stands apart from both Lula's and the naming of the
play, each of which is aptly tied by its derivation to the Europeans and
Americans guilty of the sin of enslaving African blacks. Clay and Lula
do meet up in one form or another in the Bible, but there their respective progenitors engage in original sinthat is, sin of a universally human, as opposed to racist, kind.
Bibliography
Baraka, Imamu Amiri. The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones / Amiri
Baraka. New York: Freundlich, 1983.
----------. Dutchman. In Masterpieces of the Drama. Ed. Alexander W.
Allison et al. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1979, 931940.
Gaines, Janet Howe. Lilith: Seductress, Heroine, or Murderer? Bible
Review, 17.5 (October 2001): 1220, 4344.
Hamilton, Charles V. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography
of an American Dilemma. New York: Cooper Square Press,
2002.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: American Bible Society, 1999.

166

Play Analysis: A Reader

The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Watts, Jerry Gafio. Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
Wintz, Cary D., and Paul Finkelman, eds. Encyclopedia of the Harlem
Renaissance. Vol. 2. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Wood, Betty. Slavery in Colonial America, 16191776. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005.

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

167

The Eagle-and-the-Cat Story in Shepard's


Curse of the Starving Class
Ella.
Wesley.
Ella.

Wesley.
Ella.

Wesley.
Ella.

. . . What happens next?


A cat comes.
That's right. A big tom cat comes. Right out in the fields. And he
jumps up on top of that roof to sniff around in all the entrails or
whatever it was.
And that eagle comes down and picks up the cat in his talons and
carries him screaming off into the sky.
That's right. And they fight. They fight like crazy in the middle
of the sky. That cat's tearing his chest out, and the eagle's trying
to drop him, but the cat won't let go because he knows if he falls
he'll die.
And the eagle's being torn apart in midair. The eagle's trying to
free himself from the cat, and the cat won't let go.
And they come crashing down to earth. Both of them come
crashing down. Like one whole thing. (200)

It is no accident that in Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class


(1976), Weston's story of the eagle and the cat is not completed until
the end of the play (as quoted above), and at that point by two characters,
not one. This story is a metaphor for the entire action of Curse, and it is
important that two people finish telling it to each other, for its lesson is
that man in isolation, not communicating with his fellow men, will inevitably destroy himself and everyone with whom he comes into contact.
The eagle and the cat both want the same thingthe lamb, or
lamb testes, that Weston throws atop the shed roof (he is castrating lambs
in his story)and they kill each other trying to get it. The eagles and
the cats in Curse of the Starving Class do the same; they want the
Tate-family land, which is identified with the lamb testes of Weston's
story. One clue to this is the lamb Wesley brings into the house in Act I,
and which Weston returns to the house in Act III after he decides to stay
on the land.
The lamb, brought into the house to recover from infestation by
maggots, is identified with the land; like the lamb, the land is diseased or
cursed. When Wesley, in his father's clothes, butchers the lamb in Act
III, he symbolically enacts what his father has done over the years: bor-

168

Play Analysis: A Reader

row money and thus borrow away, or destroy, the land. Wesley says he
killed the lamb because he was hungry, but there is plenty of food in the
refrigerator; he wastes the lamb meat, in other words, and Emerson and
Slater remind us of this when they bring the discarded lamb carcass into
the house late in the play.
The eagles and the cats in Curse of the Starving Class more
or less destroy one another in the fight over the Tate land. Weston, an
eagle (he was a pilot during World War II), fights against Ella, a cat,
and both lose. (When she participates in telling the story of the eagle and
the cat at the end of the play, the cat enters the picture for the first time;
when Weston told the story by himself at the start of Act III, he stopped
before the cat began to challenge the eagle for the lamb testes.) Weston
goes off to Mexico to escape his creditors, and Ella is abandoned by
Taylor and left with nothing. Taylor, the legal eagle (he also served in
World War II), fights against Ellis, a cata meat and blood man by
his own description who preys on unsuspecting drunks at his barand
they both lose. Taylor himself runs off to Mexico in the end to avoid
legal action for selling worthless land (Weston's property out in the desert), and Ellis's Alibi Club is badly damaged during Emma's shooting
spree.
The eagle and the cat in Weston's story are archetypal loners who
kill each other by chance, since they are not natural enemies despite the
fact that in this instance they are competing for the same food. Man, by
contrast, is not by nature a loner or self-seeker. Ironically, Shepard gives
us a familybetter yet, a farming familyof loners to point this up all
the more. When man attempts to go it alone or is driven to do so, the play
implies, he inevitably destroys himself and others.
The curse of the starving classof any social class in American
society, in factis its spiritual starvation amidst plenty, its neglect of its
spiritual needs for satisfaction of its material ones, on account of the very
existence of such plenty. Thus the catch-22 situation at the start of Curse
of the Starving Class: the Tates are in deep financial trouble because,
over the years, they have depended too much on credit to satisfy their
every material need, to get their share of the American dream. And what

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

169

could get them out of this trouble, or a least get them through it intact as
a family, able to begin again somewhere else, is exactly what they have
animalistically sacrificed in their single-minded quest for the material:
spiritual communion, or honest, loving, and selfless communication with
one another.
Bibliography
Shepard, Sam. Curse of the Starving Class. In Shepard's Seven Plays.
New York: Bantam, 1981. 133200.

170

Play Analysis: A Reader

Light, Darkness, and Sound in Hare's Plenty


In Scenes 2 through 11 of David Hare's Plenty (1978), we hear sounds
from the dark before the lights come up on the action. Those sounds are
of a wireless or radio telegraph (Scene 2); a small string orchestra (Scene
3); a string quartet (Scene 4); a brass band (Scene 5); Charlie Parker's
saxophone (Scene 6); the music of the English composer Edward Elgar
(Scene 7); the voice of a priest (Scene 8); a radio interview (Scene 9);
some stately orchestral chords: melodic, solemn (73; Scene 10); and
Elgar's music again (Scene 11). The lights come straight up on the action,
without any sounds coming first from the dark, in Scene 1. Similarly, in
Scene 12, music is playing as the room [of Scene 11] scatters [and] we
see a French hillside in high summer. The stage picture forms piece by
piece. Green, yellow, brown. Trees. The fields stretch away. A high sun.
A brilliant August day (8485).
To summarize, Plenty traces the career of a spirited Englishwoman from her youth as a courier (1943), aiding the French Resistance
against the Nazis, to her collapse, some years later (1956), into peacetime
disillusionmentparalyzed by anomie, riddled with depression, rotting
with despair and psychic rust. Hare's heroine, Susan Traherne, represents
a particular example of a general condition, the personification of a hopeful, idealistic generation disaffected by a nation in moral collapse. It is
Hare's conviction that World War II represented England's last heroic
moment, after which it experienced a series of demoralizing deceptions
and compromises tied to the loss of empire. Ironically, this was also a
time of relative affluencean era of peace and plenty.
The play begins in 1962 as Susan is about to leave her husband,
Raymond Brock, whom she later says she married only because he had
once been kind to her when she was in trouble (she had shot a man in a
quarrel). Plenty begins, that is, with Susan's disillusionment and despair.
We see that disillusionment and despair clearly from the start, for there is
no anticipatory moment of darkness and sound before Scene 1.
There is such an anticipatory moment before Scene 2, and this
scene itself is played in only a small amount of light (13). Scene 2 is a
flashback to Susan's days as a teenaged courier for the French Re-

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

171

sistancea time of excitement, danger, mystery, and promise for her.


Here we get not only from the dark the sound of the wireless (13), but
a whole scene played in semi-darknessdarkness that is a metaphor, not
for death, but for life lived at its highest, ineffable pitch. Scene 11 is a
flash-forward to England in 1962, after Susan has left Brock and has
been tracked down by Lazar, the parachutist whom she aided in Scene 2
and whom she hasn't seen since the war. In this scene, Susan and Lazar
are spending the night in a Blackpool hotel in a failed attempt to recapture the exhilaration and sense of purpose of 1943. Scene 11 is played in
semi-darkness, an ironic reproduction of the lighting of Scene 2.
Scenes 3 through 10 of Plenty chronicle Susan's life from 1947 to
1962. She meets Brock after the death in 1947 of Tony, a Resistance
member with whom she was carrying on a casual affair and whose sudden death of a heart attack can be seen as a mercy not afforded those who
had to live through England's decline after World War II. Susan subsequently has an unhappy career as an advertising copywriter, where success is simply a question of pitching my intelligence low enough (44).
She runs around with a bohemian crowd and attempts to have a child by
Mick, a man she barely knows. She wants a child, but not a husband; she
likes sex but she's rather not know her sex partner very well, if at all.
Susan then marries Brock, whom she does not love. Finally, she shows
signs of a mental imbalance that will never leave her.
Like Scene 2, as noted, Scenes 3 through 10 open with an anticipatory moment of darkness and sound; unlike Scene 2, these scenes present an increasingly sad reality exposed by light. Through light and
sound, Hare repeats, eight times, the outline of Susan's experience up to
her leaving Brock: the anticipationthe promise of darkness and
soundthen the deflationthe disappointment of light and flesh. Even
though the sounds from the dark can be viewed, retrospectively, as underlining the mood of the scene to come (for instance, the music of a
brass band before Susan's brassy request, made at a festival and fireworks site, that Mick father her child), they still haveoccurring before
and not during the scenean existence in darkness, independent of the
scene, as pure, tantalizing sound.

172

Play Analysis: A Reader

Scene 12, set in 1944 in newly liberated France, opens in light:


even as we saw clearly Susan's disillusionment and despair in Scene 1,
we see the past clearly now. We see it without illusions, and with the
knowledge about Susan and England that the play has given us
knowledge that Susan herself, for all her erratic behavior, had attained.
The time is immediately after the liberation, and already the boredom and
sluggishness of peace and plenty are setting in under a brilliant sun.
Hence the unnaturally gloomy (85) farmer whom Susan encounters
speaks with extreme disgust (86) about the ugly stretch marks he sees
on his wife's legs in bed, as if darkness with its attendant invitation or
allure has completely deserted themjust as it will desert Susan Traherne.
Bibliography
Hare, David. Plenty. London: Faber and Faber, 1978.

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

173

Literary Allusions in Shepard's Buried Child


The dark elm trees (11) beyond the screened porch in Sam Shepard's
Buried Child (1978) are a reminder of Eugene O'Neill's Desire under the
Elms (1924), which, like Shepard's play, focuses on a father-son rivalry
and one son's desire to claim his inheritance. In O'Neill's drama, the
patriarch takes a young wife who falls in love with his youngest son;
when the wife and son have a child, the old man is deceived about its
paternity. But the lovers experience guilt, and the wife, unable to bear the
thought of separation from her husband's son, kills the baby. In Shepard's
drama, the wife also bears a child that is not her husband's and was probably fathered by her oldest surviving son, but she has the husband murder
the little boy.
Shepard ties Buried Child not only to Desire under the Elms, but
also to the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1132). In the Bible, the
return of the Prodigal Son was meant to be an occasion for rejoicing.
When the wayward son kneels before his father and says, I have sinned
against heaven and you; I no longer deserve to be called your son, the
father responds by saying, Quick! Bring out the finest robe and put it on
him; put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. And when the Prodigal Son's older brother, who had remained faithful, complains about not
being rewarded, the father replies, You are with me always, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice. This brother of
yours was dead, and has come back to life. He was lost, and is found.
In Buried Child, a number of allusions to Luke's parable appear,
but they are amplified and distorted. For instance, there are two prodigal
sons. The first is Tilden, who has returned to the family after twenty
years of doing nothing in New Mexico. He says to his father that he had
nowhere else to go except home, but Dodge retorts, You're a grown
man. You shouldn't be needing your parents at your age. It's un-natural.
There's nothing we can do for you now anyway. Couldn't you make a
living down there? . . . Support yourself? What'd'ya come back here for?
. . . I never went back to my parents (25). Tilden certainly did not come
back to see the twenty-two-year-old Vince, the second prodigal son, who
was ostensibly raised by Dodge and Halie but has not seen them or his

174

Play Analysis: A Reader

father since he was sixteen. When Vince appears, Tilden merely stares at
him, more or less refusing to recognize his son; instead he declares, I
had a son once but we buried him (37). Earlier Dodge had also refused
to acknowledge Vince, going so far as to deny that he was anybody's
grandfather: Stop calling me Grandpa, will ya? It's sickening. Grandpa. I'm nobody's grandpa! (36).
The fine robe in which the Biblical prodigal is wrapped is transposed by Shepard into a grimy blanket, stained with Dodge's spittle and
coughed-up blood. When Dodge dies, in productions of Buried Child,
Vince either wraps himself in this blanket or dons his grandfather's baseball cap as a symbol that he has taken over his inheritance. Thus he, his
father, and his uncle have each in some way diminished the power of the
family patriarch: Bradley, another of Dodge and Halie's sons, ruthlessly
cuts off all of his father's hair when he is asleep; Tilden produces the
evidencethe corporeal remainsof the child Dodge murdered; and
Vince usurps his grandfather's place in the house as he lies down on the
sofa, arms folded behind his head, staring at the ceiling. His body is in
the same relationship to Dodge's (72).
Buried Child draws not only on the parable of the Prodigal Son,
but also on agricultural myth similar to that found in Oedipus the King
(430 B.C.), which begins with the announcement of a curse on the land:
A rust consumes the buds and fruits of the earth; / The herds are sick;
children die unborn, / And labor is in vain. In Buried Child, the crops
have failed or not been cultivated and there has been no rain; moreover,
like Sophocles' tragedy, Shepard's play includes the theme of incest and
infanticide. The myth of Osiriscelebrated in the ancient Egyptian Passion Play at Abydos (ca. 2500 B.C.)itself can be seen as an influence
on Buried Child. Osiris was slain by a jealous brother who dismembered
the body and scattered its remains throughout the arid Nile Valley, which
mysteriously became fertile wherever it held pieces of Osiris' corpse. In
Buried Child, the land that had cradled the corpse of Halie's murdered
baby boy mysteriously yields crops that are gathered up by Tilden
much to the dismay of Bradley. And by the end of the play, we can hear
Halie's disembodied voice declare, I've never seen such corn. . . . Car-

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

175

rots, too. Potatoes. Peas. It's like a paradise out there . . . A miracle. . . .
Maybe it was the rain (72).
Bibliography
Shepard, Sam. Buried Child. New York: Urizen, 1979.

176

Play Analysis: A Reader

Title and Aside in Brenton's Sore Throats


Howard Brenton's Sore Throats (1979), a short two-act play, is about
three characters, Jack, Judy, and Sally, who are trying to escape the restrictions and artificiality of bourgeois life. In Act I, Jack, a forty-fiveyear-old British policeman, and Judy, thirty-nine, are divorcing, and he
wants half the money from the sale of their former home so that he can
run off to the wilds of Canada with his girlfriend Celia. (Jack had previously agreed in writing to give Judy all the money.) Jack beats Judy
savagely in an attempt to get her to give him half the money, but he finally leaves her apartment empty-handed.
Judy, for her part, takes up with Sally, who is twenty-three years
old. Together they freely spend the proceeds from the sale of the house,
live like pigs, and do not work. When Jack returns in Act IIafter his
experiment in Canada has failed and Celia has left himhe desperately
needs money, but Judy responds to his request for financial assistance by
tearing up the little cash she has remaining and burning it. Her last
words, and the final words of Sore Throats, are, I am going to be
fucked, happy, and free (31).
Sore Throats, as one might have guessed by now, is oddly
indeed, ironicallytitled. First, the title is ironic because the three characters in the play talk a lot, and if they had sore throats, they could not do
so; moreover, there is no indication that their throats become sore from
all their talking. Second, the title is ironic because a bodynot anyone's
throatgets sore in the course of the drama: Judy's body, from the beating Jack gives her in Act I. Finally, the title of Sore Throats is ironic
because it refers to a condition that supposedly results from lovemaking,
and there is no lovemaking in the play. There are only hatred, violence,
despair, and disintegration. Judy and her friend Sally do speak of having
sex with teenaged boys, but the boy Sally describes as sleeping naked on
the floor, and whom Judy thinks of sexually assaulting, is only a figment
of their imaginations. Jack says in Act II (which occurs a year or two
after Act I) that he has a baby girl in the carrycot he carries onstage
the ostensible product of lovemaking between him and Celiabut the
baby, like the teenaged boy, turns out to be imaginary.

Model Essays: Language, Symbol, Sound, and Allusion

177

In an epigraph to the play, Brenton quotes Bertolt Brecht, who


himself was being ironic when he wrote:
I have heard that lovemaking can give you a swollen throat. I don't want one. But
the swing-boats [at the amusement park], I have heard, can give you a swollen
throat too. So I shan't be able to avoid it. (5)

Through his wry alter ego, Herr Keuner, Brecht argues here for the one
activity that most people do not need an argument for: lovemaking. Jack,
Judy, and Sally do not need an argument for it, either; still, on the physical level, they appear to lack willing partners, and on the spiritual level
each seems to be incapable of love. They are the victims, Brecht implies,
of a societyof capitalist societywith a sore outlook: one in which
money is the root of all contracts, including marriage, and one in which
modern technology and urban overpopulation have increasingly compartmentalized people's lives.
So much so that, in Sore Throats, Brenton uses a number of
asides, not simply to tersely reveal his characters' innermost thoughts, but
to express their alienation from one another and their retreat into themselves from the regimentation and impersonality of contemporary life.
They literally talk to themselves. Their asides are no mere archaic convention designed to tell us what, in the modern theater, we take pleasure
at discovering for ourselves beneath the surface of the dialogue. In his
famous book Technique of the Drama, Gustav Freytag comments as
follows on the use of asides: The usual device of asides must be used in
extreme cases, and for a few words (231). In Brenton's play, despite its
brevity, there are forty-six asides, and some of them turn into long
speeches (soliloquies, as it were). Sore throats, indeed.
Bibliography
Brenton, Howard. Sore Throats and Sonnets of Love and Opposition.
London: Eyre Methuen, 1979.
Freytag, Gustav. Technique of the Drama: An Exposition of Dramatic
Composition and Art. Trans. Elias J. MacEwan. Chicago: S. C.
Griggs, 1895.

MODEL ESSAYS: THEME, THOUGHT, OR


IDEA
Love and Death in Lope de Vega's The Knight of Olmedo
Although the play of Lope de Vega's that has probably attracted the most
critical attention is The Knight of Olmedo (1626), sufficient attention has
not been paid to Lope's organization of the drama around the interwined
themes of love and death. Instead of equating Alonso's love and death, of
seeing his death as the desired culmination of his love for Ins, critics
have attempted to locate an error or flaw in this exemplary knight's
character to account for his murder by Rodrigo. Willard F. King herself
can do little more than describe Alonso as the good and innocent victim
of destiny (1972: xxiii), but she does provide a useful summary of the
literature that regards the knight as tragically flawed:
Professor Parker first, and other critics after him, have identified the principle of
poetic justice as the cornerstone of Golden Age drama; it is affirmed that no
character in a play of this period is ever allowed to suffer punishment of any sort
frustration, degradation, death, or damnationwithout having in some measure
deserved such retribution through his own moral fault or error. It is then argued
that, since Alonso dies, he must have sinned. His faults are variously assumed to
be illicit love, employing the dangerous witch Fabia, acquiescing in Ins's morally
reprehensible sham religious vocation, and a foolish sense of honor which forces
him to continue on the road to Olmedo in the face of all warnings. (1972: xxiiixxiv, note)

Alonso may have faults, but it is not on account of them that he


goes to his death. Rodrigo kills him more out of overwhelming jealousy
than out of outrage at Alonso's complicity in Ins's feigned devotions and
his employment of the witch Fabia, which actions on Alonso's part
merely provide Rodrigo with an excuse to murder his rival. Moreover, as
King points out, the Church may have abhorred, and the state condemned
to death, both witches and those who made use of their black arts, but
Alonso uses Fabia as a messenger, not as a witch, and clearly proclaims

179

180

Play Analysis: A Reader

his own lack of belief in the power of magic over the human will (Act II;
65).
Alonso goes to his death because he longs to; if he does not pay
heed to the warnings of his imminent deaththe killing of the goldfinch
by the hawk, the appearance of his own ghost on the road to Olmedo, and
the appearance on the same road of the peasant singing of the impending
murder of the Knight of Olmedothis is partly because he does not want
to do so. Alonso desires to go to his death because only in death can his
spiritual or divine love of Ins be continued indefinitely; only in death
can he achieve a perfect or complete spiritual union with her. His initial
attraction to Ins, after all, is a spiritual one: This love of mine, which
has kindled me with searing flames, was born from the living spirits that
issued from a pair of eyes (Act I; 5).
One of the profoundest changes in man's thinking during the
Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it must be remembered, was the
spiritualization of his attitude toward women, or the transformation of
physical love into an earthly image of divine love. True love was now
thought to strike through the eye, then reach to the soul and create a thirst
for spiritual rather than fleshly beauty. This Neoplatonic optics of love
was explained in such works as the Commentary on Plato's
Symposium (1468), by Marsilio Ficino, and The Philosophy of Love
(1502), by Leone Ebreo, and it was clearly the kind of love that could be
maintained over a long period time only from a distance or in death.
Alonso and Ins do have the advantage of distance between
themshe lives in Medina, he in Olmedobut it is a distance that they
repeatedly bridge through his shuttling between the two towns. When
they are together, distance is nonetheless maintained between them by
the presence of the gracioso Tello, Alonso's loyal servant and
companion. And when Alonso departs for Olmedo for the last time, on
the night of his murder by Rodrigo, he longs for the death that will
ensure forever the spirituality of his and Ins's love (a death that has been
prefigured by the fact that they have spent all their time together at night,
under the cover of darkness):

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

181

[to Ins] I'm going to Olmedo but leaving my soul in Medina. . . . I leave both dead
and alive, receiving from your hands both death and life. . . . When I think of
losing you, I suffer from such vividly imagined pains, which beset me constantly,
that it seems to me I am possessed by a fearful longing for death [Lope's
emphasis]. . . . Now and forever I am deprived of seeing you, and I live convinced
that I shall die, so that with these words, my lady, I must say farewell [Lope's
emphasis]. . . . So I leave, and I leave for death, although to die is not to lose you.
For if the soul does not depart, how is it possible to leave you . . .? ( Act III; 143,
145)

Related to Alonso's death-wish, there is much evidence in The


Knight of Olmedo that Alonso is to be thought of as a Christ figure. The
goldfinch killed by the hawk in Alonso's portentous vision at the close of
Act II is meant to be a symbol for the knight himself, and Alison Turner
has pointed out that in European art, from the thirteenth century on, the
goldfinch is a symbol either of the resurrection or of Christ himself
(1966: 180181). The phoenix is also a symbol of the resurrection, and
after Alonso dies from his gunshot wound (fired by one of Rodrigo's
men, on his master's order), Tello declares that his burial will be like
that of the phoenix, . . . for he shall live after death (Act III; 175).
Tello further reveals that Alonso's death occurs on the night of
the festival celebrated by the knights of Medina in honor of the May
Crossso that it should indeed be true that where there is a cross, there
is passion also (Act III; 171). Like Christ, who was betrayed by his
disciple Judas, Alonso is betrayed by Rodrigo, whose life he had saved in
the bull ring; Alonso thinks, incorrectly, that this debt will make Rodrigo
seal a bond of friendship with him forever. Also like Christ, who longed
to sacrifice himself for the benefit of humanity but who feared the agony
of crucifixion, Alonso longs to die at the same time that he is frightened
of the omens of his impending death.
Lope does not connect Alonso with Christ because the believes
that the knight's life and death in themselves are worthy of veneration, if
not deification. Rather, the playwright wishes to link the love of Ins for
Alonso with the divine love of a nun for her husband, Christ. In other
words, Lope wishes permanently to spiritualize the love of the knight and
his lady, and what better way to do so than through Alonso's near

182

Play Analysis: A Reader

martyr's death and eternal salvation, together with Ins's eternal vow of
chastity? To this end of making permanently divine the love of this
couple, then, Lope has Ins state at the end of the play her intention to
become a nunironically, an intention that she had earlier expressed in
jest, as a ruse to keep her father from promising her in marriage to
Rodrigo.
If The Knight of Olmedo has its Christ and its Judas, and even
the beginnings of a Church in Sister Ins, it has its Devil, too. This
is Fabia the witch, about whom Tello says, You're trained in the art of
the devil (Act I; 41). Just as the agents of the devil (e.g., Herod, Pilate)
in the medieval mystery plays were, paradoxically, helping Christianity
to triumph in their persecution of Christ (without His crucifixion,
humanity would not have been redeemed)were acting, that is, in the
tragic episode of the divine comedy, the larger scheme of Christian
redemption and resurrectionso too does Fabia, by serving as Alonso
and Ins's go-between and additionally as the fake novitiate Ins's
instructor, contribute ultimately to Alonso's murder by the jealous
Rodrigo and thus to the knight's eternal salvation, immortal bliss, and
everlasting, otherworldy love.
Bibliography
King, Willard F., trans. & ed. The Knight of Olmedo, by Lope de Vega.
Lincoln: University of Nebreska Press, 1972.
McCrary, William C. The Goldfinch and the Hawk: A Study of Lope de
Vega's Tragedy El Caballero de Olmedo. Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1966.
Parker, A. A. The Approach to the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age.
London: The Hispanic and Luso-Brazillian Councils, 1957.
Smith, Marlene K. The Beautiful Woman in the Theater of Lope de Vega:
Ideology and Mythology of Female Beauty in SeventeenthCentury Spain. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.
Soons, Alan. Towards an Interpretation of El Caballero de Olmedo.
Romanische Forschungen (1961), 73.12: 160168.

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

183

Turner, Alison. The Dramatic Function of Imagery and Symbolism in


Peribez and El Caballero de Olmedo. Symposium, 20.2
(1966): 174186.
Yarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne. Feminism and the Honor Plays of Lope de
Vega. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1994.

184

Play Analysis: A Reader

Context and Meaning in Molire's Tartuffe


The religious controversy that ensued over Tartuffe (1669) in its day may
seem to be a mere fact of history to us nearly 350 years later. Yet truly
how distant is this controversy from a world that has seen a longstanding conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, not to
speak of continuing politico-religious (or ethno-political) struggles in the
Middle East, the Far East, and Eastern Europe? I refer not only to the
play's treatment of Catholicism, but also to the historical background that
produced the intensity of the reaction against it. That intensity, as well as
the religious zealotry of Tartuffe's two major characters, cannot be understood without an accompanying understanding of the events that preceded it in seventeenth-century France. We must recall that, in the midseventeenth century, France had just barely emerged from a period of
bloody religious strife.
Persecution of Protestantsor Huguenots, as they were known in
Francehad begun about 1540 but did not assume major proportions
until 1572, when thousands of Protestants were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. The amnesty and tolerance extended to the
Huguenots in the first part of the seventeenth century as a result of Henry
VI's 1598 Edict of Nantes were jeopardized by warfare during the
Frondes from 1648 to 1653, when religious groups sided with various
noblemen struggling for power againstor on the side ofLouis XIV.
Specifically, this rebellion or revolt (literally, a fronde is a sling, as in
slingshot) during the minority of Louis XIV consisted of the Fronde of
the Parliament (16481649) and the Fronde of the Princes (16501653),
each of which was a failed attempt to undermine the absoluteness of
Louis's monarchy.
Despite the monarchy's imposing faade, the French were imperfectly and precariously united in the mid-seventeenth century, and they
were also deeply split in matters of faith after long years of war (1540
1652) between Roman Catholics and Protestants. After the failure of the
Frondes, increasing pressure was put on all segments of society to conform and serve a central (Catholic) government, which was being built
by Cardinal Richelieu. Religion and politics were thus inextricably

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

185

bound together at this timeso much so that, after putting down the
rebellion of the two Frondes and consolidating his Catholic monarchy,
Louis, together with his chief minister, Mazarin (who replaced Richelieu), proceeded to look the other way as Protestants were persecuted,
suppressed, and exiled, until the king finally abandoned any pretense of
allowing religious liberty and revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 (see
Walker).
In such an atmosphere of spiritual correctness, there was little
room for independent thinking, and the main danger to national unity
was believed to be heresy. Heresy, moreover, could be defined as a mild
and tractable view of Christian morality that benignly regarded human
passions and values as one small part of God's large creationas opposed to an austere, puritanical view of the same morality, which brutally
condemned all instinct, pleasure, and worldliness (particularly the growing popularity of the stage) as evil. This latter position led in many instances to a police-state mentality, exemplified above all by the major
Catholic lay brotherhood, La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement (the Company or Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament), formed in 1627 to enforce
Catholic morality. Although the company was officially suppressed by
the Paris Parliament in 1660, it remained strong as a secret benevolent
society. Benevolence for this company of men consisted of service in
French families as lay directors of conscienceservice that was sometimes performed, on behalf of the Brotherhood, by actual priests but that
was most often given to lay brothers who otherwise had no ordained
duties (Bradby and Calder, 219220). Indeed, when Molire created the
character of Tartuffe, he quite possibly had in mind the case of one such
layman, Charpy de Sainte-Croix, who took advantage of the faith of his
patron to seduce the man's wife (Orwen, 612613).
This leads us to a consideration of the major dramatic question of
this play, which is Why does Orgon worship, flatter, and bribe Tartuffe
so? Why does this Parisian bourgeois force his family to accept the
presence, and irritant, of the supposedly pious Tartuffe in their midst?
Furthermore, why does Orgon go as fardespite the protestations of his
sensible brother-in-law, Clante; his impetuous son, Damis (as immoder-

186

Play Analysis: A Reader

ate, from a reverse angle, as his father); his outspoken servant, Dorine,
and his loyal wife, Elmireas to promise his daughter Mariane (who is
in love with a young man named Valre) in marriage to Tartuffe, as a
way of making the latter a permanent member of his family and of engineering the fate of one of his children? Even further, why does this father
then banish his son and turn over the whole of his estate to his houseguest, despite mounting evidence that Tartuffe is no more than a sensual
parasite? There are some obvious, and not-so-obvious, answers to these
questions.
The obvious answer is that Orgon, an aging man with a domineering mother, grown children, and a younger (second) wife, is seeking a
way to preserve control in his household. According to this interpretation, he is obsessed less with piety than with the desire to achieve a kind
of absolute power and total autonomy in the realm of his home. The
instrument of Orgon's will or desire, of course, is Tartuffe, but the ludicrous irony here is that, insofar as Tartuffe is invested with superior authority and complete independence by Orgon, the latter sacrifices his
own sovereignty. Connected with this answer to the play's major dramatic question is the one of heterosexuality, according to which Orgon
has the panic of middle age in relation to a younger wife, needs a reason
to reject worldliness (read sex), and finds that reason in Tartuffe. When
Orgon's wife finally proves Tartuffe's lechery and opens her husband's
eyes, she is really proving her love for her husband and erasing his
doubts about his manliness.
But, from another point of view, Tartuffe, in attempting to seduce
Elmire, is rejecting Orgonin other words, he is renouncing a homosexual relationship, or the possibility of one, with his patron. This interpretation of their dealings helps to explain, for example, why the husband
waits so long to stop Tartuffe's near-rape of his wife: Orgon's reaction
shows less of an angry interruption of what Tartuffe is doing to Elmire
than a shocked contemplation of what this impostor is doing to Orgon
himself. Moreover, this interpretation of Tartuffe and Orgon's relationship was dramatized in 1962 by the French director Roger Planchon, who
argued that, in his actions toward Tartuffe, Orgon is not stupid, but

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

187

profoundly homosexual. It's obvious that he doesn't know itthe play


would fall apart if he were conscious of it, if he simply tried to sleep with
Tartuffe (193). Molire could conceivably have envisioned Orgon as a
latent homosexual of whose tendency Tartuffe takes advantage, for homosexuality certainly existed in the court circles of seventeenth-century
France. In fact, the man who brought the playwright and his troupe to the
attention of Louis XIV was Monsieur, the king's youngerand gay
brother, whose wife became Louis's mistress without strong registrations
of protest from Monsieur (see Barker; see also Merrick and Ragan).
Nonetheless, homosexuality, latent or otherwise, is far from the only
explanation for the close attachment between Orgon and Tartuffe.
Yet another interpretation of that attachmentand by no means
one which excludes the othersis related to the historical context I supplied at the start of this essay. Surprisingly, it has escaped critics, although all of them duly note Tartuffe's two references to the Frondes, in
which Orgon played an able part / And served his king with wise and
loyal heart (I.ii.1314). I would argue that, subsequent to the Frondes,
Orgon continued to serve Louis XIV with wise and loyal heart both by
installing what he believed to be a genuine director of conscience in his
home, in order to ensure its conformity to Catholic doctrine and thus to
avoid the charge of Protestant heresy, Huguenot infidelity, or religious
incorrectness, and by mimicking the king's political absolutism with a
kind of domestic absolutism, in which Orgon plays the role of a comic,
bourgeois Louis with the purportedly pious Tartuffe as his chief minister
(fittingly, Richelieu was a prelate and Mazarin a cardinal). The latter
analogy helps to explain Orgon's disloyal harboring of secret documents
belonging to a political fugitive named Argas; in so behaving, this pre
de famille not only uncharacteristically betrayed Louis XIV, but he also
arrogated unto himself a power or authority reserved exclusively for the
Sun King. Louis beneficently reclaims that authority at the end of the
play, of course, both by seeing through the impostor Tartuffe (to whom
Orgon had entrusted Argas's papers) and by pardoning Orgon for his
grave offense in aiding an exiled enemy of the crown.

188

Play Analysis: A Reader

This conclusion satisfies our sense of justice and restores order,


for Tartuffe has been arrested and judged; Orgon and Elmire have had
their eyes opened to his depravity, while the family has had its property
and wealth returned; Mariane will be allowed to marry the spouse of her
choice (as will Damis, whose marriage to Valre's sister depended on
Mariane's to Valre); and the king's power has been reasserted as well as
re-acknowledged. Comic action is often seen as showing the social disorder created by one or more eccentric characters who deviate from such
reasonable values as moderation, sensibility, tolerance, and flexibility, as
well as social intelligence and good nature. It also is seen as finally affirming the well-being of society (the smaller society of family as well as
the larger one of state) against the havoc wrought by these types of unnatural behavior. Surely, then, Tartuffe qualifies as a (neo)classical comedy. But here as elsewhere in Molire's work, the perpetrators of havoc
themselves do not share in society's reformation, and the ostensibly arbitrary or contrived device of royal intervention only underscores their
intractability. In other words, Orgon is still the same Orgon at the end of
the play as he was at the beginning: a pre de famille who would be roi.
Bibliography
Barker, Nancy. Brother to the Sun King, Philippe, Duke of Orlans.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
Bradby, David, and Andrew Calder, eds. The Cambridge Companion to
Molire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Merrick, Jeffrey, and Bryant T. Ragan, eds. Homosexuality in Early
Modern France. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Molire, Jean Baptiste Poquelin de. Tartuffe. Trans. Richard Wilbur.
New York: Harcourt, 1965.
Orwen, Gifford P. Tartuffe Reconsidered. French Review, 41.5 (April
1968): 611617.
Planchon, Roger. Interview with Roger Planchon. Tulane Drama Review, 9.3 (Spring 1965): 190193.
Walker, Hallam. Molire. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

189

Transfiguration and Ascent in Shaw's Major Barbara


Deeply imbedded in Christian theology is a tension between life in the
world and life beyond it. Christ, as the manifestation of God, enters the
world in the humblest form imaginable to live among human beings as a
teacher and healer; however, underlying the story of his Passionby far
the most dramatic portion of his lifeis the impulse to escape this world
for another, more satisfying one. The flogging and crucifixion underscore
the man-ness, some would say mean-ness, of Christ's existence on
earth, but the resurrection and ascension point toward deliverance from
worldly constraints. The belief that ascent towards God, in the other
world, is humanity's natural destination finds reflection in the medieval
chain of being, which is organized hierarchically from the natural to the
supernatural. Man, in imitation of Christ, must operate in the world but at
the same time seeks ultimately to leave it, and, cleansed of his sins, his
departure is always seen as an ascenta release from the earth's gravity.
Bernard Shaw's plays themselvesamong them Major Barbara
(1905), Misalliance, (1910), and Saint Joan (1923)sometimes reflect
the tension between gravity and ascent that makes up so much of the
legacy of Christian thought. The use of these motifs should not be surprising in the work of a dramatist whom J. Percy Smith has described as
not only a profoundly religious man but a profoundly religious playwright (74). Their presence in his plays, however, also suggests something of the inner conflict of the artist who would transcend his art
become, as it were, his own audienceat the same that he creates it.
Comedy requires more detachment from life, or more objectivity toward
it, than most forms of art, as many critics have observed, and Shaw's own
detachment, his would-be transcendence, results in a comic style that is
more remotely contemplative than directly experiential. Even at the
height of emotional involvement, his characters are able to pull up short
in order to speculate about their own condition or to question the nature
of their next action. Not every rhetorical or set speech in Shaw's oeuvre
is an instance of a character's transcendence to a higher realm of the
intellect or the spirit, but these speeches nonetheless are often evidence
of a schism between a character and the world of his or her playa

190

Play Analysis: A Reader

schism that deepens as Shaw's theory of Creative Evolution, with its own
schism between Darwinism and mystical will, begins to take shape.
My purpose is not to trace Shaw's relationship with Christianity,
yet I must emphasize that the theater for Shaw was more than a means
toward social progress. It was, Shaw wrote in Our Theatre in the Nineties, a temple of the Ascent of Man (vi), a place where two or three
are gathered together (Preface to Major Barbara, 1009). In the lay sermon The New Theology, which he delivered in London on May 16,
1907, Shaw outlined a religious hierarchy of being that has its origins in
his own plays:
If there are three orders of existenceman as we know him, the angels higher than
man, and God higher than the angelswhy did God first create something lower
than himself, the angels, and then actually create something lower than the angels,
man? I cannot believe in a God who would do that. If I were God, I should try to
create something higher than myself, and then something higher than that, so that,
beginning with a God the higher thing in creation, I should end with a God the
lowest thing in creation. (312)

This is, of course, a radical inversion of other systems of belief,


but Shaw's model still retains a vertical quality. Unfortunately, as he
writes further in The New Theology, the continual struggle to create
something higher and higher, to make social as well as spiritual progress, has been marred by innumerable experiments and innumerable
mistakes (313), such that the tension between gravity and ascent has
continued to inhere in human existence. My interest here is in some of
the moments in Shaw's dramaturgy, specifically in Major Barbara, when
the balance between these two forces cannot be sustained, and the impulse toward escape or release catapults his characters upward into a
realm of otherness.
Since I use the word transfiguration in my title, however, it is
necessary to return to Christian theology in order to define this term
more completely. The story of Christ's transfiguration is told in three of
the Gospels (Matthew 17:19, Mark 9:28, and Luke 9:2836) and varies little from version to version. The chief points worth noting about this
event are that it begins in prayer at a high place, on a mountain, and that

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

191

it grows into an intense religious experienceduring which Jesus speaks


with Moses and Elijah and is called Son by a voice in the sky assumed
to be God the Fatheronly dimly perceived by the apostles Peter, John,
and James. The aura of unnatural brilliance that surrounds Christ at the
moment of transfiguration (he takes on, in all three Gospels, an unearthly appearance) foreshadows his appearance as the Messiah after the
resurrection. But just as important as the transfiguration itself is the
event's context within Christ's tenure on earth. The transfiguration follows directly after the feeding of the multitudes and the healing of the
blind man. It is one of the few moments of meditative escape from the
constant activity surrounding Christ before his entrance into Jerusalem;
as soon as he descends from the mountain, he is again caught up in the
sickness of the world as he is called upon to cast out the demon from an
epileptic boy.
Two contrasting views of the transfiguration can be found in Fra
Angelico's and Raphael's paintings, the one a static presentation of the
event, the other a dramatic representation of it. Fra Angelico's Christ
stands on sculptured rock, surrounded by an aura of pure white, with his
hands outspread in prefiguration of the crucifixion to come. His separation from the kneeling apostles here is complete, except for a downward
glance that suggests his continuing attachment to the beings who cower
in terror below him. This Transfiguration (14381445)painted as a
fresco for an individual cell in the Monastery of San Marcopresents a
single, contemplative subject from which the rest of the world is in retreat. Raphael's Transfiguration of Christ (1517), by contrast, depicts
both Jesus's glory and his gloom, or the gloom that continues to pervade
his life on earth. Christ is in mid-air, his arms and head raised to the
heavens as if to greet the divinity above him. But down below, the windswept apostles, in the foreground, impatiently await his return as their
confused gesturing envelops the demon-possessed boy and his father.
The world beneath Christ in this instance is darkonly half-lit by the
radiance of his transfiguration.
Raphael's version of the transfiguration, then, more dramatically
captures the eruption of the spirit toward privacy or solitude, away from

192

Play Analysis: A Reader

the strictures of the demanding society of men. A similar moment is


captured in the last scene of Major Barbara as the now enlightened Barbara, stripped both of her uniform and her idealism by her realist father,
begins her new mission of saving human souls without the bribe of
bread (1055). Shaw describes a scene of visual contrast here: an emplacement of concrete, with a firestep, and a parapet which suggests a
fortification (1047), overlooks the town of Perivale St. Andrews, which
is spotlessly clean and only needs a cathedral to be a heavenly city instead of a hellish one (1047). Included in this otherwise pristine picture
are the instruments of wara huge cannon, sheds for explosives, and
dummy soldiers who, more or less mutilated, with straw protruding
from their gashes (1047) and strewn about like grotesque corpses, are
constant reminders of the destructive forces controlled by the gigantic
creative will of which Andrew Undershaft is a part.
Barbara herself stands on the firestep, looking over the parapet
towards the town (1047). Often during the scene she is above the action,
and at one point she steps onto the mounted cannon so that her father
must reach up to grasp her hand. Shaw's placement of Barbara on the
parapet and on the cannon, where she is above the earthly powers at her
feet yet still connected to them, suggests the imprisonment (by her father) in a tower of the Christian saint of the same name. And it is no
accident that these two Barbaras are linked, for St. Barbara is the patron
saint of the hour of death and liberation from the prisonhouse of earth.
Barbara is silent in this scene until Cusins declares the circumstances of his birth, but her presence is noted by Shaw as Undershaft
announces the death of 300 soldiers and follows this announcement by
kicking a prostrate dummy brutally out of his way (1047). At this moment Barbara and Cusins exchange glances, and when Cusins sits on the
step and buries his face in his hands, Barbara gravely lays her hand on
his shoulder (1047) in Shaw's stage direction. As Cusins subsequently
explains his status as a foundling, Barbara climbs onto the cannon and
remains there during most of what has been called Undershaft's apologia. Only when her father takes her hands and demands a definition of
power does Barbara finally confess her anxietyhow she waits in dread

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

193

and horror (1050) for the second shock of the figurative earthquake that
has caused her world to reel and crumble around her.
Barbara then reverses herself by erupting with sudden vehemence (1051) in response to her father's scoffing remark about her tinpot tragedy, and demands that he show her some light through the
darkness of this dreadful place (1051). Shaw has been careful throughout to present this dreadful place as beautiful, blemish-free, and enlightened, both in his stage directions and through Sarah's, Stephen's,
Lomax's, and Lady Britomart's surprised and even possessive approval of
Perivale St. Andrews. But Barbara, the divine spark in the play (Cusins
declares, I adored what was divine in her, and was therefore a true worshipper [1049]), reveals the correct perception of this gleaming factory
town. Though it may bask in middle-class morality and the respectability
that comes with it, Perivale St. Andrews remains the home of a dreadful
factory of death and destruction. By the end of the play, though, it will
have become the object of Barbara's energy, the demonic child from
which she herself will cast out the devil.
Barbara's relative silence during this scene, in contrast with Undershaft's and Cusins' loquacity, suggests that her focus is turning inward. Her responses become increasingly reflective, seeming to arise out
of a sedate, even somber moodand responses like this from a character
who, for the two previous acts, has been vigorously outspoken, rhetorically persuasive, and charmingly humorous. When Lady Britomart demands that they leave, since the father of the family is obviously wickeder than ever (1052), Barbara's rejoinder is simple and softspoken: It's
no use running away from wicked people, mamma (1052). The word
wicked is repeated here, though subtly altered, as Shaw contrasts Lady
Britomart's superficial objection to Undershaft's social behavior with
Barbara's heartfelt insight not only into her father's character, but into the
major premise of the playthat there is no wicked side. Life is all one
(1054).
In the final scene the trio of Undershaft, Barbara, and Cusins is
reduced to a duet, yet Barbara's questions and responses continue to give
no hint of what her final action will be. Cusins' own rationalized defense

194

Play Analysis: A Reader

of his decision to join Undershaft grows more and more assertive, until
his final cry is characterized by the repeated use of the first person: Dare
I make war on war? I dare. I must. I will (1054). When he then turns
and asks Barbara if their relationship is over, in evident dread of her
answer (according to Shaw's stage direction [1054]), she replies, Silly
baby Dolly! How could it be! (1054). She has answered Cusins' weakness in the only way her nurturing nature will allow, but the levity
(1054) of his response, as Shaw describes it (and which understandably
would follow his previous dread) is too indelicate for the intensity of the
moment. Accordingly, Barbara reacts by transcending in word and
thought the mereness of the world: Oh, if only I could get away from
you and from father and from it all! if I could have the wings of a dove
and fly away to heaven! (1054).
Barbara is thus gradually transfigured, as the pull of her mission
raises her above the paltry concerns of her family and lover to reveal the
agony of the soul who finally faces evil without illusions, who must
endure evil whether it be sin or suffering (1054). The second act of this
play has removed the bribe of bread, and in her transfiguration in Act
III Barbara dismisses the bribe of heaven (1055), for God's work is to
be done for its own sake (1055). Moreover, in indirect reference to the
quotation above from Shaw's unique new theology, Barbara vows that
she will forgive Godan inversion that places her higher than the Creator, since He will now be in her debt.
Like the apostles in the Raphael painting, Cusins has become a
disciple at her feet, and his question, Then the way of life lies through
the factory of death? (1055) elicits from Barbara the mystical outpouring that has puzzled so many, and that can itself be explained as a gloss
on Shaw's new hierarchy of being: Yes, through the raising of hell to
heaven and of man to God, through the unveiling of an eternal light in
the Valley of The Shadow (1055). Her religious ecstasy here oddly
parallels Luke's own at the transfiguration of Christ, when he speaks of
clouds, God, man, and revelation:

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

195

. . . a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the
cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, my Chosen;
listen to him! And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. (9:3436;
1258)

Eric Bentley once said of Vivie at the end of Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893): A soul is born (107). A description of Barbara at the
end of Major Barbara might be: A soul is illuminated. Fighting the limitations of the world and seeking escape through meditation, she reaches
out in the end toward the eternal, only to find it in herself. Barbara's
return from the metaphorical mountain (the parapet of the gun factory)
results in marriage to Cusins and not only the start of a new dynasty and
the continuation of the Undershaft inheritance, but also the start of new
spiritual missionproof of Shaw's abiding optimism in 1905, before
world war would change him, his art, and the world forever.
Bibliography
Bentley, Eric. Bernard Shaw, A Reconsideration. New York: New Directions, 1947.
Luke 9:3436. In The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1977.
Shaw, George Bernard. Our Theatre in the Nineties. London: Constable,
1932.
----------. The New Theology. In The Portable Bernard Shaw. Ed.
Stanley Weintraub. New York: Penguin, 1977. 304315.
----------. Major Barbara. In The Longman Anthology of Drama and
Theatre: A Global Perspective. Ed. Michael L. Greenwald et al.
New York: Pearson / Longman, 2001. 10201055.
----------. Preface to Major Barbara. In The Longman Anthology of
Drama and Theatre: A Global Perspective. Ed. Michael L.
Greenwald et al. New York: Pearson / Longman, 2001. 1005
1019.

196

Play Analysis: A Reader

Smith, J. Percy. The New Woman and the Old Goddess: The Shaping of
Shaw's Mythology. In Women in Irish Legend, Life, and Literature. Ed. S. F. Gallagher. Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and
Noble, 1983. 7490.

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

197

Whose Town?: Wilder's Our Town Revisited


It has long seemed to me that Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1938) has
two flaws at its center that have never been adequately addressed by
critics, if addressed at all. The first has to do with the play's implicit
argument that the cause of man's unhappiness is not his failure to achieve
or sustain greatness or wealth, but rather his failure to find a value
above all price for the smallest events in our daily life, his inability to
delight in the beauty of ordinary, undramatic existence.
In the play itself Emily Webb acts as the spokesman for the playwright's view when, after her death, she returns to life simultaneously to
observe and relive her twelfth birthday. Here is what she concludes:
[Life] goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So
all that was going on and we never noticed. [. . .] Good-by, Good-by, world. Goodby, Grover's Corners . . . Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking . . . and
Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths
. . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to
realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?every, every minute? [. . .] That's all human beings are! Just blind people. (100101; bracketed ellipses are mine, here and throughout)

The problem with this view, as applied to the characters in Our


Town, is that they are not particularly blind, or unhappy, or troubled,
with the exception of the town malcontent, Simon Stimson. Indeed, more
than most dramatis personae, the characters in this play do take the time
to appreciate the dailiness of human existence, to bear witness to the
wonder of God's creation, and that perhaps explains why they are so
clear-eyed and uncomplicated. One reason these characters bear such
witness to the wonder of God's creation is that they have the time to do
so, since, unlike conventional theatrical figures, they are not caught up in
suspenseful conflicts or the carrying out of momentous dramatic actions.
(Act I is prosaically called Daily Life, Act II Love and Marriage, and
Act III Death and Dying [47].)
Another reason these characters bear such witness to the wonder
of God's creation is that they live in an isolated placethey small town
of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire (population 2,642 [22])where

198

Play Analysis: A Reader

they are able to appreciate the dailiness of human existence, undeterred


by the masses of people, mass transportation, and massive buildings
common to big cities. The whole point of Our Town, Emily's criticisms
of her family and friends notwithstanding, is to document not only the
pleasurable anti-drama of everyday life, but also the pleasure the ordinary or unremarkable townspeople take in enacting it: in portraying the
way [people] were in the provinces north of New York at the beginning
of the twentieth century [. . .] in [their] growing up and in [their] marrying and in [their] living and in [their] dying (32). As Mr. Webb, the
editor of the local newspaper and Emily's father, puts it in Act I:
No [. . .] there isn't much culture [in Grover's Corners]; but maybe this is the place
to tell you that we've got a lot of pleasures of a kind here: we like the sun comin'
up over the mountain in the morning, and we all notice a good deal about the birds.
We pay a lot of attention to them. And we watch the change of the seasons; yes,
everybody knows about them. But those other things [. . .] there ain't much. (25)

Among the we of Editor Webb's statement, we may include


Emily Webb, Mr. Webb himself, Constable Warren, Mrs. Gibbs, Mrs.
Soames, and Mrs. Webb, all of whom take the time to notice the moon in
Act I, as the following lines of dialogue and stage directions make clear:
George.
Emily.

Hello!
I can't work at all. The moonlight's so terrible. (33)

Mrs. Gibbs.

Myrtle Webb! Look at that moon, will you! Tsk-tsk-tsk. Potato weather, for sure. [Mrs. Soames, Mrs. Webb, and Mrs.
Gibbs] are silent a moment, gazing up at the moon. (38)

Mrs. Gibbs.

Mr. Webb.
Constable Warren.
Mr. Webb.
Constable Warren.

Now, Frank, don't be grouchy. Come out and smell the heliotrope in the moonlight. They stroll out arm in arm along
the footlights. Isn't that wonderful? (39)
Good evening, Bill.
Evenin', Mr. Webb.
Quite a moon!
Yepp. (42)

Mr. Webb.

Why aren't you in bed?

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea


Emily.

Mr. Webb.

199

I don't know. I just can't sleep yet, Papa. The moonlight's so


won-derful. And the smell of Mrs. Gibbs' heliotrope. Can
you smell it?
Hm . . . Yes. (44)

Above all we must number among the we of Editor Webb's


statement the Stage / Town Manager, who at the very start of the play
observes that the sky is beginning to show some streaks of light over in
the East there, behind our mount'in. The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to godoesn't it? (He stares at it
for a moment [. . .]) (6); who at the top of Act II notes that the sun's
come up over a thousand times. Summers and winters have cracked the
mountains a little bit more and the rains have brought down some of the
dirt (46), in addition to arguing, as Emily does in Act III, that You've
got to love life to have life, and you've got to have life to love life (47);
and who at the opening of Act III pays a lot of attention to the natural
surroundings of the cemetery in Grover's Corners:
[This cemetery's] on a hilltopa windy hilltoplots of sky, lots of cloudsoften
lots of sun and moon and stars. You come up here on a fine afternoon and you can
see range on range of hillsawful blue they areup there by Lake Sunapee and
Lake Winnipesaukee . . . and way up, if you've got a glass, you can see the White
Mountains and Mt. Washingtonwhere North Conway and Conway is. And, of
course, our favorite mountain, Mt. Monadnock, 's right hereand all these towns
that lie around it: Jaffrey, 'n East Jaffrey, 'n Peterborough, 'n Dublin; and there,
quite a ways down, is Grover's Corners. Yes, beautiful spot up here. Mountain laurel and li-lacks. (80)

So the inhabitants of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, have the


time and space to pay attention to the rising sun and the flight of birds, to
observe the change of seasons and the growth of children, to savor the
roses blooming and the coffee brewing. But they have the time and space
to do these things because they live in a time and place when and where
there apparently were more time and space to devote to the small pleasures of living: the United States of 19011913, before World Wars I and
II established this country as an industrial-military superpower the job of
whose workersliving in larger and larger, as well as more and more,
citieswas to keep America ahead of all the other nations of the world

200

Play Analysis: A Reader

in addition to competing with their fellow citizens for a fair share of the
American Dream.
Our Town was first published and produced in 1938 for a Depression-weary and war-wary American public; thus it seems to me no accident that the play looks back to an earlier, almost innocent or idyllic era,
before the events of 19141938 changed forever the way Americans
would regard the world and each other. (By 1938 the New Deal was
over, and the Roosevelt administration was turning its attention from
domestic reform to the gathering storm in Europe and the Far East.) In
this sense, the play is not simply a nostalgic tribute to the good old
days of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a generalized
instance of the American tendency to idealize the past. Rather, Our Town
is in fact nearly a piece of isolationist propaganda that promotes the virtues of a simple, unhurried, unthreatened life in the isolated small towns
of Americawhere for one place the virtues of such a life need no such
promoting, despite Emily's criticisms of her fellow townspeople and to
the detriment of the play's artistic wholeness or thematic unity.
It may seem folksy, for example, that Dr. Gibbs would rather remain at home in Grover's Corners than visit so cosmopolitan a city as
Paris, France, but Mrs. Gibbs's explanation of her husband's desire to
stay put rings of isolationism-cum-chauvinism:
No, he said, it might make him discontented with Grover's Corners to go traipsin'
about Europe; better to let well enough alone, he says. Every two years he makes a
trip to the battlefields of the Civil War [on which Dr. Gibbs is an expert] and that's
enough treat for anybody, he says. (20)

In apparent contradistinction to her husband, it occurs to Mrs. Gibbs


that once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where
they don't talk in English and don't even want to (20; emphasis mine).
Emily Webb might have responded, based on her speech to her classmates about the Louisiana Purchase (27, 2930), that with the addition of
this Southern state Mrs. Gibbs already had a little bit of France in America. (Recall that Emily's alternate speech topic was the Monroe Doctrine
[27], which tellingly proclaimed that the United States would not brook

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

201

any political or economic interference in the Western hemisphere by


European powers.)
Like the Gibbses' remarks and Emily's American history assignment, the following, seemingly innocuous lines by the Stage Manager in
Act I also smack of isolationism-cum-chauvinism. He implies here that
America's participation in World War Iwhich ended in the winter of
1919 with the signing of five treaties, one of them in the Parisian suburb
of Versaillesserved no purpose whatsoever; and that the first nonstop,
solo airplane flight from New York to Paris, made by Charles Lindbergh
in 1927, was and is no more important than the daily life of any small,
New England town:
[Joe Crowell] got a scholarship to Massachusetts Tech. Graduated head of his class
there [. . .] Goin' to be a great engineer, Joe was. But the war broke out and he died
in France.All that education for nothing. (10, emphasis mine; see the Stage
Manager's opposite remark, in Act III, about Union soldiers from New Hampshire
who died during the Civil War [8081])
I'm going to have a copy of this play put in the cornerstone [together with a Bible
and the Constitution of the United States, so that] people a thousand years from
now'll know a few simple facts about usmore than the Treaty of Versailles and
the Lindbergh flight. (32; emphasis mine)

Among those few simple facts about what the Stage Manager
calls the real life of the people [. . .] in the provinces north of New York
at the beginning of the twentieth century (32), by which he means the
quotidian activities of citizens as opposed to the public pronouncements
and pursuits of princes or their martial equivalents, one should not ignore
our country's internal isolationism of two kinds. First, there is the comic
regionalism, indeed state-ism, championed by the Stage Manager when
he remarks that the Cartwright interests have just begun building a new
bank in Grover's Cornershad to go to Vermont for the marble, sorry to
say (3132); by Emily when she declares that Grover's Corners isn't a
very important place when you think of allNew Hampshire; but I think
it's a very nice town (66); then by George when he responds to her later
in the same conversation, I guess new people aren't any better than old
ones. [. . .] I don't need to go [away to State Agriculture College] and

202

Play Analysis: A Reader

meet the people in other towns (67); and finally by Sam Craig when he
reveals, upon returning to Grover's Corners for Emily's funeral, that he's
now in business out Westwhich is where Buffalo, New York, is located as far as he is concerned (82).
Second, and most important, there is our internal isolationism of a
tragic kind: that is, the segregation of American towns according to race
and ethnicity, which we began to remedy only after World War II, when
veterans from minority groups demanded equal treatment in housing
along with other areas of civilian life in return for their military service to
the nation. The pre-Great War world of the Gibbses and the Webbs, then,
is decidedly not an anti-elitist vision of human existence. In Grover's
Corners, for instance, Polish Town's across the tracks, [along with]
some Canuck families (6), and the Catholic Church is over beyond the
tracks (6) as well. Such segregation, of course, was the result as well as
the cause of what the Belligerent Man in Our Town calls social injustice and industrial inequality (24). When asked by this belligerent
man what the citizens of Grover's Corners are going to do about poverty
and discrimination in their town, Mr. Webb lamelyand peremptorily
responds,
Well, I dunno. . . . I guess we're all hunting like everybody else for a way the diligent and sensible can rise to the top and the lazy and quarrelsome can sink to the
bottom. But it ain't easy to find. Meanwhile, we do all we can to help those that
can't help themselves and those that can we leave alone.Are there any other
questions? (25)

Mr. Webb's statement that we do all we can to help those that


can't help themselves may appear to be charitable, but in fact it is obfuscatory, for it assumes that the racially and ethnically segregated are unable to help themselves as opposed to being prevented from doing so.
Similarly, when he declares that we're all hunting [. . .] for a way the
diligent and sensible can rise to the top and the lazy and quarrelsome can
sink to the bottom, Mr. Webb seems to be in favor of equal treatment
for everybody, but in reality he is playing to his audience's prejudice that
blacks and newly-arrived European immigrants belong at the bottom of
the socioeconomic ladder.

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

203

That prejudice is confirmed early in the play by Dr. Gibbs's report


that he is returning home from the birth of just some twins [. . .] over in
Polish Town (9; emphasis mine); by the State Manager's remark that
the earliest tombstones in the cemetery [belong to] Grovers and Cartwrights and Gibbses and Herseyssame names as are around here now
[with the exception, that is, of those belongings to Poles and Canucks]
(7; emphasis mine); and by the Stage Manger's ominous interruption of
Professor Willard's anthropological survey of Grover's Cornersa survey that itself avoids mention of the program of genocide we conducted
against the Indiansat the very moment this rural savant comes to the
Slavic and Mediterranean migration to America:
Professor Willard.

Stage Manager.

Yes . . . anthropological data: Early Amerindian stock. Cotahatchee tribes . . . no evidence before the tenth century of
this era . . . hm . . . now entirely disappeared . . . possible
traces in three families. Migration toward the end of the seventeenth century of English brachiocephalic blue-eyed stock
. . . for the most part. Since then some Slav and Mediterranean
And the population, Professor Willard? (22)

This same ethnic prejudice is confirmed later in the play by Constable Warren's report that he has been out rescuin' a party; darn near
froze to death, down by Polish town thar. Got drunk and lay out in the
snowdrifts (94). When Mr. Webb tells the constable that We must get
[this story] in the paper (96), Warren quickly avers, 'Twan't much
(96). And that's the end of the matter, because the drunk is naturally a
dumb Polack, one of the ten per cent of the town's illiterate laborers
(23), not a member of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority.
This fellow must not be as dumb as the women of Grover's Corners, however, for at least he got to vote if he was twenty-one (and a
citizen), whereas women vote indirect (23), which is to say only by
influencing their husbands' votes. The women of the United States did
not gain suffrage until 1920. Nor, of course, did they achieve equal educational or professional opportunity until quite some time after that, as
Our Town inadvertently makes clear when it portrays Emily Webb as

204

Play Analysis: A Reader

naturally bright (28), indeed the brightest girl in school (15), and in
any event brighter than the dimwitted if kindhearted George Gibbs
(whom she must help with his math homework in Act I); yet Wilder
makes George President of the high-school Senior Class to Emily's Secretary-Treasurer, and gives him the chance to go away to college but not
her.
Young Joe Crowell, Jr., sums up the thinking in Grover's Corners
on the status of women when, in response to Dr. Gibbs's question, How
do you boys feel about [the upcoming marriage of your schoolteacher,
Miss Foster]? he innocently but revealingly declares that if a person
starts out to be a teacher, she ought to stay one (9). In other words,
women cannot or should not combine family with career; and Miss Foster's choices, or the limitations thereon, are clear: either remain the teacher she was trained to be and become a spinster, or give up teaching for
the life of a wife and mother. Moreover, as a mother she should teach her
own daughter not to waste taxpayers' money on a higher education that in
the end she will not use!
I have gone to the trouble in the preceding paragraphs of documenting the historicity of Our Town because this historicity works
against the play's universalizing tendency, and is thus its second major
flaw. Our Town would be a play for all people of all timein deliberate
contrast to the drama of sociopolitical consciousness, even left-wing
propaganda, produced by such writers as Clifford Odets, John Howard
Lawson, and Elmer Rice during the 1930sbut in its own time it is not
even a play for all the ethnic and racial groups of Grover's Corners, let
alone all the nationalities of the world.
It's true that the Stage Manager relates Grover's Corners to the
past civilizations of Greece and Rome as well as to future ones, to the
surrounding countryside and to evolution (2122, 32, 71, 80); Wilder
eliminates scenery almost completely in order to avoid the suggestion
that the meaning of the play's action relates only to Grover's Corners,
New Hampshire; and Rebecca Gibbs connects the individual to town,
county, state, country, world, universe, and God when she quotes the

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

205

address on Jane Crofut's letter in Act I (45). The Stage Manager does
something similar when he proclaims the following in Act III :
We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it
ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest
people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you'd be
surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There's something way down
deep that's eternal about every human being. (Pause.) (81)

Yet for all these attempts to link the Grover's Corners of 1901
1913 to the great world beyond as well as to other historical periods
perhaps partly as a result of these attemptsOur Town remains timeand place-bound. It is the conservative record or dramatic preservation of
a conservative, even reactionary, attitude toward life, and it hides behind
what appears to be radical, self-searching dramaturgy but is in fact little
more than contrived, self-serving theatricalism.
Bibliography
Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. 1938. New York: HarperCollins, 1985.

206

Play Analysis: A Reader

Taking Orders in Pinter's The Dumb Waiter


Some of the funniest moments in Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter (written 1957; first produced in 1959 in Germany) occur when Ben and Gus
receive orders for food. The dumb waiter of the titlea small elevator
for carrying things, especially food and dishes, between the floors of a
buildingarrives five times in the course of the drama: twice with orders
for English food, once with an order for a Greek dish, once for Chinese
food, and once for Italian cuisine. Ben and Gus are waiting in a basement
room for orders to kill someone; they are decidedly not waiters who can
fill orders for all kinds of food. The incongruity between the food orders
they receive and the orders they have come to the room to fulfillthis is
precisely what produces the play's comedy.
Pinter is interested, however, in more than repeating the same
comic moment five times in this early one-act. After the two men receive
their second order for food, Ben declares; We'd better send something
up (55). They send up what little food and drink Gus has brought along:
three biscuits, a bar of chocolate, half a pint of milk, a piece of cake, a
packet of tea, and a bag of potato chips. So Ben, at first nonplussed by
the food orders, improvises and sends up whatever is available; a hired
gun, he is conditioned to obey orders without asking questions, and he
similarly obeys the orders for food as best he can. Gus is contrasted with
him in The Dumb Waiter as a man who asks too many questions and has
too many complaints, and who therefore must be eliminated.
We learn late in the action that the person who has been placing
the orders for food is also the person who gives the orders to kill. And,
apparently, he has been giving Ben, the leader of this twosome, food
orders that are impossible to fill for a reason. In giving Ben such food
orderstwo more requests come after the men have sent up all the food
they havethe man in charge is preparing Ben for the nearly impossible
task he will face at the end of the play. In the same way that Ben has
improvised to fill the food ordershas at least sent up somethinghe
will have to improvise at the end of The Dumb Waiter and summon up
the courage, somehow, to shoot his own partner, Gus. Ben has sacrificed
Gus's food to the appetite of the customer upstairs, and Ben will now

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

207

be asked to sacrifice Gus himself to that same customer's appetite for


murder.
When the time comes, Ben thinks Gus will soon be returning from
the kitchen to aid him in murdering their latest victim, who is about to
knock on the door unaware of what awaits him. Instead, it is Gus who is
sent stumbling through the door. The curtain falls as Ben and Gus stare at
each other, waiting dumbly, but we can infer that Ben is resolving to
obey orders and kill Gus, even as he had earlier resolved to obey orders
for food he really did not have.
Bibliography
Pinter, Harold. The Room and The Dumb Waiter. London: Eyre Methuen,
1966.

208

Play Analysis: A Reader

Conception in Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane


Joe Orton did not begin by writing the anarchic farces for which he has
become best known, Loot (1964) and What the Butler Saw (1967). His
first plays, The Ruffian on the Stair (1963) and Entertaining Mr. Sloane
(1963), were black comedies written under the influence of Harold Pinter
and Samuel Beckett. They poke fun at the volatile, confusing, neurotic,
and diminished world of contemporary existence, yet their characters
nonetheless possess an emotional dimensionunlike those in Loot and
What the Butler Saw.
Sloane, for instance, has no relatives and was orphaned at the age
of eight by parents who both died at the same timeand therefore seem
to have committed suicide. It was the lack of privacy [in the orphanage]
I found most trying, he says, and the lack of real love (67). Tellingly,
the only husband and wife mentioned in the play are Sloane's parents.
Kemp is Kath and Ed's father, but he and his son haven't spoken
for twenty years, and his daughter treats him as if he were a naughty little
boy. Kath and Ed allow Sloane to get away with killing their father in
return for sexual favors: he will spend six months of the year with Kath
and six months with Ed as long as the agreement lasts (148). The first
man Sloane killed was Kemp's boss, who was apparently a homosexual.
Sloane says that the boss wanted to photo me. For certain interesting
features I had that he wanted the exclusive right of preserving. You know
how it is. I didn't like to refuse. No harm in it I suppose. But then I got to
thinking (125).
Kath, at forty-one or forty-two years old, is old enough to be
Sloane's mother. In fact, she had a son when she was young by Tommy,
Ed's best friend and lover at the time. She says to Sloane, You're almost
the same age as he would be (68). Kath gave the boy up for adoption
and she and Tommy never married. The implication is that Sloane is in
fact her son. Sloane, Ed's new lover, himself gets Kath pregnant; they
won't marry, either, and she will probably give her baby up for adoption.
Ed arranged the adoption of Tommy's son, and there is no reason to believe that he will not do the same for Sloane'sa fetus that Ed predictably refers to as him (147).

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

209

In his introduction to Joe Orton: The Complete Plays, John Lahr


wrote that Sloane feels no guilt and his refusal to experience shame is
what disturbs and amuses audiences. Sloane is a survivor whose egotism
is rewarded, not punished (16). Sloane's excessive egoperhaps the
byproduct of his being orphaned at an early ageis rewarded by other
egotistical, unloved characters. All three, Sloane, Ed, and Kath, substitute
sex for love. It is no accident that the Kemp home stands alone in the
midst of a rubbish dumpit was intended to be the first of a row, says
the old man (72). It is a home without love that begets a bastard who
himself begets a bastard.
Lahr said that Orton, in his depiction of characters like Kath, Ed,
and Sloane, was not being heartless, merely accurate (16): in their
rapaciousness, ignorance, and violence, these people are the representative products of our age. No wonder Orton has an old woman make a
special trip [all the way from Woolwich] with her daughter in order to
dump a bedstead (72) outside the Kemp house. It is as if the woman is
exhorting her daughter not to risk the marriage bed in times inhospitable
to families and childrentimes peopled by the likes of this dwelling's
occupants.
In her last conversation with Ed, the pregnant Kath, wanting to
spend time with Sloane that should be allotted to Ed according to their
agreement, says, It deepens the relationship if the father is there [present
at the birth of his child]. Ed replies, It's all any reasonable child can
expect if the dad is present at the conception. Let's hear no more of it
(149). This is wildly funny. But it is also profoundly disturbing, because
prophetic: writing a parody on the Oedipal theme in 1963, Orton foresaw
at the same time the age of test-tube babies, sperm banks, surrogate
mothers, single-parent families, and adoptive gay or lesbian couplesthe
very age in which we are now living.

210

Play Analysis: A Reader

Bibliography
Lahr, John, intro. Joe Orton: The Complete Plays. New York: Grove
Press, 1976.
Orton, Joe. Entertaining Mr. Sloane. In The Complete Plays of Joe Orton. New York: Grove Press, 1976. 63149.

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

211

Salvation in Bond's Saved


In his Author's Note to Saved (1965), Edward Bond wrote the following:
If we are to improve people's behaviour we must first increase their moral understanding, and this means teaching morality to children in a way that they find convincing. Although I suppose that most English people do not consciously disbelieve in the existence of God, not more than a few hundred of them fully believe in
his existence. Yet almost all the morality taught to our children is grounded in religion. This in itself makes children morally bewilderedreligion has nothing to do
with their parents' personal lives, or our economic, industrial and political life, and
is contrary to the science and rationalism they are taught at other times. For them
religion discredits the morality it is meant to support. . . . If [people] are interested
in the welfare of others they should ask what is it possible for most people to believe? And that means teaching, oddly enough, moral scepticism and analysis, not
faith. (67)

In light of this statement by Bond, one could say that the title of
Saved itself is ironic, for no one achieves religious salvation in the play.
The possibility of achieving it does not even seem to exist for the characters: no one prays, although everyone is in some kind of misery; and
characters invoke God's name mostly in anger, disgust, or impatience.
(They say Chrissa word aptly as close to crisis, when spoken, as
Christ.) Fred, in prison for murdering his and Pam's baby, does say
God 'elp us (59), but less because he believes in God than because he
wants to comfort the crying Pam, who has come to visit him. Since Fred
is otherwise completely unrepentant, his words ring even hollower than
they ordinarily would.
Bond teaches moral skepticism and analysis in Saved, not faith.
He implies that his characters are in crisis in part because for them religion [has discredited] the morality it [was] meant to support. They are
now without religion and some, like Fred, Pete, Mike, Colin, and Barry,
are completely without morality. Children who disbelieve in religion
grow up, like these five, writes Bond, to be morally illiterate, and cannot understand, because they have not been properly taught, the nature of
a moral consideration or the value of disinterested morals at all (7).

212

Play Analysis: A Reader

Pete, for example, not only instigates the attack on Pam's baby, he also
intentionally runs over another child with his truck.
Len, Harry, Mary, and Pam, for their part, have some morality.
They are the main characters of Saved, and all four live under one roof.
Among these four, so determined is Harry not to be taken advantage of
by Mary, his wife, that he can behave morally toward her only in spite of
himself. He saves Mary, in other words, at the same time as he forsakes her. Harry asks Len to remain with his family, not only because he
likes him and enjoys his company, but also because Len will become a
companion to his wife and possibly help to support her after he, Harry,
leaves:
Harry.
Len.
Harry.
Len.
Harry.

Len.
Harry.

I'd like yer t' stay. If yer can see yer way to.
Why?
[after a slight pause] I ain't stayin'.
What?
Not always. . . . I'll go when I'm ready. When she's on 'er pension. She won't get no one after 'er then. I'll be out. Then see 'ow
she copes.
Ain't worth it, pop.
It's only right. When someone carries on like 'er, they 'ave t' pay
for it. People can't get away with murder. What'd 'appen then?
(93)

Len occupies a curious position in this family. He is like a son to


Harry and Mary, yet he is not their real son. (They had one, but he was
killed in a terrorist bombing.) Len was once the lover of their daughter,
Pam, but he isn't anymore; still, he has remained Pam's loving friend
through all her trials and despite her harsh treatment of him. He nearly
becomes Mary's lover at one point, but settles for building her selfesteem rather than satisfying his lust. In Scene 13, the last one in Saved,
Len is still with his adopted family, and we can infer that he will be staying as he repairs a wobbly chairthe one that Harry tripped over and
damaged in his fight with Mary in Scene 11.
Three of the chair's legs are secure, one leg is loose. Len has been
having a lot of trouble stabilizing the chair, so he throws his whole body
into saving it. He himself literally becomes the fourth leg without

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

213

which the other three cannot stand; and he nearly contorts or even sacrifices his body in the process: Len slips his left arm round the back of the
chair. His chest rests against the side edge of the seat. The fingers of his
right hand touch the floor. His head lies sideways on the seat (96). The
oblique visual reference here to Christ on the cross is ironic, of course,
since Christ has had nothing to do with Len's good works in the play.
Figuratively speaking, Len could be called the family's own fourth
leg. He is the outsider who comes in and, through extraordinary sympathy for its members and instinctive analysis of their problems, holds the
family together. (For instance, he says to Pam, after Fred deserts her for
the last time, Can't we try an' get on like before. There's no one else. Yer
only live once [83].) Len has at once an affection for and objectivity
about Harry, Mary, and Pam that only someone in his position of adopted
son-cum-spurned lover could have. His behavior may be, from a conventional point of view, highly eccentric. Nevertheless, Len is inveterately
moral: he helps to convict Fred of murder, then brings him cigarettes in
jail; he is jilted by Pam, yet cares for her child by Fred. By the end of
Saved, then, Len finds himself in the position of savior: of the family as
well as the chair.
As he works on the chair, Pam reads the Radio Times, which, she
had complained in Scene 8, was always missing when she wanted it. She
is now in an emotional state very different from her desperate one at the
end of Scene 11, when she cried, I'll throw myself somewhere. It's the
only way. . . . I can't stand any more. Baby dead. No friends (88). The
family of Harry, Mary, Pam, and Len appear to have just had their first
supper together in the play. Mary collects the plates (94) from the
table, whereas she had cracked her teapot on Harry's head in Scene 11;
Harry fills in the coupon he had left blank in Scene 9, when he walked in
on Len making a pass at Mary. There is not a word of argument in Scene
13, even though there have been fierce arguments in previous scenes.
In fact, not a word is spoken in Scene 13 except by Len: midway
through he asks Pam to get him a hammer. She leaves the room, where
Len, Harry, and Mary remain, but returns without the hammer. Len says
nothing as he continues to work on the chair. It is as if he well realizes

214

Play Analysis: A Reader

that it will take a sheer act of will to repair the recalcitrant chair, even as
it has taken one to hold together a family on the verge of disintegration.
Bibliography
Bond, Edward. Saved. New York: Hill and Wang, 1966.

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

215

In Celebration, in Sorrow: A Note on the Storey Play


Jim Reardon and Mrs. Burnett are minor characters in David Storey's In
Celebration (1969), and at first they may seem superfluous in a play
concerned with dissecting the life of a family to which they do not belong. But in fact each serves an important function. Reardon is a parallel
character to Harry Shaw, and Mrs. Burnett is Mrs. Shaw's foil.
Jim Reardon and Harry Shaw have known each other for thirtyfive years. Shaw is a coal miner, while Reardon is a clerk in the mining
office. The latter is not on the best of terms with his wife, saying to Mrs.
Burnett at one point, Mrs. Reardon, alas, has not wanted me home in
bed, or anywhere else for that matter, for more years than you and I could
count together (61). Shaw is not on the best of terms with his wife,
either, although he works hard to keep up appearances. (The occasion for
the play's action is this couple's fortieth wedding anniversary.) Mrs.
Shaw is at times almost contemptuous of her husband; at best, she tolerates him. The following stage directions may serve as an example of the
extent to which she discourages his affections:
(Puts his arm around her shoulder, kissing her cheek; she moves her head back
slightly and moves away.) (22)
(He laughs and kisses her cheek.)
Mrs. Shaw (stepping back.) I'll see about some food. (23)

Andrew, the Shaws' oldest son, discloses the reason for his parents' strained relationship: [My mother was] raised up by a petty farmer
to higher things . . . ends up being laidin a farm fieldby a bloody
collier . . . never forgiven him, she hasn't (49). Mrs. Shaw became pregnant with one Jamey out of wedlock, but the boy died of pneumonia at
age seven. Out of his sadness over the loss of their first child and his
guilt at not having given his wife a better life, Shaw treats her as if she
were a saint and never complains when she rebuffs him.
The object of the affections of both Reardon and Shaw is Mrs.
Burnett, of whose husband, significantly, no mention is ever made. Shaw
grumbles about the fact that Mrs. Burnett gossips a lot, but he obviously

216

Play Analysis: A Reader

enjoys the attention she gives him. Mrs. Shaw herself declares, You
should see him skip in the back and comb his hair when Mrs. Burnett
comes around (12). Indeed, Mrs. Burnett has a key to the Shaw home
and comes and goes there as she pleasesso much so that she is almost
Harry Shaw's surrogate wife.
In Act I, Scene 1, the following rich exchange occurs between
Mrs. Burnett and Shaw:
Shaw.
Mrs. Burnett.

Nay. I've no illusions. None. . . . I've had a good life. With a


lovely woman. Can't ask for anything more. Still . . .
Aye. . . . Well . . . [Gazes at Shaw fondly.] (16)

During World War II, Shaw built a bomb shelter that he attempted to
share with Mrs. Burnett:
Shaw.
Mrs. Burnett.
Shaw.

Opened it first night of bombing to let her in. . . . Swam around,


then, didn't you, love?
I nearly drowned. Calls himself a miner . . .
Whole place was full of water. . . . By go. . . . Freetened of being
bombed to death and you end up being drowned. [Laughs.] (73)

Mrs. Shaw is present during this dialogue, which goes on for over a page,
with interjections by Reardon and Andrew, but she does not comment
directly; instead, during the last lines by Shaw quoted immediately
above, she begins singing a religious hymn to herself.
Reardon says that he, too, would like to build a deep, concrete,
lead-lined, bomb-proof, a-tomic shelter, because he has a vision, a
presentiment . . . of a holocaust so gigantic, so monumental in its proportions, that beside it all our little dreams and hopes, our sorrows , and our
little aims and fears . . . must count as nothing (62). Like Shaw during
World War II, Reardon wants to share his bomb shelter with Mrs. Burnett. He says to her, I willif you'll grant me the privilegetake you
with me (62). At the end of In Celebration, Reardon then joins Mrs.
Burnett and Shaw in leaving the house to send off the three visiting Shaw
sons: in addition to Andrew, Colin and Steven. Mrs. Shaw remains inside.

Model Essays: Theme, Thought, or Idea

217

Despite their sorrows, the four older charactersMr. and Mrs.


Shaw, Reardon, and Mrs. Burnettkeep up cheerful appearances about
their lives. Not so the three sons, who in one way or another are all victims of their parents' silence and hypocrisy. (Like Mrs. Burnett, Reardon
may be called their surrogate parent, for after Jamey died and Steven was
born, Andrew went to live with him to take some of the burden off Mrs.
Shaw.) Andrew himself tries to bring everything out into the open, to get
his parents and brothers to face the truth about their lives together, but he
fails. The life of the Shaw family will go on as it always has.
The Allied victory in World War II has led, paradoxically, to the
horrors of the atomic age and of modern industrial-technological society.
(Not by accident, Steven has been writing a book on the passivity, industrial discipline, and moral turpitude of modern life [34].) Similarly,
the surface victory of the Shaws' forty years of marital bliss and their
boys' professional success has led in reality to their own misery, as well
as to the anomie and compulsion of the sons' lives. Andrew has given up
on his career as a lawyer to become a penniless artist who is halfhearted
in pursuit of hisand in support of his own family. Colin is a wealthy
workaholic labor leader who may be homosexual. Steven is a failed
scholar who has given up on writing his book, and whose wife and four
children seem small consolation to him; his only release is to cry.
Jamey himself is dead but his shadow hangs over the play: Mrs.
Shaw appears to regard his premature death as punishment for her premarital sex, and has allowed that death to color her relations with her
husband; Andrew sees Jamey's death as the occasion for his being expelled, as a boy, from the family home; Steven knows that his mother,
pregnant with him after Jamey's death, tried to kill herself.
The four sons thus represent one generation, while the four older
characters represent another. Of the boys, one is already dead and the
other three are in decline. They are separated from their parents (biological or surrogate), living in the big city, visiting infrequently. But their
separate lives and infrequent visits have not nullified the negative influence of their elders (an influence insidiously magnified by the addition of

218

Play Analysis: A Reader

the parallel character Reardon and the foil figure Mrs. Burnett)and
never will.
Bibliography
Storey, David. In Celebration and The Contractor. Harmondsworth,
U.K.: Penguin, 1951.

MODEL ESSAYS: COMPARISON,


CONTRAST, AND INFLUENCE
Parallelism and Divergence:
The Case of Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer
and O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night
It is surprising that significant parallels should exist between plays as
dissimilar as She Stoops to Conquer (1773) and Long Day's Journey into
Night (written 1941; first produced 1956)the one a laughing as opposed to tearful or sentimental comedy, written by an Anglo-Irishman,
the other an American tragedy composed by an Irish American. The most
obvious parallel involves the cook-maid in the two works. She is called
Bridget in both, does not appear on stage in either, and has an all-around
function in each household. In Goldsmith's play Bridget is the cookmaid for the Hardcastles, who live in the country and do not have so
much money that they can hire a servant for each chore or one so skilled
that he or she should perform only one task. (After Marlow asks that the
cook be called, Hardcastle describes Bridget as the cook-maid, implying
that her duties go beyond the preparation of food.) In O'Neill's play Bridget is the first girl, a combination cook and maid, for the Tyrones.
James Tyrone, the father, is cheap, so he naturally does not hire a servant
for each chore: he hires the Irish peasants Bridget and Cathleen, her
assistant or the second girl, to perform all the tasks around the house.
The parallels between the two cook-maids go beyond name and
function: these two Bridgets have similar characters. In She Stoops to
Conquer Hardcastle says to Marlow, who wants the cook called so that
he can order a special supper: Our Bridget, the cook-maid, is not very
communicative upon these occasions. Should we send for her, she might
scold us all out of the house (36). What Hardcastle implies is that his
Bridget, being lazy, becomes cantankerous when the family has guests
and she must work harder. (She will become even more cantankerous

219

220

Play Analysis: A Reader

when she learns that Marlow does not want to eat what she is cooking for
everyone else.)
Bridget in Long Day's Journey into Night is herself lazy and cantankerous. Mary Tyrone says of her at one point, I must see the cook
about dinner and the day's marketing. Bridget is so lazy (29). At another
point Mary stereotypes her Irish immigrant of a cook-maid a stupid,
lazy greenhorn (61). Because Bridget is lazy, she becomes irate when
she has cooked a meal and James Tyrone is late to eat it, as is his habit,
or when Cathleen isn't in the kitchen to help her prepare the food. To
Edmund, the younger son, Cathleen says of Bridget, It's a wonder your
father wouldn't look at his watch once in a while. He's a divil for making
the meals late, and then Bridget curses me as if I was to blame (51).
Mary speaks similarly of the first girl to Tyrone: I've had to calm
down Bridget. She's in a tantrum over your being late again, and I don't
blame her (66). After the lonely Mary has fed Cathleen drinks for a long
time in Act III, in order to have someone to talk to, the second girl
asks, Can I take a drink to Bridget, Ma'am? It must be near dinner-time
and I ought to be in the kitchen helping her. If she don't get something to
quiet her temper, she'll be after me with the cleaver (106). Mary, who
herself does not drink, plies Cathleen and Bridget with liquor, just as
Marlow, who is a teetotaler, plies his servants with it in She Stoops to
Conquer.
Bridget in Long Day's Journey into Night is talkative; Mary says,
She begins telling me about her relatives so I can't get a word in edgeways and scold her [for neglecting her work] (29). Hardcastle tells his
servant, You must not be so talkative, Diggory. You must be all attention to the guests. You must hear us talk, and not think of talking (27).
Hardcastle thus admonishes Diggory, not only because the latter is a
servant, but also because the master himself likes to do all the talking
whether he is in the company of his servants or his peers. He can expatiate on any subject, but he especially likes to tall war stories: Your talking of a retreat, Mr. Marlow, puts me in mind of the Duke of Marlborough, when we went to besiege Denain . . . (33). Hardcastle shares the
trait of garrulousness with James Tyrone. Jamie reveals that his father

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

221

loves listening to himself talk (54); and Cathleen confirms this when
she reports to Mary, I went down to Mister Tyrone, like you ordered,
and he said he'd come right away, but he kept on talking to that man
[Captain Turner], telling him of the time when (62).
Hardcastle shares additional traits with James Tyrone. The former
seems to be cheap, and he likes the isolation of the country. Mrs. Hardcastle complains to him, Here we live in an old rumbling mansion, that
looks for all the world like an inn, but that we never see company (10
11). Mary Tyrone makes similar complaints about her husband: It's just
as well we haven't any friends here [she describes their home as this
shabby place (61); Edmund calls it this summer dump (141)]. I'd be
ashamed to have them step in the door. But he's never wanted family
friends. He hates calling on people, or receiving them (44).
Like Hardcastle, Tyrone prefers old things, as much because he is
contemptuous of the modern and nostalgic for the past (when he still had
the chance to be an actor of artistic stature but chose instead merely to
become a financially secure matinee idol, playing the same role over and
over again) as because he is cheap. Tyrone's clothing at the start of the
play is commonplace shabby. He believes in wearing his clothes to the
limit of usefulness, is dressed now for gardening (13). He buys a
secondhand car, claiming it's better than any of the new ones! (84). His
books have the look of having been read and reread (11), and contain
the following old titles among them: Hume's History of England,
Thiers's History of the Consulate and Empire, Smollett's History of England, Gibbon's Roman Empire, and three sets of Shakespeare. His sons'
library, by contrast, contains new volumes (the play is set in 1912):
works, for example, by Ibsen, Shaw, Strindberg, Wilde, Schopenhauer,
Nietzsche, Marx, and Engels. Not only does Hardcastle, for his part, love
his old rumbling mansion; he also loves everything that's old: old
friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine (11).
James Tyrone is a New York actor as well as a touring one who
retires to New London, Connecticut (then considered the country), every
summer to play the squire. He has tenants who farm his land and he buys
as much property as he can afford, claimingless as a landed aristocrat

222

Play Analysis: A Reader

than as the third son of victims of the Irish potato famine (in 1845, two
years before Tyrone's birth) who gave up what land they had in order to
emigrate to the United States)that banks fail, and your money's gone,
but you . . . can keep land beneath your feet (146). Like an affable country gentleman, Tyrone stops his gardening in front of the house to bow to
passersby and chat with friends. Hardcastle is a squire, and is dedicated
to his family. Unlike Tyrone, he is not, as his stepson Tony Lumpkin
describes him, a Gentleman . . . [who is] for giving [others] his company . . . (26); he gives Marlow his company only because the latter is to
become his son-in-law. Tyrone, unlike Hardcastle, does not give his
company to his family easily, just as Mary, Edmund, and Jamie do not
easily give theirs to him or to one another.
It is difficult to say with certainty whether O'Neill wrote Long
Day's Journey into Night with elements of She Stoops to Conquer consciously in mind. After all, Bridget was the first name of his maternal
grandmother as well as of the cook-maid in Goldsmith's play. Moreover,
domestic service in America had become so identified with the Irish
during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that maids were
often referred to generically as Bridgets or Cathleens (Quinn, 50),
like Tyrone's two girlsparticularly since they were frequently unmarried or married later in life. Parallels between Goldsmith's play and
O'Neill's do exist, however, and I am interested more in the different uses
to which the two playwrights put the same elements than in arguing the
question of influence.
Bridget, for example, has a different function in Long Day's Journey into Night than she has in She Stoops to Conquer. In the O'Neill play,
Bridget can be seen as another Mary, as Egil Trnqvist has pointed out:
The fog affects Bridget's rheumatism as it does Mary's (41, 99). And she appears
to be as much of a whiskey addict as Mary is a dope fiend. Their desperation,
made acuteor rather symbolizedby their bodily pain, stems . . . from an intense feeling of loneliness. In Act I Bridget, who needs company, keeps Mary in
the kitchen for a long while with lies about her relations (102). . . .
Cathleen describes Bridget as little better than a maniac, who cannot stand
being left alone: she's like a raging divil. She'll bite my head off (99). . . . Never
appearing but always (since we are constantly reminded of her presence in the dia-

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

223

logue and in the exits to the kitchen) lurking in the background, she comes to personify the reckless, destructive impulse within Mary, which finally kills her
three men. (Trnqvist, 240)

Bridget reinforces the tragedy of the play, then. Bridget in She


Stoops to Conquer reinforces the play's comedy; she does this through
contrast rather than analogy, the device employed in Long Day's Journey
into Night. She is not very communicative when she has to cook and
clean for guests as well as for the family; her master, Hardcastle, is so
talkative in part because he has little to do. Because he likes to talk so
much and doesn't listen properly to Marlow and his friend Hastings, he
never realizes that they speak to him as if he were an innkeeper instead of
Kate's father: thus does this comedy of disguise take wing. Tyrone, by
comparison, because he loves to hear himself talk, does not really talk to
his family and thereby helps to precipitate his and their tragedy; his garrulousness derives from self-absorption more than from a need to substitute talk for work (although Tyrone, the would-be squire, shares this need
to some extent with Hardcastle), whereas the reverse is true for Hardcastle, for whom talk is a way to occupy himself, almost to forget himself.
One could say that, in her isolation and the garrulousness that results
from it, Bridget is another Tyrone as well as another Maryindeed,
could be seen as the double of any member of the Tyrone family.
If the two Bridgets reinforce the tragedy and the comedy of their
respective plays, then Mary and Marlow, in their reasons for dispensing
alcohol so freely, do the same. Tragically isolated, Mary bribes Cathleen
with her husband's liquor so that she will have an audience while she
talks at length about her past. Mary then supplies Bridget with drink so
she will not mind slaving in the kitchen while her helper sits idle and
captive in the living room. Mary will cover up her theft of Tyrone's liquor by playing Jamie's trick. . . . Just measure a few drinks of water and
pour them in (100). Marlow, who is to be comically reconciled with the
Hardcastle family eventually, orders his servants not to spare [Hardcastle's] cellar. . . . My positive directions were, that as I did not drink myself, they should make up for my deficiencies below (73). Marlow,
mistaking Hardcastle's home for an inn and in a merry mood over his

224

Play Analysis: A Reader

anticipated conquest of the barmaid (really Kate Hardcastle in disguise),


openly orders his servants away from him, to drink their fill and be happy. When Hardcastle confronts him with his servants' drunkenness, Marlow freely admits his responsibility for it.
Finally, what is true of Mary's and Marlow's dispensing of drink is
equally true of Tyrone's and Hardcastle's love of the old. Tyrone's is in
part a love of the cheap, as I have noted, and is as responsible for his
family's tragedy as anything else. For instance, his engaging the cheaper
hotel doctor rather than a private physician to attend to his wife after
Edmund's birth led to her morphine addiction since this ignorant quack
(Mary's words, 87) was happier to prescribe strong drugs for Mary's pain
and be done with her than to discover the cause of her suffering and treat
it. Jamie tells his father that Edmund might never have got consumption
if you'd sent him to a real doctor when he first got sick (30), instead of
to Hardy, a cheap old quack (30). Hardcastle's love of the old is itself
in part a love of the cheap, and is responsible for the second mistaken
identity in this comedy, which is subtitled The Mistakes of a Night. The
first mistaken identity occurs when Marlow and Hastings take Tony
Lumpkin for a bumpkin after meeting him at an alehouse, instead of
recognizing him as a squire. They follow his directions to Hardcastle's
house, which they mistake for the inn that Tony mischievously tells them
it is, because the house is antique. (Their actual destination is Hardcastle's home, to which they intend to journey after they leave the inn, and
where Marlow is supposed to meet Kate, whom his father has chosen as
a wife for him.) It has undergone the usual fate of a large mansion,
says Marlow. Having first ruined the master by good housekeeping, it at
last comes to levy contributions as an inn (29). Hardcastle's house no
longer looks like a mansion and he is unwilling to spend the money to
make it look like one again.
The disguises in She Stoops to Conquer are worn inadvertently, as
in the case of the house disguised as an inn or of Hardcastle himself
(Tony fools Marlow and Hastings into thinking that his stepfather is an
innkeeper, and they assume from his appearance that he is one); or they
are worn intentionally but in everyone's best interests, as in the example

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

225

of Kate, who poses first as a barmaid, then as a poor relation of the


Hardcastles, in order to test Marlow's suitability for marriage. The disguises worn and gradually stripped away in Long Day's Journey into
NightMary's disguise of her drug problem and of the reasons for it,
most obviously; and Tyrone's disguise of his cheapness as mere sensible
thrift, whereas it is actually excessive fear of the extreme poverty he
knew as a boyare in each instance self-imposed, may be unconsciously
worn (as in Tyrone's case), and, though designed to be self-protective,
they have destroyed the self and with it the family. (And this is a family
that already exists apart fromor, by today's standard, moves in step
with?the mainstream of American society, without any permanent
home, with few friends, with no relatives to speak of, and more or less
without the spiritual bulwark of the Catholic faith: the price the Tyrones
have had to pay for their assimilation to the States and their simultaneous
divorce from the bonds of blood, community, religion, and culture of
even famine-afflicted Ireland.) The physical disguise of comedy is a
means to an end, and is easily removed to the reconciliation and happiness of everyone. The spiritual disguise of tragedy is an end in itselfit
is a way of beingand is arduously removed to the recognition and
misery of all.
Bibliography
Goldsmith, Oliver. She Stoops to Conquer. Ed. Arthur Friedman. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.
O'Neill, Eugene. Long Day's Journey into Night. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956.
Quinn, Peter. The Tragedy of Bridget Such-a-One. American Heritage
(December 1997): 3751.
Trnqvist, Egil. A Drama of Souls: Studies in O'Neill's Super-naturalistic
Technique. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969.
(Trnquist's references to Long Day's Journey into Night are to
the edition cited above.)

226

Play Analysis: A Reader

Ibsen's Ghosts and Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos


Comparisons between Ghosts (1881) and classical tragedy, in particular
Oedipus Tyrannos (430 B.C.), are nothing new. They are still worth
exploring, however. Let me do so by beginning with Bert O. States's
assertion that the idea that the victory inherent in tragedy arrives primarily in the earned nobility of the defeated-victorious hero is actually much
overrated as the key to catharsis; the victory is rather in the poet's having
framed the definitive fate for his hero-victim (50). The victory is the
poet's, in other words, and also the audience'sthrough identification
with the dramatic poet instead of his victimas States argues:
In turning the tables on his hero so exactly, getting the all into his one, [the poet]
shows wherein the imagination is a match for nature in getting her to participate so
thoroughly in the fault. This seems the most complete statement that can be made
about destructiveness, and when the poet can arrange to make it, as . . . Sophocles
[has], he has posed the unanswerable argument against reality in his effort to fortify men against the many forms of disaster. In effect, he has said, You may destroy me, but I have gone even further. I have conceived the impossible destruction. In other words, the force of tragic catharsis consists in the poet's having conceived a power beyond Power itself. (50)

Along these lines, one might then say that Sophocles wrote Oedipus Tyrannos at Oedipus's expense rather than for Oedipus. Echoing
States, Charles R. Beye implies as much when he writes that Greek
tragic drama seems to mute the fundamental horror and despair of human
existence (17). Oedipus Tyrannos may have done this for its ancient
Greek audience, but it nonetheless has the feel of a tract or lesson that
will nonetheless be repeated in life again and againif not in the extreme form it takes in the play. Such tragedy has been called the tragedy
of necessity or fate, but this means not that it was trying to illuminate the
idea of fatethe why of itbut rather that it had a quality of hopelessness or resignation about it: indeed, that ancient Greek tragedy was ultimately a safe from precisely because of its hopelessness. It admitted
that its dramatic events could and would occur again in life in different
form, yet within its parameters at least, art and the artist and all who
could identify with them could triumph over life.

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

227

In a different era, Henrik Ibsen goes after more than this, in my


view. Oedipus Tyrannos is art shying away from life, finally, insulating
itself as best it can. Its attitude combines awe before life with anger and
even revenge against it. Ghosts is an instance of art confronting life headon, rebelling against it in the best way its author knows how. Its attitude
combines respect for life with exasperation before it. Ghosts, in other
words, wants matters to change; Oedipus Tyrannos argues that they will
not.
To be sure, Ibsen has his poet's victory in Ghosts, too. He frames
the definitive fate for fate itself: here, in the form of society. And he
leaves little doubt that this was the victory he intended, inasmuch as we
do not watch Mrs. Alving bravely earning any nobility at the endany
emotion reflected in tranquility, if you will. Osvald himself is to be understood as the representative of the consequences of fate, or society,
throughout the drama. Such is the case because of the impossibility of his
ever earning any nobility in a struggle against general paresis (or paralytic dementia, a form of neurosyphilis in which chronic meningoencephalitis causes gradual loss of cortical function, progressive dementia, and
generalized paralysis), and because of his simple distance from the
plothis purity in comparison with the other characters in Ghosts.
That purity can perhaps be seen more clearly in Osvald's role as
fate's or society's end-product. The paralysis of his brain brings an ironic
and abrupt conclusion to all that has transpired among Mrs. Alving and
Captain Alving and Pastor Manders; and Osvald's paralysis is the result
of things, not the result of anything in particular he himself has done. In
turning the tables on society, through Osvald, so exactly, Ibsen shows the
poetic imagination as a match for society in getting it to participate so
thoroughly in its own calling to account. To wit: Osvald enters the play
as the symbol of freedom and enlightened thinking and leaves it as the
symbol of his society's paralysis of thought and actionthe very paralysis that led his mother to marry Captain Alving instead of Pastor Manders in the first place.
Ibsen need not depict Mrs. Alving actually giving Osvald the
morphine overdose and, literally as well as figuratively, killing the paral-

228

Play Analysis: A Reader

ysis at the end of Ghosts, because he has already shown the equivalent,
or all that he can offer as equivalent. With this ending, however, the
playwright does leave open the possibility that, not destroyed or even
diminished, the figurative paralysis of Norwegian society will live on,
uncheckedin spite of his artistic victory over it. This is where the hope
and restraint of a play like Ghosts contrast most markedly with the hopelessness and finality of Oedipus Tyrannos. Ironically, in his complete
victory over Power or Fate, Sophocles is subscribing to the complete
power of Fate over human existence. By contrast, in his victory over the
fate that is society, or social forces, Ibsen is really telling us of its incompleteness and asking us, through Mrs. Alving, not to subscribe to the
power of societyof other people, essentiallyover our lives but to
destroy this power as much as we can.
Ibsen thus resurrects Mrs. Alving at the end of the play, for all her
fear and desperateness: he gives her a chance. She has had to choose
three times before this: she originally had to choose between marrying
Captain Alving and marrying Pastor Manders, then later between staying
with the Captain and leaving him for Manders; during Ghosts she must
choose between insuring the orphanage and not insuring it. Each time, if
Mrs. Alving did not make the wrong choice, then she lived wrongly with
her choice. Now, at the drama's conclusion, she must choose againand
this time on the grandest scale.
So Mrs. Alving becomes the symbol of hope, or simply the embodiment of possibility, at the end of the play, once Oswald's brain paralysis is complete. Oedipus has only had done to him by the end of
Oedipus Tyrannos; Mrs. Alving still can do. She is the perfect symbol,
moreover, because hope is probably best characterized by its existence in
situationslike Mrs. Alving'swhere it seems least possible. Ibsen is
not slighting his heroine, just as he is not slighting Osvald. It is possible
that Mrs. Alving will give her son the morphine overdose, just as it is
possible she will not. It is possible that she will learn from her experience
and grow, and it is possible that she will not: no more, no less. Ibsen
simply makes her possibilityand Osvald's life or deathpart of his
larger concern for the possibilities of life in the future.

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

229

This is the sense in which I would call Ghosts a tragedy of possibility, with possibility understood as both chance and hope. It is a
tragedy of two or more people, of the effect of human beings' actions on
other human beings through the generations; whereas Oedipus Tyrannos
is the tragedy of man, of self, of how the self conceives of its relationship
to the Ideal or the Absolute. Ghosts is Christian tragedy, if you will, to
the Greek tragedy of Oedipus Tyrannos (see note 1). Sophocles' play is
knowing in its hopelessness, its assessment or declaration of the self's
limitations before the Absolute; Ibsen's drama is uncertain in its hopefulness, its gentle, even cautious exhortation to humanity to improve its
condition.
The feeling aroused in the spectator of Oedipus Tyrannos is,
What a pity it had to be this way. I feel sorry for him, but I'm glad it
didn't happen to me. I hate to say it, but I am even exhilarated at having
witnessed his destruction. The feeling aroused in the spectator of
Ghosts, by contrast, is, What a pity it might be this way again, and what
a joy it might not. I wonder what I would do if I were in her place right
now. I am puzzled and concerned that I have been put in this position.
Certainly it is a pity that it was this way for Mrs. Alving and not
otherwise, but Ibsen's primary concern is not with our feelings for her.
The spectator of Ghosts leaves the theater not so much feeling sorry for
Mrs. Alving as feeling in her place, poisoning or not poisoning Osvald:
that is the effect of the arrested ending. The spectator is not exhilarated at
having witnessed Osvald's destruction; he is encouraged by the triumph
of Ibsen's imagination, the act of his will, in getting Osvald so unnoticeably to this place. That is the effect of keeping Osvald's character, his
excellence and his flaw, more or less out of the situationand out of the
drama.
Note
1.

Ghosts is Christian tragedy in the sense that it combines the


presentation of the horrors of life with hope for their elimination. Whether that hope comes from a belief in God's power to
change matters, in man's power to change matters with God's

230

Play Analysis: A Reader


help, or from man's faith in himself alone, is unimportant. My
distinction between Christian and Greek tragedy is one between
different views of lifethe one founded on hope for change or
improvement in the lives of human beings, the other on a fatalistic resignation to whatever miseries life deals outnot a distinction between different conceptions of, or relationships to, the
Godhead.

Bibliography
Beye, Charles R. Nature's Mirror or Nature's Distillery: The Proper
Metaphor for Ancient Greek Tragedy. In To Hold a Mirror to
Nature: Dramatic Images and Reflections. Ed. Karelisa V. Hartigan. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982.
1136.
Ibsen, Henrik. Ghosts. In Ibsen's Six Plays. Trans. Eva Le Gallienne.
New York: Modern Library, 1957.
Sophocles. The Oedipus Cycle: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. Trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. 1939. New
York: Harcourt, 2002.
States, Bert O. Irony and Drama: A Poetics. Ithaca, New York: Cornell
University Press, 1971.

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

231

The Endings of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler and Ghosts


In Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (1890), Hedda's ideal (to live beautifully, free
from the constraints of her socialization) dies with her, but Lvborg's
ideal (a book on the future of civilization, in which he frees himself, and
potentially others, from the poisonous constraints of society by writing a
prescription for that society's health or liberation) livesit is reconstructed from notes by Tesman and Thea. Recall that Hedda kills herself
with child, whereas Lvborg and Thea speak of the manuscript as their
child. Hedda dies to achieve the ideal she could not achieve in life;
Lvborg kills himself (or is killed in a mistaken attempt to retrieve his
manuscript from Mademoiselle Diana's boudoir) because he felt he had
achieved, or helped to make possible, the ideal through his book and then
senselessly lost the manuscript.
In the same way as Osvald's paralysis of mind could be said to be
growing throughout Ghosts (1881), to turn him at the end into a symbol
of the paralysis of mind in Norwegian society, so too could the notes for
Lvborg's book that Thea produces in Hedda Gabler be said to have
been growing throughout the play, to be given birth at the end as a symbol of hope for the future of civilization. Thea and Lvborg had spoken
of the manuscript as their child, as mentioned above, and thus it is no
accident that Thea nurtures these notes in the pocket of her dress
throughout the play (she says at one point, Yes. I took them with me
when I left homethey're here in my pocket [422]), to produce them
at the right moment for reassembly by herself and Tesman.
In the same way that Ibsen leads us to believe that in Osvald an
artist of great promise is destroyed, ultimately, by the paralysis of mind
of his society, so too does the playwright lead us to believe that in Hedda, a person of potential creativity is destroyed by her upbringing as the
daughter of the aristocratic General Gabler. Martin Esslin writes that
[Hedda's] sense of social superiority prevents her from realizing her genuine superiority as a potential creative personality. If the standards prescribed by the laws of
noblesse oblige had not prevented her from breaking out into the freedom of moral
and social emancipation, she might have been able to turn her passionate desire for
beauty (which is the hallmark of real, spiritual, as distinct from social, aristocracy)

232

Play Analysis: A Reader


to the creation of beauty, living beauty rather than merely a beautiful death. It is
the creative energy, frustrated and damned up, that is finally converted into the
malice and envy, the destructive rage, the intellectual dishonesty that lead to Hedda Gabler's downfall. (39)

Like Osvald, Hedda is a potential artist. Like Mrs. Alving, she has
no true moment of recognition or perception: Ibsen is interested at the
end more in whether Lvborg' s ideal will be promulgated, to the benefit
of future Heddas.
Bibliography
Esslin, Martin. Reflections: Essays on Modern Theatre. New York: Doubleday, 1969.
Ibsen, Henrik. Ghosts and Hedda Gabler. In Ibsen's Six Plays. Trans.
Eva Le Gallienne. New York: Modern Library, 1957.

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

233

Simon Harford in O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet


and More Stately Mansions
The touch of the poet in Cornelius Melody has enabled him to fabricate his past and deceive himself about his present circumstances. He
passes himself off as a squire in the countryside outside Boston in 1828,
when in fact he is little more than the innkeeper son of an Irish innkeeper. His father made a fortune through deception and usury; Con lost it
through drunkenness, sexual indiscretion, and inept business deals, of
which his tavern is one. (He bought it long after the stage-coach run past
it had been discontinued.) His name tells all: he is a con artist, a man who
can con with the sweet melody of his words. Only his daughter, Sara,
tries to strip him of his illusions.
Con Melody's foil is Simon Harford, the Yankee merchant's son
whom Sara is nursing back to health in an upstairs room. Simon does not
seduce her, as the philandering Con did his future wife, Nora, of whose
Irish peasant stock he is ashamed; Sara seduces Simon out of love, while
rejecting the advances of the bartender Mickey Maloy. Simon does not
recite the work of others, as Melody does Byron's: he writes his own
poetry and is planning a book. He is dependent neither on drink nor on an
audience of lackeys for his sense of self-worth, having lived a Spartan
life alone in the woods before becoming ill. The implication is that, unlike his father, Simon will not go into the shipping business and become
a slave to money.
Simon Harford never appears onstage in the play. He is less a
character in his own right than a symbol of the unvarnished truththe
plainness or homeliness of his name in comparison with Melody's is the
first indication of this. O'Neill strategically places him above the other
characters and the thick mist that surrounds the inn, and suggests that
Sara, in bringing him his meals, is nourishing the truth. Significantly,
Melody himself refuses to eat until he remembers that it is the anniversary of the Battle of Talavera (July 27, 1809), at which he boasts repeatedlyand dubiouslythat he was honored for bravery by the Duke of
Wellington. His wife then prepares him and his sycophantic friends a

234

Play Analysis: A Reader

feast, even though the family is about to be denied credit by the grocer
because it cannot pay its bill.
By the end of A Touch of the Poet (1942), Simon has recovered
from his illness and will marry Sara against the wishes of his parents
(who have declared her too common for him): the truth, it appears, needs
the company of another humble truth-teller. Melody, for his part, has
finally been stripped of his illusions at old Harford's house, where he had
gone to avenge the insult to his daughter and became involved instead in
a brawl with the servants. Rather than face the truth about himself, however, he seeks refuge in a bottle. In leaving the stage for the last time to
drink with his lackeys in the bar of the inn, where he previously would
not be seen with them, he has in fact become once again the commoner
that he was by birth.
I have, of course, been considering Simon Harford's function in A
Touch of the Poet apart from his role in its sequel More Stately Mansions
(1939), the second play in O'Neill's planned cycle of nine to eleven plays
titled A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed, chronicling an American
family (and by implication American history) since the 1800s. In More
Stately Mansions, Simon ceases to be the symbol of truth; he takes over
his father's shipping business, after all, and becomes a slave to money.
The suggestion is that he has done so partly in response to the desire of
his wife, Sara, to become a grand lady and live in style. Tragically, she
has inherited not only her father's commonness, but also his wish to
transcend it through wealth and aristocratic pretense; and she has infected
Simon with her materialism. Con Melody had predicted as much in A
Touch of the Poet:
[Simon's] set in his proud, noble ways, but [Sara will] find the right trick! . . .
She'll see the day when she'll wear fine silks and drive in a carriage wid a naygur
coachman behind spankin' thoroughbreds, her nose in the air; and she'll live in a
Yankee mansion, as big as a castle, on a grand estate av stately woodland and soft
green meadows and a lake. (173)

Ironically, at the end of More Stately Mansions, Simon returns to


a far more negative version of the physical condition in which he found
himself during A Touch of the Poet. Deborah, his mother, has knocked

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

235

him unconscious by pushing him down a set of stairsin A Touch of the


Poet, she had climbed the stairs of the Melody inn to visit her son in his
sickbed. Simon comes to consciousness in Sara's arms, and she nurses
him just as she had done in the first play in the cycle. Sara says to him,
Don't I know, Darling, the longing in your heart that I'd smash the Company into
smithereens to prove my love for you and set you free from the greed of it! Well,
by the Eternal, I'll smash it so there'll be nothing left to tempt me! . . . We'll live
[on the old Harford farm], . . . and you can write poetry again of your love for me,
and plan your book that will save the world and free men from the curse of greed
in them! (191)

But this time it is clear that Sara is not nursing the truth in Simon,
and that he will not return to health; instead, she can offer no more than
momentary comfort to a man who has begun the descent into madness.
Once the symbol of the unvarnished truth, Simon has become, through
the sacrifice of his ideals for the compromising, real world of commerce,
the incarnation of illusion and benightedness.
Bibliography
O'Neill, Eugene. A Touch of the Poet. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale
University Press, 1957.
----------. More Stately Mansions. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1964.

236

Play Analysis: A Reader

Thomas's Under Milk Wood in Light of Wilder's Our Town


If there is any work that resembles Thornton Wilder's otherwise sui generis drama Our Town (1938) in form as well as content, it is oddly enough
Dylan Thomas' play for voices written for British radio, Under Milk
Wood (1954). There is no evidence of which I am aware that the poet
Thomas knew the American Our Town, let alone consciously modeled
his only dramaif in fact Under Milk Wood can be called oneafter it.
Nonetheless, not only are the resemblances there, but Thomas's play, like
Wilder's, may also be his best-known work. It is the purpose of this essay
to explore those resemblances: to read Under Milk Wood, as it were,
through the lens of the earlier Our Town
Along with his lilting poems about childhood like Fern Hill and
his story A Child's Christmas in Wales (which has come to rival Dickens' Christmas Carol [1843]), Under Milk Wood helped Dylan Thomas
to become a popular, selling author late in his relatively short life through
its attempt in poetic, alliterative prose to imagine a world that is completely good, to recapture the enchantment of original innocence. So
much so that he has been called the J. M. Barrie of our timea description that should lead us to reconsider Thomas's work as a whole, whose
bracing romantic modernism has come to be overshadowed by this
Welshman's reputation for fatally heavy drinking.
Thomas's Under Milk Wood is the portrait of a small Welsh, seaside village named Llareggub (Laugharne in reality), whose inhabitants
are heard in vocal self-revelation during the course of a single day, from
early morning to the dark of night, and in the process evoke a magical,
golden age of Celtic peasantry expressing themselves in lyrical cadences.
Like Our Town, Under Milk Wood contains no dramatic conflict, no
development of character or even encounters between characters, no
action in the usual theatrical sense of that word. There is, however, a
surprising amount of movement, from one part of the village to another; from character to character among the play's cast of around seventy
voices, for whom Thomas provides rich verbal textures or colors for
the ear; and, as in the case of Wilder's piece, there is movement from the
present to the past and back again.

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

237

Moreover, like the Stage Manager of Our Town, the First Voice
of Under Milk Wood serves as a kind of narrator or choral figure (assisted by the Second Voice), a vocal guide who opens, accompanies, and
closes the action and so seemingly fulfills the idea from which the
work sprang in Thomas's mind in 1939: that of a mad village visited by a
kindly inspector from the outside, certified by him as collectively insane,
and sealed off so as not to infect the rest of the world. In the end, however, the village of Llareggub turns out to be the only sane and happy place
surviving in a mad, mad world that had given us, during the genesis and
gestation of Under Milk Wood, the Second World War, the neutron
bomb, the Holocaust, and the long Cold War to come between the Soviet
Union and the United States.
In its retreat to the idyllic rusticity of the Welsh seaside, Under
Milk Wood thus resembles Our Town with its look back in protectionist
nostalgia to one of the many small towns bedecking the vast landscape of
pre-World War I America. The difference, however, is that Thomas's
wistfully compassionate vision is leavened by a rollicking sense of humor, a fair sprinkling of songs, poems, and ballads, and a joyful expression of bawdy (e.g., the name of the Welsh village, which should be read
backwards), not to say realized in brilliantly imagistic-atmosphere language that is sometimes self-consciously poetic in the same way that
Wilder's language is self-consciously unpoetic, even pedestrian or homely. The difference also is that Thomas's almost expressionist technique of
mental projection in his radio playwith its cheerful blend of romance,
sentiment (if not sentimentality), saltiness, and comedyowes something to the Circe episode in Ulysses (1922), whereas the Wilder of
Our Town (and of The Skin of Our Teeth as well, whose cosmic point of
view suffers from a certain cuteness) seems able to absorb only the universal dimension or generalizing function from Joyce's work. Moreover,
the characters of Under Milk Wood are a bunch of eccentrics who vigorously express their individuality and freedoma town full of accommodated Simon Stimsons, as it werein contrast to the stick figures of Our
Town who (excepting Stimson) conform in every way to their era's notions of normality and decency.

238

Play Analysis: A Reader

The very title of the play poetically suggests the uniqueness of the
village of Llareggub, not the idea that it belongs to us or is at one with
us. The wood, named as Milk Wood only briefly during the play, is of
no special significance to the action. It is a haunt of courting couples
and it probably is filled with milkwood trees: more than that we cannot
say of the wood, yet Thomas takes his title from it, a title that first went
through several prosaic incarnations from The Town that Was Mad to
Quite Early One Morning to Llareggub, a Piece for Radio Perhaps. The
poetry of the title Under Milk Wood is in its juxtaposition of two such
incongruous nouns, wood and milk, whose contrast between solidity and
fluidity evokes the selfsame contrast between the solidity or fleshliness
of the play's characters, whom we nonetheless do not see, and the fluidity
or the mellifluousness of their voices, which is all that we hear. The poetry is additionally in the wordplay of the title, which suggests a connection with milkwood trees, known to secrete latex. The implicationsince
the wood is a trysting placeis that Thomas was making a private joke
about (defective or counterproductive) condoms, for the milk could
also be semen.
Under Milk Wood ultimately tries to memorialize the little Welsh
town by the sea, Laugharne, where Dylan Thomas spent his happiest and
most fruitful times, and of whose communal life he therefore had intimate knowledge. This perhaps spells the real difference between Thomas's play and Wilder's Our Town: that the one springs from deeply felt,
affectionate experience, whereas the other derives from Wilder's idea of
what life in an American small town (Grover's Corners itself is an imaginary place) was like. It is his version of pastoral, as it were, for this was a
man who grew up in China, graduated from both Yale and Princeton, and
studied archeology in Rome. For a more credible rendering of smalltown life in the United States in the first two decades of the twentieth
century, one would do better to turn to the stories of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919)whose own recurrent figure, the young
newspaper reporter George Willard, in the end rejects the town and sets
out in search of the freedom and vitality that such a place can but dimly
offeror even to the poetry of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Antholo-

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

239

gy (1915), whose free-verse epitaphs by citizens buried in an Illinois


cemetery can compete with anything the deceased inhabitants of Grover's
Corners say in Act III of Our Town.
Under Milk Wood could itself be called a kind of narrative poem,
whose narrative Voices for this reason seem less obtrusive, artificial, or
spuriously folksy, in their existence on the page, than does Wilder's Stage
Manager (as those Voices do in staged readings as well as on the radio
for which the play was designed, where they are invisible like everyone
or everything else). Moreover, even as George Willard abandoned
Winesburg for the wide world, Dylan Thomas tragically left Laugharne
for the fame and funding of London and New York. Thornton Wilder, for
his part, never departed from Grover's Cornersbecause he had never
been there in the first place.
Bibliography
Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. New York: B. W. Huebsch,
1919.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Paris: Sylvia Beach, 1922.
Masters, Edgar Lee. Spoon River Anthology. New York: Macmillan,
1915.
Thomas, Dylan. Fern Hill. In Thomas's Deaths and Entrances. London: J. M. Dent, 1946.
----------. A Child's Christmas in Wales. 1952. Norfolk, Connecticut:
New Directions, 1954.
----------. Under Milk Wood: A Play for Voices. London: J. M. Dent,
1954.
Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. New York: Coward McCann, 1938.
----------. The Skin of Our Teeth. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1942.

240

Play Analysis: A Reader

Walcott's The Sea at Dauphin and Synge's Riders to the Sea:


A Comparison
The Sea at Dauphin (1954), a short play in one act, is one of Derek
Walcott's most compelling and best-known dramas. It takes place on a
wind-lashed island, where poor fishermen venture forth on the dangerous
sea in small boats to seize their meager sustenance. The action of the play
is as spare as the characters' lives. Hounakin, an old man, wants to join
two younger fishermen, Afa and Augustin, on a fishing excursion, even
though the sea is unusually threatening. After much pleading, Afa consents; once in the boat, though, Hounakin freezes with terror, which leads
to his leaving the boat. But he is not the only one who stays behind.
Another fisherman, Gacia, is driven back by the rough waters, choosing
to wait for better weather. Only Afa seems to embrace the challenge and
the necessity of battling the waves, no matter what the risk. The daily
struggle has hardened his heart and become his entire existence: he will
never prefer the safe land to the dangerous sea.
In The Sea at Dauphin, we clearly see the myriad influences that
have shaped Walcott's oeuvre. The play was inspired by a modernist Irish
drama, John Millington Synge's Riders to the Sea (1904). Both works are
set in an extremely remote outpost: a fishing village far from the centers
of power and civilization. The inhabitants live in poverty as they struggle
against the sea, which at once sustains fishermen and destroys them. In
both plays, the victims of the sea are evoked time and again, casting long
shadows over the living. And both plays seek to forge a new literary
language that incorporates non-standard dialects. Synge had shocked
audiences with his literary version of the speech of Irish fishermen;
Walcott similarly uses St. Lucia's distinctive patois, a mixture of French
and English that reflects the island's colonial history. For Walcott, Synge
was not simply a European modernist whose themes he could borrow and
rework from a postcolonial perspective: he identified with Synge and
other writers of the Irish Dramatic Movement, such as Yeats, as fellow
victims of the British Empire. They too had suffered from a long history
of English colonial occupation; they too lived on a rural island; and they
too had created a unique form of English.

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

241

Though Riders to the Sea is important to The Sea at Dauphin,


Walcott made significant changes to Synge's framework. Whereas Riders
to the Sea unfolds from the perspective of a mother, who has already lost
several sons to the sea and who must watch another head to the waves,
The Sea at Dauphin has an almost entirely male cast. The habits and
values they portrayloyalty, respect for the old, attitudes toward work,
the regular drinking of rumset these characters on a collision course. It
is a hard male world, and Afa, who has renounced women to focus entirely on his daily battle against the sea, is the hardest of them all.
Compared to him, everyone else seems undedicated, distracted, and
weakeven the priest, whom he scolds as a parasite.
Yet in this world, the influence and voices of women are not
entirely absent. The play is divided into two sections, separated by a
chorus of women that marks the passing of time. While Afa views the
earlier deaths by sea as a threat to the living, the women remember the
dead in a lyrical lamentation, mourning yet accepting the dangers that
fishermen confront. Still, no women appear as individual charactersan
absence that is especially striking in light of the focus on women in
Synge's play. Walcott thus changes not only the location of the action but
also the sexes of the main actors.
The necessity of going out and fighting against the sea determines
the lives of these characters, leaving them little room for change and
variation. The epigraph from Euripides that begins the play, The sea
doth wash away all human ills (from Iphigenia in Tauris [413 B.C.],
line 1193), signals that the sea is more than a mere backdrop. It imposes
a cyclical rhythm onto the playthe rhythm of the tides flowing out and
coming in, of quiet and storm. The sea is the main adversary of the
struggling characters; it can even be seen as the play's protagonist, the
main actor in this drama that pits men against nature.
One event shifts the focus of the play away from the relentless
sea: the ultimate suicide of Hounakin, around which this play revolves
and which takes place on land. Unlike Synge's play, which focuses
almost exclusively on the sea, The Sea at Dauphin also clearly conveys
the harshness of the fight for survival on land. The island is rocky and

242

Play Analysis: A Reader

hard to farm, and cutting sugarcane is backbreaking labor. Indeed, Afa


claims that unlike the land, with its stony heart, The sea / It have
compassion in the end: it is a place where bravery can be tested and
manhood proven. Old Hounakin seems to agree, as despair over his
wife's death leads him to seek the heroic death of a fishermanthough
he has never fished from a boat beforebefore finally deciding to kill
himself. The fisherman's life is a curse, but it is also a sign of vitality.
Insofar as the play is structured by divisionsyoung and old, men and
women, sea and landAfa allies himself with the first one. He is still
young enough to battle the sea, he has renounced women, and he rejects
life on land. He thus is made to represent an extreme position, setting the
terms by which all others are understood and against which they are
measured.
In The Sea at Dauphin, Walcott has brilliantly given the ancient
genre of tragedy a modern form. Whereas the Greeks had pitted their
drama's protagonists against an inexorable fate, Walcott presents humans
who are dwarfed by a forbidding nature against which they must
relentlessly struggle. While in some respects Walcott's play hews close to
classical tragedyfor example, in the chorus of women between its two
partsin others it offers a radical and modern reinvention of the form. In
Greek tragedy, the protagonist had to be a socially elevated personage,
who almost invariably was taken from myth; Walcott, like other writers
of modern tragedy, endows characters from everyday life with the
dignity formerly denied those viewed as lowly. This expansion of
tragedy's social range is accompanied by a shift in its language: instead
of writing in an especially elevated register, as did the Greeks, Walcott,
like Synge before him, uses a non-standard dialect in creating a
contemporary language of tragedy.
The result of this combination of the traditional and new is a
compelling modern tragedy, one that breaks with the strictures of
classical form yet stays true to its spirit. Later in his career, Walcott
would turn to social drama as well as to comedy, farce, musical theater,
and a number of other theatrical genres with great success. But in its
dramatic simplicity and poetic inventiveness, The Sea at Dauphin

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

243

remains an important contribution to a project that has occupied Walcott


throughout his life: drawing on the island culture of the Caribbean for
new settings, languages, and forms that nevertheless resonate richly with
Western as well as non-Western theater.
Bibliography
Hamner, Robert. Derek Walcott. 1981. Boston: Twayne, 1993.
----------, ed. Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott. Boulder, Colorado:
Three Continents Press, 1993.
Hill, Errol. The Jamaican Stage, 16551900: Profile of a Colonial
Theatre. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.
----------. The Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a National Theatre.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972.
King, Bruce. Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1995.
----------. Derek Walcott: A Caribbean Life. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2000.
Walcott, Derek. Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays. New
York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1972.

244

Play Analysis: A Reader

Orton's Loot and Shakespeare's Hamlet


In his discussion of parallels between Joe Orton's Loot (1964) and William Shakespeare's Hamlet (1601), Manfred Draudt surprisingly neglects
to mention the most obvious parallel: both Old Hamlet and Mrs. McLeavy have been poisoned by individuals seeking to marry their spouses for
individual gain. Draudt even fails to mention the direct evidence in Loot
that Orton was thinking of Hamlet when he wrote his farce: twice a tavern called The King of Denmark is referred to in the play (213, 266). It
is thus no accident that the licensee of The King of Denmark sends a
wreath to Mrs. McLeavy's funeral: it is as if Old Hamlet were thereby
commiserating with Mrs. McLeavy for having been betrayed in the same
way he was. Nor is it an accident that, as we are told, the truth is always
spoken (under the influence of drink) at The King of Denmark: when Old
Hamlet returns to Elsinore as a ghost, he himself tells the truth about how
he died, whereas Claudius has lied about his murderous actions toward
the previous king.
Perhaps the most fascinating parallel between Loot and Hamlet is
between Truscott and Hamlet. Draudt does not connect these two characters, seeing Orton himself as Hamlet's parallel:
There remain fundamental differences between the plays, one of them being the
fact that in Shakespeare's play it is always the dramatic character, Hamlet, who attacks and unmasks the hypocrisy of the court of Elsinore, whereas in Loot it is the
author, Joe Orton, who levels his criticism at the audience and the society outside
and not within the world of the play. (206)

Although Draudt's assertion is true, I believe that it is more productive to


compare Hamlet and Truscott.
Inspector Truscott is an anti-Hamlet. He comes to the McLeavy
home looking for Dennis and Hal, whom he suspects of having robbed a
bank next to a funeral parlor. But once he sees Faywhose career as a
murderess he has been following for some years and about whom he has
even written a bookhe suspects her of having murdered Mrs. McLeavy
so that she could marry Mr. McLeavy, kill him, and inherit his money.
(Fay has murdered seven former husbands in less than a decade for the

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

245

same purpose.) Truscott exposes Fay, even as Hamlet finally exposes


Claudius, but the inspector neither kills nor even arrests her, for the evidence that would convict herthe remains of Mrs. McLeavy's stomachhas been destroyed in an automobile wreck.
Truscott ends up concealing Dennis and Hal's robbery for a share
of the loot; in fact, he leaves the stage with all the money from the robbery in his possession. He has revealed himself as a thoroughly corrupt
and brutal detective, one who could blithely declare, The safest place
for this [loot] is in my locker at the station. It's a maxim of the force:
Never search your own backyardyou may find what you're looking
for (275). Truscott comes to the McLeavy home ostensibly to seek the
truth and leaves by concealing it, materially richer for his improbity.
Hamlet, by contrast, completely roots out the corruption in Denmark, and
he dies in the end for his revelations.
There are similarities even in the names of Truscott and Hamlet.
Let's begin with Hamlet, which is set in a castle in the city of Elsinore,
Denmark. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark (I.iv.); the rottenness had its beginnings in Elsinore; and it now has evil repercussions
for the whole of the country. The character Hamlet's name literally signifies an enclosed area (-let is a diminutive suffix), like the castle or like
Elsinore itself, which we can presume was an enclosed city that was
surrounded by walls for protection from invaders. Hamlet, then, embodies the castle-city that he would cleanse of infection or rot.
Significantly, McLeavy calls attention to Truscott's name the first
time he hears it: What the Hell kind of name is that? Is it an anagram?
You are not bloody human, that's for sure. We are being made the victims of some kind of interplanetary rag (248). Although Truscott is
not an anagram, it does signify something besides its bearer's name. A
truss can be a rigid framework of beams, girders, struts, bars, etc., for
supporting a roof; a cot can be a covered place, a small shelter. Put
together, truss and cot can therefore signify a room in a house, in this
case in the state of England. Loot takes place entirely in one room, and
Truscott is at pains at several points in the play to keep anyone from
leaving it while he considers the evidence of crime. Similar to Hamlet,

246

Play Analysis: A Reader

then, Truscott embodies in his name the room-house to which he has


come, he would have us believe, to solve a crime. He leaves Fay, Hal,
and Dennis in the room at the end, and he leaves McLeavy in another
room, a jail cellhaving added to, not cleansed, the corruption he has
uncovered. Through Truscott Orton has managed to satirize the excessive
stock that the English place in bureaucratic authority.
Finally, Truscott's name, if syllabified after the u, becomes ironic. He is hardly a true Scott, a representative of the unassailable integrity of Scotland Yard. Hamlet, by contrast, is the noblest and truest of
Danes.
Bibliography
Draudt, Manfred. Comic, Tragic, or Absurd? On Some Parallels between the Farces of Joe Orton and Seventeenth-Century Tragedy. English Studies, 59.3 (1978): 292217.
Orton, Joe. Loot. In The Complete Plays of Joe Orton. New York: Grove
Press, 1976. 193275.
Webster's New World Dictionary: 2nd College Edition. New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1982.

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

247

Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross and


Selling in American Drama
Let me give a detailed consideration here of Glengarry Glen Ross (1984)
and the subject of salesmen or selling. Glengarry Glen Ross has two,
very different acts. In its three scenes, the first act offers three variations,
each cast in duet-form, on the theme of persuasion. The setting is a Chinese restaurant in Chicago. In scene one, Shelly the Machine Levene,
once a leading salesman but now fading badly, tries with increasing desperation to get the office manager, John Williamson, to give him the best
leads, or appointments with prospective customersresorting eventually to (but not succeeding in) bribery. In the second scene, the mutually
consoling gestures made by the frustrated no-hoper Moss toward the
already defeated Aaronow turn out to be a tactic designed to compromise
the latter manby involving him in a plan to rob the real-estate office
and sell the hot leads. Scene three, like scene two, also involves deception in tandem with persuasion. Richard Roma, the current star salesman
and ruler of the office, first hypnotizes a Milque-toast called Lingk
with some unbuttoned philosophizing, then pounces on his sales prey.
Roma seemed to be relaxing as he talked, but in fact he was artfully doing his job. The top prize of a Cadillac in the office selling-contest is
almost his. (The second man wins a set of steak knives, while the bottom
two salesmen get fired.)
Act II harnesses and combines the dynamic energy of these three
encounters in a more or less conventional plot structure. It is the next
morning, the real-estate office or boiler room has been ransacked, and
the leads have been stolen. Throughout the act the salesmen are called
into an adjoining room for questioning by a detective named Baylen.
Levene joins Aaronow, Moss, and Roma in the office, where he wants to
celebrate and recount his closing of a big salewhich is later revealed
to be a dud. Then Lingk arrives to cancel Roma's sale to him. Roma stalls
with Levene's clever help, but when Williamson mentions that this customer's check has already been cashed, Lingk rushes out and the deal is
doomed. Williamson is abusively berated for opening his mouth, first by
Roma and next by Levene, but when the latter lets slip that he knows

248

Play Analysis: A Reader

Williamson lied about the check, he betrays his own guilt for the robbery. Only the thief could have known that Lingk's check, instead of
being deposited at the bank, remained sitting on the office manager's
desk. Williamson reports Levene to the police. Levene squeals on Dave
Moss. And Roma resumes his predatory quest for the Cadillacbut not
before making sure that he takes financial advantage of the pathetic,
defenseless Levene.
Such an account of the plot of Glengarry Glen Ross barely hints
at the linguistic virtuosity of Mamet's writing. There is a rich orchestration of voices, sounding the whirling idiom of sales-speakleads,
sits, closes, boards, streakswhich is rhythmically sustained by
a constant stream of highly expressive obscenities. The very opacity of
the languageits ellipses, parataxis, and concealment (as opposed to
exposition)makes us aware of speech as act, as something that functions rhetorically rather than as a lucid medium of transmission or communication. For the salesman is a rhetorician whose job hinges on the
power of speech, the act of utterance, the theater of the word. Whatever
the words used, the rhythms, the tones, the pauses, the fragments are
designed to bully, to cajole, to advance, to retreat, to seduce, to impress.
(High-speed Pinter, wrote one reviewer, and Harold Pinter happens to
be the play's dedicatee.) As Mamet himself has said, The salesmen
[where I worked] were primarily performers. They went into people's
living rooms and performed their play about investment properties, just
as Roma improvises one fiction after another in order to snare Lingk.
Indeed, these men seem never to stop performing, even when they are
alone with one another: aggressive selling has become for them not
merely a profession but a means of being, to the point that they are imprisoned within the sales-talking lingo of their lives.
The fiction that the salesmen play out among themselves concerns
the frontier ethic. This is the idea that success is attained not only
through self-reliance and hard work, through the drive and initiative of
the rugged individualist, but also through the partnership, dependability,
and fellowship of other men. Thus Levene can declare at one point that
You have to believe in yourself, and at another that your partner de-

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

249

pends on you . . . you have to go with him and for him . . . you can't exist
alone. The predatory individualism of these men, however, introduces
an inevitable, irremediable contradiction into the frontier ethic, which
then becomes a vehicle for the domination of others in relationships
founded on professional rivalry. Originally practiced at the expense of
the Indians as well as other Americans, the frontier ethic in Glengarry
Glen Ross is practiced at the expense of bottom-feeders like George
Aaronow and their cliental counterpartslike James Lingk. He desperately needs to believe in something or someone and is conned into thinking that, through the existential act of purchase, he is affirming his essential, authentic being. What he buys, ironically, is the very land that was
once taken from the Indians and has itself become a waste product of our
Manifest Destiny.
Often called a Death of a Salesman for the 1980s, Glengarry Glen
Ross may surpass Arthur Miller's play in its assault on the American way
of making a living, for it launches that assault without a single tendentious line, without a trace of sentiment, with no social generalizations. At
once savage and compassionate, trenchant and implicit, radical and stoical, sad and comic, Mamet's drama does not feature any deaths at its
conclusion. A worse death has already begun for its salesmen, who are
metaphorical rather than literal victims of a merciless and venal economic system. Death of a Salesman (1949) and Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman
Cometh (published 1940, produced 1946) do feature deaths at their conclusions, and these two plays about selling call for some discussion, as
does Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)yet another drama that has a salesman as one of its principal figures and that,
along with the other two, makes up a triumvirate of the most important
plays of the 1940s.
Drawing on the cultural archetype of the salesman at a time when
America was proudly emerging as the richest and most powerful country
on earth, Miller, O'Neill, and Williams exposed the contradictions underlying our apparent success (even as Mamet chose to do so during the
booming eighties, when greed was good). In all three of their plays,
significantly, it is at most vague as to what the salesmen are actually

250

Play Analysis: A Reader

selling. As is well known, we never find out what Willy Loman is selling. We know that Stanley Kowalski travels for an unnamed firm that
apparently manufactures and markets some kind of machinery, since we
hear that Mitch works on the precision bench in the spare parts department. At the plant Stanley travels for (40)which is all we ever hear of
it. In The Iceman Cometh, O'Neill describes Hickey as a hardware
drummer, but we get no further details about his hardware, which seems
to have to do more with sex or death (hardware being a slang term for,
among other things, that archetypal phallic symbol, a gun) than with any
real product. Willy Loman, Stanley Kowalski, and Hickey, then, are
disassociated from the merchandise they sell. And the vagueness of their
products underlines the allegorical nature of their selling; each is an
American everyman, in an America where what is produced becomes
ever less tangible, ever more removed from reality. These three don't sell
stuff, they sell illusionor themselves in the form of their winning
personalities.
Oddly enough, however, these three salesmen don't see themselves in this way. All three consider themselves clear-eyed realists,
devoted to a reality that seems as tangible to them, in the 1940s, as the
Brooklyn Bridge. The salesmen of Glengarry Glen Ross are realists, too,
out for all they can get and having no scruples about how they get it;
their amorality, particularly in the case of Roma, is the very source of
their charm. But these three salesmen of the forties are not amoral; they
all have a similar moral code consisting of a stern belief in the necessity
of rejecting illusion and facing up to reality. They not only are realists,
they preach realism, toosell it, if you will. Unfortunately for them and
those around them, however, their reality is an imaginary one, in the
end as treacherous as the illusions the salesmen are out to destroy.
Stanley Kowalski himself seems cruder than the other two salesmen. His animal nature is much remarked upon: he drinks beer, copulates, plays games, smashes light bulbs, paws through Blanche's wardrobe, throws plates on the floor, even commits rape. Yet he doesn't just
do these things aimlessly or impulsively. His objective is always to deflate pretense: Look at these feathers and furs that she [Blanche] come

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

251

here to preen herself in! (35). He is proud of having pulled Stella down
off them columns of Belle Reve, and wants to pull Blanche down off
them, too. He is also proud of being Polish, being American, being a
Louisianan under the Napoleonic code. As Stanley bellows to his wife
and sister-in-law, What do you two think you are? A pair of queens?
Remember what Huey Long saidEvery Man is a King! (107). Even
his rape of Blanche seems motivated more by a desire to pierce her illusions than her body. Stanley is a dark version of the salesman, selling the
idealistic Blanche a harsh reality on the specious grounds that it is somehow good for her, and willing to use force, if necessary, to make the sale.
Willy Loman is a more sympathetic figure than Stanley Kowalski,
but ultimately he is even more destructive. His vision of reality is that
simply being well liked is the key to all worldly and spiritual success:
It's not what you do, Ben. It's who you know and the smile on your
face! It's contacts, Ben, contacts! . . . That's the wonder, the wonder of
this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being
liked! (86). On the face of it, this is a remarkably cynical philosophy,
glorifying personal contacts while scorning traditional values like education and hard work. The odd thing about Willy, however, is that he does
not think of these views as cynical, but rather as something fine, the
wonder of this country. In other words, like Stanley and, as we shall see
shortly, Hickey, he is another realist, preaching his own ideal.
Another odd aspect of Willy is that his views don't seem to convince anybody else in the play, any more than they do the audience.
Charley, for example, counters Willy's modern view with a more traditional cynicism: Why must everybody like you? Who liked J. P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he'd look like a butcher. But
with his pockets on he was very well liked (97). Furthermore, Willy's
philosophy is proved wrong over and over again in the play, as applied to
his sons Biff and Happy, to Bernard the boy next door, and to Willy
himself, who ends up feeling lonely and not well liked by anybody. You
are the saddest, self-centeredest soul I ever did see-saw, says the tellingly perceptive Woman in the hotel room, Miller's version of the farmer's
daughter, who then quickly follows up with the words Come on inside,

252

Play Analysis: A Reader

drummer boy (116). Finally, despite all evidence to the contrary, Willy
buys his own warped reality for good by killing himself, foolishly convinced that Biff will benefit materially as well as spiritually from his
death.
Hickey in The Iceman Cometh is another realist who preaches his
own ideal. Like Willy, he too believes that the key to success is in being
well liked: I'd met a lot of drummers around the hotel and liked 'em.
They were always telling jokes. They were sports. They kept moving. I
liked their life. And I knew I could kid people and sell things (233).
And sell he did, by playing on people's pipe-dreams and making them
like him. Yet, like Willy, Hickey repeatedly complains of being lonely.
Like Willy, he has taken up with a woman, or women, other than his
wife, a fact that hovers around the play in the form of the sex joke that is
never actually told, but which nonetheless gives The Iceman Cometh its
title. There are several versions of this joke, one of which goes like this:
a man comes home and calls upstairs to his wife, Honey, did the iceman
come yet? Not yet, she calls back, but he's breathing hard. The
iceman is a salesman who beds another man's wife, and who sells icea
symbol of coldness, hardness, and death. He is another realist, a purveyor of the cold, hard truth. In popular slang, to ice someone is to kill
him, and ultimately Hickey is an iceman too, icing his wife and icing
himself in the end.
Like Willy, then, Hickey is ultimately selling death. And who are
the suckers doing the buying? Certainly the Lumpenproletariat in the bar
form a group of them, and Hickey, like Stanley, is trying to sell them a
harsh reality, puncturing their pipe-dreams in the way that Stanley brutally punctured Blanche's illusions. In the end, however, the people in the
bar aren't buying Hickey's vision, returning to the pipe-dreams that sustain them. In a sense, they are salesmen, too, trying desperately to sell
their dreams to anyone who will listen, as well as to themselves. Their
pipe-dreams are not just pleasant reveries to sustain them through life's
tribulations; they are ideals that they must repeat, over and over, for each
sale quickly wears off and creates the challenge to sell yet again.

Model Essays: Comparison, Contrast, and Influence

253

A notable difference between Hickey and Willy, like that between


Roma and Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross, is that Hickey is a successful
salesman. That is, he has been one, until he takes up trying to sell the
reality-ideal. Selling was easy for him, so easy that, unlike Willy, he
seems to have unlimited amounts of money, and he certainly has not lost
his job. He really was well liked; his customers, who readily bought
what he sold, did not drop him as he agedinstead, he dropped them. Of
course, the biggest sucker of all was his wife, Evelyn, who always
bought his slick tales and who always forgave him, even when he
brought her home a case of venereal disease. In the end, Hickey came to
hate all the suckers, including Evelyn, and he killed her. It is as if the
seller threw the sucker off the Brooklyn Bridge after having sold it to
him, in contempt for his being such an easy mark, and then dove in after
him, in contempt for himself.
The Iceman Cometh makes a more profound statement about
American life than Death of a Salesman because O'Neill realized, as he
also did in Long Day's Journey into Night (1941) and as Mamet was later
to realize in Glengarry Glen Ross, that the tragedy of America is not a
tragedy of failure but rather one of success. Willy clings to his foolish
ideal until the very end, despite its obviously having failed him; Hickey
rejects that very ideal of fitting in and being liked, because it has succeeded for him too easily and too well. Unfortunately, he substitutes for
his ideal another ideal, one more insidious because it seems so concrete
and obvious. In the end, however, it is just as manipulative and condescending to destroy people's illusions as it is to feed, or feed off, them. A
realism that ignores human suffering is no genuine realism at all.
That kind of selective, blind-eyed realism began, perhaps more
than ever before, to characterize America in the 1940s, when the country
had reached the pinnacle of its success. The wars that had brought disaster to much of the world did relatively little damage to the United States;
in fact, they made the nation stronger and wealthier than ever. At the
same time, there was a growing unease in the country. As in Hickey's
case, America's success seemed easy, yet finally hollow and frustrating.
Why, its citizens plaintively asked, wasn't American success recognized

254

Play Analysis: A Reader

as the solid, realistic achievement it obviously was? Why did alien philosophies like Communism appeal only to those with foolish pipedreams? Why did traditional societies not abandon their elaborate social
structures, their customs and conventions, their myths and ritualsall
foolish pipe-dreams of their ownin favor of the new Capitalist order in
which everyone was equal in his opportunity to maximize his gain?
Americans, the great pragmatists, apparently would have to sell their
brand of realism to the rest of the world for its own good.
This realism, called Capitalism or Free Enterprise, certainly
looked solid. What could be more realistic than appealing to human
acquisitiveness? A society that rejected tradition and culture, turning
everyone into a seller or a buyer instead, was tough, strong, genuine,
even moral in its way. The rest of the world was populated by oldfashioned idealistic suckers who would have to learn that greed was
good. America would sell them its view and destroy their illusions.
Americans weren't suckers but do-good traveling salesmen to the whole
world. Ultimately, America would try to sell its brand of realism to the
Vietnamese, the Nicaraguans, the Salvadorans, even to the Russians, and
then the Iraqis and Afghanis, never realizing thatlike Stanley and
Hickey and Willy, Roma, Levene, and Mosswhat it was, and is, actually selling is death.
Bibliography
O'Neill, Eugene. The Iceman Cometh. New York: Random House, 1946.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking / Penguin, 1949.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Signet /
New American Library, 1947.

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL RESOURCES
Altenbernd, Lynn, and Leslie Lisle Lewis. A Handbook for the Study of
Drama. New York: Macmillan, 1966.
American Drama Criticism: Interpretations, 18901977 (plus Supplements to 1992). Hamden, Connecticut: Shoe String Press, 1979
1992.
Arranged alphabetically by playwright and sub-categorized by the title of the
work, these volumes list journal articles and reviews that appear in academic
journals, general magazines, and theater publications.

American Playwrights Since 1945: A Guide to Scholarship, Criticism,


and Performance. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press,
1989.
Informative and economically written, this book is a useful tool for theatre and
literary practitioners. This guide to the state of research on forty major American
playwrights and the history of their productions is among the first of its kind. It
is actually many books: a bibliography, a stage history, an assessment of scholarly works about each playwright, and an invaluable guide to the types of research studiesbiographical, bibliographical and criticalthat remain to be
done on each playwright. The essays were written by leading experts in American drama and theatre and focus on playwrights whose works have in some way
shaped and influenced the American stage. Each essay follows a standard format
and provides information on the playwright's reputation and achievements; primary bibliography; production history of where, when, how often, and how well
his or her works were performed; a rigorous identification and evaluation of
secondary materials in bibliographies, biographies, influence studies, and general works; analyses of plays; and, most significantly, a detailed analysis of future research opportunities.

Ball, David. Backwards & Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading


Plays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.
Barry, Jackson. Dramatic Structure: The Shaping of Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.
British Playwrights, 18801956: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996.

255

256

Play Analysis: A Reader

British Playwrights, 19561995: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Burgoyne, Suzanne, and Patricia Downey. Thinking through Script Analysis. Boston: Focus Publishing / R. Pullins Co., 2012.
Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2007.
Cambridge Guide to Theatre. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Alphabetical listing of theatre culture and history, attempting to present a comprehensive view of the history and present practice of theatre in all parts of the
world, thus pointing to the dynamic interaction of performance traditions from
all cultures in present day theatre.

Cambridge History of American Theatre. 3 vols. New York: Cambridge


University Press, 2006.
Cambridge History of British Theatre. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2004. Three-volume set covering the history of theatrical
performance in Britain. v. 1: Origins to 1660; v. 2: 16601895;
v. 3: since 1895.
Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama. 2 vols. New York: Columbia
University Press, 2007.
Covers 1860 to the present. Entries emphasize the cultural context of dramatic
works and their authors and their relationship to significant social, political, artistic, and philosophical movements. Includes articles on emerging authors and
the conventional and experimental theater worldwide.

Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1993.
This concise version of the acclaimed Oxford Companion to the Theatre covers
all aspects of theatre worldwide and throughout the ages. It contains entries on a
vast range of theatrical styles, dramatists, performers, and directors, as well as
information on theatres, festivals, and such technical topics as lighting, sound,
and method acting.

Bibliographical Resources

257

Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. London: St. James Press, 1999.


Provides biographical and bibliographic information, as well as brief critical essays, on 433 English-language dramatists, all of whom were alive at the time of
its publication. Most are from North America and the British Isles.

Dictionary of the Theatre: Terms, Concepts, and Analysis. Toronto:


University of Toronto Press, 1998.
While covering much of the basic historical and literary terminology of the discipline, this dictionary emphasizes the specialized theoretical vocabulary that is
now regularly employed in theoretical writing about the theatre.

Dramatic Index for 19091949. Boston: Boston Book Co., 19091952.


The Dramatic Index serves as an index to books, journal articles, illustrations,
play texts and reviews. Covers general and specialized English-language periodicals. Articles are entered under subject only, with reviews of plays found under
the title of the play. An important but often overlooked resource.

Esslin, Martin. An Anatomy of Drama. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976.
European Drama Criticism, 19001975. 2nd ed. Hamden, Connecticut:
Shoe String Press, 1977.
A comprehensive listing of criticism which has appeared in books and periodicals in English and foreign languages, from 1900 to 1975. Arrangement is alphabetical by playwright, with plays alphabetized under the playwright. Crossreferences are included.

Fliotsos, Anne L. Interpreting the Play Script: Contemplation and Analysis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Griffiths, Richard. Reading Drama. London: Hodder and Stoughton,
2001.
Gross, Roger. Understanding Playscripts: Theory and Method. Bowling
Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1974.
Grote, David. Script Analysis: Reading and Understanding the Playscript for Production. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1985.
A Guide to Critical Reviews. New York: Scarecrow Press, 19661971.
Contents: pt. 1. American drama from O'Neill to Albee; pt. 2. The musical from
Rodgers and Hart to Lerner and Loewe; pt. 3. British & continental drama from
Ibsen to Pinter; pt. 4. The screenplay, from The Jazz Singer to Dr. Strangelove
(2 vols.). 2nd edition, 19731976: Contents: pt. 1. American drama, 19091969;

258

Play Analysis: A Reader


pt. 2. The musical, 19091974; pt. 3. Foreign drama, 19091977. 3rd edition,
19841991: Contents: pt. 1. American drama, 19091982; pt. 2. The musical,
19091989.

Hayman, Ronald. How to Read a Play. New York: Grove Press, 1977.
How to Locate Reviews of Plays and Films: A Bibliography of Criticism
from the Beginnings to the Present. Metuchen, New Jersey:
Scarecrow Press, 1976.
Lists resources for finding theatrical reviews, including indexing services, theatre periodicals, reference guides, etc. Somewhat dated, but still useful for historical research.

Ingham, Rosemary. From Page to Stage: How Theatre Designers Make


Connections Between Scripts and Images. Portsmouth, New
Hampshire: Heinemann, 1998.
International Bibliography of Theatre. New York: Publishing Center for
Cultural Resources, CUNY, 19821999.
A comprehensive annual bibliography covering theatre on an international basis.
Contains an extensive subject index.

International Dictionary of Theatre. 3 vols. Chicago: St. James Press,


19921996.
In three volumes, Vol. 1: Plays, Vol. 2: Playwrights, and Vol. 3: Actors, Directors, and Designers. Entries for plays provide a synopsis of the play, date of first
publication and production, and a selected list of critical material. Entries for
playwrights provide a discussion of the playwrights work, a list of works, and a
short list of general criticism. Entries for actors, directors and designers provide
basic biographical information, a list of their roles, and a short list of other biographical sources.

An International Dictionary of Theatre Language. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1985.


15,000 terms described spanning theater history from ancient times to the present day. Extensive bibliography and numerous cross references make this a
valuable research tool.

Kiely, Damon. Script Analysis for Directors: How to Read a Play. New
York: Focal Press, 2016.

Bibliographical Resources

259

Leonard, John, and Mary Luckhurst. The Drama Handbook: A Guide to


Reading Plays. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Levitt, Paul M. A Structural Approach to the Analysis of Drama. The
Hague, Netherlands: Mouton, 1971.
Longman, Stanley V. Page and Stage: An Approach to Script Analysis.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004.
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama: An International Reference
Work in Five Volumes. 2nd ed. 5 vols. New York: McGraw-Hill,
1984.
The purpose of the book is to present, in the clearest possible format, factual information and critical evaluations of numerous dramatists work and stature.
Most entries contain a biographical sketch, a brief critique of the dramatists
work, a selection of synopses of his or her plays, a bibliography of editions and
usually a list of critical and biographical works. Emphasis is on English and
Western European playwrights. Includes some general essays on drama of the
world as well as many photographs taken during actual productions.

Meisel, Martin. How Plays Work: Reading and Performance. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2007.
Millett, Fred B. Reading Drama: A Method of Analysis with Selections
for Study. 1950. Freeport, New York: Books-for-Libraries Press,
1970.
Modern Drama Scholarship and Criticism, 19661980: An International
Bibliography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986.
A classified, selective list of publications on world drama since Ibsen, this volume is intended mainly for students of modern dramatic literature. Play and
playwright, rather than performance and performer, hold center stage.

Modern Drama Scholarship and Criticism, 19811990: An International


Bibliography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.
Updates and continues the previous volume, with additions and corrections to it.
Emphasizes contemporary theory and performance theory more than its predecessor. Continues as an annual bibliography published in the journal Modern
Drama.

Muneroni, Stefano. Play Analysis: The Dramaturgical Turn. Dubuque,


Iowa: Kendall Hunt, 2004.

260

Play Analysis: A Reader

Murray, Edward. Varieties of Dramatic Structure: A Study of Theory and


Practice. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America,
1990.
NTC's Dictionary of Theatre and Drama Terms. Lincolnwood, Illinois:
National Textbook Co., 1992.
New York Theatre Critics Reviews. New York: Critics Theatre Reviews,
Inc., 19401994.
This is a complete guide and record of the New York stage, reprinted from the
New York Sun, New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, New York Post, New
York Daily News, New York World Telegram, Wall Street Journal, Time, Women's Wear Daily, Christian Science Monitor, and Newsweek.

Oxford Companion to the Theatre. 4th edition. New York: Oxford University Press, l983.
This handbook provides information on every aspect of the theatre up to the end
of l982. Coverage is international in scope. Some articles deal with contemporary theatre in foreign countries, dramatic criticism, musical comedy, scenery,
opera, Shakespearean Festivals, and blacks in the American theatre. All articles
are signed. Separate sections in the back include a select list of theatre books,
and notes on the illustrations.

Oxford Dictionary of Plays. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.


The Oxford Dictionary of Plays provides essential information on the 1000 bestknown, best-loved, and most important plays in world theater. Each entry includes details of title, author, date of composition, date of first performance,
genre, setting, and the composition of the cast, and more. A synopsis of the plot
and a brief commentary, perhaps on the context of the play, or the reasons for its
enduring popularity, follow. Around 80 of the most significant playsfrom The
Oresteia to Waiting for Godotare dealt with in more detail. Genres covered
include: burlesque, comedy, farce, historical drama, kabuki, masque, melodrama, morality play, mystery play, Noh, romantic comedy, tragicomedy, satire,
and tragedy.

Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance. 2 vols. New York:


Oxford University Press, 2003.
Provides information about theatre and performance internationally, through history and in the present. The 4300 entries are complemented by over 100 illustrations. Coverage ranges from ancient Greek theatre to 21st century developments
in London, Paris, New York, and around the globe. Pays special attention to
non-Western styles through articles on theatre and performance throughout Asia

Bibliographical Resources

261

and Africa, often written by practitioners or critics from those areas. Dance,
opera, performance art, radio, film, and television are covered at length. Also
embraces para-theatrical, non-dramatic, and popular performance, including ritual, carnivals, parades, the circus, and public executions. Biographical entries
cover the lives and work of major figures from the past and present: actors,
playwrights, directors, designers, and critics. Entries on cities and regions place
performance in its local social and political context.

Oxford Companion to American Theatre. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford


University Press, 2004.
A guide to the American stage from its beginnings to the present, the volume includes playwrights, plays, actors, directors, producers, songwriters, famous
playhouses, dramatic movements, etc. The book covers classic works (such as
Death of a Salesman) as well as many commercially successful plays (such as
Getting Gertie's Garter), plus entries on foreign figures that have influenced
dramatic development in the U.S. (from Shakespeare to Beckett and Pinter).
New entries include relatively recent plays such as Angels in America and Six
Degrees of Separation, performers such as Eric Bogosian and Bill Irwin, playwrights like David Henry Hwang and Wendy Wasserstein, and relevant developments and issues including theatrical producing by Disney and the rise in solo
performance.

Pfister, Manfred. The Theory and Analysis of Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Play Index. Bronx, New York: H. W. Wilson Co.
Index to more than 30,000 plays written from antiquity to the present and published from 1949 to the present; includes mysteries, pageants, plays in verse,
puppet performances, radio and television plays, and classic drama.

Pritner, Cal, and Scott Walters. Introduction to Play Analysis. New York:
McGraw-Hill, 2004.
Reaske, Christopher R. How to Analyze Drama. 1966. New York: Monarch, 1984.
Rodriguez, Domingo. Conceptual Thinking: A New Method of Play
Analysis. New York: World Audience, 2008.
Rush, David. A Student Guide to Play Analysis. Carbondale: Southern
Illinois University Press, 2005.
Sanger, Keith. The Language of Drama. London: Routledge, 2000.

262

Play Analysis: A Reader

Scolnicov, Hanna, and Peter Holland. Reading Plays: Interpretation and


Reception. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Styan, J. L. The Dramatic Experience: A Guide to the Reading of Plays.
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Theatre: A Book of Words. Manchester: Carcanet, 1993.
Defines approximately 1200 contemporary and historical theatrical terms. Bibliography included.

Thomas, James. Script Analysis for Actors, Directors, and Designers. 4th
ed. New York: Focal Press, 2009.
20th-Century Theatre. 2 vols. New York: Facts on File, 1983.
This work is designed to offer an overview of theatre activity in North America
and the British Isles since 1900, and to provide a date-finder for those who
want information about a particular theatre event, production, personality or
playhouse. Arrangement is chronological, beginning with 1900 and ending with
1979. Within each year, arrangement is by month and covers theatre productions, American and British play premieres, revivals and repertoires, and births,
deaths, and dbuts. An author, title, subject index at the end of the volume helps
to provide access to specific items. There is, in addition, an excellent bibliography of books about the theater.

Vena, Gary. How to Read and Write about Drama. New York: Arco,
1988.
Waxberg, Charles S. The Actor's Script: Script Analysis for Performers.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1998.
Who's Who in Contemporary World Theatre. New York: Routledge,
2000.
Contains 1,400 brief biographical entries on theater artistsactors, directors,
designers, dramatistsfrom 68 countries. Excludes those primarily working in
dance and opera.

World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, 6 vols. New York:


Routledge, 19942000.
Beginning with 1945, surveys the range of national theatrical activity on a country-by-country basis from a specifically national standpoint. Each article covers
a nations theatrical history, artistic trends, structure of its theatre community, artistic profile, dance theatre, youth theatre, puppet theatre, theatre space and architecture, theatrical training, theatre criticism, scholarship and publishing. Bib-

Bibliographical Resources

263

liographies included. v. 1., Europe; v. 2., Americas; v. 3, Africa; v. 4, Arab


World; v. 5, Asia; v. 6., Bibliography / Cumulative index.

World Shakespeare Bibliography. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins


University Press, 19682003.
Published for the Folger Shakespeare Library. Electronic coverage as of June 3,
2003. When complete, it will provide annotated entries for all important books,
articles, book reviews, dissertations, theatrical productions, reviews of productions, audiovisual materials, electronic media, and other scholarly and popular
materials related to Shakespeare and published or produced since 1900.

GLOSSARY OF DRAMATIC TERMS


Act: traditional segmentation of a play that indicates a change in time,
action, or location, and helps to organize a play's dramatic structure.
Plays may be composed of acts that, in turn, are composed of scenes.
Action: the physical activity or accomplishment of a character's intentions. Aristotle describes tragedy as an imitation of an action, meaning
that a character's choices are not simply narrated but acted out onstage.
Moreover, a play as an imitation of an action means that the several
events of the play together constitute one large human action; in this
sense, action refers to the entire core of meaning of the events depicted
onstage.
Agon: literally, a contest; an ancient Greek term used to denote the fundamental conflict in any drama.
Allegory: an extended metaphor in which characters, objects, and actions
represent abstract concepts or principles in a drama that conveys a moral
lesson. Allegorical plays were especially popular in medieval England.
Anagnorisis: the moment of recognitionof understanding, awareness,
comprehension, or enlightenmentthat is achieved when the main character discovers his true relationship to the incidents in the plot and to the
other characters within it, that is, to what has occurred and why. This
term was first described by Aristotle in his Poetics.
Antagonist: the person or force that opposes the protagonist or main
character in a play. The term derives from the Greek word meaning opponent or rival.
Antihero: a protagonist or central character who lacks the qualities typically associated with heroismfor example, bravery, morality, or good
looksbut still manages to earn sympathy from the spectator.

265

266

Play Analysis: A Reader

Aside: a theatrical convention (commonly used in drama prior to the


nineteenth century but less often afterwards) in which a character, unnoticed and unheard by the other characters onstage, speaks frankly to the
audience.
Blank verse: the verse form most like everyday speech; in English, unrhymed iambic pentameter. This is the form in which the great majority
of English verse plays, including Shakespeare's, are written.
Burlesque: a satirical play with a strong element of parody (especially of
a work by the author's rival). Sheridan's The Critic and Gay's The Beggar's Opera are examples of this type. In late-nineteenth-century America, burlesques incorporating music and elements of fantasy became a
popular medium for vaudeville or variety shows featuring bawdy sexual
humor.
Catalyst: a character whose function in a play is to introduce a change or
disruption into a stable situation and, thus, to initiate the action of the
play; the catalyst is often involved in the drama's inciting incident.
Catastasis: Greek word for the crisis or turning pointthe height of the
actionin a play.
Catharsis: the emotional release or sense of relief a spectator may feel at
the end of a tragedy. In the Poetics, Aristotle posits that the proper aim of
tragedy is to arouse pity and fear and effectively rid the body of these
feelings, and catharsis is the term he uses to describe this purging of
emotions.
Character: the word for a person in a play and the word for the qualities
of mind and spirit which constitute that person. In drama, actors must
demonstrate character through mimesis or imitation rather than narration.

Glossary of Dramatic Terms

267

Climactic plot: a plot that has one or more of the following characteristics: begins late in the story, toward the very end of climax; covers a
short space of time, perhaps a few hours, or at most a few days; contains
a few solid, extended scenes, such as three acts with each act comprising
one long scene; occurs in a restricted locale, one room or one house;
contains a limited number of characters, usually no more than six to
eight; is linear and moves in a single line with few, if any, subplots or
counterplots; proceeds in a cause-and-effect chain, with its characters
linked in a sequence of logical, almost inevitable development. Ibsen's
Ghosts and Hedda Gabler both incorporate climactic plots.
Climax: The moment when the root conflict of the play is resolved. At
this moment the root action ceases. The climax is the final, culminating
event in the dramatic action, the moment toward which the action of the
play has been pointing or moving. The statement of the climax must be
narrowed to a single incident, usually the high dramatic moment of the
script. After this moment there may be clarification, but there is no more
conflict.
Comedy: from the Greek word komos, meaning band of revelers,
comedy is a form of drama that is distinguished by humorous content and
endings that are, on balance, happy ones. Most comedies attempt to
highlight or satirize absurdities of their society's norms and values. Comedy is concerned with human beings in their social capacity and is therefore heavily dependent on codes of conduct, manners, and morality,
which it uses to express or imply a standard against which deviations are
measured.
Comedy of manners: a form of comedy that satirizes the foibles of the
upper class and the aristocracy by means of witty dialogue and the ridicule of artificial social decorum. The form originated in the late seventeenth century in England, during the Restoration, in the works of William Wycherley, William Congreve, and others.

268

Play Analysis: A Reader

Commedia dell'arte: literally comedy of professional players in Italian. A genre of Italian theater that emerged at the end of the sixteenth
century, continued into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and,
from there, spread its influence throughout Europe. Performance relied
on the portrayal of stock characterssome of which were derived from
Roman comic typesand the improvisation of action and dialogue
around a basic (but well-known) plot outline.
Complication: any new element that changes the direction of the dramatic action; discovery is the substance of most complications.
Confidant(e): a character in whom the principal character confides, such
as Horatio in Hamlet.
Conflict: the central problem in the plot, the obstacle hindering a character from getting what he or she wants. Often, the diverging interests of
the protagonist and antagonist create conflict. The rise and fall of conflict
is often said to be the indispensable element of any play.
Crisis: Term used in discussion of play structure to designate the point at
which the complications of the plot come to a head and, thenceforth,
determine the direction of the rest of the play; synonymous with turning
point or peripeteia.
Cyclical plot: a plot in which the play ends in much the same way it
began, rendering the action of the play more or less static or futile for the
characters involved, who remain essentially unchanged. Samuel Beckett's
Waiting for Godot has a cyclical or circular plot.
Decorum: literally, that which is fitting; applied to action and events
thought to be in harmony with the spirit of the play and with conventions
governing character presentationfor instance, lofty poetry for noblemen and prose for rustics and common people in Elizabethan drama.

Glossary of Dramatic Terms

269

Dnouement: Literally, the untying (synonymous with the catastrophe,


which itself mean downturn or overturning) in a play, the point in
which the loose ends or mysteries of a plot are tied up or revealed. The
dnouement usually comes with, or shortly after, the climax.
Deus ex machina: literally, a god emerging from a machine (Latin).
The crane used for special effects in fifth-century Greek theater would
suspend an actor in midair and propel him over the playing space. Dramatists, especially Euripides, often utilized the device to introduce a god
who would appear at the end of the play and miraculously resolve the
plot. The term is used in contemporary criticism to describe a sudden and
contrived or arbitrary resolution of a difficult situation.
Dialogue: language spoken by the characters in a play, normally in exchange with each other. Dialogue differs from narration because it is
delivered in the first person and seeks to imitate human interaction and
convey the artistic purpose of the playwright.
Diction: the language of a play; one of the six elements that Aristotle
listed as essential to the drama.
Domestic tragedy: a form of drama, popularized at the start of the eighteenth century in England, that deals with the fortunes of middle-class or
mercantile characters rather than the upper class or aristocracy, which
had been the traditional focus of tragedy.
Dramatic irony: the irony produced when the audience is aware of
something that a character or characters in the play do not yet know. It is
frequently used to heighten tension or suspense, or to increase our sympathy and understanding.
Dramatis personae: literally, people in the drama (Latin). A character
list identifying important characters in the play and their relationships,
intended to help the reader or spectator understand the actions and interactions occurring onstage.

270

Play Analysis: A Reader

Dramaturg: a theatrical professional involved in the development and


revival of plays. Dramaturgs are trained in dramatic theory, theater practice, and the history of drama and are thereby equipped to serve in a
number of artistic capacities: as a sounding board for directorial concepts, as an extra set of eyes in the rehearsal room, and as a production
researcher.
Epic Theater: Bertolt Brecht's model theater intended to serve as an
alternative to Aristotelian theater with its emphasis on continuous plot
and tight construction. The Epic Theater addresses human reason rather
than feeling, thus discouraging passivity, so that the spectator leaves the
theater with a sense that the current social order is alterable and that
action is necessary. In this theater, political action takes precedence over
aesthetic wonder. The term estrangement effect (Verfremdungseffekt in
German) refers to an important technique employed by Epic Theater
practitioners because it places responsibility on the audience to observe,
rather than identify with, the characters. Onstage events are performed in
an unfamiliar or unexpected manner, thereby provoking responses of
surprise or curiosity on the audience's part and prompting a desire to
effect change.
Epilogue: a concluding address by an actor or group of actors that is
directed toward the audience and sums up the play's action; also an additional scene, following the resolution of a play, intended to comment on
the preceding events and offer a final perspective on the part of the
dramatist.

Glossary of Dramatic Terms

271

Episodic plot: a plot that has one or more of the following characteristics: begins relatively early in the story and moves through a series of
episodes; covers a long period of time: weeks, months, and sometimes
many years; contains many short, fragmented scenes and sometimes an
alternation of short and long scenes; may range over an entire city or
even several countries; contains a profusion of characters, sometimes
several dozen; frequently marked by several threads of action, such as
two parallel plots, or scenes of comic relief in a serious play; contains
scenes that are juxtaposed to another, and in which an event may result
from several causes or emerge from a network or web of circumstances.
Shakespeare's plays generally incorporate episodic plots.
Exposition: information, often delivered near the beginning of a play,
that reveals something essential for the audience's understanding of the
world of the play or the story's given circumstances, as well as the basic
relationships between characters and events that have taken place offstage or earlier.
Expressionism: a literary and theatrical movement that originated in
Europe just before the twentieth century but flourished from 19101925.
Spurred by the overwhelming social and political upheaval of World War
I, expressionist dramatists strove to emphasize the moral crisis of the
modern, industrial world dominated by machines and masses of people.
In expressionist plays the characters are often nameless and defined solely by their occupations; use primal gesture (exaggerated, emotive movement); speak stylized dialogue that emphasizes certain words or expressions; and inhabit a theatrical world that includes exaggerated or distorted, macabre or dreamlike, images. In this way, expressionist drama seeks
to project onto the stage the emotional perspective or state of mind of the
protagonist.
Falling action: term used in discussion of dramatic structure to indicate
the period in the play after the crisis or turning point has been reached, in
which the complications of the rising action are untangled and the action
moves to its destined end.

272

Play Analysis: A Reader

Farce: a genre of fast-paced comedy characterized by rapid stage action,


a series of misunderstandings in an otherwise highly improbable plot,
ludicrous characterizations, and abundant physical humor.
Foil: a character whose qualities or traits highlight those of another. In
Shakespeare's Hamlet, for instance, Laertes serves as a foil to Hamlet
because both are put in the position of avenging a murdered father.
Fourth wall: theatrical term applied to the realist stage, where actors no
longer played directly to the audience but instead focused on each other.
In nineteenth-century England, the convention became increasingly popular and stage sets were designed to replicate a traditional room with
three walls, the fourth wall (that is, the proscenium arch, or front of the
stage) being open for observation of the action by the audience.
Hamartia: the Greek term used by Aristotle to describe a character's
intellectual error, mistaken assumption, or internal division that prompts
the tragic outcome of his or her actions. Often described as the tragic
flaw or self-destructive force that triggers the downfall of the hero or
heroine.
High comedy: comedy that achieves its effect from the depiction of
character and the use of language rather than through physical devices;
its appeal is therefore primarily to the intellect.
Hubris: the tragic flaw of pride, arrogance, over-confidence, or willful
ignorance that can lead a hero to disregard accepted moral codes or warnings from the gods, prompting his or her own downfall.
Humours comedy: popularized by Ben Jonson in England in the early
seventeenth century, this genre of comedy drew upon the classical medical theory that an individual's temperament or psychological disposition
was determined by the balance (or imbalance) or four bodily fluids
(known as humours): black bile, phlegm, blood, and choler or yellow
bile. Characters in humors comedies are motivated by their predominant
humors.

Glossary of Dramatic Terms

273

Inciting incident: the disturbance that initiates the conflict-resolution


process of the play. The inciting incident launches the root action of the
drama. It is not necessarily the first action of the play, nor need it be the
first event of a broad conflict that may have existed before the dramatic
action begins. Rather, the inciting incident is the event of the play that
puts the forces of conflict in motion.
Linear plot: a traditional plot sequence in which the incidents in the
drama progress chronologically; that is, all of the events build upon one
another and there are no jumps, forexample, from the present to the past.
The Greeks and neoclassicists adopted this structure as the template for
creating effective tragedy. See climactic plot.
Low comedy: as opposed to high comedy, low comedy gains its effect,
which is usually hearty laughter, from the use of slapstick and broad
comic devices instead of character and dialogue.
Major Dramatic Question: The question the play exists to answer; the
major dramatic question may change as the play progresses. Often phrasing the dramatic question will illuminate the play in such a way that the
root conflict and root action emerge clearly. In Oedipus Tyrannos the
major dramatic question might be as follows: Will Oedipus discover the
murderer of Laius, as directed by the gods, and lift the plague from
Thebes?
Melodrama: a serious play that does not attain the heights of tragedy or
have the same purpose as comedy; originally, a drama in which music is
used to heighten emotion (the Greek melos means song). As it was
popularized during the nineteenth century in France, Britain, and the
United States, this genre grew to be characterized by stories of adventure
and intrigue calculated to provoke audiences' heightened emotional response. Melodrama offers sensational plots (rather than subtle ideas or
character development) that exaggerate the moral qualities of good and
evil, focus on outer struggle (rather than the inner struggle of tragedy),
and emphasize virtue triumphant.

274

Play Analysis: A Reader

Monologue: a long speech or narrative spoken by one character. A monologue can be addressed to another character onstage, spoken to oneself,
or shared with the audience as a means of elucidating a character's internal thoughts or desires that cannot be expressed in formal dialogue. A
soliloquy is a form of monologue, and an aside, if lengthy, can be characterized as a monologue.
Naturalism: a literary and theatrical movement that thrived in the late
nineteenth century in reaction against earlier styles and as an attempt to
reproduce life as exactly as possible: truthfully, objectively, and with
scientific accuracy. In naturalism, which is often associated with philosophical determinism, the physiological disposition of a character is the
focus of the drama and heredity or physical environment dictates his or
her fate. In literature, naturalism is considered an extreme form of realism, one that concentrates on exhibiting causes and effects (especially
among the lower classes) and upon depressing, unadorned social situations. The concept of naturalism can also be applied to the way in which
a play is staged: for example, a naturalist set may incorporate a real
working fireplace or a faucet with running water.
Neoclassicism: a seventeenth-century movement (especially in France
and England), prompted by a renewed interest in the writings of Aristotle
and other classical theorists, that lasted well into the eighteenth century.
Peripeteia (peripety): Greek word meaning a reversal of circumstances; applied to the point in the plot where the action undergoes a lasting
reversal, or change in directioni.e., where, it is clear, the hero's fortunes are or will be changed. See crisis or turning point.
Plot: the interlocking arrangement of incidents in a play that propels a
drama forward from conflict to resolution; this is an arrangement designed to show not only sequence but also cause and effect. Plots may be
simple or complex, and any single play may have more than one plot
(and plays from experimental, avant-garde, or postmodern traditions may
calculatedly eschew plot altogether).

Glossary of Dramatic Terms

275

Point of attack: the point in the story at which the playwright has chosen
to begin the action of his play; can be late or early; if the point of attack
is late, the play's action has a long past that is not depicted onstage.
Problem play: a late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century
form of drama that addressed social issues, such as class, workers' rights,
women's rights, etc. The early dramas of Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw are examples of problem plays, sometimes called socialproblem plays or examples of the play of ideas.
Prologue: literally, a speech before, or monologue by an actor introducing the action of the play; in some plays, the opening scene in which
information is revealed about events that occurred prior to the play's
start.
Proscenium arch: the picture frame formed by the side and top walls of
the modern stage, which provide the opening through which the audience
sees the stage. See fourth wall.
Protagonist: the hero or central character in a play, who is the main
focus of the audience's attention. Derived from the ancient Greek term
protagonistes, meaning first contestant or leading actor. In traditional drama, the protagonist often engages in conflicts with an antagonist.
Realism: a literary and theatrical style that seeks to depict life as it really
is without artifice, or without violation of conventional appearances and
probability. The origins of realism can be traced to late-nineteenthcentury Europe, when playwrights and theater practitioners sought to
move away from traditional, often melodramatic, plays and productions
so as to create drama that portrayed real people confronted with plausible
situations. The most common setting for realistic drama, as well as its
most common subject, is middle-class life; among the playwrights associated with the rise of realism are Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard
Shaw.

276

Play Analysis: A Reader

Repertory: a set of plays; a repertory acting company will perform a


series of plays, previously prepared for performance, in rotation, alternating productions in a given theatrical space during a specific period of
time.
Resolution: the concluding event, or series of events, that resolves the
fundamental conflict that had sustained the play's main action. A resolution can also be a dnouement .
Revenge tragedy: a form of sensational tragedy revolving around stories
of murder and revenge for the death of a relative, with much intrigue,
madness, and mayhem thrown into the mix. The genre flourished in England during the reigns of Elizabeth I (r. 15581603) and James I (r.
160325). Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, Shakespeare's Hamlet,
and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi are among the best-known revenge
tragedies.
Rising action: the portion of a play's structure, in its first half, in which
events complicate the situation that existed at the beginning of a play,
thereby intensifying the conflict, or introducing new conflict, and leading
to the drama's crisis or turning point.
Romanticism: a literary and artistic movement that began in England
and Germany in the late eighteenth century, continued into the early
nineteenth, and emphasized imagination and emotion over the neoclassical ideals of intellect and reason. Largely influenced by the philosopher
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778), Romantic literature generally reflects a belief in the innate goodness of man in his natural state. The early
dramas of the Germans Goethe (Gtz von Berlichingen, 1773) and Schiller (The Robbers, 1781) are examples

Glossary of Dramatic Terms

277

Root Conflict: The basic conflict of the play that underlies and motivates
the main action. The root conflict identifies the main competing forces in
the drama, and these forces almost always center in characters. The protagonist (usually the central character) is named first and the antagonist
second. The root conflict of Hamlet might be described, then, as Hamlet
versus Claudius.
Root Action: The process by which the root conflict of the play is resolved. A statement of the root action tells us not only who the competing forces or agents are, but also how the conflict is resolved. If the root
conflict of Oedipus Rex is Oedipus versus the gods, then the root action
might be the following: Oedipus wrests the secret to the lifting of the
plague from the gods, only to find in such a victory his own destruction.
The statement of the root action distills the play into one sentence that
isolates the power source of the dramatic event.
Scene: the traditional segmentation of a play's structure to indicate a
change in time or location, to jump from one subplot to another, to introduce new characters, or to rearrange the actors on the stage. Traditionally
plays are composed of acts, which are then broken down into scenes. In
the French tradition as practiced by Molire and Racine, a new scene
begins whenever a character enters or exits the stage.
Scne--faire: literally, scene that must be done (French) or the obligatory scene; any scene of a play that the audience has been led to
expect as inevitable and that comprises the end of a well-made play.

278

Play Analysis: A Reader

Sentimental comedy (comdie larmoyante or weeping comedy): a


genre of comedy popularized in eighteenth-century England that departed
from the bawdy and titillating themes of Restoration comedy (1660
1710) and emphasized instead the simple and innate goodness of humankind. Interest in the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778) and
other philosophers fueled the assumption that people could be saved
from vice if instructed to follow their natural instincts. Like domestic
tragedy, sentimental comedy (which often was not truly comic) centered
on and appealed to the middle class, inviting sentimental reflections from
its audience on bravery, youth, motherhood, etc.
Set: the design, decoration, and scenery of the stage during a play, usually meant to represent the location or locations in the drama. Plays may
have a single set or several sets.
Setting: the time and location in which a play takes place. A play can
have multiple settings and incorporate more than one time period, as
well.
Slapstick: originally, a wooden sword worn by the commedia dell'arte
character Harlequin that figured prominently in his comedic routine; the
sword was a two-piece stick that made a tremendous noise when it struck
another character As a subgenre, slapstick is a form of physical comedy
often characterized by farcical situations, sudden falls, crude jokes, slaps
in the face, and generally reckless behavior.
Soliloquy: a monologue uttered by a character alone onstage that provides insight into his or her thoughts. This theatrical convention is common in plays from the Renaissance through the eighteenth century and is
generally associated with Shakespeare's works. The device was discarded
by modern dramatists, such as August Strindberg, who were concerned
with creating realistic depictions on stage.

Glossary of Dramatic Terms

279

Spectacle: generally, the elements in a play's production that appeal to


the visual theatricality of the piece, such as costumes, scenery, props, or
stage tricks. Described in Aristotle's Poetics as the sixth element of tragedy (after plot, character, thought, diction, and song).
Stage directions: in the text of a play, directions or actions indicated by
the playwright that describe the physical movements or emotional responses of the characters onstage. Stage directions may also note the
setting, as well as the physical appearance of the characters and their
relationships with one another.
Stichomythia: dialogue in Greek drama, in which the characters alternately speak single lines of verse, one line to each, with great speed and
emphasis. Similar to, but more formalized than, repartee.
Subplot: a secondary plot that usually shares a relationship with the
main plot, either thematically, in terms of the action itself, or both. The
subplot often deals with the secondary characters in the play. Sometimes
called parallel plot, double plot, or underplot.
Subtext: Konstantin Stanislavsky's term for unspoken text; for an actor,
the internal motivations or responses never explicitly stated in the dialogue, but understood either by the audience or the characters themselves. The dramatist creates subtext to underscore the emotional or intellectual truth of a character's life that is unspoken but implied.
Theatricalism: a broad term for a number of non-realistic styles; it is
usually applied when great reliance is place in production on a nonrealistic stage design and an equally non-realistic use of lighting and
sound.
Theme: the idea, concept, or argument that a playwright wishes to express in a play. Aristotle listed thought, or themetaken to refer to
intellectual content or meaningas one of the six elements essential to
the drama

280

Play Analysis: A Reader

Tragedy: a form of drama that arose in ancient Greek culture; a play


dealing with a serious subject in an elevated style and ending in catastrophe and death. Though the mode and structure of tragedy have varied
over the centuries to reflect the cultural beliefs and conventions of each
age, the central dramatic conflict remains constant: the human being
struggles to overcome some antagonistic force and is ultimately defeated.
In classical Greek tragedy, the protagonist is a man of political or social
stature and the gods play a role in the reversal of his fortune from good to
bad. In modern drama, tragedies often reflect the struggle of middle-class
citizens to overcome societal restraints or their own private domestic
conflicts.
Tragicomedy: the term used to describe a drama that incorporates both
tragic and comic elements. This hybrid form was popularized in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in such works as Giovanni Battista
Guarini's pastoral play The Faithful Shepherd (1590) and the dramatic
collaborations of Francis Beaumont (15841616) and John Fletcher
(15791625). Plays written in this mode often featured tragic conflicts
that resolve happily through unexpectedsometimes improbableplot
twists. The term tragicomedy has also been applied to modern and contemporary plays that do not fit the traditional categories of tragedy and
comedy, such as Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, subtitled a tragicomedy in two acts.
Turning point: the point where a decisive change in the action occurs
and the ending of the play becomes predictable or foreseeable if not
inevitable. See crisis or peripeteia.
Unities: the principles of dramatic structure, derived from Aristotle's
Poetics, that require a plot's action to be singular (no subplots), to complete itself within a twenty-four hour period, and to take place in one
location. Aristotle mentioned only the unities of action and time, but
French neoclassical theorists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
added place and made the unities a so-called rule of drama.

Glossary of Dramatic Terms

281

Vaudeville: an entertainment popular in the United States in the first


third of the twentieth century. It consisted of singing, dancing, and comedy in individual sketches with no plot or connecting thread.
Well-made play: also called pice bien-faite (French), a play that relies
heavily on the orchestration of highly complicated plots rather than characterization or themes. The genre dominated French theater for much of
the nineteenth century; its playwrights (Scribe, Sardou) sought to integrate conventions such as overheard conversations, mistaken identities,
and sudden appearances and disappearances to create suspense and intrigue. The plays conclude with a scne faire, or the final confrontation
of characters that resolves the play's action.

STUDY GUIDES
I. Table of Contrasts: Theater and Film
Characteristics of Theater
1.

A three-dimensional, ephemeral performance of events.

2.

Continuous, big acting aimed at a live audience; does not employ amateur actors.

3.

Immediate relationship between the actors and the audience,


both of whom are physically present in the same space at the
same time.

4.

Except in rare cases, has no narrator.

5.

Relatively active audience that must choose for itself where to


look or what to see; what the audience sees is unmediated by a
camera.

6.

A verbal art primarily, but it also has a visual component


(through costumes, sets, lights, choreography, and action itself).

7.

A collaborative art, with the actor finally in control on the stage.

8.

A total work of art or Gesamtkunstwerk, but not quite to the extent that film is.

9.

Irreducible: to have theater, you must have living actors performing before a real audience in a more or less demarcated
space.

10. A group experience, as it occurs in theatrical auditorium of one


kind of another.
283

284

Play Analysis: A Reader


11. The most popular art form of the nineteenth century and before.
12. Its essence consists of human beings in conflict with each other
or themselves.
13. The conjunction belonging to the theater is therefore rather
than then; in other words, the theater gives primacy to causality more than it does to succession.
14. Deals with the relationship between people.
15. There is only one shot: the full picture of the stage.
16. Intermissions are common, and scene changes (as well as costume, make-up, and lighting changes) can be slow and laborious. Space is therefore less manipulable and time is less flexible.
17. The dramatic text is an independent artwork that can be read or
performed.
18. Usually dramatizes the consequences of action; characters are
often victims of their pasts.

Characteristics of Film
1.

A two-dimensional, permanent visual record of a performance.

2.

Discontinuous, smaller acting aimed at the camera lens; can


employ amateur actors.

3.

No immediate or physical interrelationship between the actors


and the audience.

4.

Has a narrator: the camera.

Study Guides

285

5.

Relatively passive audience for whom the camera chooses what


will be seen.

6.

A visual art primarily, but also a dramatic art that enacts stories
(with words once the sound era begins) and a narrative art that
tells those stories through the mediation of the camera.

7.

A collaborative art, with the director ultimately in control.

8.

A total work of art, or Gesamtkunstwerk.

9.

Reducible to DVD, video, television, etc.

10. Can be a solitary experience, especially if you are watching a


film alone at home.
11. The most popular art form of the twentieth century and beyond.
12. Can dispense with overt conflicts, climaxes, and even plots; indeed, can be almost completely non-theatrical or -dramatic.
13. The particle belonging to the cinema is then rather than
therefore; in other words, the cinema gives primacy to succession more than it does to causality.
14. Deals with the relationship of people not only to other people,
but also to things and places.
15. The camera can provide the viewer with multiple visual perspectives, through different shots.
16. Intermissions are rare, and scenes changes (as well as costume,
make-up, and lighting changes) are accomplished swiftly and
easily through cuts or editing. Space is therefore manipulable
and time is flexible.

286

Play Analysis: A Reader


17. The film script is not an independent artwork and cannot be read
by itself fruitfully, nor can its words be performed as a play's
words could be; a screenplay is a preparatory sketch for a future
art work, a fully realized cinematic experience.
18. Usually concentrates on action per se, even when this action is
interior or psychological; characters are often makers of their
own destinies in the present.

Study Guides

287

II. Table of Contrasts: Tragedy, Comedy, and Farce


Tragedy tends to exalt man as an individual, by exploring his place in a
world inhabited by fateful forces, and by showing how important he can
be in the face of insuperable odds. Comedy tends to see man as a social
animal, and to belittle his dignity by making him one of the crowd. Tragedy tends to punish man with a punishment out of all proportion to his
sin, but only for making us feel that he is being crucified for sins that are
ours too. Comedy gently mocks man for his ultimate unimportance, but
only after we have shared a little of his humiliation. Tragedy encourages
us to be passionate; comedy usually seeks to bring the intellect into play.
Life, it can therefore be said, is a comedy to the man who thinks, and a
tragedy to the man who feels.
The simple logic of traditional comedy and the coherence of tragic feeling have on the whole been rejected by 20th- and 21st-century art.
Tragedy depends on a confidence in the extraordinary capabilities and
resilience of man; comedy depends on a confidence in the reason and
resilience of the social order. But the frequent appearance of tragicomedy
in the 20th and 21st centuries suggests that our moral and social values are
uncertain and shifting. Moreover, artists frequently believe that it is too
difficult to depict the suffering and cataclysm of these centuries with
unrelieved seriousness, and that it would be somewhat irresponsible to
impose a wholly comic vision on such a world. Such absolute and disparate forms often do not seem relevant to artists, who regard tragicomedy as the more realistic and relevant form.

288

Play Analysis: A Reader

Oppositions between Tragedy and Comedy


Tragedy
Individual
Metaphysical
Death
Error
Suffering
Pain
Sacrificial
Isolation
Terror
Unhappiness
Irremediable
Decay
Destruction
Defeat
Extremes
Inflexible
Exceptionality
Cathartic & enervating (tears)

Comedy
Society
Social
Endurance
Folly
Joy
Pleasure
Procreative
(Re)union
Euphoria
Happiness
Remediable
Growth
Continuation
Survival
Moderation
Flexible
Commonality
Life-giving & renewing (laughter)

Characteristics of Farce
1.

In farce, there is an emphasis on plot.

2.

Farce is physical or low comedy.

3.

Farce is comedy of situation as opposed to character.

4.

Farcical characters are almost never aware that they are funny,
unlike some characters in high comedy.

Study Guides

289

5.

In farce, action replaces thought; where real-life characters


think, farcical characters use instinct, as they are in the thick of
things and do not have time to think.

6.

In farce, single-minded characters pursue an endeavor fervently;


they have short-range goals and want immediate gratification.

7.

The stakes are high in farce; characters often find themselves in


life-and-death situations (frequently over trifles), but there are
rarely consequences. That is, no one gets hurt and everything
turns out all right.

8.

Action leads to objects in farce, and objects are always defeating the characters.

9.

The pace in a theatrical production of farce should be very fast,


for one must not give audience members time to question the
reality or probability of what they are seeing onstage.

10. In farce, characters are dehumanized and humans are presented


as unthinking machines. Farcical plays themselves, with their
fast-paced and intricately connected plots, are like well-oiled
machines.
11. In farce, unlikely or even impossible situations are made to
seem totally probable.

290

Play Analysis: A Reader

III. Table of Contrasts: Realism and Naturalism


Realism
1.

Realistic plays treat middle-class life and feature educated, articulate characters.

2.

Drama is a conflict of wills in which human beings make conscious decisions and face the consequences of their actions. Realism tends to oversimplify motivation, having characters act
out of a single motive or only out of conscious (as opposed to
unconscious) motives.

3.

Realism adapts the well-made play to the problem play or


play of ideas.

4.

In realistic drama, heredity and environment are important in the


development of character, but so too is the character's conscious
will to oppose and transcend them.

5.

Realism's viewpoint is ameliorative and humanistic; realism


nourishes the hope that human beings possess the reason and
will to improve their condition.

6.

In a realistic play, humans are depicted as dignified, special beings seeking to control their own fates, apart from any belief in
God or a higher spiritual being.

Naturalism
1.

Naturalistic plays treat lower-class life and feature uneducated,


inarticulate characters.

2.

Naturalistic characters are often driven by irrational impulses; a


whole set of causal principles operates beneath the surface of

Study Guides

291

character, complicating motivation and action. Naturalism substitutes the Freudian id for conscious will, with the subconscious
or unconscious mind acting as a motivating force.
3.

Naturalism's form tends toward the episodic, the fragmented, or


the desultorya form thought to be more realistic or slice-oflife-like than well-made dramatic form.

4.

In naturalistic drama, heredity and environment overwhelm


character.

5.

Naturalism's viewpoint is pessimistic and fatalistic; naturalism


would improve the lot of the oppressed but seems to have as its
ultimate ideal a humanity redeemed from this earth.

6.

In a naturalistic play, human beings are depicted as animals and


objects for scientific study or control.

292

Play Analysis: A Reader

IV. Types of Theater Criticism or Production Criticism


1.

Descriptive criticism provides information about a play or production.

2.

Appreciative or denunciatory criticism is gushing in its praise or


sweeping in its condemnation; it may tell a great deal about a
critic's responses but little about the production itself.

3.

Evaluative criticism:
a. Its primary aim is to judge effectiveness.
b. The critic may analyze the structure, characterization, and
ideas of a script; may explain the playwright's purported intentions and the director's interpretation of them, and may
then go on to assess how effectively the script has been realized on the stage.
c. The evaluation usually gives some attention to all the elements involved in a production and how each has contributed to the overall effect; the critic is concerned with both the
good and bad points of the production and with a final verdict on the effectiveness of what has been presented.
d. Three basic problems of evaluative criticism:
i.
Understanding: what were the playwright, director,
and other theater practitioners attempting to do from
an artistic point of view? What was their goal?
ii.
Effectiveness: how well did these theater practitioners do what they set out to do? How well was the director's concept realized through the acting, scenery,
costumes, and lighting?
iii.
Ultimate worth: was this particular play worth producing? Was it served well by this production?
e. Questions to be answered by the informed and perceptive,
evaluative critic:
i.
Who was responsible for, or involved in, the production? What are the names of the producer, director,
designers, and major actors?

Study Guides
ii.
iii.

iv.
v.

293

Where and when did the performance take place?


Will there be additional performances?
Which play was performed? Is it a significant work?
Who is the dramatist? What information about the
dramatist or the script is important to an understanding of the production?
How effectively was the script producedi.e., directed, acted, and designed?
Should others see this production? Why or why not?

294

Play Analysis: A Reader

TOPICS FOR WRITING AND DISCUSSION


1.

In modern drama characters often speak different languages,


and words become barriers rather than bridges to understanding. Discuss three of the following plays in light of this statement: The Birthday Party, From Morn to Midnight, Who's
Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Streetcar Named Desire, Dutchman, and Awake and Sing!.

2.

Discuss Oedipus Tyrannos, Othello, The Knight of Olmedo, and


Hedda Gabler or Death of a Salesman as exemplars of the Four
Great Ages of Drama: ancient Greek, Elizabethan-Jacobean,
Spanish Golden Age, and modern Euro-American. Why are
these four ages great, and what makes these plays exemplars of
such greatness?

3.

Compare and contrast Yank from The Hairy Ape and Stanley
from A Streetcar Named Desire as ape-like figures, being sure
to account for the sociological significance of the image of the
ape in these two American plays.

4.

Compare and contrast Oedipus Tyrannos and Entertaining Mr.


Sloane as works of art on the Oedipal themethe one a tragedy,
the other a black comedy.

5.

The Spanish playwright Garca Lorca once declared, If in certain scenes of a play the audience doesn't know what to do,
whether to laugh or cry, that will spell success to me. Discuss
the blending of the comic and the serious or tragic in A Man's a
Man and The Hostage.

6.

Discuss the extent to which Long Day's Journey into Night, The
Homecoming, and A Delicate Balance can all be considered
dream playsor nightmare visions.

Study Guides

295

7.

Discuss the endings of Tartuffe and The Front Page as exemplifications of the comic vision, being sure to treat the change, or
lack thereof, in the characters of Orgon and Hildy.

8.

The Homecoming and Loot have been described as flip sides of


the same dramatic coin, or opposite treatments of a similar subject: the one serious, the other comic. Discuss, being sure to
consider the extent to which each of these plays can be considered vile or immoral art, as opposed to the humanistic, ameliorative kind we are accustomed to.

9.

Discuss the pivotal roles played by Stella in A Streetcar Named


Desire and Linda in Death of a Salesman, despite the underwritten nature of their characters and their apparent exclusion from
the major dramatic agon (in Streetcar, Stanley versus Blanche;
in Salesman, Willy versus Biff). As you write, consider the veracity of the following remark: When women characters on the
American stage are depicted by men, they invariably are seen
from the outside, in their relationship to males, but not from
their own perspective.

10. Discuss the extent to which both Oedipus Tyrannos and Dutchman are concerned with ritualistic sacrifice.
11. David Storey's novels are often perceived as belonging to the
realistic-cum-naturalistic tradition, with long and detailed descriptive passages that appear, at least superficially, to play no
role in furthering the plot. Mutatis mutandis, to what extent do
such plays of his as The Changing Room, The Contractor, and
even In Celebration belong to the same artistic tradition, in
which the author does not construct plot or develop character in
any conventional sense but instead works in the background,
slicing details out of life, to everything giving equal weight, and
thereby attempting to purify naturalism.

296

Play Analysis: A Reader


12. Discuss Our Town as the antithesis of the following statement:
If one considers main characters as ideas or ethical / moral
agents, many a dramatic plot can be converted into a sort of dialectic in which one idea conflicts with or opposes another.
13. It has been said that the fundamental subject of almost all serious plays of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is the attempt
to resurrect fundamental ethical certainties without resurrecting
the fundamental spiritual certainty of a judgmental God. Keeping this statement in mind, discuss the role of God and / or
Christian symbolism in three of the following plays: Riders to
the Sea, Major Barbara, From Morn to Midnight, Our Town,
Saved, Awake and Sing!, The Hairy Ape, Long Day's Journey
into Night, The Glass Menagerie, and Juno and the Paycock.
14. The following statement comes from Arthur Miller's essay
Tragedy and the Common Man: Where pathos rules, where
pathos is finally derived, a character has fought a battle he could
not possibly have won. The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity, or the
very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force. Discuss how this statement applies, or does not apply, to three of the following characters: Willy Loman from
Death of a Salesman; Maurya from Riders to the Sea; Juno
Boyle from Juno and the Paycock; Othello; Oedipus; George
Milton from Of Mice and Men; and Hedda Gabler.
15. Consider Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Glengarry Glen Ross,
and Edmond, on the one hand, and Curse of the Starving Class
and Buried Child, on the other, in light of the following statement: David Mamet's rise to the forefront of American drama
has been seen as the triumph of a minimalist, the most obvious
component of whose signature style is his dialogue. Only Sam
Shepard has a comparably emphatic signature style, but his de-

Study Guides

297

pends less on the shape and sound of words than on a offbeat,


sometimes surreal use of scenic elements.
16. Compare and contrast the settingsand the thematic significance of those settingsfor Oedipus Tyrannos and Ghosts.
17. Compare and contrast the characters and actions of Tom Wingfield, from The Glass Menagerie, and Biff Loman, from Death
of a Salesman.
18. Discuss Swinburne's poem A Leave-taking as a synecdoche
for the action of Long Day's Journey into Night. (This poem is
quoted in full late in O'Neill's play.)
19. Discuss the Biblical myth of Adam and Eve as it is dramatically
employed in both Dutchman and The Hairy Ape.
20. Discuss the role of expressionistic elementsin scene design
and dramatic structure as well as characterizationin From
Morn to Midnight, The Hairy Ape, and Edmond.
21. Discuss the significance of the titles of five of the following
plays: A Streetcar Named Desire, Oedipus Tyrannos, Ghosts,
Under Milk Wood, Of Mice and Men, Awake and Sing!, The
Glass Menagerie, Riders to the Sea, Dutchman, Sore Throats,
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Dumb Waiter, and The
Iceman Cometh.
22. Discuss the role of the narrator in The Glass Menagerie, its use
of a dual time-frame (to distinguish present action from past action), and its genre (the memory play).
23. She Stoops to Conquer has been described as a laughing comedy as opposed to a sentimental one, as a Restoration-style
comedy of manners, as a romantic comedy, and as a satirical

298

Play Analysis: A Reader


farce. Which description do you think best fits this play, and
why?
24. Embedded in every major play written by an American playwright is a critique of American society. Discuss three of the
following plays in light of this statement: Death of a Salesman,
The Glass Menagerie, Long Day's Journey into Night, Our
Town, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Iceman Cometh, Buried Child,
The Hairy Ape, Awake and Sing!, Dutchman, and A Soldier's
Play.
25. Discuss the extent to which Major Barbara and Juno and the
Paycock are social-problem plays. That is, what is the social
problem in each drama, and to what extent is it resolved?
26. Compare and contrast the dramatic treatment of the Salvation
Army in Major Barbara and From Morn to Midnight.
27. Compare and contrast Loot and The Front Page as satirical farces.
28. Discuss the role of escape or illusionof the illusion-making
capacity of the human mindas a minor element in Awake and
Sing! and a major factor in A Streetcar Named Desire, A Touch
of the Poet, and Death of a Salesman. As you write, keep in
mind Larry Slade's argument in O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
that pipe-dreaming gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot
of us.
29. Discuss the dramatic handling of the Jewishness of the salesman
in Death of a Salesman and the Jewishness of the moneylender
in The Merchant of Venice.
30. Contrast the mysterious treatment of time in People Are Living
There with the more or less precise measurement of time in two
of the following three plays: From Morn to Midnight, Long

Study Guides

299

Day's Journey into Night, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


(sometimes jokingly called Long Night's Journey into Day).
31. Between Bond's Lear and Shakespeare's King Lear, which play
do you prefer, and why? Between Walcott's The Sea at Dauphin
and Synge's Riders to the Sea, which play do you prefer, and
why?
32. Compare and contrast the characters of Lula from Dutchman
and Sergeant Waters from A Soldier's Play.
33. While at first glance the homes of the Tyrones and the Lomans
may have little in common, there are striking parallels between
the two families in Long Day's Journey into Night and Death of
a Salesman. Discuss the veracity of this statement.
34. Choose three of the following character pairings and comment
on the nature of each relationship: Joxer-Captain Jack Boyle,
Tartuffe-Orgon; Othello-Iago; Oedipus-Teiresias; Willy LomanCharley.
35. The South African playwright Athol Fugard has long since fallen from artistic grace after making his reputation with such politically timely, anti-apartheid dramas as The Blood Knot (1961),
Boesman and Lena (1969), Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (1972), and
Master Harold . . . and the Boys (1982). Was Fugard's work
not that good in the first place? Has it dated badly? Was it, in
the end, more political than artistic? As you write, judge, by
comparison, the artistic worth of such an unpolitical play as
People Are Living There.
36. Consider the action of Romeo and Juliet in light of the following statement: The meaning and significance of Romeo and Juliet may be better understood if we see the play as part of the
greater movement toward a more relative and flexible view of

300

Play Analysis: A Reader


human nature and human conducta movement begun during
the Renaissance and championing the Hellenic view of life
against the Hebraic one, which prevailed during the Middle Ages and tended to regard human character and behavior in absolute terms of wrong and right.
37. S. K. Langer once observed that the tension between past and
future is what gives to acts, situations, and even such constituent
elements as gestures and attitudes the peculiar intensity known
as dramatic quality. Discuss this statement in relation to A
Touch of the Poet / More Stately Mansions and two other plays
from the following: A Streetcar Named Desire, Oedipus Tyrannos, Death of a Salesman, Riders to the Sea, Buried Child, Plenty, Long Day's Journey into Night, A Soldier's Play, Betrayal,
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
38. Some scholars would begin a course in modern drama with
Bchner's 1836 tragedy Woyzeck. Might one begin a course on
modern comedy with the same author's Leonce and Lena? Why
or why not?
39. Discuss the use of language in Riders to the Sea and Juno and
the Paycock in light of the following statement by J. M. Synge:
In countries where the imagination of the people, and the language they use, is rich and living, it is possible for a writer to
be rich and copious in his words, and at the same time to give
the reality, which is the root of all poetry, in a comprehensive
and natural form. In the modern literature of towns, however,
richness is found only in sonnets, or prose poems, or in one or
two elaborate books that are far away from the profound and
common interests of life. One has, on one side, Mallarm and
Huysmans producing this literature; and on the other, Ibsen
and Zola dealing with the reality of life in joyless and pallid
words. On the stage one must have reality, and one must have
joy; and that is why the intellectual modern drama has failed,

Study Guides

301

and people have grown sick of the false joy of the musical
comedy, that has been given them in place of the rich joy
found only in what is superb and wild in reality. In a good play
every speech should be as fully flavoured as a nut or apple,
and such speeches cannot be written by anyone who works
among people who have shut their lips on poetry. In Ireland,
for a few years more, we have a popular imagination that is
fiery and magnificent, and tender; so that those of us who wish
to write start with a chance that is not given to writers in places where the springtime of the local life has been forgotten,
and the harvest is a memory only, and the straw has been
turned into bricks.
40. Discuss how the following statement applies to both Othello and
Tartuffe:
A certain degree of trust in others is indispensable in any human relations. It was relatively easier, however, to have and
maintain this trust as long as there was little or no separation
in men's minds between formal and substantial relations, as
long as the name and the thing, the word and the deed, the
mask and the face, were held to be indissolubly bound in a
single unity. No one suspected in the Middle Ages, for instance, that a host or a guest would act otherwise than as the
names host and guest implied. Even by the Renaissance this
situation had changed. The schism between names and things
had doubtless always been present to some degree, but it was
becoming characteristic of larger and larger areas of thought
and behavior.

INDEX
A
Absurdism, 116-117, 246
The Accent of a Coming Foot, 148, 150-151
Accident, 56
Aeschylus, 23
Agamemnon, 106
Albee, Edward, 53-55, 86-87
Alighieri, Dante, 97
American Buffalo, 130, 134
An Giall: see The Hostage
Anderson, Maxwell, 13
Anderson, Sherwood, 238
Angelico, Fra (Guido di Pietro), 191
Aristotle, 10, 12, 63, 265-266, 269-270, 272, 274, 279-280
The Arrest, 95
Awake and Sing!, 29-32, 294, 296-298

B
The Ballad of Dead Ladies, 147, 151
Bankhead, Tallulah, 163
Baraka, Imamu Amiri (LeRoi Jones), 159-166
Barrie, J. M., 236
BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), 58
Beaumont, John, 280
Beckett, Samuel, 99, 149, 208, 268, 280
The Beggar's Opera, 266
Behan, Brendan, 42-44
Benjamin, Walter, 99, 101
Bentley, Eric, 54-55, 140, 142, 195
Betrayal, 56-61, 300
The Birthday Party, 115-117, 154-158, 294

303

304

Play Analysis: A Reader

The Blood Knot, 299


Bloom, John, 59
The Blue Angel, 163
Boccioni, Umberto, 95
Boesman and Lena, 299
Bond, Edward, 90-94, 211-214, 299
Brecht, Bertolt, 99-101, 104, 177, 270
Brenton, Howard, 176-177
The Bride of Messina, 64
Brown, John Russell, 73-74
Bchner, Georg, 131, 139-142, 300
Buloff, Joseph, 83
Buried Child, 296, 298, 300
Burke, Edmund, 133
Bury, John, 58

C
Caldern de la Barca, Pedro, 33
Cangiullo, Francesco, 95
Capitalism, 30-31, 153, 177, 254
Capp, Al, 164
The Caretaker, 56
Catholicism, 34-41, 76-79, 81, 118, 147, 184-188, 202, 225
Celticism, 146, 236
The Changing Room, 295
Chekhov, Anton, 23
A Child's Christmas in Wales, 236
Christianity, 18, 72, 74, 76, 82-84, 97, 133-134, 147-149, 181-182, 185,
189-195, 211-213, 229-230, 296
A Christmas Carol, 236
Classicism, 105, 226
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 10

Index

305

Comedy, 27, 34, 59-60, 73, 83, 99-100, 102-103, 108, 115-118, 121-122,
131, 139, 141, 153, 182, 187-189, 201, 206, 208, 219, 223, 224225, 237, 242, 246, 249, 267-268, 271-273, 278, 280, 287-288,
294-295, 297, 300-301
The Comfort of Strangers, 56
Communism, 85, 96, 254
Congreve, William, 59, 118, 267
The Contractor, 295
The Creation of the World and Other Business, 83-84
The Critic, 266
Criticism (Theater), 292-293
The Crucible, 81, 84
Cummings, E. E., 150-153
Curse of the Starving Class, 167-169, 173-175, 296

D
Darwin, Charles, 104, 190
Death of a Salesman, 9, 81-85, 249-254, 294-300
A Delicate Balance, 53-55, 294
Desire under the Elms, 173
Dickens, Charles, 236
Dickinson, Emily, 148-149, 151, 153
Dietrich, Marlene, 163
Dowson, Ernest, 33
Dream on Monkey Mountain, 243
A Dream Play, 33
The Duchess of Malfi, 100, 276
The Dumb Waiter, 206-207
Dutchman, 159-166, 294-295, 297-299

E
Earth Spirit, 162
Ecce homo, 133
Edmond, 130-135, 296-297
Elgar, Edward, 170

306

Play Analysis: A Reader

Elizabeth I, 268, 276, 294


Engels, Friedrich, 221
Entertaining Mr. Sloane, 119, 208-210, 294
Epic Theater, 270
Esslin, Martin, 231
Euripides, 23, 66, 241, 269
Existentialism, 18, 49, 97, 149, 249
Expressionism, 48-52, 82, 95, 130-135, 162, 237, 271, 297

F
The Faithful Shepherd, 280
The Far Away Country, 146-147, 151
Farce, 102-104, 118-119, 208, 242, 244, 246, 272, 278, 287-289, 298
Fascism, 96
Feminism, 19, 183
Ferguson, Otis, 110
Fern Hill, 236
Fletcher, John, 280
Fliegende Hollnder, Der, 160
Fowles, John, 56
Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro), 191
The French Lieutenant's Woman, 56
Freud, Sigmund, 18, 33, 291
Freytag, Gustav, 177
From Morn to Midnight, 48-52, 131, 133, 294, 296-298
The Front Page, 102-104, 295, 298
Fugard, Athol, 45-47, 299
Fuller, Charles, 123-129
Futurism, 95-98

G
Garca Lorca, Federico, 294
Gay, John, 104, 266
Genius and Culture, 95
Gesamtkunstwerk, 283-284

Index
The Ghost Sonata, 33
Ghosts, 226-232, 267, 297
Gibbon, Edward, 221
Gilbert, W. S., 143, 153
The Glass Menagerie, 66-67, 143-153, 296-298
Glengarry Glen Ross, 130, 247-254, 296, 298
The Go-Between, 56
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 276
Golden Age (Spanish), 179, 294
Goldsmith, Oliver, 219-225
Gtz von Berlichingen, 276
Gray, Simon, 59
Grillparzer, Franz, 33
The Grotesque, 99-101
Guarini, Giovanni Battista, 280

H
The Hairy Ape, 95-98, 294, 296-298
Hall, Peter, 58
Hamlet, 9, 21-23, 25-26, 244-246, 268, 276-277
Hare, David, 170-172
Hartley, L. P., 56
Hecht, Ben, 102-104
Hedda Gabler, 9, 231-232, 267, 294, 296
Heinrich von Ofterdingen, 144-145, 153
Henry VI, 184
Hesiod, 64
The Homecoming, 53-56, 88-89, 115-116, 119, 294-295
Hopper-Chesson, Nora, 146, 151
The Hostage, 42-44, 294
Hume, David, 221
Huysmans, Joris-Karl, 300

307

308

Play Analysis: A Reader

I
I Got the Blues, 29, 32
Ibsen, Henrik, 221, 226-232, 267, 275, 300
The Iceman Cometh, 249-254, 297-298
Idealism (German), 148
The Importance of Being Earnest, 118
Impressions, IX, 150-151
In Celebration, 215-218, 295
The Intruder, 149
Iphigenia in Tauris, 241
Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.), 42-43, 76-78, 80

J
James I, 276, 294
The Jazz Singer, 83
Jolson, Al, 83
Jones, David, 58
Jonson, Ben, 104, 272
Joyce, James, 237
Judaism, 49, 72, 74, 81-85, 159, 298
Juno and the Paycock, 76-80, 296, 298-300

K
Kadison, Lyuba, 83
Kaiser, Georg, 48-52, 133-134
Kauffmann, Stanley, 105, 107-108, 110
Khrushchev, Nikita, 86
King Lear, 9, 14-16, 22, 91, 299
The Knight of Olmedo, 179-183, 294
Kubrick, Stanley, 164
Kyd, Thomas, 276

L
Lahr, John, 209
Landscape, 56

Index

309

Langer, S. K., 300


Lawson, John Howard, 29, 204
Lear, 90-94, 299
A Leave-taking, 297
Leonce and Lena, 139-142, 300
The Life and Life of Bumpy Johnson, 160
Life Is a Dream, 33
Lights, 95
Lolita, 164
Long Day's Journey into Night, 33-35, 81, 294, 219-225, 296-300
Loot, 118-120, 208, 244-246, 295, 298
Lope de Vega (y Carpio), Flix Arturo, 179-183
Louis XIV, 184-185, 187

M
MacArthur, Charles, 102-104
Macbeth, 21-23, 26
Maeterlinck, Maurice, 149
Major Barbara, 9, 189-196, 296, 298
Mallarm, Stphane, 300
Mamet, David, 81, 83, 104, 121-122, 130-135, 247-254, 296
Mann, Heinrich, 163
A Man's a Man, 99-101, 294
Marinetti, F. T., 95-97
Marx, Karl, 30, 221
Marxism, 19, 31, 84, 97
Master Harold . . . and the Boys, 299
Masters, Edgar Lee, 238
Maugham, Robin, 56
Mazarin, Cardinal (Jules Raymond Mazarin, Cardinal-Duke of Rethel,
Mayenne, and Nevers), 185-186
McCarthyism, 81
McEwan, Ian, 56
Medea, 66
Melodrama, 54, 102, 119, 273, 275

310

Play Analysis: A Reader

The Merchant of Venice, 71-75, 137, 298


A Midsummer Night's Dream, 34
Miller, Arthur, 81-85, 105, 249-254, 296
Milton, John, 12
Misalliance, 189
Miss Julie, 33-34
The Mistakes of a Night: see She Stoops to Conquer
Modernism, 97-98, 236, 240
Molire (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), 184-188, 277
More Stately Mansions, 233-235, 300
Morgan, John Pierpont, 251
Mosley, Nicholas, 56
Mrs. Warren's Profession, 195

N
Nabokov, Vladimir, 164
National Theatre (London), 56
Naturalism, 33, 49, 54, 134, 144, 225, 274, 290-291, 295
Negro Ensemble Company, 123
Neoclassicism, 105, 188, 273-274, 276, 280
The New Theology, 190
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 133-134, 221
No Man's Land, 56, 59
Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg), 144, 153

O
O'Casey, Sean, 76-80
Odets, Clifford, 29-32, 83, 149
Oedipus the King: see Oedipus Tyrannos
Oedipus Rex: see Oedipus Tyrannos
Oedipus Tyrannos, 9, 22, 63-67, 106, 174, 209, 226-230, 273, 277, 294297, 299-300
Of Mice and Men, 105-114, 296-297
Old Times, 56, 82

Index

311

O'Neill, Eugene, 33-35, 81, 95-98, 103, 173, 219-225, 233-235, 249-254,
297-298
Orton, Joe, 118-120, 208-210, 244-246
Othello, 22, 25, 111, 137-138, 162, 294, 296, 299, 301
Our Theatre in the Nineties, 190
Our Town, 197-205, 236-239, 296, 298

P
Pandora's Box, 162
Paradise Lost, 12
Parker, Charlie, 170
The Passion Play at Abydos, 174
Pastoralism, 280
Pathos, 68, 107, 111, 248, 296
People Are Living There, 45-47, 298-299
pice bien-faite: see well-made play
Pinter, Harold, 53-61, 82, 88-89, 115-117, 119, 154-158, 206-207, 248
The Pirates of Penzance, 143, 153
Planchon, Roger, 186
Plato, 63, 101, 180
Play of ideas, 275
Plenty, 170-172, 300
Poetics, 265-266, 279-280
Post-colonialism, 19
Powell, Adam Clayton, 162
Problem play, 275, 298
Professor Unrat, 163
Protestantism, 38, 79, 83, 184-188
Proust, Marcel, 56
The Proust Screenplay, 56
Pulitzer Prize, 123

R
Racine, Jean, 277
Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino), 191, 194

312

Play Analysis: A Reader

Realism, 25-26, 58, 60, 64, 81, 116, 123, 139, 192, 250-254, 272, 275,
278-279, 287, 290-291, 295
A Remembrance of Things Past, 56
Rice, Elmer, 204
Richelieu, Cardinal (Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal-Duke of Richelieu and of Fronsac), 184-186
Riders to the Sea, 240-243, 296-297, 299-300
The Robbers, 276
Romanticism, 139-146, 148, 150-152, 236, 276
Romeo and Juliet, 68-70, 299-300
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 200
The Rose-Garden Husband, 146, 153
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 276, 278
The Ruffian on the Stair, 119, 208

S
Saint Joan, 189
Sainte-Croix, Charpy de, 185
Sardou, Victorien, 281
Satire, 42, 103, 118-120, 246, 266-267, 297-298
Saved, 211-214, 296
Schiller, Friedrich, 64, 276
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 221
Schultz, Dutch (Arthur Flegenheimer), 159-161
Scribe, Eugne, 281
The Sea at Dauphin, 240-243, 299
Sentimentalism, 112, 114, 219, 237, 249, 278, 297
The Servant, 56
Sexual Perversity in Chicago, 121-122, 296
Shakespeare, William, 14-16, 20, 22, 33-34, 68-75, 91, 105, 108, 137138, 145, 162, 221, 244-246, 263, 266, 271-272, 276, 278, 299
Shaw, George Bernard, 189-196, 221, 275
She Stoops to Conquer, 219-225, 297-298
Shepard, Sam, 296, 167-169, 173-175
Sheridan, Richard Brinsley, 59, 266

Index
Silence, 56
Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, 299
The Skin of Our Teeth, 237
Smollett, Tobias, 221
A Soldier's Play, 123-129, 298-300
somewhere i have never travelled, 151-152
Sophocles, 63-67, 174, 226-230
Sore Throats, 176-177, 297
The Spanish Tragedy, 276
Spoon River Anthology, 238-239
Stallings, Laurence, 13
Stanislavsky, Konstantin, 279
States, Bert O., 100, 226
Steinbeck, John, 105-114
Steiner, George, 106
Sternberg, Josef von, 163
Stoppard, Tom, 59
Storey, David, 215-218, 295
A Streetcar Named Desire, 36-41, 249-254, 294-295, 297-298, 300
Strindberg, August, 33-34, 221, 278
Sullivan, Arthur, 143, 153
Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 297
Synge, John Millington, 240-243, 299-300

T
A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed, 234
Tartuffe, 9, 184-188, 295, 299, 301
Technique of the Drama, 177
The Tempest, 20, 33
The Testament, 147
Theatricalism, 81, 205, 279
Thiers, Adolphe, 221
Thomas, Dylan, 236-239
To Damascus, 33
A Touch of the Poet, 233-235, 298, 300

313

314

Play Analysis: A Reader

Tragedy, 15, 27, 34, 37, 41, 63-70, 85, 91, 99-100, 105-114, 125, 141,
174, 179, 182, 193, 202, 219, 223-224, 225-230, 234, 239, 242,
246, 253, 265-266, 269, 272-273, 276, 278-280, 287-288, 294,
296, 300
Tragedy and the Common Man, 296
Tragicomedy, 99-100, 280, 287
Transcendentalism, 148
The Transfiguration, 191
The Transfiguration of Christ, 191
Tristan and Isolde, 150

U
Ulysses, 237
Under Milk Wood, 236-239, 297

V
The Verdict, 130
Verfremdungseffekt, 270
Villon, Franois, 147, 151, 153

W
Wagner, Richard, 150, 160
Waiting for Godot, 149, 268, 280
Waiting for Lefty, 149
Walcott, Derek, 240-243, 299
Ward, Douglas Turner, 123
Washington, George, 86
Webster, John, 100, 276
Wedekind, Frank, 162-163
Wellington, Duke of (Arthur Wellesley), 233
Well-made play, 13
What the Butler Saw, 118, 208
What Price Glory?, 13
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 86-87, 294, 297, 299-300
Widdemer, Margaret, 146-147, 153

Index
Wilde, Oscar, 59, 118, 221
Wilder, Thornton, 197-205, 236-239
Wilhelm II (Kaiser), 48, 131
Williams, Tennessee, 36-41, 66-67, 143-153, 249-254
Winesburg, Ohio, 238
Works and Days, 64
Woyzeck, 131-132, 300
Wycherley, William, 118, 267

Y
Yeats, William Butler, 146, 240

Z
Zola, mile, 300

315

ibidem-Verlag
Melchiorstr. 15
D-70439 Stuttgart
info@ibidem-verlag.de
www.ibidem-verlag.de
www.ibidem.eu
www.edition-noema.de
www.autorenbetreuung.de