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Eugene Glastone O’Neill
American Drama
Hao Guilian, Ph.D.
Yunnan Normal University
Fall, 2009
Drama is a type of literature usually written
to be performed.
People often make a distinction between
drama, which concerns the written text, or
script, for the performance, and theater,
which concerns the performance of this script.
Many of the most honored and influential
works of literature around the world have
been dramas.
Older plays, such as those written by the Greeks
or Shakespeare, consist almost entirely of the
words spoken by these characters (the dialogue).
More recent plays usually contain non-spoken
material (the stage directions) that
tells the actors when to enter or leave the performance
gives suggestions about how to speak their dialogue
(their lines), and
describes their costumes or their physical surroundings
on stage (the setting).
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle divided the elements
of drama into plot, character, thought, language, and
spectacle, and considered plot—the basic story and how it is
told—the most important of these.
Almost all dramas use all of these elements to some extent,
telling a story by means of the interactions of characters, who
express their thoughts through language within a particular
visual setting.
Western theater also has a long tradition of plays emphasizing
thought. Such plays are sometimes said to treat a particular
theme and have been called philosophical plays or thesis plays.
Language is almost always an important element in drama,
and it is occasionally the dominant element.
American Drama
Most American plays of the 18th and 19th
centuries strongly reflected British influence.
By the end of the 19th century American
drama was moving steadily toward realism,
illuminating the rough side of life and
creating more believable characters.
Realism remained the dominant trend of the
20th century in both comedies and tragedies.
Major Issues
As the century progressed, the most
powerful drama spoke to broad social
issues, such as civil rights and the AIDS
crisis, and the individual’s position in
relation to those issues.
Individual perspectives in mainstream
theater became far more diverse and more
closely reflected the increasingly complex
description of American society.
Major Playwrights
Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and
Arthur Miller reached profound new levels
of psychological realism, commenting
through individual characters and their
situations on the state of American society
in general.
In 1936 O’Neill became the first American
playwright to win a Nobel Prize for
Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953)
Critical Assessment
Literary critics and theatre historians
generally place O’Neill at the forefront of
American dramatists.
O’Neill experimented with realism, naturalism,
expressionism, comedy, tragedy, and myth.
Brings psychological realism to the stage,
highly influenced by Freud and Jung.
O’Neill sought to deal with man’s inner
strengths and his subconscious and quickly
found, like the naturalists, that realism failed
to probe deeply enough.
Thus, Expressionism became a major
technique, seeking to portray the subject in
such a way as to express the inner state of
the artist, complementing his earlier
naturalistic bent.
O'Neill was the first American dramatist to
regard the stage as a literary medium and the
only American playwright ever to receive the
Nobel Prize for Literature.
Through his efforts, the American theatre
grew up during the 1920s, developing into a
cultural medium that could take its place with
the best in American fiction, painting, and
Early life
O'Neill was born into the theatre. His father, James
O'Neill, was a successful touring actor in the last quarter
of the 19th century. His mother, Ella, accompanied her
husband back and forth across the country, settling
down only briefly for the birth of her children.
Eugene, who was born in a hotel, spent his early
childhood in hotel rooms, on trains, and backstage.
Although he later deplored the nightmare insecurity of
his early years and blamed his father for the difficult,
rough-and-tumble life the family led—a life that resulted
in his mother's drug addiction—Eugene had the theatre
in his blood.
Adult life
O'Neill's capacity for and commitment to work were
staggering. Between 1920 and 1943 he completed 20
long plays—several of them double and triple length—
and a number of shorter ones.
He received the Pulitzer Prize four times and received the
Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936 for the power, honesty
and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which
embody an original concept of tragedy, making him the
first US dramatist to do so.
He was married three times. His daughter Oona married
Charlie Chaplin on June 16, 1943. Oona was 17; Chaplin
was 54. Despite the tremendous gap in their ages, the
marriage was a happy one, producing eight children.
Major works:
Desire Under the Elms (1924)
Mourning Becomes Electra (1931)
The Iceman Cometh (1946)
1920’s Pulitzer Prize for Beyond the Horizon
1921’s Pulitzer Prize for Anna Christie
1928’s Pulitzer Prize for Strange Interlude
1956’s fourth Pulitzer Prize posthumously for his
autobiographical, and to an extent, darkest play
and his apex, Long Day's Journey into Night
Desire Under the Elms
The first full-length play in which O'Neill successfully
evoked the starkness and inevitability of Greek tragedy
that he felt in his own life was Desire Under the Elms.
Drawing on Greek themes of incest, infanticide, and
fateful retribution, he framed his story in the context of
his own family's conflicts.
This story of a lustful father, a weak son, and an
adulterous wife who murders her infant son was told with
a fine disregard for the conventions of the contemporary
Broadway theatre.
Because of the sparseness of its style, its avoidance of
melodrama(传奇剧), and its total honesty of emotion, the
play was acclaimed immediately as a powerful tragedy
and has continued to rank among the great American
plays of the 20th century.
Major themes
One of O'Neill's most admired works, Desire Under the
Elms invokes the playwright's own family conflicts and
Freudian treatment of sexual themes. According to
O'Neill's stage directions, the elms of the title are
supposed to dominate the set with "a sinister maternity."
The land in the play is the central theme, it holds all of
the elements of the play together. It was the object of
greed as well. The farm was the source of greed for three
of the characters in the play, Ephraim Cabot, his son Eben,
and his new wife Abbie. Peter and Simon focused their
greed on the fields of gold in the West, primarily in
年轻的独唱演员在剧中深情演唱外吸引观众性感 的耳
问,也 正是白永成导演力图达到的悲剧之外的幽默化
Despite his illness, O'Neill lived his life
to the fullest. As a young man of 35, he
wrote in a letter to a friend, "I am far
from being a pessimist ... On the
contrary, in spite of my scars, I am
tickled to death at life! I wouldn't 'go
out' and miss the rest of the play for