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'evolution Or Revolution' Recurring Ideas In Ibsen, O'neill And Shepard

3909 words - 16 pages

Evolution or Revolution? Recurring themes, ideas and conventions in the dramas of Ibsen, O'Neill and Shepard.

Throughout the history of drama, playwrights have appropriated the ideas of their predecessors for their own use, sometimes building on them and making the idea their own. American drama is no exception. American drama has its roots firmly entrenched in modern European drama, this is illustrated through the influence of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen on American playwright Eugene O'Neill. O'Neill once wrote, "Not long ago I read all of Ibsen's plays again. The same living truth is there. Only to fools with a superficial eye cocked to detect the incidental can they have anything dated or outworn about them. As dramas revealing the souls of men and women they are as great to-day as they will be a hundred years from now." (Manheim p.24). O'Neill and his contemporaries, in turn, influenced a new generation of American playwrights, exemplified by Sam Shepard who, according to Henry I. Schvey, "Like O'Neill, who for decades rejected psychological realism as 'holding the family Kodak up to ill-nature,' then embraced it in his greatest works such as Long Day's Journey, Shepard has moved toward a new realism which owes much to the family drama of O'Neill" (Modern Drama p.18). This should illustrate how European conventions were replicated, built on or even subverted to create what we know today as American drama.

Egil Tornqvist writes, in the critical essay 'O'Neill: Philosophical and Literary paragons', "Paradoxically, O'Neill is never closer to Ibsen than at the peak of his artistry and integrity, when he is able to use the old master's tools, notably his retrospective technique, with perfection and insight, free in his indebtedness to the father of modern drama and, through his own work, pointing to the Ibsen tradition as a viable alternative in the search for a tragedy of our time." (Manheim p.26). The use of exposition has become somewhat of a trademark for Ibsen, setting significant events likely to affect the drama before the actual play, this occurs throughout Hedda Gabler, for example Miss Tesman refers to Tesman and Lovborg's rivalry early in the play saying, "Yes ... and the people who stood in your way ... and wanted to keep you back ... you outran them all. They've fallen by the wayside, Jorgen! And your most dangerous adversary, he fell lower than any of them, he did .... And now he must lie on the bed he's made for himself ... the poor depraved creature." (Ibsen p.174-5). This retrospective view gives the play the feeling of being the culmination of a series of events. O'Neill adopted that same viewpoint in his plays. For instance, James Tyrone reveals Mary's troubled history to the audience in a conversation with Jamie, "It's damnable she [Mary] should have this [Edmund's illness] to upset her, just when she needs peace and freedom from worry. She's been so well in the two...

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