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The Evolution Of American Drama Essay

1838 words - 8 pages

Over the past 250 years, America as a nation has evolved. Its beliefs, customs, and citizens have undergone changes with the times. It seems only natural, then, that its drama would also evolve. American drama of the 20th century was far removed from that of the 18th century. The differences are stark and many, and to fully appreciate what American drama is today, it helps to know where it came from. The evolution of American drama, from its earliest form to the modern works of Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, can be traced through three plays from the 18th and 19th centuries. By studying Thomas Godfrey’s The Prince of Parthia, Royall Tyler’s The Contrast, and James A. Herne’s Margaret ...view middle of the document...

Tyler uses the plot to play up the differences between Colonel Manly and Mr. Dimple. Manly is a humble, noble man with great depth. Dimple is a petty, shallow, self-centered man. These differences are also evident in their servants, Jonathan and Jessamy. Throughout the play, Dimple carries on relationships with three women. They are Maria, who he has been arranged to marry, Charlotte and Letitia. Neither Dimple nor Maria wants to continue with the arranged marriage and eventually it is broken off when Dimple’s poor character is revealed to Maria’s father. Maria ends up with Manly, and the three women realize the error of their ways and resolve to be friends. The play basically points out the goodness of Manly, an honorable representative of new America, versus the superficiality of Dimple, who turns his nose up at American customs and speaks highly of European ways. In the end, Dimple is left alone and disgraced, while Manly is praised. It is a play that certainly would appeal to early Americans. Margaret Fleming is a play that centers around Margaret, the wife of a Philip, a mill owner in Massachusetts. Philip and Margaret have a young daughter, but it is also revealed that Philip is the father of a son to a woman outside his marriage named Lena. Margaret finds out about the infidelity and the other child because, ironically, the Flemings’ housekeeper, Maria, is Lena’s sister. Margaret finds out about the indiscretion from Maria on a visit to see Lena, who is sick. Lena dies before Margaret arrives, but Maria is there and shows Margaret a letter from Lena to Philip, which makes her aware of the infidelity. Disgraced by the situation, Philip runs away for a week, while Margaret takes in the orphaned son of Philip and Lena. Margaret goes blind from glaucoma that the doctor warned her about if she experienced any trauma. Eventually Philip shows back up, hoping to make up with Margaret and get their life back together. Unlike the other two plays, there is no ultimate resolution and we are left to wonder what will happen between Margaret and Philip. Where The Prince of Parthia plays out tragically and The Contrast teaches a lesson about the virtue of America, Margaret Fleming offers a much more open-ended conclusion.
One of the most interesting developments through the plays is that of the characters, and specifically the roles of the female characters in the plays. The Prince of Parthia offers us a main female character in the form of Evanthe, who is the love interest of Arsaces. She also is desired by King Artabanus and Vardanes. Evanthe does not come across in the play as a complex character. What we know of her essentially is that she loves her father and she loves Arsaces. We get very little insight otherwise into her character, but she comes across as weak. When she learns that Artabanus loves her, she quickly resigns herself to the fact that she will be with him rather than Arsaces.. When she is told falsely that Arsaces has been killed,...

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