University of Tasmania
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The effect of dramatic concept in the non-realistic plays of Eugene O'Neill and Thornton Wilder

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posted on 2023-05-26, 19:56 authored by Kent, Stella Ann
Both Eugene O'Neill and Thornton Wilder reacted against the naturalism of turn-of-the-century drama, believing that non-realistic methods could be more effectively used to present the truth. Influenced by recent experiments in Europe, and deriving inspiration from Greek, Elizabethan and Oriental models, the playwrights searched for novel techniques to wake up the audience and shake it into awareness of man's universal and contemporary situation. This study of twenty-six plays considers the success of these devices. A discussion of the structure of the plays in Chapter Two explores O'Neill's use of compression, parallels, and repetition to give the plays rhythm and force and his selection of episodes which give heightened significance to the action which is often played out against a large background. Similarly Wilder's concentration on symbolic moments, the deliberately jerky movement of many plays and the telescoping of time give his characters and action a cosmological and metaphysical framework. In Chapter Three a study is made of the effect of characters who are seen by the authors as only part of the whole play, and are often used to illustrate only one or two human traits. Representational and cliche characters, personalities from history and myth, the personification of animals and places, and characters who address the audience strengthen Wilder's reminder to us that a play is a piece of fiction. O'Neill's development of the mask is traced with its various purposes of showing inner personality, conflict within the characters, lack of individuality, and for its sheer dramatic power. Chapters Four and Five analyse the dramatists' use of sound and visual effects. Although aware that great language was not possible in the early twentieth century, O'Neill relies heavily on rhythm, silence and pauses, the use of speech sounds, laughter, music and sound effects to give emotional impact to the action. The asides of Strange Interlude were a unique experiment which allowed layers of conflicting emotions to be shown. Wilder's monologues and casual speech, lightened by humour and platitudes, make his philosophical concerns more palatable to the audience. Both authors were aware that stage-positioning, movement, sets, mime, dance, frozen posture, colour, lighting and costume could disencumber the dialogue, focus our attention and create atmosphere. The last Chapter attempts to assess what the playwrights achieved with their experiments, both in terms of their success in performance and reading, and in terms of the influence exerted on a later generation of writers. American drama owes a significant debt to both authors for liberating it from a stale realistic tradition.


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Copyright 1981 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (M.A.)--University of Tasmania, 1983. Bibliography: l. 166-177

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