Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eugene O’Neill as a Dramatist

O’Neill’s drama found an audience in the late 1950s. At first sight, it seems remote from the dominant serious drama of this period, the post-realist drama that stemmed from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. A further wave of successful revivals of the late plays early in the 1970s suggests that O’Neill’s appeal in 1956 was not, as might have been supposed, that of a voice from the past briefly resuscitated, but that of a voice speaking directly to audiences now. It is not a quaint voice but an urgent one that we hear, one that sounds both of and outside of its own time and presents us with pressing questions about our own being.
O’Neill’s writing differs from the ephemeral. writing of those contemporaries of his who might seem to share his conventions because, in his drama, word and word, word and stage image, interact within a developing pattern of meaning, startling us, as members of the audience, with their echoic quality, informing us with their mutual suggestiveness, compelling us to see contrasts and new relationships. The dramatist whose plays continue to live on the stage in a period in which stage conditions have altered is not one who has merely satisfied the expectations of his audience and cast events and characters into a preconceived form. He is one who, whilst acknowledging the conventions of the contemporary theatre, has given those characters and events significance within the action of a play whose form is a necessary part of its meaning. The context for the action, which is normally supplied by the audience themselves from theatrical habit and their sense of matters of current discussion, is incorporated into the verbal and visual sequence of the play itself. It is this density of internal reference and association and the demands that the play, therefore, makes on those who watch it, to take references and make associations, that enables the play to continue to weld a heterogeneous crowd into an audience and to retain meaning an alien time and society.
I have shown, particularly in the last two chapters of this study, how fully O’Neill incorporates the context into the play. There is, in Primo Levi’s book, The Trace, a description of a theatrical performance which was remarkably of one time and place and whose effectiveness depended, by contrast with what I have been describing, on the collective experience of a most unusual audience who, prompted by the vestigial nature of the words and gesture, supplied the context from its shared knowledge. Whilst we cannot share this response, Levi’s description, both here and in the book as a whole, in part supplies the context for the reader and allows us to understand something of the kind of experience that audiences in that theatre must have had. The description, and this is its relevance here, helps us to perceive how much the dramatist himself must supply who would draw a similarly deep response to enigmas of human existence, whether we choose to label him a ‘realist’ or a ‘post-realist’, whether he writes an Iceman Cometh or a Waiting for Godot.
Levi, one of only six Italian Jews who survived Auschwitz, describes a long period of free but purposeless existence after the release from that camp, passed in the no man’s land of a Russian transit camp. He tells of an entertainment improvised in the transit camp’s amphitheatre by the people waiting— Italian prisoners of war, Jewish survivors, and other refugees. Some Rumanians sing a nonsense rhyme in which a word is suppressed at each repetition and replaced by a gesture:
My hat has got three corners —
Three corners has my hat.
If it did not have three corners
It would not be my hat.
This ‘infant whimsicality’, Levi writes, ‘turned into a sinister, obscurely allegoricai pantomime, full of symbolic and disquieting echoes’:
A small orchestra, whose instruments had been provided by the Russians, began its tired motif in low, muted tones. Slowly, swaying to the rhythm, three nightmare figures came onto the stage; they were wrapped in black cloaks, with black hoods on their heads, and from the hoods emerged three faces, of corpse-like decrepit pallor, marked by deep, livid lines. They entered with a hesitant dance step, holding three unlighted candles in their hands. When they reached the centre of the stage, always in time to the rhythm, they bowed towards the public with senile difficulty, slowly tending their stiff joints, with small worrying wrenches; they took two full minutes to bend down and rise again, minutes which were full of anguish for ail the spectators. They painfully regained an erect position, the orchestra stopped, and the three phantoms began to sing the stupid strophe in a tremulous broken voice. They sang, and at every repeat, with the accumulation of gaps replaced by uncertain gestures, it seemed as if life, as well as voice, would drain from them. With the rhythm accentuated by the hypnotic pulsation of a single muted drum, the paralysis proceeded slowly and ineluctably. The final repeti­tion, with absolute silence from orchestra, singers and public was an excruciating agony, a death throe.
When the song ended, the orchestra began again lugubriously; the three figures, with a final effort, trembling in every limb, repeated their bow. Unbelievably, they once more managed to straighten themselves, and with their candles wavering, with a horrible and macabre hesitation, but always in time to the rhythm, they disappeared forever behind the scenes.
The ‘Three Cornered Hat’ number took away one’s breath, and every evening was greeted with a silence more eloquent than applause. Why? Perhaps because, under the grotesque appearance, one perceived the heavy breath of a collective dream, of the dream emanating from exile and idleness, when work and troubles have ceased, and nothing acts as a screen between man and himself; perhaps because we saw the impotence and nullity of our lives and of life itself, and the hunch-backed, crooked profiles of the monsters generated by the sleep of reason.
(The Truce, Torino, 1963, translated S. Woolf (London, 1965), pp. 158—9)
One striking aspect of this account, I think, is that we recognize instantly what kind of experience it is that Levi describes. Our wonder is less that this ‘infant whimsicality’ could have had the effect it did, than that Levi’s description of this brief performance should seem so familiar. Reading it, we are in the world of the post-war theatre. Here, as there, implication arises out of seeming nonsense or, rather, out of a crazy, solipsistic logic, and out of the suggestive juxtaposition of word, gesture and silence. The connections which makeup a meaning must be made in the mind of each member of the audience. But there are marked differences, too. Whilst the ‘Three Cornered Hat’ is a brief song, a ‘number’ performed amongst other songs and sketches, Waiting for Godot is a two-act play. Since then, Beckett has written plays which are briefer than his first, even an ‘Act Without Words’, but these sparser plays carry implication because their audiences watch them partly in the light of what has gone before: Waiting for Godot and Endgame are part of the implicit context which helps us to assimilate Lessness or Not l. The audience Levi described did not have a theatrical context of this kind. Because of the limbo of their present and the searing and untenable experience of their recent past in the camp, they shared a common consciousness which led to a shared openness to the suggestiveness of images in the context of which, the minimal words and action of the ‘Three Cornered Hat’ number could generate ‘symbolic and disquieting echoes’. Such homogeneity is not to be encountered in any theatre audience. The dramatist must himself create such a context within his play if he is to lead his audience into a state of alert awareness in which they can make connections of the sort Levi describes. He must stir our memory of things we have known or half encountered and have let lie buried; he must awaken in us the capacity to take symbolic value from the action we see on the stage; he must disrupt our complacency by making unexpected associations between things we thought we knew to be apart.
Inevitably, this context must derive from the conventions of the theatre of his time and from the ways in which both dramatist and audience are accustomed to respond to and to interpret images in the theatre, although, in exploring his particular meaning in dramatic terms, any major dramatist will inevitably also startle his audience and disturb some of their preconceptions even whilst satisfying others. His private struggle with form will in this way extend the previous limits and play a part in changing the accepted conventions.
I do not wish to present an argument that O’Neill is an absurdist dramatist, but would suggest that in his insistence that his realistic manner must also be expressive, must be ‘real realism’, he did play a part in extending the limits and did assimilate into his form means of exploring areas of human experience which continue to be of pressing interest to us today. Retention of the realistic framework seems to have been essential to the functioning of his creative imagination. He did experiment with expressionist and symbolist techniques but, as we saw in chapter 1, even within such experiments he constantly veered towards sets and situations in which the familiar and human, as opposed to the remote or metaphysical, could be recreated and explored.
And yet whilst O’Neill never does break the illusion he does go to the edge, does threaten it. Within the conventional performing of the play itself, his characters perform for each other and adopt a succes­sion of different roles. The characters in Long Day’s Journey Into Night introduce their quotations or passages of heightened prose with a self-conscious gesture, they praise each other’s performance and comment on the quality of each recitation; Con Melody strikes poses before a mirror, into which he also performs his recitations of Byron’s poetry; Don Parritt’s final exit in The Iceman Cometh is accompanied by a consciously histrionic ‘curtain line’, whilst in A Moon for the Misbegotten, Jamie gestures to the sunrise with the words ‘Rise of Curtain, Act Four stuff’. Such speeches contribute to the ongoing action. They are ‘in character’, notably so in the case of the Tyrones who are presented as being professional actors. And yet, they also bring consciousness of performance and playing into the audience’s minds, in much the same way as does the reiterated play metaphor in Shakespeare’s drama.
Similarly, although in the late plays O’Neill does appear to keep to a sequential time span, there is, co-existent with the realistic rhythm of linear time, a different temporal rhythm: a strange recurrence and circularity of the kind that would be explicit in the drama of the post-war period. In concluding this study of O’Neill’s dramatic method, I should like, by looking briefly at the play of time in the late plays, to underline what is already apparent in the detailed discussion of O’Neill’s language in the body of this book, that, in his fully achieved ‘real realism’, O’Neill gains the capacity to speak with a voice that is at once familiar and original, of the paradoxes that beset our human existence.
The fictional time span of each of O’Neill’s late plays occupies only a day or a day and a half of fictional time, and each is limited to a single set. (See Appendix 3 for an account of O’Neill’s handling of time in the early and middle years.) In each, a linear plot drives the action forwards. The Iceman Cometh, with its revelations, act by act, about the death of Evelyn and the betrayal of Rosa, is modelled on the detective mystery; Long Day’s journey Into Night, with its hints, its anticipated telephone calls, its trips to the doctor and drug store, its ominous predictions about the return of the fog, on the well-made play. A Touch of the Poet and Moon for the Misbegotten, the one with its duel, the other its intrigue over the old homestead and both with seduction plots, follow the course of the old melodrama. The linear plot is used in each case to hold the audience and stimulate their curiosity, whilst other elements slowly take possession at a deeper level, and meaning accrues to seemingly neutral words and images. Time and space are extended in these plays, within the firm structure of the linear plot, by a succession of vignettes of off-stage characters and events which are integrated into the dialogue in jokes, tall stories, reminiscences and involuntary memories. At their simplest, these present people or events from outside the stage setting but inside the play’s fictional time span. Shaughnessey, Macguire; Simon, Mr Harford; Jamie weeping at Mamie Burns’; Hickey standing at a street corner, Hope’s roomers confronting the world; Jim Tyrone and Hogan at the inn; Sara visiting Simon’s room — they increase the range of the action without dissipating its concentration. In other sequences, people or events from outside the time-span of the play are presented. Recalled from the past, these are the women with whom Hope’s roomers failed to establish relationships; the man through whose admiration Erie Smith had been able to summon self-respect, and, most poignantly, they are the characters themselves at another stage of their lives. The events that are recalled, no longer important in themselves, have become self-restorative or self-tormenting fictions in which the characters seek for their own identities. Absorbed now into the dialogue, they are often those ‘strong’ situations which would once have dominated O’Neill’s plot attempted suicide, murder, betrayal, a child discovering his mother’s drug addiction, a crazy performance at a grave-side, a ghoulish debauch. Filtered through individual memories, constantly presenting themselves for re-examination, altered slightly at each telling, told by one and then another character, never actually witnessed by the audience, they are not fixed in the way that the stage events are. By the end of the plays they have taken on the quality of myth. The past which increasingly fills our consciousness is shown to be always shifting, and our perception of the present which so clearly grows from that past is made correspondingly tentative.
In The Iceman Cometh, the relationship with the past is bound up with the nature of the lives represented in the present. In Hope’s bar, time has stopped. The roomers live in an eternal present, of their own creation. The past has made them what they are yet, despite their very different backgrounds, they have all come to the same thing. The past, except for alcohol, is their only topic of conversation, the only thing which stirs their thought, but the conversation and thought is not vital, it consists of variations on the already known possibilities, told in order to fill the time. It is no longer a deep relationship. Even the awareness of a lost future is neutralized by being made into a pipe-dream and by having become public territory. The past has become a fiction, characterized by songs, slogans and tales. The individual is lost in the community and the community has no purpose and no future. It exists and, so long as it does, its members will exercise mutual tolerance, will protect each other in order to protect themselves by maintaining the status quo. Hickey disturbs the equilibrium because he challenges the roomers to make that petrified past with its dream of a future regain its life. Each man can see the pointlessness of the others attempting such a transfer but each nevertheless hopes anxiously that the others will succeed, because the old order is being shaken and they must have something with which to replace it. Hickey’s attempt to help them forget the past and future and free them from guilt and hope, is misguided because the game of past and future, guilt and hope they all play is a screen to protect them from recognizing their own pointlessness. The roomers in their drift­ing existence ‘Before Hickey’ still hang on to the idea of purpose, because they are able to construct an artificial version of the progress­ive, linear view of time that Hickey holds. What gives the play its remarkable force is that the context O’Neill creates leads us to recog­nize that behind the facade of claims to purpose, made ingenuously by Hickey and self-blindingly by the roomers, there exists a universe without any purpose, and that the drifting, passive time filled by a game, is the real model of human existence. In Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the verbal organization of Mary Tyrone’s final speech leads us to perceive the character and the occasion she evokes from two different points in time. At the very last moment of this speech, and of the play, the moment to which various elements in the plot and the very title have been propelling us, we are asked to return again to the opening of the play, to the ground which has been worked over and over since the play began and to all the statements about the circularity of events which we have absorbed during the course of the play. Such an effect could only have been achieved in the drama, where visual image and spoken word interact, where we have before us not only the listeners who are tormented by the words, but the very room in which their stage life has been passed and the objects which have become identified with them. A word, therefore, a gesture, even a position on the stage, can activate our memory of those other moments contrast­ing with, complementing, extending the immediate image.
The far more difficult art of prose
In this study, I have explored the distinctly dramatic as opposed to the purely literary or rhetorical elements in O’Neill’s language and, in doing so, have attempted to extend the discussion of why some plays entertain us pleasantly in the theatre for a couple of hours before they art forgotten, whilst others, O’Neill’s amongst them, have the power to make more stringent demands on our experiencing faculties and, thereby, to become a vital part of our imaginative lives.
I do not present this study as the definitive account of O’Neill’s drama, but as a working inquiry into it, which I would hope would help to stimulate further investigation of how particular arrangements of words coalesce to create dramatic meaning. Although I have tested my ideas about O’Neill’s language extensively, I have inevitably had to be selective in deciding which areas I should explore and which examples of them I should present here. My selection must have been directed by my own private response to the plays, which will not have been exactly that of any other person in O’Neill’s audience. My examples might look convincing, taken as they are here, out of context, but how well do they stand up to probing? Is the pattern which I have suggested as the norm for James Tyrone’s speech, for example, really the norm? Are my claims about the monotony of rhythm in Lazarus Laughed borne out by a reading of the full text, which Stanislayski, for one, was eager to produce? Does the dialogue always interact with the movements which the stage directions demand of Tyrone, as I have shown it to do in the excerpts discussed, or does the movement and gesture relapse into mere behaviour for much of the action? Are the words of Lazarus Laughed always as much weaker than the choreography as they are in the examples I have given? I would hope that my method would not quell such questioning but would invite the reader to examine my claims repeatedly against the plays O’Neill has written.
What is shown by my exploration to be beyond question, I would think, is that the language of O’Neill’s plays is not ‘transparent’, as the language of realistic drama is often felt to be, nor are the gesture, costume and set merely arbitrary, there to please the eye and fill the stage – rather, the dramatist’s competence in composing the language of the play, his imaginative organization of the elements of theatre and his interrelating of the two, are shown to be as central and as inextric­ably intertwined in vital drama of the realist manner as they are in that of any other manner. O’Neill, like all writers of significance who might be labelled ‘realist’, does not, even were it possible, merely reproduce what is immediately available to sensory experience, nor do we have in any single speech, direct access to the fall meaning of what is being said. His words take on a charge of meaning in the interaction and accumulation of the parts of a scene or the parts of a whole play, in the use of repetition and anticlimax, in the creation of and subsequent reward or denial of expectation, in changes in the syntactic pattern and in the echoing of keywords, in emphasizing or undercutting the spoken word with gesture, or stance, or tone of voice, and in a host of other linguistic and gestural elements, to which the audience, even without consciously recognizing how and when, gradually become attuned.
O’Neill, as I have shown, eventually achieved a fully dramatic language. Its rhythms are those of prose, certainly, but it is prose which is as complex, delicate and untranslatable, in its way, as poetry, There have been very few studies of dramatic language, but what there have been suggest strongly that we could come nearer to understanding the ‘power’ and ‘force’ and ‘dramatic effectiveness’ of the drama of our own time if we were to give more careful attention to the language in which it is written. Such investigation would help us to perceive the differences between contemporary writing which is complex and contemporary writing which is merely complicated or obscure, between dialogue which is casual and dialogue which is organically related to action although it gives an impression of being casual.
However nostalgically we might look to the Elizabethan and Jacobean period when both verse and prose were available, verse now seems to be an alien medium for both playwrights and audiences. To ask why verse no longer seems fully appropriate to the drama would seem to be much the same kind of question as to ask why the novel has superseded the epic or the long narrative poem, why verse has not, for a long time, seemed an appropriate medium for historical or philosophical writing, or, indeed, to ask why rhyme and regular metre have virtually ceased to figure in contemporary poetry itself. It is, arguably, the same kind of question as why it now seems necessary to celebrate the Mass in the vernacular or why incantation and ritual in public life still have the power to stir us, but always with the recogni­tion intermingled of them as other, as things past, and of ourselves as observers, not participators. Even Eliot, the great advocate of verse in the theatre, sought to disguise its presence from his audience, saying:
Too many people, on the other hand, approach a play which they know to be in verse, with the consciousness of the difference. It is unfortunate when they are repelled by verse, but can also be deplorable when they are attracted by it — if that means that they are prepared to enjoy the play and the language of the play as two separate things. The chief effect of style and rhythm in dramatic speech, whether in prose or verse, should be unconscious.
(Selected Prose, p. 66)
Yeats was more confident in his use of verse, but, whilst we may admire his attempt to create a theatre of kings and peasants, delighting in Deirdre or in the Plays for Dancers, we know, even whilst watching them, that these works are precious but also remote from us: strange, archaic jewels.
The search for answers to the questions of why we are not quite at ease with verse, why we have separated literature from music, would spread beyond the scope of this study into inquiry into the social and psychological springs and direction of our culture.
But to acknowledge that verse is no longer a natural medium for drama is clearly not to have said all that needs to be said about poetic drama. The language of prose drama certainly can be, and often is, thin-blooded, and the attempt to revive verse in the theatre, not only on the part of Eliot and Yeats, but of Hugo von Hofmannsthal and of Auden and Isherwood, as well as a host of courageous, if less well-equipped, poets from Maeterlinck and Rostand to Maxwell Anderson and Christopher Fry, stems from a just realization that the language of drama must be dense and flexible, must be, in Synge’s familiar words, ‘as fully flavoured as a nut or an apple’, capable of giving expression to what is mysterious in human existence as well as what is readily comprehended. The verse drama experiment was an attempt to incor­porate one principal element from the drama of the past into the dramatic mode of the present and, as such, it was bound to fail. What was necessary was that a dialogue should be created which acknow­ledged its own time and the literary developments that had taken place since the seventeenth century, which caught the accents of the com­mon speech, but ordered them more expressively. One of the really exciting aspects of the drama from Ibsen onwards has been the variety of ways and the self-consciousness with which, one after another, dramatists have engaged in a search for an appropriate language.
One mode which has emerged from this search is O’Neill’s, and it stems from Ibsen. In it, as we have seen, the illusion that the characters are using everyday speech is retained whilst the dialogue is, in fact, being patterned by the dramatist into a language that is more evocative and suggestive, as well as more concentrated, than any comparable stretch of everyday speech could be. By referring to the original Norwegian of Ibsen’s texts, or to sensitive translations of them, Inga-Stina Ewbank and John Northam have both demonstrated that Ibsen, making particular use of certain visual images and key-words used by one and then another character, created ‘highly structured patterns of unified dramatic imagery’ in his plays. Synge, too, worked in this mode taking the peasant speech of rural Ireland and the Aran Islands as his base, as O’Neill was later to take New York slang, and Tennessee Williams the speech rhythms of America’s deep south.
Another and very different mode has been that developed by Brecht and, following him in England, by John Arden. Here, the artifice of the stage is brought into the open and investigated as part of the action of the play. Far from concealing the verse and allowing its rhythms to blend into those of prose, as Eliot had tried to do, Brecht relishes the alien aspect of verse and deliberately juxtaposes prose and verse rhythms. As he says in his notes to The Threepenny Opera:
The three levels–plain speech, heightened speech and singing–must always remain separate from one another. Therefore, in no circumstances will sing­ing take over where words fail for excess of emotion. The actor must not only sing but show a man singing.
(Penguin edition, p. 234)
This juxtaposition not only enables him to compose a drama which has a surface liveliness, but allows him, by a sudden shift in style, to move his audience from one way of perceiving the action to another different way. In Mother Courage, for example, there are sequences which offer the audience the pattern of traditional drama, in which the dialogue is derived from idiomatic German and the characters speaking it are distinguished from each other by accent and verbal idiosyncracy which contribute to our impression of them as real people. In certain of these sequences, the dramatic tension is raised by Brecht in tra­ditional ways — the prediction of an event; the postponement of a crucial word or deed; the refusal of one character to act as another wishes; the overhearing by one character of words another would not have had him know had been uttered — and an emotional response is elicited from the audience. One example would be the scene in which Mother Courage denies Swiss Cheese; another, that in which Kattryn overhears the Cook’s proposal that Mother Courage should abandon her. The intervention into these sequences of song, or of recitatives which use ballad metre and rhyme and are phrased in that strangely timeless language of traditional ballads — the Chaplain’s ‘Song of the Hours’ in the Swiss Cheese incident, the Cook’s ‘Song of Solomon’ in the Kattryn incident — forces us to stand back from the emotion we have experienced. The changes from action to narrative, from specific interchange to generalized comment, draw the audience’s attention to the means of expression and invite them to exercise their critical faculties. Changes in distance, which interrupt or redirect the flow of attention, are of course present, as I have shown in earlier chapters of this study, in all kinds of drama. What is different in Brecht’s form is the deliberateness with which such changes are introduced, and the insistence that the audience should be conscious of the changes and of the response the action elicits from them.
The language of certain post-Second World War dramatists is related to the Ibsen mode in which the illusion of speech is retained, in that the same style is used consistently through the play and the figures remain ‘in character’ throughout. It is, however, a language far more obviously abstracted from everyday speech than imitative of it. Sometimes grotesquely playful, it derives rather from Strindberg’s
Chamber Plays or, even more, from Jarry’s Ubu plays than from Ibsen. The dialogue may fragment into lists, contain crazy repetitions and long silences, or it may fall into patterns usually connected with non-dramatic theatre – such as those of the circus, the music hall, the stand-up comic turn – or with non-theatrical discourse – such as those of philosophical argument or biblical text. Its audiences are invited to accept that this is the way these figures speak and yet, at the same time, to be conscious of the distortions, the exaggerations and the linguistic parodies the language contains. Individual writers within this mode remain as stylistically distinct from each other as the writers of any other period. Beckett’s language, for example, makes much more play with non-theatrical discourse than Pinter’s does, it is barer than everyday speech and, hearing it, we are made conscious, through the echoes we catch, of how partial and fragmented our experience is. Pinter, on the other hand, locates his speech in a place and time, through frequent references to homely articles, and through the repetition of idiomatic phrases which we recognize as common in our own speech. These differences reflect and are reflected in other important differences. Beckett’s stage world is timeless and unparticularized. He prevents us from making his figures into characters. References outside the present action are haphazard and lack the implication that there is a past which might be pieced together. The existence of a figure who leaves the stage is suspended until his return. Pinter, on the other hand, by a complicated pattern of clues and suggestions, leads us to believe that there could be an explanation for the strange events that we witness. The very mystification leads us to attempt to find order and explanation. The detail encourages us to recognize a particular time and place for the action and, if we cannot always identify cause and effect, or see why one event should follow, another, the assumption on the part of the characters that things are proceeding normally leads us to accept that the action is sequential and that the crisis or denouement, when it comes, and it invariably does in Pinter’s drama, has followed inevitably from previous events even if we cannot quite see how.
The cry, ‘the silence!’, ‘the pause’, ‘the subtext’, has gone up as an explanation of the effectiveness of post-realist language, but detailed stylistic studies by Andrew Kennedy and by John Russell Brown have made it clear that the expressive subtext can be identified by the audience only because of the complex organization of the text itself. Once we become accustomed, as members of a theatre audience, to a new linguistic pattern, to the idea that words will fail, for example, the shock effect of the novelty goes, we no longer find those silences threatening in themselves and we see how essential it is that the words and the interaction of the words with the visual images, should have activated the audience’s own imaginations, for only, thereby, will images fill those silences.
Even a survey as brief as this will remind us of the number and variety of the writers from Ibsen and Strindberg to Brecht and Arden, from Chekhov and Jarry to Beckett and Pinter who have, in the last hundred years, been drawn to the idea of figures ‘moving about on a stage and using words.’ It will help to make apparent, too, the truth of Edmund Wilson’s comment:
In art the same things are not done again or are not done again except as copies. The point is that literary techniques are tools, which the masters of the craft have to alter in adapting them to fresh uses. To be too much attached to the traditional tools may be sometimes to ignore the new masters.
(‘Is Verse a Dying Technique?’ The Triple Thinkers (London, 1952), p. 39)
A director’s theatre has come into being in this century. There have been repeated attacks on the very idea of written texts in the theatre from Paul Fort’s theatre of ephemeral sensory images, constructed out of light, sound, colour and even smell, at the Theatre d’Art in the 1890s, to the theatre groups in the 1960s, who have improvised words and gestures around a theme, or have staged ‘happenings’, those unscheduled moments of theatre. But, despite predictions to the contrary and despite the loneliness of the struggle to achieve dramatic form, a score or more texts of extraordinary dramatic power, two of O’Neill’s amongst them, have been produced, ensuring that the imag­ing and organizing consciousness of the individual dramatist has remained the vital centre of the drama.

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