American Drama: The Bastard Art by Susan Harris Smith

By Susan Harris Smith

During this publication, Susan Harris Smith appears to be like on the many frequently conflicting cultural and educational purposes for the forget and dismissal of yank drama as a sound literary shape. protecting a variety of subject matters equivalent to theatrical functionality, the increase of nationalist feeling, the production of educational disciplines, and the improvement of sociology, Smith's learn is a contentious and revisionist historic inquiry into the cultural and canonical prestige of yankee drama, either as a literary style and as a replicate of yank society.

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Even Ruby Cohn, a critic who has made a study of American drama from the point of view of its distinctive dialogue, insists that "only four American playwrights [O'Neill, Miller, Williams, and Albee] have produced distinctive dialogue" and concludes that "the best modern American CRITICAL DISDAIN 45 dramas fall short of the best European" (314). The recent development of what Richard Kostelanetz calls "the theatre of mixed means," a theatre that has revolted against "the predominance of the word," marks, for him, a connection with the American tradition of a nonliterary stage that precludes the kind of "theatre of literature" that thrives in Europe: "What theatrical genius we have had in America would seem to express itself primarily not in playwriting but performance .

CULTURAL AND ACADEMIC BIAS 23 Anti-theatrical Prejudice (19 81), but he explicitly avoids hazarding an explanation beyond observing that the intense and durable hostility toward mimicry and exhibitionism may be a worldwide phenomenon. But while this also may help explain the antidramatic bias in literary studies in general, it does not account for the neglected position of American drama in particular. Historically, American drama has always suffered from a bad reputation. One might argue that the tradition of skepticism about drama, dating back to colonial America, suggests that the well-documented Puritan distaste for theatre and drama continues to hold strong sway over the general populace as well as academic institutions.

At least three critics blame the dramatists' commitment to realism for a lack of heightened or "literary" language. American theatre failed to "deliver genius" for Clive Barnes because "the impulse, the actual need for theatrical realism, persisted too long" (xii-xiii). Vivian Mercier pronounces American drama to be "moribund" because the "force of Realism" renders it "mechanical" (375). Mary McCarthy, too, finds that the dramatists "pledged to verisimilitude" (26) strive against the constraints of realism and write pretentiously and hollowly; as a consequence, such writers are "cursed with inarticulateness" (30).

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