American Drama: The Bastard Art by Susan Harris Smith

By Susan Harris Smith

During this e-book, Susan Harris Smith appears to be like on the many frequently conflicting cultural and educational purposes for the forget and dismissal of yankee drama as a sound literary shape. masking a variety of subject matters comparable to theatrical functionality, the increase of nationalist feeling, the construction of educational disciplines, and the advance of sociology, Smith's research is a contentious and revisionist ancient inquiry into the stricken cultural and canonical prestige of yank drama, either as a literary style and as a replicate of yankee society.

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Charles Angoff, in his four-volume A Literary History of the American People (1931), points an accusatory finger at persistent Puritanism. He notes that Harvard, though it modeled itself after Cambridge and Oxford, did not follow their example in including playwriting in its curriculum. The moral issue was compounded by a political one: From 1774 to 1783, the theatre was under full control of the British military. The moral bias against theatre persisted up to the Civil War. In 1824, Yale's president declaimed that to indulge in playgoing meant "'nothing more or less than the loss of that most valuable treasure, the immortal soul'" (375).

Howard Mumford Jones and Ernest Leisy did not include playwrights in Major American Writers (1935), but they did argue that the "humorless reasonableness" of "sociological" drama, that is, the serious "problem" play, written before 1910 was simply a weak echo of the magazines that were excoriating modern industrial society: "When the American stage was reborn after its long immersion in false and theatrical romanticism, it became too accusatory" (20). Of course, English taste dictated American taste to a large degree.

He continues with his assessment: "We have not had a serious American political drama comparable to the works of Bertolt Brecht, Albert Camus, or Ugo Betti, no sustained examination of the moral complications of power, or of that large spiraling landscape lying between the lowest and highest levels of society," nothing like "Shakespeare's history plays" (7). Though from a stringently elitist, Eurocentric perspective there might be some shadow of truth to Brustein's, Krutch's and Freedman's charges, their exaggeration of the lack of breadth and depth demonstrated by a number of American writers needs to be qualified and placed in a historical context.

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