ENGC13 - Ethnic Traditions - Feb 6.odt

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17 Apr 2012
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ENGC13 – Ethnic Traditions in American Literature
O'neill's play in the theatre
There needs to be a different way of getting the inside out
What does performance mean? How do we perform an identity? How do we get the inside of a
character out on stage?
History of the Stage Irish Play
Previous portrayals of Irish stage
The Stage Irish man came around early 17th century – Shakespeare has an Irish character in
Henry V – Captain Macmorris
Captian Macmorris is a military captian in the English army and Shakespeare ridiculed to
some extent, his way of speaking - “What ish my Nation?
There's no indication of a struggle yet but reference to their struggle with the English accent
Captain questions his national identity – this is what the typical stage irish man keeps doing
The Irish man in the 17th century
Portrayed as unreliable, belligerent, impecunious, dim-witted, alcoholic, Irish brogue,
18th century
Amiable and sentimental peasant or servant, slightly naiive but honest – proud of
being Irish
19th century
Knockabout comedy, farcical or burlesque Irishmen, paddy-whackery – melodrama:
quick-witted, humorous in their own right. During this time, Irish language kind of
died out so it was extremely important to focus on the way Irish characters speak
So they're presented as out-witting other characters through their language, through
their puns
Late 19th century: Irish Renaissance
1899: Founding of Irish Literary Theatre by William Beats & Lady Augusta Gregory
Their goal was to combat buffoonish and melodramatic representation
1903: Irish National Theatre Society
It was a theatre by the irish for the irish
Play by Yeats: Cathleen ni Houlihan
This play was inspirational – about rebellion in Ireland in 1798
woman who recruits martyrs for her cause
convincing them to fight against the english
about faith in irish struggle for independence
they were trying to create an epic heritage
1904: founding of the Abbey Theatre – managed by Yeats
so the stage irish man became owned by the irish
but depends on the audience – if actor looks sympathetic they wont identify as stage irish
but if they are ridiculous they will
American theatre
entertainment industry in 19th century – emergence
Started with very small stages – what was popular was minstrel shows (comedy routines –
racist form of theatre) burlesque shows (mocking women), vaudeville theatre (talked about
last class)
Melodrama – contributed to rise of the big theatres in America (5 act plays, linear,
suspenseful, romanticizing, nostalgia for home, etc, not just for Irish)
Old man O'Brien in Young Lonigan about 1903 production of Soudan
Irish-American Theatre
Irish contributed to development of Melodrama
19th Century Irish American theatre professionals
Dion Bouicicault, Augustin Daly, Bartley Campbell, Harrigan, Brougham
1907: United Irish Societies special committe
Terribly upset that Irish were still being misrepresented
Wrote letters to editors about how to change this
1911: “Playboy riots”: Abbey Theatre on tour with John Millington Synge's “The
Playboy of the Western World (1907)
Already created a lot of riots in Ireland in 1907
Conservative Irish were upset with representation of Irish
This was a realist play
Sexual imagery in the play – although not really a big deal
People were still offended at the idea of talking about young women in their underwear
pple didnt get the play's message – reconsider the concept of heroism
O'Neill was inspired by this play – by irish realism
Eugene Gladstone O'Neill
William Gladstone – an English Liberal Prime Minister – 4 times between 1864 – 1888 –
introduced home rule in the British parliament
Gladstone was very sympathetic to the Irish Cause
This is the significance of the name “Gladstone”
Born October 16 1888 in NYC
Had an older alcoholic brother Jamie who introduced Eugene to bars, etc
Mother was also addicted to Morphine – occurred after Eugene's birth
Father was a prominent actor (James O'Neill) – started out as a Shakespearean actor but then
– acted in more than 5000 plays – became very successful
Eugene went to Princeton and later studied playwriting at Harvard
1912 was very significant time in his life – In January he attempted suicide
But then survived and decided he would become a playwright
Married 3 times
Both his sons committed suicide
Daughter married Charlie Chaplin
Died in 1953
O'Neill as a playwright
Greatest influences:
His father's acting career
Learned from other realist dramatists
His one-act plays in 1913Warnings, Fog, Thirst
His play was performed in 1916
Atmosphere in the plays – foggy
Doing it in Provincetown, Massachussetts influenced his plays environment/atmosphere a
good deal – the sea, etc
O'Neill's achievements in theatre
Turned drama into a serious art form
Nearly 40 plays
Recurring themes: murder, disease, insanity, disillusionment
Won prizes
1920 & 1922 & 1928, etc 1947
Only wrote one comedy: Ah Wilderness
2 Greatest Plays
The Iceman Cometh
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Dedicated to 3rd wife on 12th year anniversary
Significance of his dedication – reference to light and darkness
Play is largely autobiographical (keep this in mind)
Because it was really personal – he ordered that it not be produced for 25 yrs after his death
but performance of the play less than 3 years after his death, was permitted
Structure
Takes place on a single day in August 1912
O'Neill's life – between suicide attempt and his decision to become a playwright
Technique of setting a piece of literature in one day is a very famous technique
Another book set in one day – Ulysses (1904)
Another modernist text – Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Wolfe
Characters
James Tyrone & Mary Cavan Tyrone (Reference to virgin Mary – very common name in
Irish literature)
Kids – James Jr., Eugene, Edmund
James the name is also associated with Ireland
Edmund was the brother who died by the time Eugene was born
Also a literary connection with Edmund – Monte Cristo
The fact that we have the boy who died as Eugene, and the one who survived as
Edmund – what's the significance of this reversal?