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Marco Millions


O'Neill revealed to Richard Dana Skinner in 1934 that he began preliminary work on Marco Millions in the Fall of 1923 (Letters 438).  Evidently the idea for a play about the Venetian traveler had been developing in the playwright's mind for some time.  Gelb reported that as early as 1917 O'Neill discussed Marco Polo as a suitable subject for drama with his friends Terry Carlin and Slim Martin at The Hell Hole (351).[1]  In 1918 according to Bogard, O'Neill had plans to write a play "to show a series of progressive episodes, illustrating--and I hope illuminating--the life story of a true Royal Tramp at his sordid but satisfying, and therefore mysterious, pursuit of a drab rainbow" (Contour 253).  Several factors seem to have led him in the early 1920s to begin writing his own version of the Marco Polo story under the working title Mr. Marco Millions (Gelb 561).

Sheaffer suggests that it is O'Neill's own fascination with the Orient coupled with references to Marco Polo which O'Neill ran across while researching The Fountain which inspired Marco MillionsMarco Millions is often linked with The Fountain and O'Neill's later work, Lazarus Laughed by virtue of these plays' exotic locales, often mystical action and poetic language.  Moreover, each of these plays is directly concerned with examining a fear of death and the need to create a metaphysic to provide meaning for life.

George Jean Nathan reported in The American Mercury in 1927 that Marco Millions was O'Neill's response to financier Otto Kahn's request that O'Neill write a play which spoke to the American businessman (Clark 108).  While Nathan's claim seems to be erroneous based on the time in which O'Neill actually wrote Marco, O'Neill did subsequently refer to Kahn in letter to Macgowan and to Nathan as "the Great Kahn" (As Ever, Gene 80, Bryer 53).  Such a report seems to be in keeping with the satirical nature of the play itself and O'Neill's own forward to the published edition, which claims the play "is an attempt to render poetic justice to one long famous as a traveler, unjustly world-renowned as a liar" (Clark 109).

Bogard believes that Marco Millions can be seen as a kind of companion piece to O'Neill's earlier Pulitzer Prize winning Beyond the HorizonHorizon concerns two brothers, one a dreamer who yearns to see the world, while the other wants nothing more than to work the land of his father.  Circumstances lead the dreamer to stay at home and unsuccessfully attempt to run the farm, while the practical brother goes to sea and becomes rich.  O'Neill focuses the play's action on the dreamer, Robert Mayo.  For Bogard Marco Millions articulates the travels of the unimaginative Andrew Mayo who becomes rich in his travels, but fails to grow from his worldly experience.  Virginia Floyd cites an unpublished 1918-1920 work diary in which O'Neill discusses writing "the play of Andrew" as a possible future work (288).  Such an intention may have influenced O'Neill's handling of the story of Marco Millions years later.

Events that occurred in O'Neill's personal life at that time may also have contributed to the content of Marco Millions.  O'Neill's mother Ella died in 1922, the year before he began writing the play.  In 1923 his brother Jamie "died hideously" as the ravages of a misspent life took their toll.[2]  Doris Alexander reported, "O'Neill wrote his final funeral scene first of all, in an urgent search for the answer to death" (55).  Thus, Kublai's questions to the representatives of the Eastern religions concerning the meaning of death may have been questions which were extremely relevant to O'Neill at that time. Eventually O'Neill put aside Marco Millions for about a year before resuming the project.

As he did for Ponce de Leon in The Fountain, O'Neill meticulously researched the historical aspects of Marco Polo's life.  In June of 1923 O'Neill wrote to Macgowan:

M. Polo is proving grand pleasure.  I have tentative plans drawn--floor plans--for all of it about.  Am reading & taking millions of notes, etc.  A lot of what the actual writing must be is now clear...I'll soon start a lengthy scenario of the whole to find out just how & where I stand--then get right after the writing...The child will be either a surpassing satiric Beauty--or a most Gawdawful monster...Beauty must be the word!  Letters 179

O'Neill's work diaries reveal that O'Neill resumed the Marco Polo story 17 July 1924.  In the interim he had written Desire Under the Elms (first draft), and The Great God Brown.[3]  In addition, O'Neill had participated in several productions of his works including: Welded, All God's Chillun Got Wings, a revival of The Emperor Jones, and an adaptation of Coleridge's The Ancient Mariner which was the first production of the new production team of O'Neill, Jones and Macgowan (2-9).  By October 1924, O'Neill finished his first draft of Marco Millions which was actually in the form of two plays to be shown on consecutive nights.  O'Neill wrote to Macgowan in October of 1924:

The first draft "Marco" play is now finished.  It has been an interesting job but a long one.  I should say the play is two good long plays of 2 1/2 hours each--at least!  So you see it's really two plays I've done.  Luckily, without premeditation, the piece falls into two very distinct--and exactly equal in length--halves.  Bryer 63

As with The Fountain, O'Neill had difficulty finding a producer who was willing to invest the large amount of capitol needed to produce Marco Millions.  The two night opus had a huge cast and many settings which needed to convey the travels of the Polos and the splendor of the Eastern lands.  As early as July, O'Neill was attempting to secure backing.  He wrote to Oliver Sayler inquiring as to the possibility of securing production in America by the great Austrian producer Max Reinhardt and direction by Reinhardt's collaborator Morris Gest (Letters 187).  During the same period O'Neill wrote to Macgowan informing him of his correspondence to secure Reinhardt and describing his plans as "collaborating with us to the existent of letting us have some say in the directing and producing" (Bryer 52).  The O'Neill/Reinhardt collaboration never materialized.

Next O'Neill contacted David Belasco who had a  reputation for expensive, detailed productions.  Belasco had been a colleague of James O'Neill, Sr. in the late 1870s.  He had directed a production of The Passion starring O'Neill Sr. as Jesus Christ.[4]  Despite O'Neill's scorn of Belasco's style of theatre, he flattered the producer by writing to him, "the story of your life is the best history of the American theatre that has been written" (Artist 160, Letters 187).  Six months later he again wrote to Belasco asking him to read the play and outlining its strengths and weaknesses (Letters 191).  Belasco agreed to take an option on the play if O'Neill would agree to edit it to one play.  The new draft was finished in a week.  Belasco indicated that he expected the cost of the production to be between seventy-five and one hundred thousand dollars (Artist 163).  In July of 1925, O'Neill wrote his wife about meeting with Belasco and assured her that "he certainly admires Marco" (Letters 196).  In the same letter O'Neill mentions that John Barrymore was a possibility for the title role. 

By April of the following year, however, O'Neill reported to Macgowan that "Belasco is officially off Marco" (Bryer 109).  On the 28th of April O'Neill wrote to Belasco concerning a "misunderstanding" about royalties for extending the option (Letters 202).  O'Neill firmly told Belasco that he must make a choice as to whether he wanted to produce the play, while leaving further negotiations open.  Belasco apparently did not respond favorably to the offer and his involvement with Marco Millions ceased.

Even before Belasco's option had run out, O'Neill began searching for someone who would take over the production.  O'Neill sent the play to several producers but none wished to take on as lavish and expensive a production as Marco appeared to be.  In October of 1926 O'Neill even contacted his old professor George Pierce Baker at Yale to inquire if the University would be interested in producing the play.  Finally, in order to "get some sort of hearing for the play," O'Neill cut the play once more and sent it to his publisher Horace Liveright for publication (Letters 225).  But it was not until the following year that Marco finally found a producer.

In March of 1927 Lawrence Langner, a founding member of The Theatre Guild, visited O'Neill at his home in Bermuda.  The Theatre Guild over the previous ten years had made its reputation producing "plays of artistic merit not ordinarily produced by the commercial managers" (Brockett 281).  The Guild specialized in European playwrights and was best known for producing the world premieres of several of George Bernard Shaw's plays.  "Langner felt that O'Neill, like Shaw, was a playwright his organization was obligated to stage if it was to be a top-ranking company" (Bryer 83).  Langner's visit marked the beginning of an association between O'Neill and The Guild which would last until the playwright's death in 1953 (Contour 489-95).  With the exception of Lazarus Laughed, the Theatre Guild would premiere all of O'Neill's subsequent plays.

Langner returned from Bermuda with the script of Marco Millions and with the first six acts of O'Neill's newest work Strange Interlude (Diary 39).  The directorate of The Guild reviewed Marco.  According to Sheaffer, "Most of the directorate liked the play but all felt that it required too expensive a production" (249).  Guild board member and designer Lee Simonson estimated that Marco would cost "a minimum of thirty thousand dollars" (249).  Despite the cost the directorate sent O'Neill a cable on April 25, 1927 in which they accepted Marco Millions for production as well as optioning Strange Interlude and three future plays (Diaries 40).  O'Neill accepted The Guild's proposal, eager to finally secure a stable producing organization for his work. 

In an effort to appease the board's concern with cost, O'Neill "suggested a number of script changes, including the omission of full scenes, that would cut down cast, costumes enormously" (Sheaffer 249).[5]  According to Bogard, designer Lee Simonson  stated that these cuts to the first act "injured the first act of the play in performance.  The scenes of the voyage of the Polos to China 'seemed pointless and the play did not begin as a drama until the second act' (Contour 253).  Simonson seems to indicate that the final cuts, while necessary for economic reasons, left the play disjointed. 

These omissions seem to have satisfied The Guild and their production of Marco Millions was scheduled for the following year.  Rehearsals began 5 December 1927.  Rouben Mamoulian was chosen to direct.  Mamoulian had recently made a name for himself directing The Guild's production of Porgy.[6]  The production design was created by Lee Simonson.  Casting of the principal characters was decided by the Guild from within its company "with little aid from O'Neill or Mamoulian" (Wainscott 216).  Alfred Lunt was chosen to play Marco.[7]  Baliol Holloway was cast as Kublai, while the part of Kukachin was to be played by Margalo Gillmore (Contour 490).  O'Neill, however, reported to his wife, Agnes Boulton, in December of 1927 that casting for "the innumerable small parts in Marco" was going badly due to the level of talent of available actors (Letters 267).  By 20 December O'Neill reported to Boulton, "Marco is blooming--except for the man who is playing the Kaan.  So far he is pretty poor but we hope he will finally get it" (Letters 269).  After three years of searching for a producer, O'Neill was finally to see the realization of this production.

With two of his plays in production at the same time, O'Neill was forced to limit his own influence during the rehearsal process and to split his time between the two plays.  The situation was similar to that of The Fountain and The Great God Brown.  The Gelbs wrote, "O'Neill found himself favoring one play over the other.  He apparently knew how to pick a winner when it came to the production of his plays, he was right again when he pinned his faith on Strange Interlude rather than Marco Millions" (646).  Like The Fountain, Marco Millions may have been weakened by O'Neill's inability to participate fully in its creation on stage.

O'Neill's personal life at this time may have also interfered with his participation in the production of Marco Millions.  In 1927 O'Neill began courting actress Carlotta Monterey at the time he was looking for backers for Marco Millions.  With his wife at home in Bermuda, O'Neill was torn between the two women.  In late 1927, as Marco and Strange Interlude were rehearsing, O'Neill's relationship with Carlotta intensified.  He wrote to Agnes, "Look into your heart and face the truth!  You don't love me anymore."  A few days later he wrote, "I love someone else.  Most deeply.  There is no doubt of this" (Letters 270).  Thus, O'Neill's attention was diverted from Marco by both his professional and personal life.

The many extras which O'Neill called were cut to save money.  The Gelbs wrote that this omission disrupted "unity and meaning of the play" (645).  Wainscott reported even deeper cuts in the published script including all of scene five and the epilogue (204-5).[8]  In addition, Wainscott as well as the Gelbs mentioned that scene shifts throughout the play forced the audiences to wait a considerable length of time (210, 645).  Many of the logistical problems with the production were a result of the attempts of The Guild to save money.

Despite all these difficulties, the production was moderately successful.  Margaret Loftus Ranald reported that the Broadway run was a respectable 102 performances.  In June of 1928 O'Neill wrote to Guild director Theresa Helbern, "I'm tickled to death to hear that M.M.& S.I. are still bringing home the bacon" (Letters 301).  This moderate success was overshadowed, however, by the run-away success of Strange Interlude which ran over four hundred performances and brought O'Neill his third Pulitzer Prize.

Marco Millions had a major revival in February of 1964 by ANTA Washington Square Theatre in New York.  The production was directed by José Quintero and starred Hal Holbrook as Marco and David Wayne as Kublai.  It ran a disappointing forty-nine performances before closing.  Critical assessment of this and the original productions will be examined in a later section.

Story Summary

Marco Millions is the story of the travels of Marco Polo written in three acts consisting of respectively six, three, and two scenes, and a prologue and epilogue.  The play spans twenty three years tracing the beginning of Marco's journey as an innocent and romantic youth in Venice to his return to Venice a quarter of a century later.  The play is called "O'Neill's Other Comedy" by Robert Cooperman because of its satiric tone and often humorous dialogue (37).

The prologue takes place on "a vast plane in Persia" in the thirteenth century (347).  The only scenic element on stage is a sacred tree where a chance meeting takes place between three merchants, one a Christian, one a Magian and one a Buddhist.[9]  As they talk they see a strange cloud of dust in the distance.  Afraid, they all turn to the tree which is sacred to each of their religions.  The merchants argue about the "true" significance of the tree.  Their argument is interrupted by the arrival of a wagon pulled by thirty slaves driven by soldiers.

The captain of the wagon party is carrying the body of Queen Kukachin to Cathay for burial.  As the men stare at her a light begins to glow from her face and her eyes open.  Kukachin speaks, "Say this, I loved and died.  Now I am love, and live.  And living, have forgotten.  And loving, can forgive.  Say this for me in Venice!" (352).  Fearful, the captain prepares to leave but cannot because three of his slaves are dead.  He enslaves the three merchants and goes on his way.

Act One takes place twenty three years prior to the prologue.  Fifteen year old Marco Polo is saying good-bye to his love, Donata, before departing on a trip to Cathay with his father, Nicolo, and uncle, Maffeo.  Marco and Donata swear fidelity to each other.  Donata gives Marco a medallion and asks him to write her a poem.  Marco agrees and asks for his first kiss before leaving.

Scene two takes place six months later at the palace of Papal Legate Tedaldo.  As Tedaldo talks with the older Polos, Marco composes a poem to Donata.  The Polos have come at the request of Kublai Kaan to bring to Cathay "one hundred wise men of the West to argue with his Buddhists and Taoists and Confucians which religion in the world is best" (359). Tedaldo explains that a new pope is being chosen and that the request cannot be fulfilled.

Tedaldo turns his attention to Marco and asks him what he is writing.  Taking the paper, Maffeo reads it aloud teasing Marco about his romantic poem.  When the poem is returned, Marco throws it away, but Tedaldo is impressed with Marco's desire to create poetry. The meeting is interrupted with the news that Tedaldo has been elected Pope.  Marco is sent to ask Tedaldo for the hundred wise men.  Tedaldo replies, "I have no hundred wise men--nor even one" (362).  He agrees to send a couple of monks with them and adds, "if the monks fail, Master Marco can be my missionary.  Let him set an example of virtuous Western manhood amid all the levities of paganism" (363).  As the Polos leave, Marco retrieves his poem.

Scene three through six have similar scenic elements and structure.  They each depict a different culture on the Polos' trip.  Scene three takes place in front of "a Mahometan (sic) mosque" (364).  A ruler sits in front of the structure on a throne with "on his right, the inevitable warrior--on his left the inevitable priest--the two defenders of the state" (364).  In tableau surrounding the playing area is a group of Moslems representing a cross section of the society.  Each of the next two scenes shares the same configuration in a different locale.

As the Polos enter Marco shows his father a piece of Noah's Ark which he just bought and is teased because of his youthful gullibility.  The Ali brothers, a Moslem trading family, enter and strike a pose similar to that of the Polos.  As the two sets of brothers mime cordial business talk, Marco examines the people on the stage and attempts to talk with them.  A prostitute smiles at Marco and offers herself for free.  Marco is confused and refuses using his engagement as an excuse.

The Polos and Alis discuss the legend of the Magi.  The Polos relate the story to Christianity while the Alis deny Jesus' deification.  The  Moslems begin their daily prayers.  Maffeo tells Marco that the Moslems are crazy. 

Scene four takes place in India.  The background is a Buddhist temple eight months later.  Two brothers "as with the Ali brothers" repeat the action of the former scene (370).  Marco again looks at the people around him, this time not attempting to communicate.  The same prostitute now in Indian garb enters.  Marco greets her.  This time Marco kisses her.  She offers him sex for ten gold pieces which Marco shamefully refuses.  An old Indian merchant begins talking about Buddhism.  He tells them of Buddha's immaculate conception and his message of love and compassion.  The Polos reject his story as superstition and leave.

Scene five takes place in front of the Great Wall of China in Mongolia eleven months later.  This time the people are Tartars.  When the merchants enter Marco joins the group rather than looking at the people.  The prostitute asks Marco if he will return to her that evening.  Marco complains that she has all his money.  He also tells her to return his property which she stole.  She takes out his poem and reads it.  Marco denies writing it.  She tells him "Don't sell your soul for nothing."  She offers to return it but Marco refuses.  "Your soul.  Dead and buried!  You strong man!" (375).  She also returns Marco's medallion.

Marco questions his father concerning a point of similarity between the Tartar religion and Christianity.  His father becomes angry at this blasphemy as a messenger from Kaan arrives to escort the Polos to the palace behind the wall leaving Marco's poem behind. 

Scene six takes place in the palace of Kublai Kaan.  Instead of a warrior and a priest, Kaan is flanked by a warrior and a philosopher.  He is surrounded by nobles, warriors, "courtiers, officers, poets, scholars, etc." (377).  Marco is dazzled by the brilliance of the court and does not notice that all are kneeling.

Kublai asks about the one hundred wise men which had been requested.  The Polos tell him that the Pope had no wise men.  Marco gives Kublai the message that he, himself, is the emissary from the Pope.  Kublai questions Marco concerning his immortal soul to which Marco responds "I'm a man made by Almighty God in his Own Image for His greater glory!" (379).  Kublai requests proof of Marco's spiritual immortality by asking permission to cut off his head.  Climaxing the act, Marco bravely responds, "I might catch cold" (380).  Afraid for his life but unwilling to deny his soul, Marco gets angry at Kublai, earning Kublai's respect as "a born hero" (380).  Interested in observing Marco, Kublai offers him a government job which Marco accepts.  Using his position, Marco insists that he be made a partner in the family firm.

Act two scene one takes place in the throne room of Xanadu, Kublai's summer palace.  Sitting with Kublai is his granddaughter Kukachin singing a sad song.  He asks her why she is sad suggesting that her melancholy might be due to her upcoming marriage to Arghun, King of Persia.  She begins to cry at the thought of the marriage.

Chu-Yin, Kublai's philosopher adviser, announces that Marco, now mayor of Yang-Chau, is arriving.  He reports to Kublai that "our Marco has made an active mayor" by imposing Christian morality on his subjects (386). According to Chi-Yin, Marco "is exterminating our pleasures and our rats as if they were twin breeds of vermin" (387).  Kublai decides to send Marco back to Europe, but Kukachin defends Marco by asserting he has succeeded in governing while others failed.  She praises his will-power and determination.  She states that Marco is stronger than others (387).

Kublai realizes that Kukachin is in love with Marco.  He resolves to send her to Persia quickly.  Chu-Yin questions such a move proposing that "some day this Marco may see into her eyes and his soul may be born and that will make a very interesting study" (388).  As they speak a band heralds Marco's arrival. 

Kublai confronts Marco with a petition signed by five hundred thousand people complaining of Marco's abuse of power and his laws which stamp out ancient culture.  Marco attributes the petition to radicals.  He claims that he supported culture by creating a law which made unhappiness illegal.  "You see, here's the way I figure it; if a man's good, he's happy--and if he isn't happy, it's a sure sign he's no good to himself or anyone else and he better be put where he can't do harm" (392).  Marco is astounded at Kublai's objections to his logic.

Marco presents Kublai with two gifts: paper money and cannon.  Marco tells Kublai that together these inventions will make him the most powerful ruler in the world.  "You conquer the world with this--(He pats the cannon-model) and you pay for it with this" (396).  Although appalled by the inventions Kublai realizes that he must buy them for his own self-preservation.  Marco insists that permission for he and his family to return to Italy must be part of the deal.

Kublai objects to Marco's request to return home.  He insists that Marco must first prove to him that he possesses an immortal soul.  Marco is stymied.  Kukachin steps forward as a witness to Marco's soul.  She testifies, "whenever he has been with me I have always felt--something strange and different--and that something must be His Honor's soul, must it not?" (397).  Kublai is not convinced, but concedes.

Kukachin requests that Marco be appointed to take her to Persia since they are traveling in the same direction.  Although he believes that being with Marco will only increase her unhappiness, Kublai grants her request.

Scene two takes place on the wharves of the Imperial Fleet on the day of Marco's departure.  Kublai and Kukachin are on the flagship of the fleet, while Chu-Yin stands below.  Kublai expresses his desire that Kukachin will be happy, telling her to follow her heart because "who can ever know which are the mistakes we make" (400).  He offers to stop her marriage or to keep Marco in China for her.  Kukachin refuses preferring to win Marco's heart "on a long voyage in dangerous, enchanted seas" (401).  Chu-Yin calls to Kublai reminding him to accept what is.  Kublai leaves advising Kukachin, "Live" (401).

Marco arrives with great fanfare of bands and a crowd of well wishers. Chu-Yin tells Marco that Kublai has ordered him "at some time every day of the voyage, to look carefully and deeply into the Princess's eyes and note what you see there" (404).  Marco agrees although he cannot understand why.  He tells Chu-Yin about Donata, whom he trusts is waiting for him in Italy.  Chu-Yin suggests to Marco that he should often talk to the Princess about love and marriage to make her happy.

Kukachin speaks to the crowd.  Marco is overcome with emotion at the Princess' poetry, but he hides it.  He sends Kukachin below decks.  Marco casts off after spewing forth a series of old clichés to Chu-Yin as parting advice.

Scene three takes place two years later on the same junk now anchored in Persia.  Kukachin is sitting in a ceremonial robe on the poop deck.  "Her beauty has grown more intense, her face has undergone a change, it is the face of a woman who has known real sorrow and suffering" (407).  Marco tells Kukachin that her fiancé has died and she is to marry his son instead.  Kukachin is indifferent.  They speak of the trip.  Kukachin admits that Marco has been a brave and attentive guardian saving her life on several occasions.  Marco requests that she make her uncle and her new husband aware of his service.  Kukachin tells Marco that she would have preferred to die.

Kukachin begins to act strangely, rapidly changing moods.  Marco is confused and examines her for illness.  She reminds him of his orders to look in her eyes, telling him:

There must be something he wished you to find... Remember this is your last chance!  There is nothing in life I would not give--nothing I would not do--even now it is not too late! See my eyes as those of a woman and not a Princess!  Look deeply!  I will die if you do not see what is there! 414

As Marco looks deeply into her eyes he is drawn to her.  He begins to respond to his feelings of passion when his uncle who has been counting profits disrupts this climactic moment by shouting "One million in God's money".  Marco "backs away from the Princess in terror" (415).  Embarrassed, Marco attributes the moment to fever from the trip.

Kukachin pulls a dagger and tries to kill herself, but  Marco stops her.  Believing that he has shamed Kukachin, Marco explains to her that for a moment as he looked in her eyes he saw Donata.  Hearing of Marco's fiancée for the first time and seeing her picture in the locket, Kukachin declares, "There is no soul even in your love, which is no better than a mating of swine!" (416).  As she speaks Marco goes to meet her husband's barge.

Upon meeting Kukachin for the first time, Ghazan Kaan declares that he will be a slave to her beauty, naming her the "Queen of Love" (418). Kukachin smashes Marco's medallion and requests that a feast be held in his honor as a reward for his service.  Kukachin then requests that her husband give her his breast plate studded with diamonds representing the Order of the Lion.  She in turn gives it to Marco.  Next, she orders a chest of gold and begins throwing money at the Polos.  She falls to her knees as she says her final farewell which Marco returns.

Act three scene one takes place one year later in Kublai's Imperial palace.  Kublai is conferring with General Bayan, his commander and chief, who wishes to attack Europe.  Kublai offers to allow him to attack Japan.  A message arrives from Persia.  Kukachin's message discloses her unhappiness and predicts that she will soon die.  She tells Kublai to send Marco a million pieces of gold.  The final lines of her message read:

You were right about his soul.  What I had mistaken for one I discovered to be a fat woman with a patient virtue...  I do not blame him.  But I cannot forgive myself--nor forget--nor believe again in any beauty in the world (424)

The courier reports to Kublai that Kukachin was ill when he left.  He also carries a verbal message from Marco reporting that he discovered nothing unusual in her eyes save a fever the last day.  Kublai is outraged and shouts that he will indeed conquer the West.  When Chu-Yin asks him if that is what Kukachin would have wanted, Kublai's anger is allayed.

Kublai contemplates the nature of a universe that would allow Kukachin to die.  He declares Marco to be the incarnation of the God of such a world.  He calls for a magic crystal through which he can see other lands.

In the crystal Kublai sees Venice as the Polos' return is played on the forestage.  In a banquet hall, a crowd wonders if the men who returned from the East with so much wealth are really the Polos.  Donata is middle-aged but still a virgin.  The Polos flaunt their wealth impressing the crowd.  Marco calls to Donata who comes to him.  Their betrothal is announced.  As the people begin to eat, Marco explains the silkworm industry in China.  His speech is peppered with the word millions.  As he continues the crowd begins to make noise eating until all of Marco's speech which can be heard is the word "millions."

Scene two opens in Kublai's palace as the pealing of thousands of bells is heard.  On a signal from Kublai the entire court wails in mourning.  The funeral party enters wearing masks of mourning bearing the coffin of Kukachin.  With the princess' corpse are four priests: a Confucian, a Taoist, a Buddhist and a Moslem each reading his holy book.

Kublai forbids prayers for the dead woman as "she was a prayer" (434).  In turn Kublai asks each of the four priests if their religion can conquer death.  Each simply answers, "Death is" (434).  Kublai tells his people to pray silently because "prayer is beyond words" (435).  He tells them to be proud of life and death as both are noble. 

Dismissing the court Kublai asks Chu-Yin if his prayer was wise and truthful.  Chu-Yin responds that it was his wisdom and his truth.  Kublai laments that Kukachin died for a fool.  Chu-Yin responds that she "died for beauty" (437).  Chu-Yin tells Kublai to mourn his loss and accept what is.  Kublai sobs and welcomes his grand-daughter home as the curtain falls.

The epilogue occurs as the house lights rise.  Marco seated in the front row gets up to leave looking bored and yawning.  He exits the theatre and enters a limousine which takes him from the theatre.

Literary and Performance Criticism

Literary Criticism

Traditional literary criticism of Marco Millions is unswervingly based on the assumption that the play is a condemnation of Western materialism.  Sheaffer describes the play as "satiriz[ing] the materialism of Western civilization by placing Marco Polo in the legendary East and contrasting his values with those of a society superior to him in every respect--intellectually, culturally, spiritually" (Artist 150-51).  Sophus Winther in his early critical analysis wrote, "This play is a condemnation of the ideals of our Western civilization...The direct criticism of modern business ideals is the whole theme of Marco Millions" (111, 190).  Falk saw "Marco Millions [as] a diffuse pageant of the pull between the dual forces of mysticism and materialism.  Marco Polo is the extroverted materialist" (90).  Floyd stated, "O'Neill's Marco Millions is to illustrate American Acquisitiveness and greed (289).  Similar statements as to the overall intention of the play can be found in virtually every analysis.

Such a critical approach to the play creates an oppositional framework which compares Western materialism to the "Pristine purity" of Eastern culture (Floyd 290).  While consistent with a modernist critical approach, the cultural generalization created by this viewpoint fails to bring to light many parallels which O'Neill drew between Eastern and Western attitudes and severely limits the scope of the play.

By limiting the focus of the play to the comparison of Western materialism with the whole of Eastern cultures, critics have tended to undervalue Marco Millions and to underrate the quality of O'Neill's characters.  Bogard called the character of Marco "a cartoon, a dummy through whose mouth O'Neill voices anti-materialistic sentiments" (Contour 258).  Norman Berlin described Kublai as, "a stereotypical Oriental sage, a Nietzsche quoting Charlie Chan" (O'Neill 90).  Kukachin's expression of love for Marco is characterized by Timo Tiusanen as "the biggest joke of all, she comes embarrassingly close to her counterpart, the bourgeois Venetian Donata" (140).  In each of these instances the quality of the characters as written by O'Neill is called into question because oppositional framework from which they are viewed reduces them to cultural stereotypes.

Several critics such as Sheaffer and Bogard have seen the character of Marco as modeled after Sinclair Lewis' Babbit.  (150, 255).  Bogard points out that Babbitt was published the year before O'Neill began work on Marco Millions.  He suggested that "Lewis fed O'Neill's sense of what was wrong with America" (255).  In addition, Bogard saw several models for the character of Marco in O'Neill's earlier works such as The Fountain, The Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape.  Bogard also pointed to the similarity between Marco and Ibsen's Peer Gynt and Strindberg's Wander Plays.  Marco differs from its models in that Marco never achieves any kind of spiritual understanding.

It is Marco's lack of spiritual growth in the face of the spiritual riches of Eastern thought through which O'Neill's satire is best seen.  Yet critics differ even on this point.  Engle regarded the genre of the play as dependent on which point of view one took.  He wrote, "Marco Millions could just as well be regarded as a tragedy, in which case Kublai Kaan, rather than Marco, would be the hero" (146)  Bogard commented that "it is the comedy of Marco, the tragedy of Kublai Kaan" (259).  In spite of the obvious satirical elements in Marco Millions Bogard continued, "the play is also the tragedy of Marco Polo, whose unawareness of any life beyond what he can see... makes him a creature God cannot touch" (259).  Floyd concurred with Bogard when she wrote:

Marco is depicted, basically, as a tragic figure.  It is this aspect of Marco that bears the burden of meaning in the play.  O'Neill's purpose in this drama is to show the tragedy incurred when man's blindness blocks out beauty and love and leaves him in a dark world grasping for objects.  300

Yet Marco's failure to gain greater self-knowledge or to even suffer as a result of his own actions precludes defining Marco as a tragic hero.  The play ends with Marco having been altogether successful in his Eastern endeavors, unaware of the suffering he has caused, and presumably ready to live happily ever after with the woman he has loved since childhood.  The attempt by critics to define Marco in terms of a tragic hero seems to indicate the desire to maintain a critical stance consistent with other O'Neill plays rather than a fair assessment of Marco's function in the play.

Possibly more compelling than viewing the play as the tragedy of Marco Polo is the approach which considers Kublai Kaan the tragic hero of the play.  Strangely enough, despite critic's comments concerning the tragedy of Kublai, no scholar has seriously looked at the play from this angle.  A possible reason for this is that such a study would deviate from the traditional assumption that Marco is a critique of Western materialism and that Marco must remain the central character. 

Virginia Floyd described Kublai as "one of the author's [O'Neill's] noblest and wisest creations" (300).  Kublai is often seen as the antithesis of Marco (Floyd 300).  The very suggestion that the play can be seen simultaneously as Marco's comedy and Kublai's tragedy infers such an opposition.  Yet Pfister recognizes that Kublai is not completely opposed to Marco's materialism.  "Although Kublai Kaan recoils from Marco's crass materialism, his spiritual critique never really circles back to interrogate the authority of his own exalted position as empire manager" (81).  Moreover, Kublai allows Marco to misgovern his own people, sacrificing their well being for the sake of increasing his own wisdom and understanding.

The pursuit of wisdom is Kublai's most prominent character trait.  Patrick Schmitt wrote, "[Kublai] has chosen to live fully in the world of experience, and to know therefore both good and evil" (36).  It might be more accurate to say that Kublai has chosen to experience the world without attempting to classify experiences or people as good or evil.  Such an attitude leads Olson to categorize Kublai as an example of Nietzsche's "higher man" (209).  From a contemporary perspective of Nietzschean thought, Kublai personifies the superman because he continually searches for truth and, even in the face of the death of his beloved granddaughter, refuses to seek refuge in an absolutist philosophy which might provide comfort for his grief.  Instead Kublai celebrates the uncertainty of life and declares, "Know in your heart that living life can be noble!  Know that the dying of death can be noble" (435).  Thus, Kublai continues his search for wisdom despite the fact that "[the search] does not bring him serenity, nor understanding, nor wholeness" (Schmitt 37).  Such courage in the face of uncertainty provides a striking contrast of perspective to Marco's search for wealth and comfort.

While Kublai's character is traditionally seen in opposition to Marco's, the function of the character of Kukachin is less obvious and, subsequently, less closely examined by scholars.[10]  When Kukachin is analyzed, scholars have each credited the character with a differing function within the play. 

In keeping with a traditional approach to the play, Doris Alexander saw Kukachin as symbolizing the possibility of redemption in Marco through love (46).  This approach maintains the opposition between Marco and Kublai by assigning Kukachin's character the function of explicator of the character of Marco and, in the funeral scene, of Kublai. Doris Falk saw Kukachin as a symbol of the mystical East, an "introverted mystic," who is juxtaposed to Marco's materialistic character (90).  Falk's approach differs from Alexander's as it suggests that Marco and Kukachin should be seen in opposition to one another while Kublai "must reconcile the two in himself" (90).  This approach drastically alters Kukachin's function in the play as she becomes a symbol of the primary philosophical conflict.  Moreover, Falk fails to demonstrate the oppositional tension within Kublai's character which would justify his central role.

A third approach is taken by Schmitt who saw Kukachin as a symbol of love, "but her unrequited love indicates a much larger obsession" (36).  By this Schmitt seems to imply that O'Neill has provided Kukachin a world view which is based on feeling and emotion.  He creates a triangle of world views each represented by a leading character and each in opposition to the other two.

While these approaches to the characters and the interrelationship between the characters differ greatly, all assume a critique of Western materialism to be the primary goal of the play.  Moreover, each of these approaches assigns negative connotation to Marco's world view while viewing the Eastern attitudes of Kublai and Kukachin in a positive light.  These facile assumptions have led to the attitude articulated by Travis Bogard that "Marco Millions is a play of its period, and it will remain so" (260).

Production Criticism

The production history of Marco Millions consists of two major productions, one in 1928 and a revival in 1964.[11]  The premiere production "was greeted with only moderate enthusiasm by the critics" (Gelb 654).  Joseph Krutch writing for The Nation extolled O'Neill's imaginative presentation of the traditional theme of Western commercial spirit.  He wrote, "such is the richness of Mr. O'Neill's imagination that he has created a play beside which other treatments of this traditional theme seem raucous and dull" (104).  Robert Littell, writing for The Post, took an almost antithetical attitude.  He described the play as "surprisingly simpleminded, obvious, and at times actually foolish...[the play] show[s] us, in ABCs which can be read a mile away, the contrast between Western money-grubbing and Eastern wisdom" (Artist 281).  These two comments represent the diversity of attitude toward the production. 

Just as contrary were the reactions to the scenic elements of the production.  While critics such as Brooks Atkinson praised the scenic elements as "lavish," others such as Kelcey Allen complained about the long waits during scene changes (Gelb 654, 56).  Simonson solved the scenic difficulties of Marco Millions by devising a scenic frame into which various flats were inserted to denote change of scenery.  In addition, a basic platform unit was used to which other platforms were added between scenes.  Wainscott reported that "difficulties were created by the logistics of moving some ten platform pieces, two drops, twenty-one inserts and numerous large set properties" (210).  While the opulence of the production was praised, the execution of the design was maligned as inefficient.

Marco Polo as produced in 1928 seemed to be an enigma.  Sheaffer commented, "with some [critics] emphasizing the serious undercurrent in the satire, and others the humor of the story, it almost sounded as though the author had written two plays, in different veins, about Marco Polo" (280).  Possibly one explanation for this polarity among the critics is the sense that O'Neill is condemning Western society while at the same time glorifying another, foreign, culture.  Frank Tetauer a Czechoslovakian critic commented in 1954 that "Today Marco Millions could be criticized as "un-American activity" (22).  Indeed, O'Neill's treatment of Western civilization as interpreted by most critics suggests that O'Neill was espousing a foreign culture as being "better" than American society.

The 1964 production of Marco Millions received no better criticism than the original.  This time, however, critics attacked the play's reputation more than the production itself.  Most of the negative criticism was based on the poor reputation of Marco Millions.  Richard Gilman stated in The Commonwheel that "Marco Millions is considered one of O'Neill's worst plays" (89).  Theodopolus Lewis wrote in America that "this is Eugene O'Neill's most thoughtful, and probably for that reason least popular, play" (65) .  Such criticism seems to indicate that these critics may have objected to the play's critique of Western society rather than to the production as Marco Millions has never been previously described by critics or reviewers in such negative terms.

The Washington Square Theatre was designed by Jo Mielziner to house theatre in the round.  Thus, minimal scenery was used.  Critics lauded the lighting design and costume design as providing the same kind of splendor and color as the original production.

Hal Holbrook in the role of Marco received mixed criticism.  Most critics noted a lack in the performance, some placed blame on the actor while others blamed the role.  Henry Hewes wrote, "Hal Holbrook finds himself again and again demonstrating and underlining the obvious" (1964).  John McCarten wrote, "Hal Holbrook does as well as he can with a role with few nuances" (106).  While Holbrook's performance received tepid reviews, most of the major criticism was reserved for the play itself which was generally regarded as flawed.

The production criticism with regard to both major productions of Marco Millions revolves around issues which pertain to the productions' major theme, Western materialism.  The play as traditionally interpreted represents Western society in such a facile and brutal manner that critical objectivity concerning the thematic implications of the play is difficult to maintain.  An approach to the play based on Nietzschean perspectivism de-emphasizes the cultural opposition between Marco and Kublai and focuses on their individual metaphysical attitudes.  With this in mind, an alternative Nietzschean approach to Marco Millions is offered.

A Contemporary Approach to Marco Millions

Like The Fountain, Marco Millions explicates the three metaphysical world views represented by Nietzsche's three metamorphoses.  However while The Fountain represents these world views as the spiritual progression of one character, Marco Millions presents each of these metaphysical systems simultaneously through three different characters.  By placing representatives of the absolutist, modernist and perspectivist metaphysics in close proximity, O'Neill allows the viewer to examine their conflicting philosophies and differing metaphysical assumptions in relation to each other. 

Such an approach emphasizes the clash of world views rather than the clash of cultures.  It does not attempt to place Eastern and Western cultures in opposition to one another avoiding the gross cultural generalization which was the focal point of much of the negative literary and production criticism of the play.  Traditional approaches to Marco Millions focus on the play's critique of Western materialism making Marco the central character.  In a perspectivist approach, Kublai Kaan emerges as the central character by focusing on his struggle to maintain his perspectivism despite the greater metaphysical security of Marco's absolutist framework or Kukachin's modernist stance.[12]

Structurally, each act of Marco Millions emphasizes one of Nietzsche's spiritual levels.  Act one focuses on the development of Marco's absolutist metaphysic during his journey from Venice to Cathay.  Act two explicates Kukachin's modernism and the resulting nihilism upon discovering that her metaphysic is based on false assumptions.  Act three explores Kublai's struggle to maintain his perspectivist stance in the face of his grand-daughter's tragic death.  The dramatic movement from absolutism to perspectivism suggests a progression similar to Nietzsche's "Three Metamorpheses" which in turn suggests the primacy of Kublai's world view as the highest of these world views.

Such an approach greatly expands the scope of traditional critical approaches which focus exclusively on negative aspects Marco's world view (loosely defined as Western Materialism) defining Kublai and Kukachin's philosophical attitudes in strict opposition to Marco's.  This expanded approach to Marco Millions shifts the focus from a critique of materialism to an exploration of world views and an examination of the interplay between these metaphysical systems.


Marco as Absolutist

The play begins as a chronicle of the development of Marco's absolutism.  In the early scenes, Marco demonstrates an innocent, fluid, curiosity which allows him to integrate his feelings and observations with his absolutist metaphysic.  By innocently kissing Donata despite her protest that "it's a sin," Marco demonstrates his willingness to challenge the dogma of his belief system when it conflicts with his own feelings (355).  In the following scene, Marco's poem reflects his attempt to reconcile his materialism with his emotional attachment to Donata by romantically comparing her to precious metals (360).  Both these incidents demonstrate Marco's acknowledgment of his inner feelings and his attempt contextualize them within his absolutist system rather than accepting dogma at face value.

Tedaldo acknowledges Marco's creativity when he jokingly suggests that Marco should represent Christianity in Kublai's court.  This appointment is based on Marco's ability to make connections between the material world and the Christian world view.  Tedaldo suggests that such fluidity will allow Marco to succeed in convincing Kublai of the absolute truth of Christianity where the more learned  might fail.

The next three scenes portray the decline Marco's fluidity in favor of a rigid dogmatism.  In scene three, Marco attempts to communicate with the people he encounters, connecting the children's games with his own childhood and comparing the young lovers to Donata and himself (366).  In scene four, he virtually ignores his cultural environment except to admonish the lovers for displaying public affection.  In scene five, Marco takes no notice of those around him preferring to join his father and uncle as they trade.  The progression of these scenes demonstrates the manner in which Marco's absolutism narrows his experiences within his environment.

Marco's rigidity develops spiritually as well as materially.  In each scene, Marco draws similarities between Christianity and other belief systems.  Marco's father denies the validity of each of these connections by asserting that all which is not Christian belief is blasphemy or "crazy" (369).  It is significant that Marco's conversion to absolutism occurs in the context of religious belief rather than materialism.  Through his religious belief Marco is subsequently able to morally justify his materialistic actions.  Marco's sense of moral absolutism transfers to his business dealings and justifies his philosophy that the accumulation of wealth is the proper measure of a human being.  Thus, Marco's materialism can be seen as an extension of his absolutist religious beliefs.

The death of Marco's fluidity is symbolized in scene five by the destruction of his poem.  The prostitute steals the poem and reads it aloud.  Embarrassed, Marco denies authorship.  The prostitute destroys the poem, symbolically destroying his desire to create and to integrate the world with his belief system.

The final scene of act one demonstrates the full culmination of Marco's absolutism.  In this scene Marco demonstrates none of the insecurity which was evident in the previous scenes.  He tells Kublai that he is the Pope's representative in lieu of a hundred wise men.  When asked if he has an immortal soul, Marco answers Kublai, "Of course!  Any fool knows that" (379).  When asked for proof, Marco responds with a circular argument claiming that without an immortal soul man would be no different than an animal, therefore, man must have an immortal soul.  Pondering this, Kublai says, "There is certainly something about you, something complete and unanswerable" (379).  When seen in terms of absolutism, Kublai's comment is an apt description of Marco.  Over the course of the first act, Marco's system of belief has evolved into a closed, absolutist system.  His metaphysical assumptions severely limit his world view.  Marco's argument intended to prove the immortality of his soul is only logical within the context of Marco's metaphysical assumptions.  Thus, one who does not share Marco's faith can never fully understand or accept his reasoning. 

Thus, the first act serves to establish Marco's absolutist perspective.  In the second act Marco's absolutism is explicated in terms of his moral and materialistic behavior.  While traditional criticism has emphasized the materialistic behavior in analyzing the play, the moral aspect of Marco's actions are actually given much more weight.  In the first exchange between Kublai and Chu-Yin regarding Marco's work as Mayor of Yang-Chau, Chu-Yin says, "a man of wide culture, told me, our Christian mayor is exterminating our pleasures and our rats as if they were twin vermin!" (387).  The suggestion here is that Marco's Christian morality is being imposed on the non-Christian residents of the city.  It is this absolutist moral structure which has robbed the city of its "soul" (387).  Marco's excuse for imposing such moral strictures on the city is the added profits which he is providing Kublai's government.  Marco has fully integrated his religious moral values and his materialism into one absolutist belief system in which ethical behavior is defined by Christian doctrine and measured by materialistic gain.

In terms of Marco's absolutist system, he is wholly successful in accomplishing his goals.  His integration of metaphysical morality and materialism suggests a universe in which one's material rewards are an indication of ethical behavior.  As such, according to his own belief system Marco's material wealth is also an indication of his metaphysical condition.    In the end, Marco remains secure in his belief system and happy with his success.  Such a condition demonstrates the advantages of absolutism when compared to a modernist or perspectivist world view.  By limiting his metaphysical stance, Marco exchanges his will to truth for a complacent and secure happiness.

Kukachin as Modernist

Traditional critical analyses of Marco Millions generally view Kukachin in terms of her opposition to Marco.  Doris Falk wrote, "Marco Polo is the extroverted materialist, Kukachin the introverted mystic" (90).  Engle stated this stance in cultural terms when he wrote, "The relationship between Kukachin and Marco dramatizes the polarity of the conflict between East and West" (112).  Norman Berlin sees these two characters in terms of their antithetical goals, "While [Marco] pursues the wealth of the material world, Kukachin pursues love" (36).  Yet at least one critic, Timo Tiusanen, in O'Neill's Scenic Images found the relationship as written by O'Neill laughable.  He wrote:

The biggest joke of all, Kukachin's love for Marco and her belief in the existence of a soul in the soulless merchant, is the central theme in the latter half of the play...What is wrong with it is only O'Neill's over-eagerness to exploit the situation by furnishing Kukachin with an excess of feeling.  140

Each of these approaches assumes Kukachin's role in the play is fundamentally to provide an antithetical mirror through which to view and judge Marco.  Moreover, this oppositional approach invariably casts Kukachin in a positive light when compared to Marco whose materialism is viewed as negative.  Yet when examined in the context of the full text of Marco Millions which O'Neill submitted to the Theatre Guild, a very different Kukachin emerges.[13]

In this draft, Kukachin aged four is present at the first meeting between Marco and Kublai.[14]  She is portrayed as a petulant, demanding child.  In their first encounter, Marco allows her to sit on his lap, treating her not as a princess but as little girl.  Used to royal treatment, Marco's friendly and somewhat condescending attitude is confusing yet pleasing to Kukachin.  In the final moments of the scene, Marco refuses to obey the orders of the little princess, who orders him killed but quickly changes her mind.  In this initial encounter, Kukachin establishes a false image of Marco based on her perception that his treatment of her is a reflection of his courage rather than of his ignorance.

In the following scene which was completely edited in the production version, Kukachin is presented three years later at the age of seven.  Here her initial assumptions concerning Marco's fortitude have escalated into a kind of hero worship.  While the rest of the court discuss Marco's inability to understand their culture, Kukachin believes him to be a hero.  When Marco is given the opportunity to serve Kublai, she begs him to become a soldier and fulfill her image of him.  When he opts for a position from which he can make a profit, Kukachin cries.

These two scenes present a very different Kukachin from that of the later scenes which survived in the production draft.  Contrary to traditional approaches to the play, Kukachin is not the epitome of Eastern culture nor is her love an antithesis of Marco's materialism. It is in this context that Kukachin's love for Marco can be associated with a modernist attitude.  Kukachin's love for Marco is based on false assumptions that for her carry the weight of truth.  From these assumptions, Kukachin has created a metaphysic in which personal meaning is dependent on her hope of securing Marco's love.  Her love is therefore based on a narrow world view which she created and which she sustains ignoring all evidence to the contrary.  Caught between her duty to her grandfather to marry the King of Persia and her hope to win Marco's love, Kukachin sees Marco's love as an unobtainable goal which if achieved would bring her life meaning and fulfillment.

This approach to the character contradicts traditional approaches as it does not assume that Kukachin's love if reciprocated by Marco would bring him redemption from his own metaphysical condition.  Neither does it view Kukachin's love as laughable as did Tiusanen (140).  Rather it contextualizes Kukachin's extreme emotion for Marco incorporating Kukachin's metaphysical stance fully into the fabric of the play. 

Moreover, it fully develops Kukachin's motivation for her attempted suicide and her subsequent death.  For Kukachin, the discovery that Marco had no soul was not a mere loss of a potential lover, but a shattering of her sense of universal order.[15]  In Nietzschean terms, Kukachin discovered not that God is dead, but that her god never existed.

Kublai's Perspectivism

Several traditional critics such as Engle and Bogard have suggested that Marco Millions can be seen as the tragedy of Kublai Kaan (146, Contour 259).  However, no critic has attempted to fully explicate such a reading.  The difficulty of such a reading in the past can be attributed to its deviation from traditional critical approaches which demand that the leading character reflect a protest against the status quo.  Critics have instead focused on Marco's dogmatism as a satirical indictment of Western culture, placing Kublai in a subordinate dramatic role.  In a perspectivist reading, however, Kublai is the primary character due to his perspectivist metaphysical stance and because it is his world view which is presented as the culmination of the three metaphysical attitudes portrayed in the play.

The final act of the play develops Kublai's perspectivism and dramatizes    Kublai's internal struggle to maintain his perspectivist world view.  During the course of the play four rulers are portrayed including Tedaldo, the Papal Legate.  Each ruler is flanked by "...the inevitable warrior" and "the inevitable priest--the two defenders of the state" (364).  The exception to this is Kublai who is flanked by a warrior and a philosopher.  These two figures represent Kublai's ever present internal conflict to maintain his perspectivism which is defined by his passion for observing life and learning from his observations.

Kublai's internal struggle is reflected in his first meeting with Marco.  Kublai says, "This Marco touches me, as a child might, but at the same time there is something warped, and deformed" (382).  Kublai decides to study Marco in order to better understand his curious approach to life.  Marco immediately demonstrates his character by accepting a government position while simultaneously accepting a partnership in his father's company.  Although Kublai begins to "smell all the rats in Cathay," he allows Marco to "develop according to his own inclination" (382).  This example indicates that Kublai's primary goal is to gain knowledge and wisdom through observation of the world around him in an attempt to grow beyond himself.

In act two, Kublai begins to see Marco's metaphysic as destructive.  Given a position of power, Marco has imposed his own values on a city whose citizens do not share his metaphysical framework.  He has destroyed the culture, taxed the poor and imposed a statute that "every citizen must be happy or go to jail" (392).  In order to protect his people, Kublai resolves to send Marco home despite his inability to fully fathom Marco's metaphysical stance.

Kublai's own particular perspectivist metaphysic reflects his desire to learn wisdom and precludes him from using his position of power to influence those around him.  Such self-discipline is a primary requirement for Nietzschean perspectivism.  This discipline is reflected in his discussion with Kukachin prior to her departure in act two, scene two.  He tells her, "I wish some Power could give me assurance that in granting your desire [to sail with Marco to Persia] I am acting for your happiness" (400).  Here Kublai reveals his belief that Kukachin's request may be harmful.  Chu-Yin advises him to allow Kukachin the freedom to choose her own destiny.  He says, "The wise man ignores action.  His truth acts without deeds.  His knowledge venerates the unknowable" (401).  Kublai responds in frustration:

I am my slave! Marco will soon be here, wearing the self-assurance of an immortal soul and his new admiral's uniform!  I must fly in retreat from what I can neither laugh away nor kill.  Farewell, Little Flower?  Live.  There is no other advice possible from one human being to another.  401

In this speech Kublai summarizes the difficulty of his perspectivism.  He must stand idle as Marco's absolutist self-assurance takes from him that which he loves most.  He must allow his grand-daughter to make her own choices and to suffer the consequences of those choices.  He is, in fact, a slave to the chaotic occurrences and experiences which are life.

Act three fully explicates Kublai's struggle to maintain a perspectivist metaphysic.  Kublai initially vows to destroy all of Western civilization to exterminate the destructive metaphysic which through Marco caused Kukachin's death.  By blaming Marco for her death, Kublai begins to construct a universal order which might explain his own grief and sense of loss.  By seeking revenge, Kublai attempts to impose his own universal justice on this order.  Chu-Yin points out the fallacy of Kublai's logic from a perspectivist view point to which Kublai acquiesces.  Without a metaphysical structure to comfort him, Kublai is forced to helplessly face his grief and fully experience this tragedy.

In the final scene, Kublai Kaan demonstrates the difficulty of rejecting a self-deceiving absolutist world view in favor of a perspectivist world view as a means of bringing meaning to one's life.  Seeking an explanation for death, Kublai asks the priests of all the Eastern religions how death might be conquered.  In turn each priest can only respond, "Death is."  Finally, Kublai orders the world to pray saying:

I command the World to pray!  In silence! Prayer is beyond words! Contemplate the eternal life of Life! Pray thus!  In silence--for one concentrated moment--be proud of life!  Know in your heart that the living of life can be noble!  Know that the dying of death can by noble!  Be exalted by life!  Be inspired by death!  435

This speech articulates a perspectivist reaction to the mystery of death, to appreciate life.  Kublai then does the only thing he can do in the face of his loss: he weeps. 

Kublai's speech suggests, as did Nietzsche in Zarathustra, that perspectivism demands a constant will to truth.  The temptation to seek answers for unanswerable questions is constantly present.  The desire to find answers where none exists and provide one's self with the security of knowing is almost unbearable.  Yet, Kublai like Zarathustra refuses to hide from life by seeking a false security.  In exchange for the constant struggle of maintaining his perspectivism, Kublai is rewarded by his ability to experience life fully and to face death without fear knowing that he has appreciated each moment of his life.


In Nietzschean terms, nihilism is a condition suffered by the modernist upon learning that the values which one based one's metaphysical meaning on are false.[16]  While nihilism is a minor theme in Marco Millions, it is an important concept as it pertains to the character of Kukachin and to the climactic moment of the play wherein Marco responds to her love.  When first presented at the opening of act two, Kukachin is, in O'Neill's words, "grief-stricken" (384).  Kukachin's unhappiness in the early scenes of act one stems from her belief that the goal of her modernist metaphysic can never be reached.  The fact that her love for Marco will never be returned and that they will never wed causes unhappiness, but it also gives her metaphysic structure because she is able to measure her own condition in comparison to this goal.  Thus, while she may dread the thought of marrying another, she is comforted by the existence of an ideal.

Kukachin's despair reaches its peak in scene three in which the convoy reaches Persia and Kukachin must face her impending marriage and Marco's departure.  Learning that she is soon to go to her new husband, Kukachin makes a desperate attempt to communicate her feeling to Marco in order to achieve her goal. She feels him respond to her emotion with emotion of his own.  But the moment of passion is interrupted by Maffeo.  It is at this point that Kukachin experiences spiritual nihilism.

Kukachin's metaphysic was constructed around her assumption that Marco was a hero.  As long as she maintained her vision of Marco as hero, her life was meaningful.  At the climactic moment, Kukachin realizes that Marco indeed is drawn to her, but he hides his feelings because such passion is outside his own limited metaphysic.  This realization demonstrates to her that the metaphysical structure which previously gave her life meaning was based on a fabrication of her own creation.  Upon this discovery Kukachin attempts to kill herself.

Once she has entered this state Kukachin is not able to extract herself either by accepting a new absolute metaphysic or by finding the strength to search for meaning elsewhere.  She writes to Kublai, "I cannot forgive myself--nor forget--nor believe again in any beauty in the world" (424).  Thus, Kukachin allows herself to die in a state of hopeless nihilism.  In this way, Marco Millions places the guilt for Kukachin's death, not on Marco, but on Kukachin herself by virtue of her desire to maintain her own construct of reality rather than to seek truth.

Eternal Recurrence

Eternal recurrence is not directly addressed in Marco Millions.  However, it is alluded to both in the prologue and in the final scenes of the play.  These suggestions of Nietzsche's theory of life and death are important because they offer an alternative to Marco's assertion that he possesses an immortal soul.

In the prologue, Kukachin's body animates and addresses the three merchants and the captain.  She says, "Say this, I loved and died.  Now I am love, and live.  And living, have forgotten, and loving, can forgive.  Say this for me in Venice!" (352).  This short speech reflects eternal recurrence as it suggests that Kukachin's eternal condition in death is dictated by her choices in life. 

Because Kukachin chose love as a metaphysical goal, in death she has become that ideal.  Death has transformed the Princess from one who acted in love to a personification of that love.  The suggestion here is that the unreachable material goal which plagued her in life has been removed in death, allowing her eternal peace. 

The reference to eternal recurrence in the prologue is taken up again in Kublai's funeral oration in the final scene.  Kublai mourns the physical loss of his grand-daughter who gave him joy in life.  He asks representatives of each religious group to explain how one might conquer death.  Each priest can only answer, "Death is" (434).  Finding this answer inadequate Kublai says to the corpse:

Girl whom we call dead, whose beauty is even in death more living than we, smile with infinite silence upon our speech, smile with infinite forbearance upon our wisdom, smile with infinite remoteness upon our sorrow, smile as a star smiles 435

Kublai asserts his belief that only the dead can understand the condition of death.  He asserts the harmony of life and death by praying, "Contain the harmony of womb and grave within you...If you awake, love again!  If you sleep, rest in peace?  Who knows which?  It is nobler not to know" (436).  By acknowledging his own ignorance, Kublai asserts the core idea of Nietzsche's formula of eternal recurrence, that one can only overcome death by living one's life fully and accepting the condition of death as an aspect of that living. 

Although eternal recurrence is not explicitly referred to in the play, the idea that human's must learn to appreciate living rather than fear or anticipate death is very strongly implied.  By identifying Kukachin in death with the manner in which she lived her life, the idea of eternal recurrence is introduced.  By acknowledging his own ignorance of death and reasserting his love of life in a moment of tragic mourning, Kublai suggests a manner in which the fear of death can be avoided. 

Love and Marriage

Marco Millions presents two examples of love.  Both involve Marco, first with Donata and then with Kukachin.  Doris Alexander typifies the traditional modernist approach to Marco's relationships by suggesting that Kukachin offers Marco his only hope of redemption through love while "Donata gave little hope for it" (46).  Such an approach sets Kukachin's love for Marco in opposition to Donata's.  Yet as has been suggested in a previous section, Kukachin's love for Marco offers little hope of redemption as it is based in fantasy rather than reality.  Moreover, from a Nietzschean standpoint it is Marco's relationship with Donata which most fully explicates the philosophers stance on love and marriage.

In scene one, a youthful Marco is saying farewell to Donata on the eve of his trip to the East.  Young Marco opens the scene by kissing Donata's hand despite the fact that such an action might be considered sinful.  The young people confess their love for each other for the first time.  Marco speaks of the beauty of the night and of their future together.  As they part they share their first kiss.

In this scene, Marco and Donata live in the present.  They appreciate their time together and share a meaningful moment of passion with each other.  Moreover, they allow themselves to ignore the teachings of their absolute metaphysic in order to more fully share the moment and kiss.  At this moment, theirs is a love which knows no rules and, most importantly from a Nietzschean standpoint, is innocent (Zarathustra 56).  It is in this moment of true emotional joining that the two youngsters swear eternal love which is symbolized by the locket which Donata gives to Marco.

In the final act of the play, the two meet again to renew their relationship.  At this second meeting twenty years later, Donata no longer recognizes Marco and asks her father to point him out.  Marco tells her, "you're still as pretty as a picture and you don't look a day older," despite the fact that "she has grown into a stout middle age" (430, 426).  Although they no longer know one another or share the passion of their previous meeting, Marco and Donata lie both to themselves and each other for the sake of the love they once shared.  Marco shows Donata the locket, a symbol of their relationship, now smashed.  Like the locket, the relationship is no longer intact.  Yet because within their absolutist belief system they are betrothed, both Marco and Donata ignore the passing of time and fulfill their promise.

In Nietzschean terms, this scene is the antithesis of the first.  While in the first act Marco and Donata acted in spite of their absolutist beliefs, in the last scene they act wholly because of their absolutism.  Thus, the juxtaposition of these scenes marks Marco's spiritual journey from creative, innocent youth, to a man completely dominated by an absolutist metaphysic.


Literary and performance critics alike generally viewed Marco Millions as a minor O'Neill work.  United in their approach to the play as an examination of Western materialism, critics differed greatly as to how specific characters functioned within the play.  Critics were also divided concerning the genre of the play.

This analysis addressed Marco Millions in terms of Nietzschean perspectivism.  From this standpoint, Marco Millions can be seen as the conflict between three metaphysical world views.  The first act described Marco's transformation from a curious, innocent youth to a rigid adult.  Because of his absolutist stance, Marco succeeded in achieving his life's goals within his narrow metaphysical structure.  However, the play depicts Marco's success as hollow due to his inability to experience life outside his restricted frame of reference.  Act two focuses on the modernist stance of Kukachin.  In order to provide her life with meaning, Kukachin constructs a metaphysical goal based on her false image of Marco as hero.  When she discovers her error, Kukachin's life ceases to have meaning and she dies.  In act three, Kublai begins to question his own perspectivist stance due to his grief over the senseless death of his grand-daughter.  His metaphysical struggle results in an affirmation of the beauty of life and more profound understanding of the nature of existence.

Such an approach to Marco Millions shifts the major focus of the play from the character of Marco to the character of Kublai.  It suggests that a perspectivist approach to life imparts the individual with the opportunity to the widest range of experience and the ability to control one's own metaphysical being.  While perspectivism denies metaphysical security, it allows the individual to be fully  integrated in the present moment fulfilling Nietzsche's vision of the highest spiritual level.

[1] O'Neill later used this bar has his model for the setting of The Iceman Cometh.

[2] O'Neill idealized and dramatized this period of his brother's life in A Moon for the Misbegotten.

[3] Nathan's story concerning Otto Kahn's suggestion that O'Neill write a play about the American businessman was reported as a reaction to The Great God Brown.  Thus, Nathan could not have been accurate since Marco Millions was already a work in progress.

[4] The production was to James one of his greatest triumphs despite the fact that the play resulted in Catholic audience members attacking Jews on the street following the performance, critics calling the production "an absurd and irreverent money-making spectacle," threats to the life of manager of the theatre and the arrest and incarceration of several cast members (Gelb 44-47).

[5] Titled Marco's Millions, the original Belasco version of Marco Millions is included in full in Bogard's The Unknown O'Neill.  Bogard believes that this version of the play includes cuts which were made for publication (Unknown 193).

[6] The Guild's leading director Philip Moeller chose to direct Strange Interlude which opened later in the same month as Marco.  Moeller was to direct a total of five O'Neill premieres for The Guild, more than any other single director.

[7] This is one of the few productions in which Lunt appeared without his wife.  Lynne Fontaine was at the same time playing Nina Leeds in O'Neill's other Guild production Strange Interlude.

[8] It is strange that these omissions were not reported by any of O'Neill's biographers prior to Wainscott.  Possibly Wainscott's particular approach in Staging O'Neill made this more significant for his work than to his predecessors.

[9] The Magi are a priestly sect of Zoroasterism, a pre-Islamic Persian religion whose chief prophet, Zoroaster, is the model for Nietzsche's Zarathustra.

[10] Director José Quintero commented to this author that he was never able to fully integrate the character of Kukachin into his 1964 production of Marco Millions.

[11] Margaret Loftus Ranald reported of a 1930 revival at the liberty Theatre in New York.  This production lasted only eight performances.

[12] Because Kublai first appears late in the first act, some may argue that Marco must be viewed as the central character of the play.  However, it must be remembered that Marco Millions was originally conceived as two full length plays which were subsequently joined into one which may explain Kublai's late entrance.  Moreover in The Iceman Cometh, the central character, Hickey, makes a similar late appearance.

[13] While in most circumstances only the final draft of a play would be used in such an examination, in this case the production draft which O'Neill originally submitted to the Theatre Guild was cut "for the sake of economy" according to the production designer Lee Simonson (Contour 253).  Because these cuts were not made for creative reasons and because the information taken from the earlier version is for the sole purpose of explication of Kukachin's character in the later version, such analysis is valid.

[14]Act one, scene five of the production version.

[15] See section on nihilism below

[16] See Chapter Two


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