study of any script, for the class room or for the stage, is aimed at
the envisioning some kind of performance. While much may be said about
a psychological study of the author or about a deconstruction of the
text according to one set of criteria or another, most who study
dramatic scripts have much more immediate and pragmatic needs.
instruments for critical analysis are developed in the study of poetry
or narrative, and seem often mal
apropos to drama, either requiring intense study of their
application in other genres before they be put to use on drama, or
betraying, as in the case of "reader-response" criticism,
that they are by definition largely irrelevant to drama.
of these instruments do any harm, of course, unless they serve as a
substitute for other, more basic observations. Admittedly, these basic
observations are fairly technical and largely unique to the study of
scripts. That's the point.
previous seven essays made no attempt to exhaust a topic. They are
merely exemplary, showing ways that these basic, technical
considerations can be taken up. Readers of play-criticism have a right
to expect this kind of technical analysis as a first step before they
face a criticís more subjective observations about, say, the effect
of a scene.
judgments about scripts are contingent. What one scholar finds quite
obviously the effect of a scene, many players may find impossible to
represent on a stage. The reverse is also true. Scenes that seem
impossibly clumsy and awkward during a reading of the script may, when
presented by the right players, take on life and power.
that to one generation seem quite funny to another may seen ferocious,
cruel, or sad. O'Neill's plays offer some examples. "Emperor
Jones" had become by the 'thirties a racist embarrassment, though
O'Neill never seems to have caught on to that. Deadly serious lines in
one age often becomes comic to a later one. Audiences for the 1985
production of Strange Interlude
in New York surprised critics with their laughter.
scripts, however, resist the efforts of later ages with differing
tastes to discard them. Such a script is the one for Long
Day's Journey Into Night. That script alone justifies a study of
the habits of its author in order to supply guidance on the problems
and possibilities that it presents for anyone envisioning a production
may summarize some observations drawn from this overview of
OíNeillís handling of technical elements. O'Neill's sets show
contrary impulses toward the open and the closed. Movement in the
stage directions leads to mutual avoidance by characters, and finally
to mere stasis. Scenes and plays end in incomprehension in the early
part of his career; later plays close with the characters knowing too
much. O'Neill has characters during his plays tell stories as tactics
to deflect the attacks of other characters.
writes long speeches for his characters, many that seek to give us the
emotion itself instead of any objective correlative for it. O'Neill
himself seems conscious of this as a weakness in his writing, and
often has characters overtly disbelieve their own authenticity in such
disbelieve each other too, telling each other to stop talking, calling
each other liars, and correcting or retracting their own statements,
as either saying too much or too badly or too literally, a process
that in later plays, notably in Long
Day's Journey Into Night, leads finally to silence.
a grim philosophic conclusion hardly blocks analysis of the drama in
his plays; indeed it leads to dramatic eloquence.
© Copyright 1999-2007 eOneill.com