Overview (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Until the post-World War I era, American drama, confronted with religious hostility and then by economic necessity and academic indifference, struggled to come into its own as a respected literary genre at home and as a force that made itself felt on foreign stages. A commonplace of American literary history is that the plays of Eugene O’Neill, in Walter J. Meserve’s words, marked “America’s full-scale arrival into the modern drama of western civilization.”
In an article in a 1907 issue of Atlantic Monthly, John Corbin quoted Edmund Stedman, who proclaimed a literary declaration of independence for American drama: “Quote boldly, then, I prophesy the dawn of the American drama; and quite confidently, too, for the drama has already dawned.” Decrying the exhaustion of the European-influenced melodrama, Corbin applauded dramas by William Vaughn Moody and Percy MacKaye as plays “which challenge comparison with the best work of the modern stage in any country.” Moody’s The Great Divide (pr. 1906) and MacKaye’s Jeanne d’Arc (pr. 1906) are hardly plays for which modern historians and critics would claim such eminence, but Corbin expressed an optimism about American drama that would become a reality in the post-World War I era in the dramas of O’Neill.
Kenneth Macgowan claims, in his introduction to Famous American Plays of the 1920’s (1959), that the book might have been titled “The...
(The entire section is 1704 words.)
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