One of the major themes in Beggar on Horseback is the vulgarization of the arts, a trend that became all too apparent in the 1920’s. Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman’s decision to write an expressionist play, risking failure at the box office, rather than to cater to the whims of the public certainly could have influenced the portrayal of Neil and his predicament. Neil’s memory of Mr. Cady’s pronouncement during Neil’s party that his music is too “highbrow” ever to be as commercially profitable as the jazz piece “The Frogs’ Party” manifests itself as a nightmarish portion of Neil’s dream.
Neil and other artists are forced to work in a factory where they “grind” out music, literature, and paintings in assembly-line fashion. Like the other artists, Neil produces facsimiles of his works without even thinking, because it is more important to please the public and make money than to please oneself. Neil’s decision to be executed rather than remain a wealthy slave to commercial interests in his dream is followed by his real-life decision to jilt Gladys and remain poverty-stricken but true to his art. Neil’s dilemma, Connelly and Kaufman suggest, is one that all serious artists must face. The true artist, the playwrights imply, is indeed a hero of sorts.
Connelly and Kaufman also satirize the way that Americans of the 1920’s conducted business. Mr. Cady, the consummate businessman, is never far away from...
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