Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
What does Edward Albee mean when he writes in The Zoo Story, “sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly”?
How has Albee’s concept of civility in marriage evolved from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Homelife?
Is physical violence, either expressed or inferred, a necessary component of Albee’s work?
Albee’s assessment is that his plays are usually stylistically different from one another. What do you think?
Critics have seen homosexual echoes/images in all of Albee’s plays. Do you agree?
The statement has been made that Albee is obsessed with death and that it is a running character in his plays. What is your opinion?
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Although Edward Albee has written the libretto for an unsuccessful operatic version of Herman Melville’s story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” as well as some occasional essays and a few adaptations, he is known primarily for his plays. Albee’s unpublished works include a short story and at least one novel written while he was a teenager. Esquire published the first chapter of a novel he began writing in 1963 but never completed.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Edward Albee is, with David Mamet, Sam Shepard, and August Wilson, one of the few American playwrights to emerge since the 1950’s with any claim to being considered a major dramatist ranked among the pantheon of Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams. Since The Zoo Story first appeared, Albee has produced a sustained and varied body of work, often of considerably higher quality than his critical and popular reputation would suggest. In the introduction to his most experimental works, the two one-acts published together in Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Albee sets forth the two “obligations” of a playwright: to illuminate the human condition and to make some statement about the art form itself by altering “the forms within which his precursors have had to work.” Like O’Neill before him, Albee has always been an experimentalist, refusing to go back and repeat the earlier formulas simply because they have proved commercially and critically successful. Although acutely disturbed by the downward spiral and paralysis of will that seem to have overtaken modern civilization and committed to charting these in his work, Albee is not primarily a social playwright, and there is hardly one of his plays that is totally naturalistic or realistic. In form and style, they range, indeed, from surrealism (The Sandbox) to allegory (Tiny Alice), from the quasi-religious drawing-room play...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Amacher, Richard E. Edward Albee. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Taking Albee’s career through The Man Who Had Three Arms, this study is part biography, part script analysis, and part career assessment. Amacher is best at discussing Albee’s “place in the theatre” and his marriage of the well-made play form with the formless Theater of the Absurd. Good second opinion after C. W. E. Bigsby’s edition of essays in 1975. Chronology, notes, bibliography.
Bigsby, C. W. E., ed. Edward Albee: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975. This collection includes notable names in theater and scholarship, such as Gerald Weales, Martin Esslin, Richard Schechner, Alan Schneider, Harold Clurman, Philip Roth, and Robert Brustein. They contribute several interpretations of the symbolic aspect of Albee’s plays, usually, but not always, in single-play discussions.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Edward Albee. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001.
Bottoms, Stephen J. Albee: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A thorough study of Albee’s best-known play.
Bottoms, Stephen J. The Cambridge Companion to Edward Albee. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. A comprehensive survey of Albee’s works, presented through easy-to-read essays. Recommended for new readers of Albee, as well as scholars of his work.
Bryer, Jackson R. “Edward Albee.” In The Playwright’s Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995. Interview conducted in 1991 that discusses most of Albee’s major plays at the time, both successes and failures. Albee reveals himself as clever and articulate as the characters in his plays, and he makes pointed statements about the Broadway establishment and its impact on playwriting in America....
(The entire section is 855 words.)