Critical Context

Of the fifteen plays that comprise Robert Sherwood’s dramatic compositions, The Petrified Forest is the eighth and thus stands almost in the center of his creative work, chronologically as well as artistically. It was the first of his three masterworks composed within a three-year period (The Petrified Forest, pr., pb. 1935; Idiot’s Delight, pr., pb. 1936; Abe Lincoln in Illinois, pr. 1938, pb. 1939) and the first to treat seriously the theme of idealism and the decline of Western values.

His first play, The Road to Rome (pr., pb. 1927), poked fun at the bourgeois values of ancient Rome—in an analogy to the materialistic American society of the 1920’s—and defended the ideal of pacificism through the love affair between Hannibal and Amytis, who persuades her lover to renounce war. After several less successful works, Sherwood produced Reunion in Vienna (pr. 1931, pb. 1932), another comedy, this one satirizing Freudian psychology. It was followed by Acropolis (pr. 1933), which drew a pointed analogy between the death of the democratic ideal in ancient Athens and the growing totalitarianism of Europe in the 1930’s.

These plays clearly show Sherwood as a versatile dramatist, trying his hand at the popular comedy of manners, a form exemplified by the work of his contemporary Philip Barry, at sentimental comedy, and at thinly veiled fables, such as Acropolis. As one...

(The entire section is 461 words.)