The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Tiny Alice opens in the Cardinal’s outside garden. Although the Lawyer wishes to discuss business, the Cardinal insists upon recalling their school days, through which the characters establish their mutual antagonism. At the Cardinal’s prompting, the Lawyer reveals that his employer, Miss Alice, wishes to give the Church $100 million immediately and the identical sum annually for two decades; the Cardinal’s private secretary, Brother Julian, is to finalize the details. The Cardinal agrees to the terms, and the Lawyer exits. The first scene ends with the Cardinal alone onstage talking to his caged cardinals.
In scene 2, in the library of Miss Alice’s castle, an imposing model of the mansion dominates the set. Until the Lawyer’s entrance, Julian and Butler discuss the workmanship of the model and the mansion itself as well as the coincidence of Butler’s name and function being the same. To the Lawyer’s questions regarding the six years of his life not covered by the dossier, Julian refuses an answer; he further objects to the Lawyer’s antagonism toward the Cardinal. The Lawyer responds that he has learned to distinguish between reality and representation. After the Lawyer’s exit, Julian does admit to Butler that during his missing six years he had signed himself into a mental institution because he could not integrate his own perception of God with that of other men. Julian believes that his faith and his sanity are synonymous....
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Tiny Alice, a play directed at the unconscious, is replete with techniques designed to keep its audience off balance, unable to operate easily from conventional belief systems. Albee’s intensely powerful, compact dialogue (paced by ellipses) mirrors mutable realities through parallel, seemingly unrelated, conversations that intertwine to form a dramatic coherence. Verbal irony underscores the humor of humankind’s condition as all five characters deliver lines unexpected for their roles. The Cardinal’s and the Lawyer’s venomous attacks upon each other in the opening scene immediately set a surprisingly combative tone for two professionals in a business meeting. Miss Alice’s charade as a crone is certainly idiosyncratic. Butler’s lines are appropriate to his character and to his role as chorus but not to his function as a butler. Julian is uncertain about his actual sexual experiences but is compelling in his bizarre fantasies of martyrdom. In effect, the dialogue is true but startling.
Equally startling are the recurrent covert psychological manipulations for control among the Lawyer, Miss Alice, and Butler. The dramatic ambiguity concerning who is actually dominant shifts too rapidly for resolution, thereby accentuating the theme that the tragedies of the human situation result from humanity’s fearful grasping for transient power over others. Consequently, destructive motivations supersede compassion and genuine communication....
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The 1960s was a decade that ushered in great change in the United States. The decade began with voters electing John F. Kennedy as president. At that time, he was the youngest man ever to hold the office, and he brought a spirit of youth and hope to the nation. After his assassination, Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, whose administration effected great change in tax cuts, civil rights, and the war on poverty. By the middle of the decade, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act had been passed, which barred discrimination and led to a mass registration of African American voters in the South, respectively.
Many young people rebelled against mainstream America. These members of the counterculture questioned conformity and societal institutions, such as churches. The enrollment in college courses in religion grew dramatically as students searched for alternative answers. The women’s movement also experienced a widespread revival, which forced the government to reconsider women’s rights.
Changes in Religious Expression
In 1962, Pope John XXIII attended the Second Vatican Council to discuss what would become historical changes to Church practices. The pope and the other delegates decided that mass should be performed in local languages instead of in Latin. Laypeople also began to acquire a larger role in determining Church affairs.
The U.S. Supreme Court also handed down a...
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Of the five characters, three bear the title of their profession. Lawyer, Miss Alice’s lawyer, represents civil law, and Cardinal, a cardinal in the Catholic Church, represents divine law. Instead of standing for justice and God’s love, respectively, each man symbolizes the perversion of power and hypocrisy. Cardinal acts as Julian’s pimp, willingly selling his secretary to Miss Alice and her cohorts. The papers transferring the money are signed on the day of the wedding. ‘‘[T]he grant is accomplished;’’ Cardinal tells Julian, ‘‘through your marriage . . . your service.’’ Lawyer arranges for this transaction, obtaining a human under the guise of making a donation. As Cardinal points out, though, Lawyer was a ‘‘cheat in your examinations, a liar in all things of any matter.’’ Further, the two men are made increasingly powerful through Miss Alice’s money, a symbol here of corruption. Butler, whose actual name signifies his position, is frequently seen serving wine, which is the Christian metaphor for blood. Julian has a symbolic profession. He is a lay brother—of the cloth but not fully a priest. In his relationship with Miss Alice, Julian escapes this celibacy without priesthood and unknowingly replaces it with priesthood without celibacy—a position denied by the Church.
The model house is the most important symbol in the play. The house in which Tiny Alice lives— where Julian will join...
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Compare and Contrast
1960s: In 1965, advanced degrees in theology are awarded to 1,739 Americans, out of a total U.S. population of close to 194 million.
1990s: In 1996, advanced degrees in theology are awarded to 8,479 Americans, out of a total U.S. population of close to 266 million.
1960s: By the end of the decade, there are 145 institutions conferring degrees in legal studies. In 1970, 14,916 L.L.B. or J.D. degrees are awarded to students.
1990s: By the middle of the decade, there are 183 institutions conferring degrees in legal studies. In 1996, 39,828 L.L.B. or J.D. degrees are awarded to students.
1960s: In 1965, a bit over $12 million (in 1965 dollars) is donated to charities. Individuals donate about $9.3 million of this sum. Close to $6 million is given to religious interests.
1990s: In 1997, almost $144 billion (in 1997 dollars) is donated to charities. Individuals donate just over $109 billion. In 1995, 31.5 percent of American households give some money to charity. Just over 15 percent donate more than $1,000. Forty-eight percent of people give money to religious interests, and the average donation is $868.
1960s: In 1965, 24.9 percent of American households have an income of $10,000 or higher.
1990s: In 1997, 18.4 percent of American households have and income of $75,000 or higher.
1960s: In 1965, there are just over...
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Topics for Further Study
• Imagine that you are a theater critic who has just attended a performance of Tiny Alice. Write the review to run in your local paper. Consider the essential message of the play in your article.
• Find out more about the Theater of the Absurd. Read plays from this school, such as Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano or Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Based on your research and your readings, do you think Tiny Alice is Absurdist drama. Why or why not?
• Read another of Albee’s plays. Compare the play to Tiny Alice. Consider themes, characterization, symbolism, and philosophical underpinnings.
• Conduct research to find out about some major controversies that have existed in the belief system within the Church. What are different ways in which people have regarded God and faith over the years?
• The Catholic Church and its rituals are filled with many symbols. Find out what some of these symbols are. How many religious symbols do you find in the play?
• The 1960s were a time of great change in the way Americans regarded religion. To many people, religion had lost its influence. How has religion been regarded in the 1990s? Has there been many changes in the way people have used religion and religious thoughts and ideals?
• Find out more about Albee’s works. How would you categorize his body of work? What issues were of greatest concern to...
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What Do I Read Next?
• Jean Genet’s The Balcony (1956), influenced by the Theater of Cruelty (the theater philosophy of Antonin Artaud) takes place in a contemporary European city in the midst of a revolution. The protagonists of the play recreate a world of illusion, which they convince the revolutionaries is better than reality.
• Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano (1950), called an ‘‘antiplay,’’ by the author, is an important example of the Theater of the Absurd. It consists mainly of a series of meaningless conversation between two couples.
• Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, also made into a popular movie, remains the author’s most well-known work. It centers on two married couples who reveal their secrets in one, long evening. By the end of the play, the middle-aged couple decides to face realities and stop living in their fantasy world.
• Suddenly Last Summer (1958) is a two-act play by Tennessee Williams. The play circles around disturbing and violent themes: insanity, lobotomy, pederasty, and cannibalism. It was also made into a movie.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Albee, Edward, Author’s Note, in Tiny Alice, Atheneum, 1965.
Amacher, Richard, Edward Albee, G. K. Hall & Co., 1999.
Casper, Leonard, ‘‘Tiny Alice: The Expense of Joy in the Persistence of Mystery,’’ in Edward Albee: An Interview and Essays, edited by Julian N. Wasserman, University of St. Thomas, 1983, pp. 83-92.
Cohn, Ruby, article, in American Writers, Vol. 1, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974, pp. 71-96.
Franzblau, Abraham N., ‘‘A Psychiatrist Looks at Tiny Alice,’’ in Saturday Review, January 30, 1965, p. 39.
Hewes, Henry, review and discussion of Tiny Alice, in Saturday Review, January 30, 1965, p. 38.
Review of Tiny Alice, in Newsweek, January, 1, 1965, p. 75.
Wasserman, Julian, ‘‘‘The Pitfalls of Drama’: The Idea of Language in the Plays of Edward Albee,’’ in Edward Albee: An Interview and Essays, edited by Julian N. Wasserman, University of St. Thomas, 1983, pp. 29-53.
Worth, Katharine, ‘‘Edward Albee: Playwright of Evolution,’’ in Essays on Contemporary American Drama, edited by Hedwig Bock and Albert Wertheim, Max Hueber Verlag, 1981, pp. 33–53.
Bloom, Harold, ed., Edward Albee, Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. This is a collection of critical essays on Albee’s...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Amacher, Richard E. “Critics Are Downgrading Audience’s Taste and Have Obfuscated Simple Tiny Alice.” Dramatists Guild Quarterly 2 (Spring, 1963): 9-14.
Amacher, Richard E. Edward Albee. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982.
Bryer, Jackson R., ed. The Playwright’s Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
Dukore, Bernard F. “Tiny Albee.” Drama Survey 5 (Spring, 1966): 60-66.
Kolin, Philip C. Conversations with Edward Albee. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1988.
Markus, Thomas B. “Tiny Alice and Tragic Catharsis.” Educational Theatre Journal 17 (October, 1965): 225-233.
Posts, Robert M. “Salvation or Damnation: Death in the Plays of Edward Albee.” American Drama, Spring, 1993, 32-49.
Rutenberg, Michael E. Edward Albee: Playwright in Protest. New York: DBS, 1969.
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