Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 628

Anne of the Thousand Days is chronologically the first of what has come to be known as Maxwell Anderson’s Tudor Trilogy, although it was the last to be written. The other two are Elizabeth the Queen (pr., pb. 1930), a play about Anne’s daughter Queen Elizabeth I, and Mary of Scotland (pr., pb. 1933), which centers on Mary, Queen of Scots. Of the three, Anne of the Thousand Days is the most assured and least contrived, with its blank verse allowing the actor a more natural delivery than in Anderson’s other verse plays of the two previous decades.

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Anne of the Thousand Days also comes closest to fulfilling the eight rules of serious drama that Anderson himself set down as a guideline for dramatic (especially tragic) playwriting. He included these rules in his book Off Broadway Essays About the Theatre (1947) one year before Anne of the Thousand Days was first produced and published. They are as follows:1. The play deals with the heart or mind of a person, not mainly with external events. 2. The story must consist of a conflict inside a single human being between good and evil, and such categories are defined according to the audience’s judgment. 3. The protagonist, representative of the forces of good, must win; if he has represented evil, he must be defeated by the good and realize that fact. 4. The protagonist, who must emerge at the end of the play as more admirable than at the beginning, must not be perfect. 5. The protagonist has to be exceptional; or, if he is a man from the street, he must epitomize qualities of excellence that the audience is able to admire. 6. Excellence on the stage must ever be moral excellence. 7. A healthy moral atmosphere must prevail in the play; evil must not triumph. 8. The theater audience admires these human qualities on the stage: woman’s passionate faith and fidelity, man’s strength of conviction and positive character; the audience especially resents these qualities: woman’s infidelity, man’s cowardice and refusal to fight for a belief.

The play violates rule number seven. As the play progresses, the atmosphere becomes increasingly more poisonous, as a world where a Sir Thomas More can be killed and a Thomas Cromwell can prosper is created. As for rule number eight, if Anne’s fidelity is questioned, she certainly makes up for it by taking up the man’s responsibility of fighting for a belief, for she sacrifices herself for her daughter’s...

(The entire section contains 628 words.)

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