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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 78

What various images of Asianness are presented in David Henry Hwang’s plays?

How does Hwang use the myth of the butterfly to dismantle a centuries-old belief in Asian submissiveness to Western dominance?

Consider how M. Butterfly deconstructs the sexual mythology of Orientalism.

Hwang suggests that gender, race, and nationality are...

(The entire section contains 1021 words.)

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What various images of Asianness are presented in David Henry Hwang’s plays?

How does Hwang use the myth of the butterfly to dismantle a centuries-old belief in Asian submissiveness to Western dominance?

Consider how M. Butterfly deconstructs the sexual mythology of Orientalism.

Hwang suggests that gender, race, and nationality are constructed, not innate, identities. Discuss scenes from his plays that support this position.

Examine the role that music, from pop to opera, plays in Hwang’s works.

Other Literary Forms

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 33

David Henry Hwang has written a number of screenplays, including M. Butterfly (1993), Golden Gate (1994), and Possession (2001). He has also written for television with scripts that include My American Son (1987) and The Lost Empire (2001).

Achievements

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David Henry Hwang is the first Asian American playwright to bring specifically Asian and American themes to Broadway and Off-Broadway theater. His plays explore issues of ethnic identity, gender, and imperialism, with often stunning theatrical flair. Within the first decade of his career as a playwright, he staged six major productions in New York and abroad, garnering four Off-Broadway “Best Play” nominations and awards. M. Butterfly, his first Broadway play, won both the New York Drama Desk Award and the Tony Award for Best Play as well as a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Golden Child was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 1998 and earned an Obie Award for Playwriting in 1997.

Bibliography

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Bernstein, Richard. “France Jails Two in Odd Case of Espionage.” The New York Times, May 11, 1986, p. K7. The original news account on which M. Butterfly is based. It recounts the sentencing for espionage of Bernard Bouriscot, a forty-one-year-old French diplomat, and Chinese opera singer Shi Peipeu. During their twenty-year relationship, Bouriscot mistakenly believed Peipeu was a woman. He also believed they had a son, Shi Dudu.

Chen, Tina. “Betrayed into Motion: The Seduction of Narrative Desire in M. Butterfly.” Hitting Critical Mass: A Journal of Asian American Cultural Criticism 1, no. 2 (Spring, 1994): 129-154. Analyzes M. Butterfly as postmodern drama, focusing on its relationship with the audience.

Gerard, Jeremy. “David Hwang: Riding on the Hyphen.” The New York Times Magazine, March 13, 1988, pp. 44, 88-89. This biographical profile, preceding the Broadway debut of M. Butterfly, focuses on Hwang’s crossover from ethnic to mainstream commercial theater with a play that violates conventions of commercial theater in its treatment of sexism, racism, and imperialism, plus its inclusion of Chinese opera, its scandalous plot, and its brief nudity. Hwang comments on the self-doubt that accompanied his sudden fame.

Hwang, David Henry. “The Demon in David Henry Hwang.” Interview by Misha Berson. American Theatre 15, no. 4 (April, 1998): 14-18. In this interview, Hwang comments on his theatrical successes and failures, explains the impact of his family’s religious fundamentalism on his work, and reveals the reactions of some Asians and Asian Americans to their stage counterparts.

Hwang, David Henry. “Interview with Marty Moss-Coane. Edited with an Introduction by John Timpane.” In Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights, edited by Philip C. Kolin and Colby H. Kullman. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996. Edited transcript of an interview broadcast on National Public Radio in 1993. Hwang discusses the process of adapting M. Butterfly for the screen and discusses his family and childhood in more detail than typically found elsewhere.

Hwang, David Henry. “M. Butterfly: An Interview with David Henry Hwang.” Interview by John Lewis DiGaetani. The Drama Review: A Journal of Performance Studies 33, no. 3 (Fall, 1989): 141-153. In this extensive interview, Hwang discusses M. Butterfly, Edward W. Said’s Orientalism (1978), the mutual misperceptions of West and East embodied in Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and his play’s implications about homosexuality, heterosexuality, and fantasy in love. He also suggests that René Gallimard knew—at some level—that his lover was a man. Photographs.

Kondo, Dorinne K. About Face. New York: Routledge, 1997. A feminist anthropologist, Kondo examines the procedures by which Asian American identities are produced and disseminated in Western culture. She explores Hwang’s M. Butterfly in terms of its theatrical presentation of constructed ethnic identities.

Morris, Rosalind. “M. Butterfly: Transvestism and Cultural Cross Dressing in the Critique of Empire.” In Gender and Culture in Literature and Film East and West: Issues of Perception and Interpretation, edited by Nitaya Masavisut et al. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994. Discussion of gender issues and the theme of imperialism in Hwang’s best-known play.

Moy, James S. Marginal Sights: Staging the Chinese in America. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1993. Moy explores issues surrounding the embodiment of a marginalized ethnic group on the American stage. Hwang’s works, in particular M. Butterfly, are examined in this context.

Shin, Andrew. “Projected Bodies in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly and Golden Child.” MELUS 27, no. 1 (Spring, 2002): 177-197. Shin chronicles Hwang’s condemnation of Western masculinity in these two plays and notes that Hwang utilizes the theatrical tradition of masquerade, with its emphasis on imposture and acting, as a way to subvert cultural hegemony.

Shinakawa, Karen. “Who’s to Say? Or, Making Space for Gender and Ethnicity in M. Butterfly.” Theatre Journal 45 (October, 1993): 349-362. Examines Hwang’s use of gender and ethnicity in terms of constructed binaries: East and West, public and private, gay and straight, man and woman. Proposes that Gallimard’s metamorphosis into Butterfly occurs as a result of Song’s total destruction of these artificial divisions.

Skloot, Robert. “Breaking the Butterfly: The Politics of David Henry Hwang.” Modern Drama 33, no. 1 (March, 1990): 59-66. Skloot discusses the ways in which M. Butterfly brings its audience “into complicity with the discovery, dismantling, and re-establishment of theatrical illusion.” Though within the limits of “old-fashioned playwriting,” it also challenges traditional assumptions about gender politics, cultural politics, and theatrical politics, which are discussed in separate sections of the article.

Street, Douglas. David Henry Hwang. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1989. This fifty-two-page study, the first book to have been written on Hwang’s work, provides a useful introductory overview of his plays through M. Butterfly and contains a concise but detailed biography of the playwright. Bibliography.

Weinraub, Bernard. “Fleshing Out Chinatown Stereotypes.” New York Times, October 14, 2000, section 2, pp. 7, 27. Lengthy interview-based profile of Hwang, emphasizing his reworking of Flower Drum Song and its preproduction history.

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