Maxwell Anderson Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111207668-Anderson_M.jpg Maxwell Anderson in 1956 Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Maxwell Anderson’s reputation rests exclusively on his dramatic works. In addition to his works in various forms of drama, he wrote a number of essays on the theater, some of which are collected in The Essence of Tragedy and Other Footnotes and Papers (1939) and Off Broadway: Essays About the Theatre (1947). Anderson also published two collections of poetry: You Who Have Dreams (1925) and Notes on a Dream (1971). Finally, he wrote a number of screenplays, including the screenplay for the film adaptation of the play Joan of Lorraine, entitled Joan of Arc (1948).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Maxwell Anderson was a prolific and versatile playwright, the author of poetic drama and historical drama, realistic plays and thesis plays, radio drama, screenplays, and musical drama (including two collaborations with composer Kurt Weill). At the peak of his success, during one season in the 1930’s, he had three plays running on Broadway at the same time. In 1933, he received a Pulitzer Prize for Both Your Houses. He received New York Drama Critics Circle Awards in the 1935-1936 Broadway season for Winterset and in the following season for High Tor.

Of the twelve Anderson plays produced on Broadway in his lifetime, nine are verse dramas—a remarkable feat in itself in the twentieth century, with verse drama long an endangered species. Indeed, it is as a rare modern practitioner of that form that Anderson is likely to be remembered.

Even Anderson’s lesser achievements attest the enormous vitality of the American theater in his time: The sheer range of his work, including both failed experiments and commercial successes, the stretch of his ambition (even when one concedes that his theory of tragedy, for example, is an intellectual embarrassment)—all of this makes him one of the representative figures of a key period in the history of American drama.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Adam, Julie. Versions of Heroism in Modern American Drama: Redefinitions by Miller, Williams, O’Neill, and Anderson. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. This excellent study is an exploration of redefinitions. Adam argues that Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and Anderson not only do not provide a systematic theory of tragedy but also frequently do not engage in an easily classifiable dramatic practice. Often ignoring the formal aspects and philosophical dimension of traditional tragedy, they instead focus on its intensified character portrayal, which they believe typifies the genre. They identify tragedy with dramatization of heroism and redefine tragedy as primarily a dramatic tribute to individualism and human potential. First-rate bibliography.

Anderson, Maxwell. Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958. Edited by Laurence G. Avery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977. Consists of 212 illuminating letters on a wide variety of topics. The letters are arranged in chronological order, and each is presented in three parts: heading, text, and annotation. Extremely few letters, however, are available from the early period of Anderson’s life and from the period during which the author suffered a nervous breakdown. Contains a chronology, a list of letters, and appendices.


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