The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

As the curtain rises on The Philadelphia Story, Tracy Lord is in the sitting room of her family’s country house near Philadelphia hurriedly writing last-minute thank-you notes as her mother, Margaret Lord, brings in more gifts. Tracy is to be married the following day. During the ensuing conversation, it becomes clear that it is Tracy’s second marriage, following an elopement ten months previously, which terminated in divorce. As the scene progresses, the possibility of scandal escalates. Tracy’s former husband, C. K. Dexter Haven, is in the vicinity. Furthermore, Dinah Lord has found the proof sheets of an article which a magazine called Destiny is about to publish concerning the involvement of her father, Seth Lord, with a dancer, an affair which so angered Tracy that she has refused to invite her own father to the wedding. When Sandy Lord enters, it transpires that, as a journalist himself, he has made a deal with Destiny: In return for killing the article about Seth, they will be permitted to print the inside story on Tracy’s wedding. Sandy has even arranged for a fake telegram from Seth, regretting that illness will prevent his coming to the ceremony.

Soon the delegation from Destiny arrives: Mike Connor, who immediately displays his democratic disapproval of Main Line society, and Liz Imbrie, who is clearly in love with Mike. Although Sandy and Margaret hope to win over their guests, Dinah and Tracy assume the roles of spoiled and brainless socialites. When her fiancé, George Kittredge, enters, Tracy gushes over him; later, in a fit of invention, she introduces her uncle as her father, and pretends to forget the name of C. K. Dexter Haven, her former husband. Just as lunch is announced, Seth arrives, and Tracy’s real fury about the journalistic invasion becomes clear. The family troubles are his fault, she indicates, and then suggests the complexity of the situation by addressing him by her uncle’s name.

As the second act begins, it is obvious to the audience that in the conflict between the socialites and the reporters, the socialites are ahead; the very fact that Liz and Mike can talk...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Because The Philadelphia Story is a traditional comedy of manners, the dramatic devices used are those typical of the genre. The expensive set decoration establishes the upper-class setting of the story. In this case, a sitting room and a porch are substituted for the usual drawing room, but there is no essential difference, because these are the public rooms which are meant to present the social group, here the Lord family, at its best.

Much of the humor arises from the attempt to keep private scandal hidden from the public, represented in this play by the reporters. Thus when Tracy hears that the reporters are coming, she goes to her room and changes costume, emerging in a demure, high-necked dress that she hopes will establish her propriety. The deception, however, cannot be maintained for long. Later, when Mike carries the naked, drunken Tracy through the other public area, the porch, on the way to her bedroom, Barry is emphasizing the fact that private behavior always becomes public knowledge. This type of revelation scene in comedy of manners is traditional, going back to the screen that falls to reveal the hidden Lady Teazle in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (pr. 1777). In these plays, that which is hidden is always discovered; the sitting room or the drawing room eventually becomes not a place of successful deception but instead a place where the truth is revealed, so that private lives and public lives...

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Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

World War II
The rise of totalitarian regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan during the 1930s tipped the scales toward a...

(The entire section is 364 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Stage Directions
Detailed stage directions are a very noticeable feature of The Philadelphia Story. There are...

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Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1939:America feels the continuing effects of the Great Depression. Unemployment remains high and industrial production is...

(The entire section is 365 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Compare and contrast the stage and film versions of The Philadelphia Story. Discuss the advantages of film versions over stage...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Geroge Cukor Directing The Philadelphia Story Published by Gale Cengage

The Philadelphia Story was adapted as a film in 1940. The film was directed by George Cukor and produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz for...

(The entire section is 140 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Paris Bound (1927) is one of Barry’s most successful comedy of manners. It concerns the fashionable and rich Jim and Mary Hutton....

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Moe, Christian H. ‘‘The Philadelphia Story’’ in The International Dictionary of Theatre,...

(The entire section is 222 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Brown, John Mason. “The American Barry.” Saturday Review of Literature 32 (December 24, 1949): 24-27.

Gassner, John. “Philip Barry: A Civilized Playwright.” In The Theatre in Our Times. New York: Crown, 1954.

Krutch, Joseph Wood. “Miss Hepburn Pays Up.” Nation, April 8, 1939, 410-411.

Roppolo, Joseph Patrick. Philip Barry. New York: Twayne, 1965.

Weales, Gerald. “Philip Barry.” In Reference Guide to American Literature. 2d ed. Chicago: St. James, 1987.


(The entire section is 65 words.)