The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

What Price Glory? begins in a French farmhouse serving as a U.S. Marine headquarters in World War I. Three enlisted men, Gowdy, Kiper, and Lipinsky, are cynically discussing their motivations for volunteering for duty in France. Sergeant Quirt then appears, announcing that he is “the new top soldier here,” and abruptly dismisses Kiper and Gowdy. After receiving a briefing from Lipinsky, the company clerk, on the sad state of the company, Quirt “briskly” leaves headquarters to find Captain Flagg, the company commander.

Flagg, however, enters soon after Quirt exits. Charmaine, described as a “drab,” follows closely at his heels. She is distraught over the possibility that Flagg might leave her. He takes her by the shoulders and assures her that he will come back; it will only be “eight days in Paris.” Private Lewisohn then enters, reports in, and tells Flagg that he has lost his identification tags. The captain quickly dismisses him but asks Kiper to get him a new tag because “the God-forsaken fool’s dying from grief away from mother.” Quirt then reenters. During the course of their conversation, which primarily involves Flagg’s description of the merits of his company, the captain reveals that he was a corporal under Quirt in China. Even more revealing is the fact that a woman evidently was involved in their quarrel, which continued when Quirt first served under Flagg in Cuba. Quirt is then introduced to Flagg’s platoon leaders: Lieutenants Aldrich, Moore, Schmidt, and Sockel, who knows Quirt from Cuba. With a quick farewell, Flagg departs with his company, leaving Quirt alone with a cup of dice until Charmaine enters. He asks her for a date; she quickly refuses until Lipinsky and Gowdy bring in a rowdy Irishman. Quirt, after repeatedly telling Mulcahy to “pipe down,” dispatches the recalcitrant with a blow to the jaw. The scene ends with Quirt and Charmaine kissing.

Scene 2 opens with the news that Flagg has been imprisoned for ten days on an attempted manslaughter charge, brought against him while he was in a drunken fit. He enters, still...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Without a doubt, the most powerful artistic device employed in What Price Glory? is the provocative language. In fact, the play’s first director, Arthur Hopkins, added a note to the playbill, justifying Laurence Stallings’s and Maxwell Anderson’s use of obscenities:The speech of men under arms is universally and consistently interlarded with profanity. Oaths mean nothing to a soldier save a means to obtain emphasis. . . . The authors of What Price Glory? have attempted to reproduce this mannerism along with other general atmosphere they believe to be true. . . . The audience is asked to bear with certain expletives which, under other circumstances, might be used for melodramatic effect, but herein are employed because the mood and truth of the play demand their employment.

This profanity has an extra bite to it: The characters use it to describe things traditionally treated with at least some degree of reverence. The valor of the profession of arms, the sanctity of death, the glory of the human soul, and even the virtue of a beautiful woman are not immune to the vile barbs of Flagg’s company. No man is protected from the war’s brutality; even the most pious young soldier must find an outlet for the pressures of the violence around him.

Anderson and Stallings also employ more typical dramatic devices. The play is constructed in three acts; acts 1 and 2 basically serve to depict the common marine of the war; no one...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Anderson, Maxwell. Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958. Edited by Laurence G. Avery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.

Bailey, Mabel Driscoll. Maxwell Anderson: The Playwright as Prophet. New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1957.

Brittain, John T. Laurence Stallings. Edited by Sylvie E. Brown. New York: Twayne, 1975.

Hazelton, Nancy J., and Kenneth Kravs, eds. Maxwell Anderson on the New York Stage. San Jose, Calif.: Library Research, 1991.

Horn, Barbara L. Maxwell Anderson: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Krutch, Joseph Wood. The American Drama Since 1918: An Informal History. New York: G. Braziller, 1957.

Shivers, Alfred S. The Life of Maxwell Anderson. New York: Stein and Day, 1983.