2008 Playscript --


"Desire" in PoMo

"American Family, American Violence, American Crime"...

Same year as 'Am. Tragedy' 1925

-- from script.vtheatre.net/doc/oneill:

"Essentially, it appears that the two forces are to be equated with the Gods Dionysus and Apollo. Yet while Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy provided the philosophical underpinning the drama evolved from O’Neill’s perception that men who are forced to serve alien Gods are doomed to loneliness. This had been Eben’s case until Abbie came, but when they have loved, the feminine principle asserts itself, and Abbie, in the service of the Mother God, finds contentment for herself and brings it to Eben. At the same time, however, Ephraim suffers a sense of alienation and loss—and specifically of the power to serve the hard God who appears to have been driven from the farm by the service Abbie and Eben pay to God the Mother."

exposition ?

Ephraim Cabot, a selfish skinflint, owns the best farm in the county. He has robbed his youngest son, Eben, of his birthright by taking land belonging to Eben’s mother as his own upon her death. Eben swears to recover this land.

When Ephraim goes away, leaving his three sons in charge of the farm, Eben persuades his two half brothers, Simon and Peter, to renounce their claim to inherit in exchange for $300 each. Simon and Peter set out for California. Ephraim returns home with a new wife, Abbie.


dramaturgy notes

[ bio ]

... New England MAT? [non-commercial]

American Drama: O'Neill

O'Neill @ Amazon *


Eugene O'Neill imagined Desire Under the Elms in its entirety one night as he slept, and the play has the passion and intensity of a fever dream. First produced in 1924, this twentieth-century American classic has the power and scope of ancient Greek drama, infused with O'Neill's ravishing vision of rural life. O'Neill

215 Notes

Playscript Analysis

AmDrama II

PM Drama: Pinter/Shepard

There are several close related pages -- PMdrama, POMO, A-Century, etc. which should be read together.


DESIRE: Elderly Ephraim Cabot has married a young woman, Abbie Putnam. They live on an isolated farm with his sons. When the play starts the two older sons decide to leave to seek their fortune in California. Unhappy with her old husband, Abbie looks for love with his younger son, Eben. They fall in love, and Abbie looks to find a way to get free of her husband.

"American Time and Space"?


"One reason for the regrettable divorce between American literature and American drama is that our leading novelists and our leading playwrights live in different worlds and rarely meet each other." [ * ]


Expressionism in drama and art was a movement that rejected traditional methods of representing objective reality. Instead, expressionists exaggerated and distorted aspects of the outside world in order to "express" subjective moods and feelings. In other words, their landscapes and portraits were actually "mindscapes." In American drama, Eugene O'Neill and Elmer Rice are noted for their expressionist plays. Thriving from about 1910 to 1925, expressionism continues to be an important influence on experimental theatre and art.


American Drama Resources american drama mag *

Fractured Families in American Drama : Comparing O'Neill and Williams
* possible causes of breakdown in relationships within families.
* the value of the playwright’s stage performance directions.
* the Individual and the Family.

The Nature of Tragedy
Arthur Miller, in his essay Tragedy and the Common Man, asserts that there is a prevailing idea that "tragedy is of necessity allied to pessimism." He counters this idea with the argument "that in truth tragedy implies more optimism than comedy, and that its final result ought to be the reinforcement of the onlooker’s brightest opinion of the human animal." The first full-length play in which O'Neill successfully evoked the starkness and inevitability of Greek tragedy that he felt in his own life was Desire Under the Elms. Drawing on Greek themes of incest, infanticide, and fateful retribution, he framed his story in the context of his own family's conflicts. This story of a lustful father, a weak son, and an adulterous wife who murders her infant son was told with a fine disregard for the conventions of the contemporary Broadway theatre. Because of the sparseness of its style, its avoidance of melodrama, and its total honesty of emotion, the play was acclaimed immediately as a powerful tragedy and has continued to rank among the great American plays of the 20th century. [Britannica]

"Until some years after his death in 1953, O'Neill, although respected in the United States, was more highly regarded abroad. Sweden, in particular, always held him in high esteem, partly because of his publicly acknowledged debt to the influence of the Swedish playwright August Strindberg, whose tragic themes often echo in O'Neill's plays. In 1936 the Swedish Academy gave O'Neill the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first time the award had been conferred on an American playwright."

O'Neill's most ambitious project for the theatre was one that he never completed. In the late 1930s he conceived of a cycle of 11 plays, to be performed on 11 consecutive nights, tracing the lives of an American family from the early 1800s to modern times.

Until his Beyond the Horizon was produced, in 1920, Broadway theatrical fare, apart from musicals and an occasional European import of quality, had consisted largely of contrived melodrama and farce. O'Neill saw the theatre as a valid forum for the presentation of serious ideas. Imbued with the tragic sense of life, he aimed for a contemporary drama that had its roots in the most powerful of ancient Greek tragedies--a drama that could rise to the emotional heights of Shakespeare. For more than 20 years, both with such masterpieces as Desire Under the Elms, Mourning Becomes Electra, and The Iceman Cometh and by his inspiration to other serious dramatists, O'Neill set the pace for the blossoming of the Broadway theatre.


Arthur Miller @ Amazon *

"American Existentialism" (new page?):

Life is for each man a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors. EUGENE O'NEILL, Lazarus Laughed

"Tennessee Williams: A Guide to Research and Performance" by Philip C. Kolin; Greenwood Press, 1998 [ from O'Neill to Williams, or to Miller? ]

Beyond Naturalism: A New Realism in American Theatre by William W. Demastes; Greenwood Press, 1988 (see Shepard and Mamet pages, new)

Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition by William W. Demastes; University of Alabama Press, 1996

script.vtheatre.net/215/4/3 -- Williams to Miller

+ Lesson 4 -- American Dream(s) Later Days


Strange. I never thought I gave them this roof "Americans" -- O'Neill, Miller, and even Shepard. Do I exclude Williams and Albee? Why not under "realism" (style)? Or "drama" (genre)?

Well, let me explain it. Intelligencia in America has a short history. It was aristocracy known to us as "founding fathers" and the first generation of educated Americans appeared only in the twenties. O'Neill was one of them. Many left for Europe and gave themselves this name: "lost generation"!

But, seriously, why not put Chekhov under (national) "Russian" drama roof? Because his dramatic innovations are too grandiose. Like Shakespeare, he supercedes "English"... But why at the time between two World Wars do I want to talk about "American" drama and what is "American" about Eugene O'Neill?

[ amdrama2 ]

Language, the Words

Perhaps for the first time Americans noticed themselves. They knew that they were differient, that they were not Europeans. But only now before the Second Great War did they begin to question -- what is "American"?

Good question.

On my non-theatre sites I wrote about the American and even Post-American Age, but there is a "local" American history, too, you know... The biggest problem is that Americans didn't invent a new language. Like the rest of them in Europe. (I'll leave the issue of film language as "American national language" for my film pages). We know that every national culture must have its OWN language. Yes, they noticed it in the twenties, they noticed that they still speak English. (The paradox is that the world today doesn't speak English, they speak "American").

He won the Pulitzer Prize three times and the Nobel Prize in 1936. No, it's not "Red, White and Blue" -- those American colors are different.

Remember, the language category in Aristotle's 6 principles? I talked about it on the Wilde's (Comedy) Page. There we have "British" English. English has so many forms nowadays!

What is this "American" language?

It is ironic that O'Neill is a New England American (East Coast, as we say today).

[ link to Miller ]

Desire Under the Elms


"American Tragedy"? (Do you know the novel?) Is it possible? Americans are non-tragic in principle! Optimistic and positive, yes, sir! Tragedy? What is that nonsense?

O'Neill loved the Greeks (Mourning Becomes Electra, 1931).

I have a tough time selecting pictures for this page... (I know what I want but these are not copyright-free images. so, I leave this web-generated 3D digital artist's "Window" -- for the mood of it). And, yes, American Art was born till Abstractionism. Go to Realism Page. O'Neil experimented with Symbolism (Strindberg), he was called "romantic" -- but, please, he is a realist! (With some tendencies to Naturalism, I would say).

He wasn't a popular playwright. I think he is still not discovered by the American theatre. He is "too dark"...

I can't make more pages, but one page about Existentialism is missing and it's almost impossible to talk about American brand of existentialists. I see this empty corner when I write about Williams, Albee, Miller, Shepard... and father of them all -- O'Neill. Of course, Americans lived through the same historical times as the rest of the West! That's why the Europeans recognize great American drama faster, they smell it -- the agony of a single soul.

This is Chekhov's concept, the average man without any hope: an American is the most dramatic creature today. I would say -- most tragic. Every time I hear about US being a "leading nation of the world" -- I think about it...

Tragic self-sense comes only after you have comfort. No, the poor can't afford it.

The Play, the Questions

Family there, again. Family is a nest for tragedy. American family. The brothers (we will see them later in Sam Shepard's plays), and they are SONS, Father and WOMAN.

1850. Farmhouse. Summer. (Connecticut? "'New' England"! Main)

"There is no wind and everything is still. The sky above the roof is suffused with deep colors, the green of the elms glows, but the house is in shadow, seeming pale and washed out by contrast."
First American dramatic WRITER!

Read his stage directions, I wouldn't dare to write it today...

BTW, why the elms? Trees?

American Theatre History Links


Class Notes

"God's lonesome, ain't He? God's hard an' lonesome!" - from Desire Under the Elms
The Emperor Jones -- Why is he called "Emperor" instead of King? "Emperor" means "king of kings." Emperors take what they want [like the British did to everyone they came in contact with, during their pilaging, which they deftly referred to as "colonization."] Why is his throne made of uncut wood? Primitive symbolism. WHAT is the SYMBOLISM?
Old one: women not an issue, no need, no place for them. The war is between me, my fears and foibles, which has nothing to do with women. It is a fight between EGO and SUPEREGO: "I can't go till this voice (always with me) says: "Yes, Master; you're right."

(A.A.: "Freud should analyze this text.") Dream Structure -- present constantly, even when awake.

Ending: Mike: "they didn't kill a man, they killed an animal." (Primitive state.)

AA: How could we translate it into Strindberg's nightmares?
Gary: delusional state from the chemical of fear (re: Jone's state of mind)

AA: I have (had) a panic since puberty -- (it has) no name, no label, etc.

HOW DO I TELL YOU ABOUT IT? [Symbolism] Symbolism operates with the same authority as mythology. Symbolism is like fairy tales for children, only for adults.

Children KNOW TERROR. Is the fear MORE or the SAME for Adults as Children? Points of reference are greater in Adults. How do we communicate our inner worlds? SYMBOLS.

Hiram: Universal/Cultural: How are we supposed to know when your symbol is my symbol? We know HOW drama is built, with characters, plots, and symbols; how it evolves, drama's "essence" -- but, how do we make YOUR symbol MY symbol? Strindberg is full of symbolistic intentions (i.e., "Miss Julie"). Fairy Tales suspend belief in life, reality. When you convince me first that "pig is not pig, then I can believe that it can talk."

Tracy: Jung says there are some symbols that are universal (i.e., Theory of (Relativity) Realism. Theatre's job is to create REALITY -- define the boundaries. (Beckett) Glass Menagerie: 2 Toms -- what one Tom thinks of himself (Tom #2).

Memory Play Tennessee Williams... You think Chekhov has too many stage directions? Oooh, wait till you see Tennessee Williams.
Why SLIDES? Memory provokers / phrases Sometimes a phrase rattles around in our heads forever (like the song in "3 Sisters"). If the whole show is dreamlike -- the slides would fit in better.

If it is a memory play and a play of Tom's memory / reality; how do we make the distinction between Tom's memories and REALITY?
Conflict: between what Tom remembers and what he wanted to happen. If Chekhov said let's make all characters a story, why not make one character the WHOLE story? Thirty years later, we're going farther, etc.

The Historical Route: How is the author in the play? Rose, (William's real sister,) is given a lobotomy.
Williams' homosexuality: Tom brings home "Jim."

Play after play, either lacking man or woman in the family.
1940's white, single mothers in America, smothering. [s"mother"ing] In Three Sisters, they had the same dreams: want better -- Russian: If I have to shoot you, you WILL all be happier. American: I WILL BE HAPPIER (if I have to shoot you.)

CHRONOTOPE (Chronological Topography)
3-D American cultural sense of TIME T. Williams' unique view of time and space that was not only American but Universal and Personal.


"Emperor Jones" -- when and where does that play take place?
Tom (in Glass Menagerie, and the only one that can go through walls) says in the very beginning of the play: "I have tricks in my pocket." (Hmmm...)

Next - Arthur Miller: Death of A Salesman
and finaly, Pomo (Also, Beckett)

Not for the 215 (DramLit) class: Albee "Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (my paper for the Albee Conference in 1997).
... and 2007

Fall'99 -- Playscript Analysis

Next time: Fall02 DramLit


[ See lesson's notes by Kate in Homework ]

"Desire Under the Elms" (love story, compare)


Why New England? Why historical? Tragedy?



Submit your 200 words on O'Neill!
Mono Studies:
YANK: Sit down before I knock yuh down! (LONG makes haste to efface himself. YANK goes on contemptuously) De Bible, huh? De Cap'tlist class, huh? Aw nix on dat Salvation Army-Socialist bull. Git a soapbox! Hire a hall! Come and be saved, huh? Jerk us to Jesus, huh? Aw g'wan! I've listened to lots of guys like you, see? You're all wrong. Wanter know what I t'ink? Yuh ain't no good for no one. Yuh're de bunk. Yuh ain't got no noive, get me? Yuh're yellow, dat's what. Yellow, dat's you. Say! What's dem slobs in de foist cabin got to do wit us? We're better men dan dey are, ain't we? Sure! One of us guys could clean up de whole mob wit one mit. Put one of 'em down here for one watch in de stokehole, what'd happen? Day'd carry him off on a stretcher. Dem boids don't amount to nothin'. Dey're just baggage. Who makes dis old tub run? Ain't it us guys? Well den, we belong, don't we? We belong and dey don't. Dat's all. As for dis bein' hell--aw, nuts! Yuh lost your noive, dat's what. Dis is a man's job, get me? It belongs. It runs dis tub. No stiffs need apply. But yuh're a stiff, see? Yuh're yellow, dat's you. (O'Neill, Hairy Ape)
[ The Hairy Ape was first published in 1921. It is now a public domain work and may be performed without royalties. ]


PADDY: We belong to this, you're saying? We make this ship go, you're saying? Yerra then, that Almighty God have pity on us! (His voice runs into the wail of a keen, he rocks back and forth on his bench. The men stare at him, startled and impressed in spite of themselves) Oh, to be back in the fine days of my youth, ochone! Oh, there was fine beautiful ships them days--clippers wid tall masts touching the sky--fine strong men in them--men that was sons of the sea as if 'twas the mother that bore them. Oh, the clean skins of them, and the clear eyes, the straight backs and full chests of them! Brave men they was, and bold men surely! We'd be sailing out, bound down round the Horn maybe. We'd be making sail in the dawn, with a fair breeze, singing a chanty song wid no care to it. And astern the land would be sinking low and dying out, but we'd give it no heed but a laugh, and never a look behind. For the day that was, was enough, for we was free men--and I'm thinking 'tis only slaves do be giving heed to the day that's gone or the day to come--until they're old like me. (With a sort of religious exaltation) Oh, to be scudding south again wid the power of the Trade Wind driving her on steady through the nights and days! Full sail on her! Nights and Days! Nights when the foam of the wake would be flaming wid fire, when the sky'd be blazing and winking wid stars. Or the full of the moon maybe. Then you'd see her driving through the gray night, her sails stretching aloft all silver and white, not a sound on the deck, the lot of us dreaming dreams, till you'd believe 'twas no real ship at all you was on but a ghost ship like the Flying Dutchman they say does be roaming the seas forevermore widout touching a port. And there was the days, too. A warm sun on the clean decks. Sun warming the blood of you, and wind over the miles of shiny green ocean like strong drink to your lungs. Work--aye, hard work--but who'd mind that at all? Sure, you worked under the sky and 'twas work wid skill and daring to it. And wid the day done, in the dog watch, smoking me pipe at ease, the lookout would be raising land maybe, and we'd see the mountains of South America wid the red fire of the setting sun painting their white tops and the clouds floating by them! (His tone of exaltation ceases. He goes on mournfully.) Yerra, what's the use of talking? 'Tis a dead man's whisper. (To YANK resentfully) 'Twas them days men belonged to ships, not now. 'Twas them days a ship was part of the sea, and a man was part of a ship, and the sea joined all together and made it one. (Scornfully) Is it one wid this you'd be, Yank--black smoke from the funnels smudging the sea, smudging the decks--the bloody engines pounding and throbbing and shaking--wid divil a sight of sun or a breath of clean air--choking our lungs wid coal dust--breaking our backs and hearts in the hell of the stokehole--feeding the bloody furnace--feeding our lives along wid the coal, I'm thinking--caged in by steel from a sight of the sky like bloody apes in the Zoo! (With a harsh laugh.) Ho-ho, divil mend you! Is it to belong to that you're wishing? Is it a flesh and blood wheel of the engines you'd be?
Next: pomo
Fall 2003 : THR413 Playscript Analysis
Read National Theatre file in Theory Directory *

o'neill lnk