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Theater Essays Arthur Miller

Book Reviews THE THEATER ESSAYS OF ARTHUR MILLER, ed. Robert A. Martin. New York: Viking Press, 1978.401 pp. $15.00. I agree with Professor Martin that "Arthur Miller's essays on drama and the theater may well represent the single most important statement of critical principles to appear in England and America by a major playwright since the Prefaces of George Bernard Shaw." Miller's comments on his own work, . especially, are clear, sensib1e, and useful. I also agree that the Introduction to the Collected Plays (1957) is Miller's chief contribution to drama criticism; that essay, together with "Tragedy and tbe Common Man" (1949), "On Social Plays" (1955), "Tbe Family in Modem Drama" (1956), and "The Shadows of the Gods" (1958), probably comprise the most important expository writing by tbe dramatist. So it is entirely appropriate to issue a collection of these and other theater essays. Miller has written a foreword to the edition with further speculations on modem tragedy ("we have misplaced the ritual through which grief can be shown to others and shared"). And Professor Martin has supplied an accurate chronology; a well-organized bibliography of the playwright's work from 1936 to 1977; an appendix with cast lists and production details for all fifteen premieres, from Miller's Broadway debut in 1944 (The Man Who Had All the Luck) to a 1977 production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (The Archbishop's Ceiling); and a long introduction that relates the essays to stages in Miller's career. Martin's selections are sound but somewhat redundant. The twenty-six essays and interviews often cover the same ground, particularly concerning the state of theater in the United States (it is usually in disarray, Miller feels, and needs to be subsidized). To ~ arrow his focus, Martin excludes essays on oontheatrical topics- the playwright has, for example. protested against the Vietnam war, supported persecuted writers in many countries, and campaigned at several Democratic presidential conventions. This material, while it would complete the self-portrait of a thoughtful, socially active American liberal, is not as significant for the student of modem drama as the theater essays, 201 202 BOOK REVIEWS although a piece entitled "Miracles" (1973), in which Miller recalls his reactions to his father's bankruptcy during the Depression, would have been relevant. My only serious criticism of this edition is that Professor Martin's introduction , a chronological survey that correlates themes in the essays and in the plays, does not dig deeply enough. The material has been carefully gathered and organized but insufficiently evaluated. Evaluation, it is true, would run quickly to controversy. because Arthur Miller has exhibited both fonnidable powers and persistent shortcomings. Yet the essays are so penetrating that they challenge the reader to relate them to Miller's achievement as a playwright. Miller has been remarkably articulate and consistent about his intentions. His central subject is self-justification- "a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly," or to put it another way, "the individual attempting to gain his 'rightful' position in his society" ("Tragedy and the Common Man"). This struggle Miller conceived as open to any individual, however lowly his rank or status, who is willing to commit his energies totally to an image of moral selfsufficiency and innocence, that is, a need to be all-righteous and all-powerful within some limited social circle. Such "fanaticism," however, may bring the individual into violent opposition with larger forces or principles operating in his society. Occasionally these powers or principles may be constructive (as in All My Sons and A View from the Bridge); usually they are corrupting (Death of a Salesman, The Crucible. Incident at Vichy); always they are restrictive. According to Miller in "The Shadows of the Gods," the tragic hero finds his most threatening antagonists outside the family. An intolerant father, for instance, "is not the source of injustice but its deputy." Miller was strongly impressed during the Depression of the thirties by "the powers of economic crisis and political imperatives which had twisted, torn, eroded, and marked everything and everyone I laid eyes on." Tragic conflict arises, he writes in "Tragedy and the Common Man," when the "unchangeable [social...



The Theater Essays Of Arthur Miller3.81 · Rating details ·  32 Ratings  ·  3 Reviews

Arthur Miller is one of the most important and enduring playwrights of the last fifty years. This new edition of The Theater Essays has been expanded by nearly fifty percent to include his most significant articles and interviews since the book's initial publication in 1978. Within these pages Miller discusses the roots of modern drama, the nature of tragedy, and the stateArthur Miller is one of the most important and enduring playwrights of the last fifty years. This new edition of The Theater Essays has been expanded by nearly fifty percent to include his most significant articles and interviews since the book's initial publication in 1978. Within these pages Miller discusses the roots of modern drama, the nature of tragedy, and the state of contemporary theater; offers illuminating observations on Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, O'Neill, and Williams; probes the different approaches and attitudes toward theater in Russia, China, and at home; and, of course, provides valuable insights into his own vast dramatic corpus. For this edition the literary chronology and cast and production information have been updated, and an extensive new bibliography has been added. The Theater Essays confirms Arthur Miller's standing as a brilliant, eloquent commentator on drama and culture. No one interested in theater should be without this definitive collection....more

Paperback, 628 pages

Published August 22nd 1996 by Da Capo Press (first published 1978)