The Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays

The Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays

The Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays

The Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays

Synopsis

The Politics of Reputation researches the critical reception of Tennessee Williams's work to challenge the conventional wisdom that the later plays (1961 to 1983) represent a failure of his creative powers. This book demonstrates that what has been characterized as a failure is in fact a conscious departure from the essentially realistic forms that had established Williams's reputation. This reassessment of Williams's career offers a direct and thorough exploration of the much-neglected later plays and concludes that Williams deserves a central place in American experimental drama.

Excerpt

In his "Intimate Memoir" of Tennessee Williams, Dotson Rader describes an incident which occurred in late January 1979 while he was visiting Williams' home in Key West. While Williams himself claimed that he “abhorred the publicity and thought the episode blown out of proportion,” and even went so far as to tell Bruce Smith in 1980 that “that particular event never happened,” Rader's story gives an insight into Williams' general attitude during the later years of his career, and is therefore worth recounting. Rader writes that one night he and Williams were strolling on Duval Street, in a good mood and singing “Southern hymns.” They approached five suspicious looking young men who were sitting on the concrete planters on the sidewalk and asked them if they would like to hear a refrain of a hymn. Without waiting for an answer, Williams and Rader began to sing loudly, much to the chagrin of the knife-wielding youths, who surrounded them in a threatening manner. At this point Rader exclaimed that they should run away; Williams, however, “was not about to run”:

“Let's go, Tenn!” I pleaded, grabbing his arm.

He jerked his arm away, giving me a look of withering contempt for
my cowardice. And then he turned his attention to the chief bruiser.

“My name is Tennessee Williams!” he declared, “and I am not in
the habit of retreat!”

Whereupon they hit me!

After knocking me to the ground, they slugged Tennessee, picked
him up, threw him on top of me, and gave me some swift kicks in
the side for good measure. They fled down the street, and it was over.

Later, when I asked him if he had any idea who the bastards were
who jumped us, he said, “Baby, they were probably New York
drama critics!”

This is how Tennessee Williams perceived his relationship with the drama critics in 1979. Williams had a reputation for sometimes being paranoid, especially in the later years of his career, but in this case he was not entirely wrong in his impressions. Between 1945 and 1961 Tennessee Williams had a total of eleven plays . . .

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