Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot

By Raymond Williams | Go to book overview

8
Jean Anouilh: A Comment

THE use of myth or legend as a basis for the play or novel of contemporary life is an important development of twentieth-century literature. The best known example in general literature is, of course, James Joyce Ulysses. T. S. Eliot , reviewing Ulysses in The Dial, described the method as follows:

In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. They will not be imitators, any more than the scientist who uses the discoveries of an Einstein in pursuing his own, independent, further investigations. It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. It is a method already adumbrated by Mr. Yeats, and of the need for which I believe Mr. Yeats to have been the first contemporary to be conscious. It is, I seriously believe, a step toward making the modern world possible in art.

In the drama, the method has been used in verse plays by Yeats and, implicitly, by Eliot; in prose plays, by Synge and O'Neill. It is not always easy to distinguish the method from certain types of historical play; Ibsen Emperor and Galilean clearly has much in common with the method. The distinction is always a matter of purpose; the method exists where a writer uses myth or legend or historical story as the form for the expression of his experience, rather than as material in itself.

In the prose drama, the most important use of the method has been in France. Cocteau has used it in his Orphée and in La Machine Infernale. Sartre uses the Orestes story as a basis for his Les Mouches. Other examples of the method are Maurice Druon's Megarée, and Thierry Maulnier La Course des Rois. The most interesting use of myth, however, is, it seems to me, not to be found in the writers I have mentioned, but in the work of Jean Anouilh, who has written a Eurydice, an Antigone, and a Medée. Anouilh's achievements are an important

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Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 11
  • Part I 39
  • I - Henrik Ibsen 41
  • 2 - August Strindberg 98
  • 3 - Anton Chekhov 126
  • 4 - Bernard Shaw 138
  • 5 - J. M. Synge 154
  • 6- Two Social Plays 175
  • 7 - Luigi Pirandello 185
  • 8 - Jean Anouilh: a Comment 196
  • Part II 203
  • I - W. B. Yeats 205
  • 2 - T. S. Eliot 223
  • 3 - Some Verse Dramatists 247
  • 4 - Criticism into Drama 269
  • Index 279
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