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American Theatre in the Twentieth Century Week two The Emperor Jones by Eugene ONeill (1920) First performed November 1, 1920 by the Provincetown Players,

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Presentation on theme: "American Theatre in the Twentieth Century Week two The Emperor Jones by Eugene ONeill (1920) First performed November 1, 1920 by the Provincetown Players,"— Presentation transcript:

1 American Theatre in the Twentieth Century Week two The Emperor Jones by Eugene ONeill (1920) First performed November 1, 1920 by the Provincetown Players, and then on Broadway

2 Eugene ONeill (on ladder), and other members of the Provincetown Players (including Cram Cook on far right), setting the stage for ONeills Bound East to Cardiff (1915)

3 Mini-lecture – main points 1.Brief background to ONeill 2.Sources for the play 3.Social context The Negro question Carl Jungs collective unconscious 4.Cultural context African Negro Wood Sculptures (1918), primitivism Expressionism and realism: characterization and monologues

4 Brief background to ONeill

5 Eugene ONeill ( ) 1888: Born at Barrett House, off Broadway, New York City. Father is James ONeill, mother Mary Ellen Quinlan : At first travels with parents, then joins various boarding schools. Frequents New York City bars, brothels with brother, Jamie. Renounces religion. Reads Ibsen, Nietzsche : Works on ships and lives in waterfront boarding house in New York : Develops tuberculosis and stays in sanatorium to recover. Begins writing one-act plays. 1914: Enrols in playwriting workshop at Harvard under George Pierce Baker. 1916: Meets colony of artists at Provincetown. The Provincetown Players stage a number of his one-act plays, such as Bound East for Cardiff and Before Breakfast.

6 1920: Writes Beyond the Horizon, which is successfully staged and wins the Pulitzer Prize. Writes The Emperor Jones (staged November 1 by the Players). Emperor Jones moves to Broadway and runs for 204 performances. 1928: Writes Strange Interlude, a nine-act play, which sells over 100,000 copies by : Marries third wife, Carlotta Monterey. 1936: Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature. 1939: Develops ideas for The Iceman Cometh and The Long Days Journey (Long Days Journey into Night – placed in a safe in 1945). Starts suffering from tremor in his hands, diagnosed as Parkinsons Disease (though diagnosis changed after death). Interrupts his planned seven play cycle showing life in America from 19thC. 1953: Confined to bed in hotel suite in Boston, dies of pneumonia. Eugene ONeill ( )

7 Sources for the play

8 President Sam of Haiti African drumming in the Congo Charles Sheeler, African Negro Wood Sculptures (1918) Ibsens Peer Gynt (1867)

9 Social context

10 The Negro question ONeill always denied that he was exploring the state of African- Americans within society. The play is rarely staged because of its perceived racism, especially in ONeills use of dialect and Joness atavistic behaviour (atavism: the reversion to an ancestral/genetic trait). However, note also Smitherss dialect as a Cockney trader. Charles S. Gilpin, considered by ONeill the best actor in the role, clashed with ONeill over changes in the text. ONeill and others protest against New York Drama Leagues decision not to invite Gilpin to awards evening. It is also worth considering the context into which The Emperor Jones appeared…

11 A poster for a minstrel show from the early 1900s, showing the actor before and after blacking up.

12 Jung and the collective unconscious Following Freuds notion of the unconscious, Jung developed the collective unconscious, which makes itself manifest in dreams. The collective unconscious is a pre-experiential set of mythological motifs, combinations of ideas or images which can be found in the myths of one's own folk or in those of other races and which yield a collective meaning, a meaning which is the common property of mankind. (Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition.) These motifs, ideas, or images are archetypes. Jones is part of the black American experience, and when he enters the woods he plays out certain archetypal roles, especially in scenes 5, 6 & 7. See C.W.E. Bigsby on Jung, Freud, and The Emperor Jones: A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama, Volume One.

13 Cultural context

14 Example of the kind of sculpture that ONeill would have seen in Charles Sheelers book African Negro Wood Sculptures (1918). Senufo peoples, Côte d'Ivoire, 19th century, cm (46 in.)

15 Example of the kind of sculpture that ONeill would have seen in Charles Sheelers book African Negro Wood Sculptures (1918). Mbole peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, late 19th to early 20th century, 56.5 cm (22 1/4 in.)

16 Example of the kind of sculpture that ONeill would have seen in Charles Sheelers book African Negro Wood Sculptures (1918). Attributed to Bayansi peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19th century, 29 cm (11 3/8 in.)

17 Pablo Picasso, Bust of a Woman / Buste de femme (1909) See also Les Demoiselles dAvignon (1907), and David Krasners article, Eugene ONeill: American Drama and American Modernism, in A Companion to Twentieth- Century American Drama, ed. David Krasner, pp

18 Expressionism the means rather than the meaning staging and space time language characterisation [E]xpressionist simplicity is designed to reach a more basic stratum of awareness, on which men are united by instinctive and emotional qualities shared by all. (Christopher Innes, Avant Garde Theatre, , p.41)

19 Expressionism A comprehensive expression is demanded here, a chance for eloquent presentation, a new form of drama projected from a fresh insight into the inner forces motivating the outer actions and reactions of men and women, a new truer characterization, in other words – a drama of souls, and the adventures of free wills with the masks that govern him and constitute their fate. (On Masks, an unpublished essay, c.1920s, and quoted in Christopher Bigsby, A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama, Volume One: , p.67.)

20 Scene 7(?) of The Emperor Jones, Provincetown Playhouse, 1920 – note the way that an attempt is made to get distance between downstage and upstage – perhaps due to the special dome that cost $500 to construct

21 Further reading Christopher Bigsby, A Critical Introduction to Twentieth- Century American Drama, Volume One: (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp – which is good at explaining the influences of Freud and Jung on ONeill. Arthur and Barbara Gelb, O'Neill (London: Cape, 1962) – for background on the play and first performances. Christopher Innes, Avant Garde Theatre, (London: Routledge, 1993), pp – for details of Expressionist theatre. Deanna M. Toten Beard, American Experimentalism, American Expressionism, and Early ONeill, in A Companion to Twentieth-Century American Drama, ed. David Krasner (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2007), pp And see the wiki or your for more secondary reading.


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