O'Neill, Eugene (Gladstone)

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Playwright. Born October 16, 1888, in New York City. A Beloved American Dramatist. Often considered America's greatest playwright, Eugene O'Neill is credited with changing American drama from popular entertainment to serious literature. The only American dramatist to win a Nobel Prize for literature, he worked in a variety of styles, including realism, expressionism, and myth. He borrowed freely from other dramatic traditions, reworking Greek tragedies, using masks from non-Western drama, and learning from the European avant-garde. But he is, at heart, one of his nation's most American dramatists. His plays are as carefully plotted as those of the popular theater he renounced. His borrowings mine his sources for their relevance to American history and issues. Most importantly, his language is simple and direct: so simple that some critics have accused him of bad writing. But his dialogue is written in the everyday language spoken by real Americans, and bringing that language to the stage is an important part of his legacy to the American theater.

Influenced by Father's Career Eugene O'Neill was born into the theater: his Irish father, James O'Neill, had great promise as a Shakespearean actor until he had the great fortune--and misfortune--of buying the rights to Charles Fechter's The Count of Monte Cristo, a melodramatic adventure play adapted from Alexandre Dumas's novel. James O'Neill played the lead in this sensational spectacle over 6,000 times, becoming rich and famous, but losing his artistic promise. This legacy, like many facts about his family, would haunt Eugene O'Neill in life and in his plays. Although he fervently rejected the melodramatic tradition represented by his father's career, his own drama was shaped by it in very deep ways. In fact all of his work can be read as an extended autobiographical meditation on a life that often seems like a...