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Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett$
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Kirsten Shepherd-Barr

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780231164702

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231164702.001.0001

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Midcentury American Engagements with Evolution

Midcentury American Engagements with Evolution

Chapter:
(p.203) 7 Midcentury American Engagements with Evolution
Source:
Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett
Author(s):

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr

Publisher:
Columbia University Press
DOI:10.7312/columbia/9780231164702.003.0007

This chapter examines the ways playwrights, especially Susan Glaspell and Thornton Wilder, take the theatrical engagement with evolution in radically innovative directions compared with their predecessors during the mid-twentieth century, and what makes these innovations particularly American. The period (circa 1920–1955) saw profound changes in evolutionary theory, from the gradual waning of the popularity of eugenics to the rejection of non-Darwinian alternatives to the consolidation of the genetics–natural selection camps into the Modern Synthesis. For almost this entire period, Glaspell experimented in a wide range of theatrical forms with both non-Darwinian and Darwinian thinking, and she, Wilder, and a range of other playwrights take the theatrical engagement with evolution in a variety of new and sometimes-startling directions and modes. This chapter also considers the connection between Bertolt Brecht's theater and his views on evolution and concludes by looking at Eugene O'Neill and other playwrights who explored the implications of Darwinism in very different ways from Glaspell and Wilder.

Keywords:   playwrights, Susan Glaspell, Thornton Wilder, evolution, Bertolt Brecht, theater, Darwinism, Eugene O'Neill

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