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Biographical Sketches: Playwrights

ANTON CHEKHOV (18601904) The son of a grocer and the grandson of an emancipated serf, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the Russian town of Taganrog. In 1875, his father, facing bankruptcy and imprisonment, ed to Moscow; shortly after, the rest of the family lost their house to a former friend and lodger, a misfortune that Chekhov would revisit in The Cherry Orchard. In 1884, Chekhov received his M.D. from the University of Moscow; in the early 1890s, he purchased an estate near Moscow and became both an industrious landowner and a doctor to the local peasants. Throughout the 1880s, he supported his family and nanced his medical studies by writing the sketches and stories that would eventually win him enduring international acclaim. Chekhov began writing for the stage in 1887. Early productions of his plays were poorly received: The Wood Demon (later rewritten as Uncle Vanya) was performed only a few times in 1889 before closing; the 1896 premiere of The Seagull turned into a riot when an audience expecting comedy found themselves watching an experimental tragedy. Konstantin Stanislavsky, director at the Moscow Art Theater, helped restore Chekhovs reputation with successful productions of The Seagull and Uncle Vanya in 1899, The Three Sisters in 1901, and The Cherry Orchard in 1904. SUSAN GLASPELL (18761948) Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa, Susan Glaspell graduated from Drake University and worked on the staff of the Des Moines Daily News until her stories began appearing in magazines such as Harpers and Ladies Home Journal. In 1911, Glaspell moved to New York City, where, two years later, she married the theater director George Cram Cook. In 1915 they founded the Provincetown Playhouse (later the Playwrights Theater), an extraordinary
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Cape Cod gathering of actors, directors, and playwrights, including Eugene ONeill, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and John Reed. The Provincetown Players produced several of Glaspells early plays, including Tries (1916); her later plays include The Inheritors (1921), The Verge (1921), Bernice (1924), and Alisons House (1930), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. Glaspell spent the last part of her life writing ction in Provincetown; among her many books are Visioning (1911), Lifted Masks: Stories (1912), Fidelity (1915), The Road to the Temple (1926), and The Morning Is Near Us (1940). LORRAINE HANSBERRY (19301965) The rst African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway, Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago to a prominent family and even at a young age showed an interest in writing. She attended the University of Wisconsin, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Roosevelt University, then moved to New York City in order to concentrate on writing for the stage. After extensive fund-raising, Hansberrys play A Raisin in the Sun (loosely based on events involving her own family) opened in 1959 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway, received critical acclaim, and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. Hansberrys second production, The Sign in Sidney Brusteins Window, had a short run on Broadway in 1964. Shortly after, Hansberry died of cancer. To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, adapted from her writing, was produced off-Broadway in 1969 and published the next year, when her drama Les Blancs was also produced. HENRIK IBSEN (18281906) Born in Skien, Norway, Henrik Ibsen was apprenticed to an apothecary until 1850, when he left for Oslo and published his rst play, Catilina, a

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES: PLAYWRIGHTS

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verse tragedy. By 1857 Ibsen was director of Oslos Norwegian Theater, but his early plays, such as Loves Comedy (1862), were poorly received. Disgusted with what he saw as Norways backwardness, Ibsen left in 1864 for Rome, where he wrote two more verse plays, Brand (1866) and Peer Gynt (1867), before turning to the realistic style and harsh criticism of traditional social mores for which he is best known. The League of Youth (1869), Pillars of Society (1877), A Doll House (1879), Ghosts (1881), An Enemy of the People (1882), The Wild Duck (1884), and Hedda Gabler (1890) won him a reputation throughout Europe as a controversial and outspoken advocate of moral and social reform. Near the end of his life, Ibsen explored the human condition in the explicitly symbolic terms of The Master Builder (1892) and When We Dead Awaken (1899). Ibsens works had enormous inuence over the drama of the twentieth century. ARTHUR MILLER (19152005) Arthur Miller was born in New York City to a prosperous family whose fortunes were ruined by the Depression, a circumstance that would shape his political outlook and imbue him with a deep sense of social responsibility. Miller studied history, economics, and journalism at the University of Michigan, began writing plays, and joined the Federal Theater Project, a proving ground for some of the best playwrights of the period. He had his rst Broadway success, All My Sons, in 1947, followed two years later by his Pulitzer Prizewinning masterpiece, Death of a Salesman, a starkly poetic depiction of the American dream as a hollow sham. In 1953, against the backdrop of Senator Joseph McCarthys anti-Communist witch-hunts, Miller fashioned another modern parable, his Tony Awardwinning The Crucible, based on the seventeenth-century Salem witch trials. Among his other works for the stage are the Pulitzer Prizewinner A View from the Bridge (1955), After the Fall (1964), Incident at Vichy (1965), The Price (1968), The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991), Broken Glass (1994), and Resurrection Blues (2004). In addition, Miller wrote a novel, Focus (1945); the screenplay for the lm The Mists (1961), which starred his second wife, Marilyn Monroe; The Theater Essays (1971), a collection of his writings about dramatic literature; and Timebends (1987), his autobiography.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (15541616) Considering the great and well-deserved fame of his work, surprisingly little is known of William Shakespeares life. Between 1585 and 1592, he left his birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon for London to begin a career as playwright and actor. No dates of his professional career are recorded, however, nor can the order in which he composed his plays and poetry be determined with certainty. By 1594, he had established himself as a poet with two long worksVenus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece; his more than 150 sonnets are supreme expressions of the form. His matchless reputation, though, rests on his works for the theater. Shakespeare produced perhaps thirty-ve plays in twentyve years, proving himself a master of every dramatic genre: tragedy (in works such as Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello); historical drama (for example, Richard III and Henry IV); comedy (A Midsummer Nights Dream, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and many more); and romance or tragi-comedy (in plays such as The Tempest and Cymbeline). Without question, Shakespeare is the most quoted, discussed, and beloved writer in English literature. SOPHOCLES (496?406 b.c.e.) Sophocles lived at a time when Athens and Greek civilization were at the peak of their power and inuence. He not only served as a general under Pericles and played a prominent role in the citys affairs but also was arguably the greatest of the Greek tragic playwrights, winning the annual dramatic competition about twenty times, a feat unmatched by even his great contemporaries, Aeschylus and Euripides. An innovator, Sophocles fundamentally changed the nature of dramatic performance by adding a third actor, enlarging the chorus, and introducing the use of painted scenery. Aristotle held that Sophocles Oedipus the King (c. 429 B.C.E.) was the perfect tragedy and used it as his model when he discussed the nature of tragedy in his Poetics. Today only seven of Sophocles tragedies survivethe Oedipus trilogy (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone), Philoctetes, Ajax, Trachiniae, and Electrathough he is believed to have written as many as 123 plays.

1684 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES: PLAYWRIGHTS TOM STOPPARD (b. 1937) Tom Stoppard was born in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. In 1939 his family moved to Singapore to escape the Nazis. His mother then ed with Tom and his brother to Darjeeling, India, in advance of the Japanese invasion of Singapore; his father, who remained behind, was killed. In 1946 the family moved to England, where Toms mother married Kenneth Stoppard, a major in the British army. Stoppard dropped out of high school before his junior year, worked as a journalist and freelance drama critic, and began to write plays for radio and television. His rst television play, A Walk on the Water (1963), was later adapted for the stage as Enter a Free Man (1968). Stoppards rst major success was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966), which won a Tony Award for Best Play in 1968. Subsequent popular dramas include The Real Inspector Hound (1968), Jumpers (1972), and Travesties (1974). Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977), Doggs Hamlet (1979), and Squaring the Circle (1984) attack the oppressive regimes of Eastern Europe. Among Stoppards more recent plays are Arcadia (1993) and The Invention of Love (1997). Stoppard has written a number of screenplays, including Shakespeare in Love (1998), which he coauthored with Marc Norman and which won the 1999 Academy Award for Best Screenplay. TENNESSEE WILLIAMS (19111983) Born in Columbus, Mississippi, Thomas Lanier Williams moved to St. Louis with his family at the age of seven. Williamss father was a violent alcoholic, his mother was ill, and his sister, Rose, suffered from a variety of mental illnesses; each of them became a model for the domineering men and sensitive women of his plays. He attended the University of Missouri and Washington University in St. Louis, but earned his B.A. from the University of Iowa. While there, Williams won prizes for his ction and began to write plays. His extensive body of work, with its explosive dramatic tension and dazzling dialogue, confronts issues of adultery, homosexuality, incest, and mental illness. In 1944, The Glass Menagerie won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. In 1948, he earned his rst Pulitzer Prize, with A Streetcar Named Desire; in 1955, he won a second Pulitzer Prize, for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His other dramas include Camino Real (1953), Suddenly Last Summer (1958), The Night of the Iguana (1961), The Two-Character Play (1969; later revised as Out Cry), and Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980). Williams also published short ction, poetry, and a lm script. AUGUST WILSON (b. 1945) Frederick August Kittel was born in a lower-class black neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At fteen, disgusted by treatment he considered racist, he left school and sought to educate himself at the local library. A black nationalist and participant in the Black Arts Movement during the 1960s and 70s, Wilson disavowed his white father and adopted his black mothers surname. In 1968 he cofounded the Black Horizons Theater Company, in St. Paul, Minnesota; he later founded the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis. The 1984 Broadway production of Ma Raineys Black Bottom established his theatrical reputation, and since then he has been writing a series of ten plays dealing with the black experience in America, each one set during a different decade of the twentieth century. Among his plays are Jitney (1982); Fences (1985), winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize; Joe Turners Come and Gone (1986); The Piano Lesson (1987), which won a Tony Award, the Drama Critics Circle Award, the American Theater Critics Outstanding Play Award, and the 1990 Pulitzer Prize; Two Trains Running (1992); Seven Guitars (1995); King Hedley II (2001); and Gem of the Ocean (2003).