The Collected Drama of H. L. Mencken: Plays and Criticism

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9780810883697: The Collected Drama of H. L. Mencken: Plays and Criticism

Throughout his career as a literary critic, H. L. Mencken was intent on elevating the bold, the daring, and the innovative over the hackneyed, the trite, and the superficial, and his drama criticism exhibits this tendency to the fullest. Though known primarily as a newspaperman and commentator, Mencken also wrote several one-act plays, as well as a full-length work.

In The Collected Drama of H. L. Mencken: Plays and Criticism, S. T. Joshi has assembled for the first time Mencken’s dramatic works, comprising six one-act plays and the lengthy three-act play Heliogabalus. These plays, which have never been reprinted since their original appearances in newspapers or in Mencken’s early volume A Book of Burlesques (1916), exhibit Mencken’s penchant for satire and ridicule. Several of the plays, such as In the Vestry Room and The Wedding: A Stage Direction, display Mencken’s oft-expressed cynicism about the institution of marriage. Another related play is Asepsis, a satire on exaggerated concerns about sexual health in young married couples. Other plays take aim at the cultural deficiencies of the common people, such as Death: A Philosophical Discussion, which relays the hackneyed reactions of a group of mourners over the death of a friend. Mencken’s most significant play by far is Heliogabalus, a play he co-wrote with his frequent collaborator, George Jean Nathan, in which Mencken expresses his scorn of the Christian religion.

The second half of this book features a selection of Mencken’s early writings (1905–17) on drama, most of which have never been reprinted. Various essays on Shakespeare, Shaw, Synge, Strindberg, Ibsen, and others exhibit Mencken’s keenness as a literary critic and his understanding of the aesthetic possibilities of the drama. With an introduction by the editor who provides an overview of Mencken’s work as a dramatist and drama critic, this collection will be of interest to amateur and even professional drama companies, theatre historians, and of course, anyone interested in the writings of Mencken.

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About the Author:

S. T. Joshi edits the scholarly journals Lovecraft Studies and Studies in Weird Fiction and is the author of H. P. Lovecraft: A Life (2004), Gore Vidal: A Comprehensive Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, 2007), and H. L. Mencken: An Annotated Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, 2009).

Review:

H.L. Mencken cut his satirical teeth on drama and theatre, as the excellent new anthology, The Collected Drama of H.L. Mencken: Plays and Criticism, edited by S.T. Joshi and published by Scarecrow Press, attests.... Theatre historians will need to turn to this volume to study the early reception of modern dramatists like Ibsen and Strindberg on the American stage.

(Superfluities Redux)

Best known as a newspaperman and a commentator, H. L Mencken was also a respected author of several dramatic works, including several one-act plays and one full-length play. He did not shy away from controversy and his plays often reflect his unorthodox views of the time, including a strong cynicism of marriage and his scorn for Christianity. This book provides reprinted material on seven of Mencken's dramatic works, including his full-length play, Heliogabalus: A Buffoonery in Three Acts. The last section of the book provides articles and commentary written by Mencken on the topic of dramatic work. This section includes an article on George Bernard Shaw, William Shakespeare, new dramatic literature, and the revival of the printed play, just to name a few. This is a very niche topic that will appeal to those researching and studying theater history, dramatic writing of the early twentieth century, and those studying the writings of H. L. Mencken specifically. (American Reference Books Annual)

Though not among Mencken's enduring work, his plays are evidence of his abundant creativity and his love of drama--to which he devoted a book on Shaw (George Bernard Shaw: His Plays,1905), introductions to (and translations of) Ibsen's plays, and numerous reviews. Drama was an early love, however, and remains a minor genre in his large body of work. Joshi has collected Menken's six one-act plays and the three-act Heliogabalus, co-written with George Jean Nathan. All are farces that satirize familiar butts of Mencken's humor--American anti-intellectualism, marriage, popular sex hygiene, Christian fundamentalism. The second part of the book presents some of Mencken's writing on drama, much published during his editorship of The Smart Set. The essays display his famous, idiosyncratic "prejudices," as well as a broad knowledge of the substance and craft of more serious dramatic writers than himself, from Shakespeare to the avant-garde European dramatists admired in his day, e.g., Hauptmann, Wilde, Yeats, Synge, Strindberg, Sudermann, and Pinero. The volume will be useful to historians of theater and of American humor, and perhaps to biographers, who heretofore have had little to say on the subject. Joshi's helpful introduction and notes provide historical context and a good starting point for further study. Summing Up: Recommended. (CHOICE)

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