Ideas and the Theatre; Freud, Psychoanalysis, and Broadway
The program will be Freud and psychoanalysis and Broadway. This series ideas in the theatre the actual views and voices you will hear drama critics Brooks Atkinson John Beaufort and Dr. Jones Allison nurse authors Gore Vidar and they recenter Winslow scholars Eric Bentley and fuller producer Clinton Wilder and a summary by the consultant for ideas in the theater. Professor David W. Thompson those who make this series possible the University of Minnesota radio station KUNM under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters and now here is the producer of ideas in the theater. Q A women's critic at large Philip go. Sigmund Freud's ideas and influence have long since outgrown his purely medical implications and become a world movement which
penetrated into every field of science and into every domain of the intellect. Well these are the words of Thomas mon delivered on Freud's 80th birthday in 1936 some twenty years later Dr. W. David Sievers traced this powerful Freudian influence specifically in the theater in a book entitled Freud on Broadway. This is a book I would hardly recommend to anyone interested in this topic. In Freud on Broadway author Sievers writes and I quote Sigmund Freud founded a new aesthetics as well as a new practice of medicine and psychology. He was truly a great opener of doors. Well everyone I talked to agreed that Freud opened doors their fear however was that modern Floridians were closing the doors and locking us all in. There's no denying that the contributions of Freud and psychoanalysis in the drama are a good
thing. On the other hand everyone I interviewed also felt that as of now perhaps we were getting too much of a good thing. Well our program today primarily probes this field. Before we start this probe however. Here is a very basic and clarifying observation by Eric Bentley that should be kept in mind and any discussion of Freud psychoanalysis and Broadway. Mr. Bentley is author of What is theatre and many other books on the subject. Here is Eric Bentley. I have no statistics on this but from living in New York I would gather that a higher percentage of the theatrical profession has itself psychoanalyzed than any other group. Possibly I'm wrong. I know it is something approaching that is true. This means that the knowledge of it is not always sometimes rather extensive. That is better it's always better to know much than to know a little at the same time. We
shouldn't narrow that down to the clinical experience of its members. It is the theatre was traditionally on all subjects that concern human beings universally concerning human beings. I think it should remain there and have this as an ingredient not as an obsession. That was author scholar Eric Bentley. Now let us begin our analysis of psychoanalysis with a specific play from the 1956 57 Broadway season a clearing in the woods by Arthur Laurents. The play was not a hit however backed by glowing letters from theater goers from playwright Lawrence who wrote the New York Times that he is clearing in the woods is not conventional in form or content that it is a giant step and I am proud to have taken it. While the play did run for a while. There's no reason here to comment on the last statement one can concede playwright Lawrence that a clearing
in the woods was unconventional in form. But I think one must disagree completely with his view of the content. I felt that a clearing in the woods was far too conventional and content that it was conventional only because the new doors once opened by Sigmund Freud now seem to lead to all too familiar closets and compartments. Broadway producer Clinton while there was the first of my recorded authorities to call attention to a clearing in the woods has exemplary psychiatric drama. Here is Mr. Clinton while there. There was a play this season and I called her in the woods by Arthur Laurents a very talented and serious playwright which in essence was the dramatization of a psychoanalysis. Here was a play which even though it was a beautiful play to see. And I had some really remarkable moments of theatricality.
It was so obviously a psychiatric play as it were. But I believe that was the reason for its lack of success. What's the matter with him playing to psychiatric. Well I meant to suggest suggest before the framework on which everything is hung is too obvious it's like a house where only the are a skyscraper I should say where only the steel structure was evident in the walls had not yet been put on. And some of the speeches that are put in the mouths of characters by playwrights who write from psychiatric experience sound like that talk to their doctor rather than the talk of people. Sometimes they are MANY the characters are made to do things in these days when a play. When this when the psychological carpentry or construction work shows then it's gone too far. That was Clinton Wyler co-producer of the Broadway hit visit to a small planet.
For more specific analysis of a clearing in the woods I turned to drama critics. Brooks Atkinson and Jones Allison nurse first the drama critic for the Catholic knows Dr. Jones Allison nurse. The idea is in the psychoanalytical approach at least at the popular level at which it appears in stage plays. But once we know the whole truth once we find out what happened to us at the age of three then we can live happily ever after. You had that in the clearing in the woods which was a nice smoky little play in which the young lady was trying to was trying to commit suicide. And somehow or other she. Didn't succeed which made it possible in the rest of the play. And then she looked to her past and she found that as a young girl she had cut up a slightly older girl she'd gone out with a young boy and
then she'd broken up her first marriage because she'd been childishly demanding a husband and when she knew all this she realized what she had been trying to avoid looking at. So she had looked at it. So then she could go forward and live happily ever after. And I don't know just how convincing that would be to anybody who had serious psychological troubles at St.. I think that's one of the difficulties when it comes to the stage when you have to express it in dramatic terms. You always simplify to such an extent that the actual message is apt to be like so many popularisation one of the absurd and probably even more and satisfactory. Then it would be say at the strictly scientific level. Admitting that even at the scientific level it would have limitations. If you feel it you might dismiss or view was unfair. Let me read you this statement by Dr
W. David Sievers from the book I mentioned before Freud on Broadway. I quote this process of talking it out of Candidly reporting to the therapist everything that occurs to the patient remains to this day the very core of psychoanalysis. And that's the end of the quote. In other words a psychoanalytic premise presented by Arthur Laurents in a clearing in the woods. Is supposed to lead to a happy ending or at least to a kind of cure. Now Mrs. Norris suggests that a sound relationship between cure and therapy is probably yet to be established both in medical practice and particularly in the drama. And one of the reasons why the best of psychoanalysis may not always lead to a cure and the best of psychoanalytical drama may not always lead to a hit that is a hit show on Broadway is that neither are really a quit to handle the large social and moral forces that somehow or other still
seem to matter. This view was developed by the dean of America's drama critics. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times. Here is Mr. Brooks Atkinson. Unfortunately the lady of clearing in the woods is not very interesting in her own right. Since the scheme of the play isolates her from the life of the world we know very little about her except that she is a sick woman neurotic characters are valid subjects for our dramatic literature our Hamlet is neurotic Hedda gabbler is neurotic blanche to brah is neurotic by the players in which they appear have a depth breadth and height and also operatic intensity. We take a personal interest in the characters because we see them not as isolated specimens but as people working out their destinies in relation to other people. Throughout his long ordeal for instance Hamlet is concerned with his reputation in the world
when he is dying he beseeches Horatio wrote in this harsh world draw I breath in pain to tell my story. Close quote when Hamill is dead or a show accepts the charge. Hamlet and Horatio are interested in the judgment of society. Lawrence is not trying to write that sort of right but he is trying to dramatize the mental disturbances of a neurotic woman. The family of concentrating on her private problems is a narrowing of the area of interest. Even when she has found peace she is basically a case history. That was Brooks Atkinson drama critic for The New York Times John Beaufort as the drama critic for The Christian Science Monitor. For me Mr. Beauford focused the major reason why the psychoanalytic drama usually just isn't dramatic. Here is John Beaufort.
The concept of Freud and other major thinkers in the fields of psychiatry and of psychoanalysis have had such an influence that sometimes you feel that you're not looking at a plot you're just looking at something that just got up off the psychoanalysts coach. I mean all the reactions are predictable and actually it's a serious problem in certain respects in modern playwriting because the the complex's conditioned reflexes that we have become accustomed to almost telegraph what the character is going to do and how he's going to react. I think however that this is one of the fashions that come in and out of. Literature and of society and I don't see how in its more limited sense it can last. Though suppose we have to say that psychoanalysis is the opiate of the
classes in putting his finger on the non-dramatic determinism of psychiatric drama. The Christian Science Monitor's critic John Beauford raises a larger issue. If psychoanalytic theory seems to make the individual will of the present only a thing of the past and sees life neatly cut by categories and dried by determinisms. Well what then happens to free will to individual choice and particularly to responsibility what chance does the individual have against the apparently cut and dried determinism of psychiatric knowledge. But from our point of view more important what happens to the drama which is so dependent upon decision and choice and responsible relationships to be dramatic. Well for some answers I turned to teacher and scholar Edmund fuller author of numerous stimulating articles and books
including critique of Western morale in the recent Random House publication. Man in modern fiction here is Mr. Edmund Fuller. Essentially what you have to raise is the question of responsibility. The question of responsibility now I think many people have misunderstood psychotherapy as something which as it were washed away responsibility from men. I don't believe that that is a valid interpretation of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy because the essential thing about the relationship here is that the psychiatrists function is to help men and to free himself to be the kind of free model creature that religion says men should be. But when man is in the grip of compulsive illnesses of some kind he is not free to function. There is one remark and one of the plays which we're analyzing Tunnel of Love in which the man in heaven and he quite expert adulterer. And he said
it used to bother him to analyze and now it doesn't bother him anywhere. That I think is my Rancic more or less and a highly superficial view. In other words there are people you can go into certain drawing rooms and hear the remark but it is not a valid interpretation of the view of psychiatry or psychoanalysis toward such matters. I think in other words that you have always the problem of responsibility in putting any view of man. And I think that the important thing to be understood about psychoanalysis is that psychoanalysis is not a way of life. Psychoanalysis is a therapy. The whole trouble with trying to use the framework or the vocabulary of psychiatry and psychoanalysis to define life in general terms is that this is clinical and therapeutic. It is not a general frame of reference.
With his concept I believe author scholar Edmund Fuller tells us much more than why psychoanalysis is misused on Broadway. He suggests that the language of any psychotherapy of Freudian ism in particular is a language designed to describe the sick to describe the disturbed. I was both Thomas mon and W. David Sievers of pointed out this language has penetrated every field in every domain. Well critic John Beauford viewed this penetration as a passing fashion but perhaps the coolness of the clinical analysis perhaps even Freud in Islam itself as a part of a larger picture a massive picture of negativism reflected in many ways today in the morbidity of modern humor for example or the insulting greeting card or the popularity of these supposedly Frank and despairing novel. The rise of religions and philosophies that emphasize man's sad lot and kind of a new like today.
The glamorizing of crass sex and violence in the mass media and other morbid models of contemporary expression well are such negative views of life the result of Freud's ideas and influence. Hardly. It's much more likely that Freud his views and his disciples are a part of this total reaction against narrow Puritanism on the one hand and false optimism on the other and the result too of genuine disillusionment and the kind of world we have. This however might explain something but it does not alter the existing reality and perhaps even the menace of psychoanalysis as a general frame of reference of psychoanalysis as a way of life. I believe it is impossible to describe any person any act or motivation in psychological terms today without that person act or motivation sounding sick no matter how healthy they might be you describe and psychologically they sound sick. Now what is this me and the America of the mid 20th
century it means there is no acceptable language to convey love health joy or even beauty. In the September 8 1957 issue of The New York Times Edward Gordon Craig one of the very or the true titans of the theatre today is quoted as saying where are all the beautiful words nowadays. Where are the plays that tell people to live. Until a more positive kind of communication becomes fashionable perhaps the best we can do is to help one another from becoming irretrievably lost in a hopeless morbidity and hopeless despair. Why should this be. Why should we sort of hang on to this morbidity and despair in so many different ways. Well as any good Friday and could tell you there are advantages to being sick when you are sick. You gain sympathy and you lose responsibility. And in fact the sick should be taken
care of by others. In a world where Americans are healthier wealthier and in some respects wiser or at least more educated not being sick and not being despairing would bring us face to face with a social moral responsibility whose immensity and gravity are fearful to conceive. Better maybe we should be cynical and morbid and ineffective and sick and of course comfortable. Well there's one very strange shining light in all of this. The cynical The Morbid the in effect of the sick and even the comfortable expressions here are becoming so repetitive so unimaginative and so dull that we may have to turn to more moral visionary and more humanitarian views just to escape boredom by any chance if as a people we again start responding to life as Mr. Craig suggests we should not lose track of the
insights our present seeds of sickness has given us. This is the real problem of psychoanalysis in the theatre of today. What are the valid insights and what are psychological gimmicks or just easy ways of doing things. I have asked authors Thyra Samter Winslow Gore's Dahlan Eric Bentley to face these questions in relation to a specific playwright Eugene O'Neill with particular emphasis on his recent Pulitzer Prize winning play Long Day's Journey Into Night. First one of America's most publisher and story writers and drama critic for Gotham guide Bira Samter Winslow O'Neill is talking more like a psychologist than any other playwright. It's absolutely primary psychology is the psychology of the kindergarten pupil. I will not tell you about myself I am suffering because I drink too much here in this awful and I am suffering because my wife takes drugs it is terrible how I suffer. Well that is primitive psychotic psychology and people are so impressed
with it. And all this does is allow the psychology is such primitive stuff is kindergarten stuff that says thank you to take a child of 4 years old and slam his finger down he cries knew so was many I haven't heard my finger hurts. That's all it is nonsense. That was author critic Cyrus Samter Winslow. Here now is grove the doll novelist playwright TV and motion picture writer Mr. Vidar. I've never seen a good play or a good movie which used psychoanalysis heavily in any way. Oh I think psychoanalysis is a very brief little bit of junk in the theatrical workshop and it's a form of cheating because it saves the playwright all sorts of examination of his material after all what we're writers and what is the point. The whole point of being writers is analysis of human beings. And once you depend upon somebody else's system upon a quasi scientific system and it really is a
disreputable one as psychoanalysis is intellectually at least I think you have. You've cheated yourself of your own discoveries and I'm a little shocked by hear you and take analysis because and not because they charge me as a deal but because supposedly better plays are being written this way not to me as if I were going to say what plays the most. Psychiatric carpentering which I think is a phrase that Mr. Clinton while he was I would say Long Day's Journey Into Night. This is a great player but however it has nothing to psychoanalysis. I don't think I have the faintest interest in doing a psychiatric case history I doubt very much. I never knew the man but I doubt very much if psychoanalysis had any influence on his work other than a mild curiosity about it as we all have about phenomena in our time. I was reading compulsively obsessively as he
always wrote when he was writing at his best he was recollecting things past and people have been writing for for 2000 years like this. That was playwright author of the play a visit to a small planet. For a more mediating deal with Eugene O'Neill and psychoanalysis once again here is the Brander Matthews professor of dramatic literature at Columbia University author of What is theatre and many other publications on ideas in the drama. Eric Bentley O'Neill took what I think is the best position. He explained that he didn't. Know too much about psychoanalysis. He had never studied Freud. He'd read a little bit of young and that was the extent of his scientific knowledge in the field. The rest was simply being a citizen of the 20th century picking up from conversation and from living. What is there or being a writer having by intuition a great deal of the knowledge that analysts acquire in another way as
pride often has to explain opera poet writers who were frightened before Freud led. I think that is a very. Plausible. Position for a writer what I think is less plausible as what we have today is writers. Who claim. To have some understanding of Freud in ism who in fact don't know a great deal about it but who use it a lot who overuse it. I think it helps them to feel in the swim to feel important. I feel they use it as a shortcut that is if you cannot create a character as a human being you can have another character remark about him that he has such and such wrong with him. And the remark is a signal to the audience that knows a good deal about Freud in ASM these days. So meaning that I find that phrase we have at it is if there's a little sentence explaining that somebody is much too attached to their mother. This is a cool remark. I feel that such remarks should never sum up a human being then nail him down which is unfortunate.
And that by all means an author might portray a person who has those things wrong with them. But I think you should do it in the old fashioned way just by showing those things come out in issue manipulations and not nail them down with with formula with nomenclature or with Freud in terminology or else they are reduced to formulae that is instead of a human being. You have a medical formula. This is the man with complex. And he doesn't have the author hasn't done what softly his dad created it with a story he just told you in a sentence which is abstract and under magic so that I feel through no fault of the medical profession and the scientists themselves. That analysis has become a bit of a bore and a bit of a nuisance. That was author scholar Eric Bentley and now for a summary of today's program here is the consultant for ideas in the theater. Dr. David W. Thompson professor in the theater arts at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Thompson.
Certainly the participants in today's program are in complete agreement as to why the use of psychiatric term by playwrights makes for bad drama such terms Mr. Beaufort said make the drama too predictable. They telegraph what the characters going to do and how he is going to react. They are Mr. Bentley said. Inadequate shortcuts to the difficult goal of dramatic characterisation mere non-dramatic signals to the audience in such a play as Mr. Wilder put it. The psychological carpentry or construction shows. It is interesting to note that while 19th century dramatists are now considered old fashioned in their use of romantic stereotypes playwrights today are considered modest in their use of scientific ones. The reason for this is today's program made clear has to do with the wide popularity of pseudo psychoanalysis among the theater audience. The public does not understand the point Mr Fuller stressed that the important thing to be understood about psychoanalysis is that it is a
clinical therapy and not a way of life. Has the public taken up psychoanalysis as a way of life. Because there is today no other commonly agreed upon way. Perhaps. And perhaps it is precisely the clinical nature of psychotherapy its inevitable association with sickness which makes it so attractive to people as a way of life or more accurately as a way of evading night. As Mr. Goble said. There are advantages to being sick when you are sick. You gain sympathy and lose responsibility. In drama. The addiction to obvious and oversimplified psychoanalysis means only one thing in that place. What it means is a symptom of our culture as a whole is a larger question. This program did not answer that question but it did manage to ask it in a number of stimulating ways. That was Dr David W. Thompson consultant for the series and a professor in the theatre arts at the University of Minnesota. I do years in the theater has
- Ideas and the Theatre
- Producing Organization
- University of Minnesota
- KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
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- This program discusses the influence of Freud and psychoanalysis on 20th century theater.
- The series presents a discussion of the current American theatre; its values, beliefs, patterns, and problems. Participants include Arthur Miller, Eric Bentley, Gore Vidal, Brooks Atkinson, Cyril Ritchard, Clinton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, and others.
- Drama--20th century--Themes, motives.
- Media type
Guest: Bentley, Eric, 1916-
Guest: Fuller, Edmund, 1914-2001
Guest: Atkinson, Brooks, 1894-1984
Guest: Vidal, Gore, 1925-2012
Guest: Winslow, Thyra Samter, 1893-1961
Guest: Beaufort, John
Guest: Wilder, Clinton
Host: Kerwin, Jonathan W.
Producer: Gelb, Philip
Producing Organization: University of Minnesota
Producing Organization: KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-7-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Ideas and the Theatre; Freud, Psychoanalysis, and Broadway.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 23, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-kp7trt27>.
- APA: Ideas and the Theatre; Freud, Psychoanalysis, and Broadway. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-kp7trt27