Layering Lyre with Liturgy: Generic Transformations in Tennessee Williams's _Battle of Angels_ and _Orpheus Descending_

Laura Michiels

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)

Abstract

When Tennessee Williams's _Orpheus Descending_ first appeared on stage in 1957, reviews of the production were lukewarm at best but often outright damning. Williams himself identified yet failed to remedy one of the play's problems, namely its story's overly melodramatic nature. Rooting out melodramatic elements had already been the playwright's main concern while he was working on the material's initial incarnation _Battle of Angels_ (1940). In spite of both plays' apparently inevitable entanglement with melodrama, I would like to argue Williams mainly looked at older theatre genres such as Greek tragedy as well as the medieval morality and saint's play when he wrote the two texts. Many critics have commented on the playwright's use of Greek myths and biblical tales in _Battle of Angels_ and _Orpheus Descending_. However, few have focussed on Williams's debt to the genres through which these myths and tales were mediated on stage in the past. From Greek tragedy, Williams used and transformed the notion of catharsis. Whereas ancient tragedies supposedly purged their audiences, Williams broadened this transformation so that it also affects the author and his characters. The morality play surfaces through the allegorical character of the female protagonist's husband. Williams changed the genre's black-and-white opposition of good versus evil, by making his characters more nuanced. The influence of the saint's play can be felt through the texts' (disastrous) miracles and (failed) conversions. On the whole, the presence of these older theatre genres signals Williams's quest for the origins of his theatre and theatre at large.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPanel "Always on Stage: Drama, Dance, and Celebrity Culture" of the 60th Annual Conference of the British Association for American Studies
PublisherNorthumbria University (UK), 9-12 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Event60th Annual Conference of the British Association for American Studies - Newcastle, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Apr 201512 Apr 2015

Conference

Conference60th Annual Conference of the British Association for American Studies
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityNewcastle
Period9/04/1512/04/15

Keywords

  • Williams, Tennessee
  • Battle of Angels
  • Orpheus Descending
  • Genre
  • Greek Tragedy
  • Medieval Theatre

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