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Eternal Recurrence and the Shaping of O'Neill's Dramatic Structures Albert E. Kalson and Lisa M. Schwerdt In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1936 Eugene O'Neill acknowledged to the people of Sweden what students and critics of his plays had already recognized, his enormous debt to one of their countrymen. "The greatest happiness this occasion affords . . . ," he declared, "is the opportunity it gives me to acknowledge , with gratitude and pride . . . the debt my work owes to that greatest genius of all modern dramatists, your August Strindberg. . . . [His] influence runs clearly through more than a few of my plays and is plain for everyone to see."l For Egil Törnqvist, author of critical studies of both Strindberg and O'Neill, the American's homage to Sweden's foremost dramatist is hardly surprising: "Time and again he had acknowledged Strindberg's influence; and now when he was addressing the Swedish Academy and the Swedish people, it seemed an appropriate way of expressing his gratitude for being honored with the prize."2 The critic cites as more revealing a passage near the conclusion of the speech in which O'Neill links Strindberg with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche : "For me," O'Neill declared, "he remains, as Nietzsche remains, in his sphere, the master, still to this day more modern than any of us, still our leader." Törnqvist comments, "It seemed natural to mention him along with the Swede, for Nietzsche was the only other writer who had exercised an influence on him comparable to that of Strindberg." O'Neill's public bonding of himself with the Swede and the German may hold even more significance than has heretofore ALBERT E. KALSON teaches drama and film at Purdue University. He is the author of a book on J. B. Priestley and articles on dramatists from Shakespeare to Alan Aychboumc. LISA M. SCHWERDT teaches writing and literature at the University of Central Florida and Rollins College. She is the author of Isherwood's Fiction: The Self and Technique as well as articles on Joyce, Fowles, and O'Neill. 133 134Comparative Drama been recognized. Although scholars have acknowledged the relationship between Strindberg and Nietzsche—who even engaged in a brief correspondence—and the influence of each of the two individually on O'Neill, no one, not even Törnqvist, has explored fully the specific aspect of their work that points to an integral relationship among the three of them. In emphasizing the extent to which the philosopher influenced the content of the work of both dramatists—his views on tragedy, on women and marriage, on the role of the superman in the concept of the will to power—critics have neglected the manner in which another Nietzschean concept provides a form for their drama— the circularity of eternal recurrence.3 In the words of Walter A. Kaufmann, "Nietzsche's philosophy of power culminates in the dual vision of the superman and the eternal recurrence."4 Because the two concepts appear at times to be contradictory, many Nietzsche interpreters, considering recurrence of lesser importance, have disregarded it. According to Kaufmann, however, Nietzsche himself, who referred to eternal recurrence as "doctrine," looked upon it as the climax of his philosophy: "The man . . . who has organized the chaos of his passions and integrated every feature of his character, redeeming even the ugly by giving it a meaning in a beautiful totality—this Übermensch would also realize how inextricably his own being was involved in the totality of the cosmos: and in affirming his own being, he would also affirm all that is, has been, or will be."5 Eternal recurrence, which Nietzsche traced back to classical antiquity, to Heraclitus and Pythagoras, even to the myths of archaic peoples, had for him a scientific basis, or so the philosopher could believe as he read in Heinrich Heine, whom he admired, that "time is infinite, but the things in time, the concrete bodies, are finite. . . . Now, however long a time may pass, according to the eternal laws governing the combinations of this eternal play of repetition, all configurations which have previously existed on this earth must yet meet, attract, repulse, kiss, and corrupt each other again...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 133-150
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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