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BOOK REVIEWS AN OUTLINE HISTORY OF AMERICAN DRAMA, by Walter J. Meserve, Littlefield, Adams &: Company, Totowa, New Jersey, 1965, 378 pp. Price $2.25ยท It is perfectly dear iliat Professor Walter Meserve has compiled a highly valuable "vest pocket" history of the American drama which should be on ilie shelf of every teacher of contemporary theater, every critic, and every student with an interest in modern drama. Condensed within its handy form, and much more objective in approach, is ilie essence of all the material to be found in Ariliur Hobson Quinn's iliree volumes, wiili the added attraction of being completely up to date. Indeed, it is ilie book one should first seek out in order to orient himself in any phase of pre-twentieth century American drama before he ventures into ilie depths of George Odell's monument. Professor Meserve has done precisely what ilie title suggests. for he has created in extremely orderly fashion a complete main-heading-subdivision outline in chronological order. These well thought out SUbject and theme headings permit the same writer to appear and reappear throughout a given historical period as the author of tragedy, farce, social comedy. melodrama, or whatever. At first glance iliis arrangement suggests confusion, for the reader may be bothered at meeting the same person repeatedly, but the value of the arrangement quickly becomes obvious when the purpose of ilie book is fully recognized. One of the most serious questions to arise is ilie same that is attendant upon any such compendium of facts regarding the artistic development of American drama. It is present in Quinn's history to a great degree, and in oilier comprehensive reviews to somewhat lesser extent. It has to do wiili ilie validity of such extensive treatment of ilie mass of American plays before the turn of the century . the vast majority of which are hardly worth the effort. Historically interesting to a few scholars, and perhaps entertaining on stage if carefully chosen and produced, most of the plays just do not seem to merit the attention they receive. The result is that well over half-in fact, close to two-iliirds of ilie volume-is taken up with the pre-World War I American drama, covered, it must be admitted, with appropriate detail and fine critical insight, but with the unhappy result that the remaining smaller portion is devoted to a crowded forcing-in of all of the best American plays and playwrights in an obvious attempt to hold the book within reasonable, yet all-inclusive, size. One wonders if the earlier writers might not have been given shorter shrift, wiili less elaborate guidance ilirough ilie wilderness, encouraging further exploration within Quinn, Odell, or elsewhere. A much more effective outline of the later drama could then have been contained within the handy size of this economical paperback. However, this is the trouble one encounters when he attempts to be fair to all phases of American drama, and for ilie purpose he obviously had in mind Professor Meserve has accomplished a remarkable job. The headings are well chosen. the pattern is consistent, and the general format of the pages makes for easy reading and quick scanning. Perhaps there are too many plot outlines and too few, or too brief, critical summations of important works, but those that are iliere are pertinent and readable. A complete index, so necessary in a volume of this type, will aid the owner to make quick and helpful reference use of this book over and over. 444 JORDAN Y. MILLER Kansas State University ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
p. 444
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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