Modern American Drama

The United States had a late start to drama, thanks in part to Puritan values which frowned on theatre. American playwrights made up for the lost time by the mid-20th century. Modern American drama is a collection of some of the most important works of American dramatic literature. Modern American Drama has been producing a diverse range of works since 1945. These are now read and produced all over the world.

Modern American Drama: a Summary

Modern American Drama includes all dramatic works written in the United States since World War II. It began around the middle part of the 20th-century. This period encompasses the best-known US classic playwrights like Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller.

Modern American drama encompasses a wide range of genres, topics, styles and viewpoints. The English language landscape is incomplete without it. Modern American Dramas are performed and read around the globe.

The History of Modern American Drama

The birth of realism began in Europe between the mid-19th and late-19th centuries. Henrik Ibsen from Norway, August Strindberg from Sweden and Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) all wrote plays that changed the face European drama.

The first great American playwrights were shaped by this new drama concept that arrived in America at the beginning of the 20th Century.

American drama, before the 20th Century, was almost entirely popular entertainment. This included melodramas (or minstrels), classic plays of European theatre, and a variety of other forms of entertainment. American literature didn't include much drama and few meaningful original plays were produced.

Eugene O' Neill, the father of American Drama, changed all that. O'Neill became the first American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature and started the modern American drama. O'Neill drew heavily on the work of playwrights like Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, and the German Expressionist theatre movement in the early 20th century.

After World War II's end in 1945 came the modern literary age, which saw the emergence of American drama. Some of the best American plays were written after 1945. Several key playwrights, including Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams, had started writing in previous years. Some of the best works were by Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller.

They elevated American Drama to a legit literary form and introduced it to the world. Early modern American drama had a strong psychological bent. Williams and Miller explored their characters' inner lives, and used this information to make more sweeping statements about America and its working class.

American drama grew and expanded throughout the 20th-century. Amiri baraka (1934-2010) and Lorraine Hansberry (from 1930-1965) were two African American playwrights who rose to prominence.

Modern American Drama: Characteristics

The modern American drama is a diverse genre that seems to have few common characteristics. Modern productions are often hyper-realistic or experimental. Musicals, tragedies, comedies, and one-act plays can all be included. American playwrights excel in their ability to experiment and diversity.

Modern American drama shares some characteristics despite its many differences.

  1. Realistic and authentic: Modern American dramatic portrayals emphasize realism and accuracy, accurately reflecting social and politics realities of the time.
  2. Social Relevance: Modern American plays often address issues of race, gender and class as well as politics. They reflect the political and cultural landscape of the United States.
  3. Psychological Complexity: Modern American dramatic works often examine the inner lives and motivations of characters. They explore their fears, desires, and motivations.
  4. Nonlinear storytelling: Many American modern plays use nonlinear story-telling techniques. These include flashbacks and dream sequences.
  5. Symbolism & Metaphor: Modern American Drama often uses symbolism & metaphor to convey deeper themes and meanings.
  6. Experimentation: Many American modern playwrights push the boundaries of conventional theatrical conventions by experimenting with form, structure and style.
  7. A description of the condition of man: American contemporary drama explores many darker aspects such as conflict in families, personal ambitions and social pressure.

Authors often use modern American drama to explore the nuanced nature of American Identity. Most playwrights are drawn to the everyday man, the underprivileged, and members of working class. This was a dramatic departure from earlier eras in drama when Shakespeare and other classics focused on royalty, the upper classes or theatrical gimmicks. Modern American writers instead focused on the impact of American society and its relationships, including conflicts in the traditional American family.

American playwrights have a tendency to draw on social issues of the day and criticize social norms in America, illustrating the effect of modernity on the daily lives of the American people. Modern American drama represents the diverse range of voices of American culture.


  • marthareynolds

    I'm Martha, a 27-year-old blogger, volunteer, and student. I'm a graduate of the University of Utah, where I studied communications and political science. I'm passionate about education and volunteer work, and I love spending time with my family and friends.

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