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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Playwright

The first playwrights in Western literature whose plays still exist were the Ancient Greeks starting around the 5th century BC. These ancient Greeks wrote plays for annual Athenian competitions among playwrights. Important among them are Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.

Bust of Aristophanes

For the ancient Greeks, playwriting involved poïesis, "the act of making". This is the source of the English word poet.

In 458 BC Aeschylus, an ancient Greek tragedian, was killed by a tortoise dropped by an eagle that had mistaken his bald head for a rock suitable for shattering the shell of the reptile.


The word wright in "playwright" does not come from "write," but is an ancient English term for a craftsman or builder. In a similar way that a wheelwright makes wheels, a playwright makes plays.

The term "playwright" was coined by Ben Jonson in his Epigram 49, To Playwright, as an insult, to suggest a mere tradesman fashioning works for the theater. Jonson described himself as a poet, not a playwright, since plays during that time were written in meter and so were regarded as the province of poets. The term playwright later lost this negative connotation.

The playwright Christopher Marlowe met a violent death whilst drinking in a Deptford, London tavern on May 30, 1593. He was killed during a brawl over a bar tab.

Christopher Marlowe

Cervantes was told by the playhouse manager that his Eight Interludes did not measure up to the works of other playwrights of the era, which made him quite angry. However, he remained optimistic about their chances and published them so that at least the reading public might know them. They have appeared, like the "Exemplary Novels", in several English translations, but have never gained as wide a public as Don Quixote.

Aphra Behn, (1640-89) was the first English professional woman playwright. She wrote at least 17 plays, mostly comedies, but including one farce opera, The Emperor of the Moon (1687), which made use of massive stage spectacle.

The phrase "to steal another's thunder" meaning someone else taking credit for your achievement is said to derive from an incident involving the playwright and critic John Dennis (d1734). He had invented a device that could create the sound of thunder by shaking tin sheets backstage. This early sound effect, however was not enough to encourage audiences to see one of his plays at London's Drury Lane Theatre in 1700. After a run of two weeks, the play was replaced by a staging of Macbeth. Dennis saw the production and wrote a furious review: "See what rascals they are. They will not run my play and yet they steal my thunder." The production of Macbeth had purloined his idea.

Playwright William Wells Brown was the first black American to write a play in the United States. Escape, or A Leap for Freedom, was written in 1858.

The playwright John Osborne (December 12, 1929 –December 24, 1994) made his name with Look Back in Anger (1956), which proved a landmark in the history of the British theatre and a major contribution to the image of the Angry Young Man. Osborne compared critics to faulty sewage systems and described the suicide of his fourth wife, actress Jill Bennett, as "the coarse posturing of an overheated housemaid."

Publicity photograph of John Osborne (1929-1994) from 1971

In 1983 a Broadway theatre was named after Neil Simon. It was the first time such an honor had been bestowed on a living playwright.


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