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Arthur Miller: Poet of the Theatre

Sarah Tryphena Phillips Lecture, delivered by Professor Christopher Bigsby, on 21 October 2009 (venue: The British Academy), as part of the British Academy's 2009 Literature Week.

When the National Theatre polled writers, directors, actors and reviewers asking for the most significant plays of the 20th century, Arthur Miller was the only one to have two in the top 10 American critics have been less positive. For some, he was a writer of domestic realism who deployed a pedestrian prose in his attempt to address social aspects of his society. Richard Gilman thought his imagination 'limited' while Stanley Kauffman, purporting to be baffled by the enthusiasm of foreign critics and the success abroad of plays that failed at home, suggested they sounded better in other languages. For Robert Brustein, who found it difficult to respond positively to any of his work, the British embraced him because left wing directors were drawn to social realism. In fact, Miller had little interest in realism, often wrote in verse or reached for a poetic language. There were, it seemed, two different playwrights on two different continents.

About the lecturer
Christopher Bigsby is Professor of American Studies at the University of East Anglia and Director of the Arthur Miller Centre for American Studies. He has published some thirty five academic books, including the recent biography of Miller, along with five novels. He has also written radio and television plays and has been a regular broadcaster with the BBC.

Commentator: Lindsay Posner
Lindsay Posner was associate director at the Royal Court Theatre from 1987 to 1992 where his production of Death and the Maiden won two Laurence Olivier Awards. His theatre credits include: A View From The Bridge (Duke of York's), Carousel (UK tour and Savoy), Fool for Love (Apollo), Tom and Viv (Almeida), Romance (Almeida), The Birthday Party (Duchess), Oleanna (Garrick), Power and Tartuffe (NT), The Caretaker (Bristol Old Vic), Sexual Perversity in Chicago (Comedy), Twelfth Night, The Rivals, Volpone and The Taming of the Shrew (RSC), American Buffalo (Young Vic) and The Provok'd Wife (Old Vic).

More about the Sarah Tryphena Phillips Lectures in American Literature and History

This lecture was published as 'Arthur Miller: Realism, Language, Poetry' in Proceedings of the British Academy, 167.

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