I've just posted a paper that I wrote this semester for my Heroes and Heroism of the Greco-Roman Era class on my blog Puzzlewit. The paper examines how Arthur Miller manages to raise Willy Loman to the level of tragic hero in Death of a Salesman by comparing the character to others in Sophocles and Aristophanes.
The Mask Project: Making Philoktetes -- complete with photos of the masks creation and realization. This was for a Theater and Performance History class at Brown this past semester. I was very happy with my mask.
I enjoyed your piece on Loman and the Greeks. Glad the class was awesome. Great novel whose setting is Greek Theatre called "The Mask of Apollo" by Mary Renault you may want to jot down for the future.
Very well written. Cogent and passionate and perceptive.
I would only add one phrase to your final paragraph and I have written it in Caps and set off between dashes:
“This subtle expansion that builds throughout the play, compels heroic action that is fulfilled when Willy is finally able to recognize a deeply human truth and is then willing to take - WHAT HE PERCEIVES TO BE - selfless action. Through Willy Loman, Arthur Miller manages to transcend the trappings of the comic hero and shape them into a moving and tragic tale.”
You do mention earlier: “He longs for the happier days of the past when there was prosperity, OR AT LEAST THE APPEARANCE OF PROSPERITY, in and around his home.” Willy’s and many of his generation’s perceptions are, shall we politely say “askew” and we can’t trust a thing the guys says. Appearance is all.
I also think you might have mentioned a bit of the past or historical/philosophical/ethical world in which Willy’s mind was formed. Whereas you do mention the long Sparta/Athens conflict, which had negative lasting consequences on Athens.
While I recognize the tough, tough world Willy inhabited, the older I get the more I think Willy Loman is the most pathetic as well as scumball character written for the stage. I think the neighbor says over the grave “the man never knew who he was” or something to that effect. (Happy then defends Willy. Sins of the father...) Yes, Willy hears Biff say “I love you.” But does Willy genuinely recognize himself? I don’t believe so. Does he recognize his lifetime of crappy destructive lies to his wife and children and everyone he meets? He is the biggest liar and con-man ever. Which is just the opposite of Oedipus. Oedipus acted in integrity in his life and there was a reversal. Oedipus accepts responsibility of recognition in the ethical world in which he lives (the Greek theatre!) Willy, an American, cops out. He passes the buck.
I say, “Poor, poor Linda.” Some today may say, “Linda, what a dumbf*ck.” But she was no different from the political wives we see in Washington or in the business world today who do not want to lose their station because of their husband’s (or now husbands’ or wives’) actions.
There are a lot of Willy Lomans in the sub-prime mortgage debacle from grunt street mortgage salesman to CEO’s who will never recognize themselves. And...who are still able to keep up their appearances with platinum parachutes - I call it "Hush Money." . THAT is OUR tragedy! That may be one reason why the play lasts.
I saw a brilliant production at Stratford, Ontario around ten years ago that brought me and the audience to tears. Ben Campbell played Oedipus. My comment was, “If this Sophocles guy keeps writing, he just might have a future in this business.” It was a re-creation of the original production of Oedipus they did their opening season with Douglas Campbell – Ben’s father - portraying Oedipus and directed by Tyrone Guthrie in the original. There is a DVD of the original if you can find it. Have the Brown library order it. Link below.
And a friend of mine who say Brian Dennehy’s performance of Willy said, “I kept saying to myself, “That’s me. That’s me.” So the play worked on one audience member at least.
Both the Dustin Hoffman performance and the Lee J. Cobb performances are on DVD as well.
Again, very good article.
What translations of the Greek plays did you use? I like them.
In media res
P.S. Your article on cover letters was excellent. And thanks for the list of theatre mags,, although I have always found American Theater mag to be either listless or overly self-congratulatory. The Dramatist Mag has come a long way in recent years. It is truly first rate now. Gary Garrision! Performink in Chicago often has some fine articles that not only relate to Chicago theatres. Performink.com
I don't have such a harsh opinion of Willy. He reminds me too much of people I know, so my heart goes out to him (and them).
Thanks for your thoughtful and thorough comments -- and for reading it.
It's been accepted to the classics journal and Brown -- so it'll be published soon.
Here's my resource list:
1. Aristophanes, Lysitrata/The Archanians/The Clouds, trans. Alan H. Sommerstein (London: Penguin Books, 1973).
2. George Plimpton, ed., Playwrights At Work: The Paris Review Interviews, interviewer Christopher Bigsby (New York: Random House, 2000).
3. Erich Segal, The Death of Comedy, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
4. Toby Cole, ed., Playwrights on Playwriting, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1960).
5. Lisa A. Barnett, Broadway’s Fabulous Fifties: How the Playmakers Made It Happen, interviewer Ted Mabley (New York: New Dramatist Publications, 2002).
6. Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, (New York: Viking Press, 1949).
7. Sophocles, Oedipus the King, trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin Books, 1984).
8. C. Whitman, II Comic Heroism, from Aristophanes and the Comic Hero, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964).
Last edited on Wed Feb 6th, 2008 04:32 am by katoagogo
Just finished my edits on this piece getting everything ship-shape for the Brown Classic Journal. The opinions of 15 editors can be hard to synthesis. My biggest problem was conforming to the citations format.
I'm looking forward to seeing it in print. From what I gather, Brown's journal is notable for being the only one left that is entirely produced by undergraduates.
Interesting discussion. I saw Warren Mitchell and Mel Gibson perform 'Death...' in Sydney in the 80's. It was marvelous.
More than Loman, I find the protagonist of Albee's, "The Goat" a true classical hero. Unlike Willy he is not 'unconscious' of his dilemma. He becomes aware of his predicament and gains the 'object lesson' and ultimate insight of the course of his decisions.