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Famous Plays, Famous Plays
Terms in this set (33)
Pygmalion - George Bernard Shaw
Named after the Greek mythological sculptor who fell in love with his sculpture, this play is about a professor who decides to train a lower-class woman to become a duchess. Spoiler Alert: He falls in love with her!
Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett
One of the most famous absurdist plays, this is about two men, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for the arrival of someone named Godot.
A Raisin in the Sun - Lorraine Hansberry
Named after a line in a Langston Hughes poem, this play is about a black family in Chicago as they try to deal with an influx of money after a death in a family.
A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen
In order to help pay for her husband's doctor's bills, Nora Helmer secretly borrows a large sum of money. Because she had to forge her father's signature in order to get the money, and because she knew that her husband would never approve, she hides the source of the money from him. Instead, she decides to pay back the loan with part of her household allowance. Eventually her husband is appointed bank director, where he fires a man for forgery. Unfortunately, this is the man from whom Nora borrowed the money. Krogstad blackmails Nora, but to no avail because Nora's husband ends up finding out regardless. He is furious and threatens to divorce her. At this revelation, Nora decides that Torvald is not worthy of her and she leaves him.
Arsenic and Old Lace - Joseph Kesselring
1939 play about the Brewster family descended from the "Mayflower," but now composed of insane homicidal maniacs. Made into movie starring Cary Grant, about a man (Mortimer Brewster) dealing with his two spinster aunts who poison lonely old men with elderberry wine laced with arsenic.
A Glass Menagerie - Tennessee Williams
This drama is narrated by Tom Wingfield, who supports his mother Amanda and his crippled sister Laura (who takes refuge from reality in her glass animals). At Amanda's insistence, Tom brings his friend Jim O'Connor to the house as a gentleman caller for Laura. While O'Connor is there, the horn on Laura's glass unicorn breaks, bringing her into reality, until O'Connor tells the family that he is already engaged. Laura returns to her fantasy world, while Tom abandons the family after fighting with Amanda.
A Long Day's Journey Into Night - Eugene O'Neill
It follows the Tyrone family through one hot, August day. It tells the story of Mary, a morphine addict; James, an aging actor who has been accused of cheapness and who regrets wasting his time acting in popular melodramas. Jamie, who is devastated by his mother's morphine addiction and his brother's illness, attempts to "get away from it all" by drinking and visiting a brothel. And Edmund, who discovers he has consumption and must enter a sanitarium. The play ends with the men intoxicated and Mary remembering happier days.
A Man for All Seasons - Robert Bolt
This play is based on the true story of Thomas More, the English Chancellor who refused to support Henry VIII's desire to divorce Catherine in favor of Anne Boleyn of England. A man of principle, More is hated by the aristocracy but loved by the people and his family.
A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams
A turbulent play set in New Orleans. Blanche DuBois is a neurotic young widow from Laurel, Mississippi with a penchant for younger men. Blanche shows up at the noisy, working-class New Orleans apartment of her pregnant sister, Stella, announcing that she has lost their family home, Belle Reve, along with her job as a teacher (claiming that the latter was due to her poor nerves). Stella's husband is Stanley, a violent Polish man. There is immediate friction between Stanley and Blanche, which disturbs Stella, who is deeply in love with her husband. She looks down on him as being poor and boorish, and he suspects that she is not what she appears and has cheated Stella out of her family inheritance. Blanche begins to date Mitch, a friend of Stanley's. Mitch eventually proposes to her. Stanley learns that Blanche used to be a prostitute and was fired from her high school teaching position because she had seduced a seventeen-year-old student. When Mitch learns of her past, he is upset by her deception and tries to rape her. Later Stanley rapes Blanche. As a birthday present, Stanley gives Blanche a ticket back to Laurel. Stella refuses to believe Blanche's claims against Stanley.
Antigone - Sophocles
Like Oedipus at Colonus, this play is contemporary with Seven Against Thebes, only it tells things from Antigone's viewpoint.
Antony and Cleopatra
Although Antony and Cleopatra are already lovers, Antony weds Octavia, sister of Octavius, in an effort to show his loyalty to the Roman Empire. However, Antony is drawn inexorably toward Egypt and Cleopatra, and he soon abandons his wife to return there. Octavius is enraged and declares war on Antony. Antony decides to fight by sea due to the suggestion of Cleopatra. The victory seems to be his until Cleopatra unaccountably hoists sail and flees. Antony follows her, abandoning many of his soldiers to Octavius's forces. This show of poor judgment casts doubt on Antony's leadership abilities and even his best friend, Enobarbus, is compelled to desert to Octavius. However, Antony does not blame him and instead treats him with great kindness. Overwhelmed at Antony's generosity, Enobarbus dies of a broken heart. Octavius once again initiates war, with Antony losing so soundly that he believes Cleopatra and Octavius conspired against him, and he decides to kill the queen. Cleopatra locks herself in a large monument and sends a message to Antony that she has committed suicide, but worried about the effect of her false report, Cleopatra sends another message to Antony, assuring him that she is alive. However, he stabs himself before the second message arrives and is carried up to Cleopatra just in time for his last breath. Cleopatra then kills herself also.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - Tennessee Williams
Centers on a fight between two sons (Gooper and Brick) over the estate of father "Big Daddy" Pollitt, who is dying of cancer. After his friend Skipper dies, ex-football star Brick turns to alcohol and will not have sex with his wife Maggie ("the cat"). Yet Maggie announces to Big Daddy that she is pregnant in an attempt to force a reconciliation with--and win the inheritance for--Brick.
Death of a Salesman - Arthur Miller
This is the depressing story of Willy Loman a disillusioned New England salesman who has lost touch with reality. Willy believes that he is the top salesman for his company, is popular with all his customers, and that his family respects and adores him. Unfortunately, that is not the case. His family, in particular his eldest son, is disappointed with him, he is unable to make his rounds, and he is about to lose his job. At the play's end Willy commits suicide after being fired.
Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe
As the play begins, Doctor John Faustus of Wittenberg, after contemplating several possible career paths and finding them all disagreeable, decides to pursue sorcery. He calls upon two colleagues, Valdes and Cornelius, both infamous magicians, to teach him the art of conjuring. Faustus, after being instructed by Valdes and Cornelius, attempts to summon a demon on his own.
The demon he calls, unfortunately for him, is Mephistophilis, second-in-command to Lucifer himself. Using Mephistophilis as a messenger, Faustus strikes a deal with Lucifer: that he is to be allotted twenty-four years of life on Earth, during which time he will have Mephistophilis as his personal servant, and, at the end of which, he will give his soul over to Lucifer as payment and spend the rest of time as one of the damned in hell. This deal is cemented in the form of a contract scribed in Faustus' own blood, and Mephistophilis begins his service.
Faustus trifles away his dear-bought time by performing minor tricks and entertaining the hangers-on at the court of German Emperor Charles V. Indeed, he eventually becomes a mere grape-fetcher for the irritable Duchess of Anholt.
Unlike later adaptations of the legend, notably that of Goethe, this author's Faustus pays the price of his diabolical deal and is irrecoverably damned.
Endgame - Samuel Beckett
The main character, Hamm, is a disabled and curses the day he was born. He looks forward to his death, which happens at the play's end. The title of the play is a chess term, which refers to the final phase of a chess game.
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
Hamlet returns from college to find his father killed and his mother remarried to his uncle. After he is visited by his father's ghost, he realizes that his uncle killed his father in order to become King. Vowing revenge, Hamlet pretends to be crazy in order to disguise his immense anger and further his plan. In a fit of rage, he accidentally kills Polonius, causing his love Ophelia to drown herself out of grief. Laertes hears this news and returns home to avenge his father's death. They duel, with Laertes using a poison-tipped sword. During the intense fight, Queen Gertrude drinks a cup of poisoned wine (meant for Hamlet in case the sword idea didn't work) and she promptly dies. Also during the fight, the poisoned sword switches hands and both men are cut with the tip. Before Hamlet dies, he stabs Claudius, causing him to die also.
Happy Days - Samuel Beckett
The entire play consists of Winnie, a woman in her 50s, who is buried waist-deep in a pile of dirt, rambling to her husband who ignores her and reads his newspaper.
King Lear - William Shakespeare
In his old age, proud King Lear offers to divide his kingdom amongst his daughters, size being dependent upon the measure of love they confess. Cordelia loves him most but will not confess this love just for show. King Lear is enraged by Cordelia's seeming defiance and sends her away, giving the other two sisters rule over the land. Once they have reached this place of power, they begin to treat their father cruelly and then completely cut him off, causing him to go insane. Eventually Lear is reunited with Cordelia but only in time for her to die in his arms. Out of grief, he soon follows.
Macbeth - William Shakespeare
Macbeth is a courageous soldier who is told by Three Witches that he will one day become King. Too eager to wait on fate, he and Lady Macbeth take matters into their own hands and secretly murder King Duncan, causing Macbeth to be elected King. Malcolm flees to England to wait until he can reclaim the throne. Worried that he might lose the throne, Macbeth kills anyone who might challenge his title, including Banquo. However, he fails to kill Macduff, who began to distrust Macbeth and so he fled to England to join Malcolm. Malcolm's army comes back to execute revenge on Macbeth, killing him and reclaiming the throne.
Man and Superman - George Bernard Shaw
Views man as a spiritual creator while woman is the "biological life force" that will always triumph over him. John Tanner resists marriage valiantly but futilely, eventually succumbing to the superior power of Ann Whitefield, of whom he is co-guardian. He tries to escape her by motoring through Europe at high speed, but is detained by a group of socially conscious brigands headed by Mendoza, who turned to that life because of unrequited love. John eventually capitulates to Ann. The third scene contains a famous "Don Juan in Hell" sequence in which John and Ann assume roles from Mozart's Don Giovanni and debate eternity, gender, and the power of sexuality
Merchant of Venice - William Shakespeare
Antonio borrows money from Shylock to fund a trip for Bassanio to go court Portia. When the ships with Antonio's goods get lost at sea, he can't pay Shylock back and asks for an extension on the loan. According to the original agreement, Antonio would give Shylock a pound of his flesh if he could not pay on time. Shylock, who had harbored secret hatred towards Antonio, would not grant the extension and insisted on taking the flesh from Antonio's heart. Meanwhile, Portia gives Bassanio her hand in marriage, along with Gratiano and Nerissa. When learning of the situation at home, Portia and Nerissa dress like men to represent Antonio in court. They confirm that taking the pound of flesh is lawful but by the contract, blood is not included. Therefore, Shylock cannot take the pound of flesh because otherwise blood would be taken as well. Shylock admits his defeat and Antonio wins. All ends happily, except for Shylock, who loses his revenge and secludes himself.
Oedipus the King - Sophocles
Oedipus learns as a young man that he is fated to kill his father and marry his mother. Horrified at this revelation, Oedipus leaves home, in an effort to avoid this destiny. In the course of his wanderings he comes to the outskirts of the city of Thebes, where he kills a man who insulted him. Shortly thereafter he rescues the city of Thebes by answering the Sphinx's riddle. As a reward he is made king over the city and marries the queen, her husband having died.
A few years later, a mysterious plague ravages the city. Oedipus eventually discovers that he is the cause of the plague. For, unbeknownst to him, the man he had killed outside of Thebes was his father, the King of Thebes, and his now-wife is actually his mother. Jocasta kills herself when she discovers the truth. Oedipus, puts out his eyes, abdicates the throne, and flees the city.
Othello - William Shakespeare
Othello is a successful soldier, noted for his bravery. Desdemona falls in love with him and they decide to wed. They keep their marriage a secret from Brabantio because they are not sure how he will feel about a mixed-race union. Eventually he discovers the truth and gives them his blessing. Envious of their happiness, Iago tries to seduce Desdemona but she refuses him because of her love for Othello. Furious, Iago vows to tear Othello and Desdemona apart. He arranges for Othello to find Desdemona in what looks like a compromising position with Cassio, although it is completely innocent. Filled with intense jealousy, Othello kills Desdemona. Upon realizing her innocence, Othello commits suicide.
Our Town - Thornton Wilder
This innovative play is about a New Hampshire town called Grover's Corners. The play employs a minimal set and few props. The story is narrated by a character called the Stage Manager. Some actors are actually embedded in the audience, and at certain points the Stage Manager calls on them as though they are actually random audience members. Central to the story, which spans a number of years, is the romance of George Gibbs and Emily Webb, who marry (and run out through the actual audience after the ceremony). Emily dies and at her funeral, the main characters are the dead of the cemetery, who speak as detached witnesses. Against the advice of the other dead souls, Emily elects to revisit her past. After viewing her 12th birthday as an observer, Emily becomes saddened and goes back to the cemetery, where she sees George mourning her. She says of the living, "They just don't understand."
Peer Gynt - Henrik Ibsen
Peer Gynt is a mischievous young man who is constantly getting himself into scrapes that almost get him killed or tricked. The play follows Peer throughout his life as he attempts to live by the maxim "To thine own self be true," as opposed to the troll maxim, "to thine own self be all sufficient." It is not until the end that he learns he has been tricked into believing the troll maxim. The play ends with him returning to his native land and to Solveig, the woman who has loved him faithfully through the years, only to learn that the Buttonmoulder is coming for him. Solveig, however, vows to protect him.
Prometheus Bound - Aeschylus
In this story, the Titan Prometheus is punished by Zeus for giving fire to humans. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Prometheus has a hold over Zeus, for he knows the name of the goddess who will bear a son who will ultimately overcome Zeus. Zeus attempts to wrest the information from Prometheus via Hermes, but Prometheus refuses.
Richard III - William Shakespeare;
After Edward IV died, Richard III was made ward protector over his son, Edward V. Wanting the crown, Richard III sent Edward V into strict confinement, which eventually killed him. Later, Richard III is killed in battle during the War of the Roses. The famous line from this play is, "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse."
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead - Tom Stoppard
The title is taken from the names of two characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Portrayed as rather buffoonish, the two men stumble through a life they do not comprehend, occasionally trading philosophical statements of which they underestimate the significance.
The Cherry Orchard - Anton Chekhov
Tells the story of Ranevskaya, Varya, and her 18-year old daughter Anya, who live, with various other people, in an old Russian manor house. Unfortunately, the family has fallen on hard times and although Ranevskaya is given several different suggestions on how to reverse the family fortunes, nothing is done. Eventually, the orchard attached to the manner is sold to a man whose ancestors were serfs on the property. The story ends with the orchard being chopped down.
The Crucible - Arthur Miller
The play tells the story of the events leading to the Salem Witchcraft in 1692. The play was actually aimed at the then widespread congressional investigation of subversive communist activities, namely the McCarthy trials.
The Mousetrap - Agatha Christie
This murder mystery play opened in the West End of London in 1952, and has been running continuously since then. It has by far the longest initial run of any play in history. The play is also known for its twist ending, which the audience is traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre.
The Tempest - William Shakespeare
Wishing to advance himself politically, Antonio sends Prospero and his daughter Miranda on a boat trip and then causes the ship to wreck on Corfu. Eventually, Prospero becomes a wizard and meets Ariel who acts as his counselor. On a trip himself, Antonio and his trip companion, Ferdinand, also crash. Once on the island, Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love and Prospero gives up his magic in order to return home. All return to Milan happily, except for evil Antonio, who is killed and is thrown into the sea.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf - Edward Albee
This play centers on a bitter married couple, Martha and George, who invite one of their colleagues over after a party. The evening turns abusive, however, with Martha and George trading verbal and physical abuse, not only with each other, but to their guests as well.
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