Hero and myth : a study of existential choice in the drama of Archibald MacLeish

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1972

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Abstract

The desire for an ordered universe has become,in twentieth-century man, an obsession. Like other artists of our age, Archibald MacLeish has attempted to synthesize an order, through his art, which will satisfy that need in the absence of external order. With the initial rejection of God (except as a possible "first mover"), MacLeish commits himself irrevocably to the study of Man, and must forge from the materials of existence his answers to universal questions of being-- questions for which answers were assumed by earlier generations. His method,humanistically oriented, centers on the action of the human will as it chooses and acts to shape an otherwise disordered cosmos. As a device for focusing attention on the will, MacLeish chooses frequently in his poetry and drama to deal with materials from humanity's past, in which larger-thanlife figures accomplish superhuman deeds. Yet, while the action is unreal, it serves to underline the essential reality of the human condition; in searching for the one "right" mode of action for mankind, the playwright explores several possible "options" which are available to mankind; each is an "act" in the Existential sense, but some are more palatable to MacLeish than others. He concludes that only through an ideal fusion of action and empathy can Man achieve accord with a hostile universe.

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Keywords

MacLeish, Archibald, Criticism and interpretation

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