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In O'Neill's Shakespeare , Normand Berlin explores the relationship of William Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill through detailed, often surprising, intertextual readings of the two great playwrights' work. "Of course, it would have been impossible for O'Neill not to have been influenced by Shakespeare," acknowledges Berlin. But this is an influence of an unusual and extraordinary sort, "a family romance" that transcends their obvious differences—a romance that "takes in all O'Neill's life and art."
In the first book-length study of this crucial literary and dramatic relationship, Berlin probes far beyond the usual listing of allusions and references. This is the exploration of an "essential, basic, even natural" connection, in which Shakespeare is shown to have fundamentally shaped O'Neill's creative imagination. Following O'Neill's career chronologically, Berlin divides his study into two parts. The "first career" (culminating in Mourning Becomes Electra) is explored through recurring themes that evoke Shakespeare: the sea, black and white, and the family. O'Neill's "second career" (from Ah! Wilderness until the last plays) is examined through Shakespearean genre classifications: comedy, history, tragedy, and tragicomedy. Though always grounded in close textual readings, Berlin's analysis spirals outward to encompass O'Neill's artistic and psychological development and touches on the questions of tradition, transcendence, and human nature inevitably raised when such literary connections across history are drawn.
O'Neill's Shakespeare is more than a reminder that Shakespeare continues to haunt Western culture; it is a careful and fascinating analysis of a particular legacy in American drama. The book has insights to offer to specialists in Shakespeare and O'Neill, and to any reader interested in the transmission of ideas through Western culture. Berlin's study of the unconscious and conscious uses of Shakespeare by O'Neill provide a valuable new understanding of O'Neill's artistry. It is also an eloquent, thoughtful account that blends the transcendence of Shakespeare's influence with the particular ways in which every era must refashion Shakespeare so that "the past becomes the present."