Eugene O'Neill wrote three Pulitzer Prize-winning plays during the 1920s: Beyond the Horizon (1920), Anna Christie (1922), and Strange Interlude (1928). During the 1930s, however, O'Neill's popularity began to fade. Subjected to closer scrutiny be a new generation of critics, obscurity began to settle on America's first great playwright and deepened more and more until his death in 1953. Ironically, it was during these dark years that O'Neill's real development began. Maturing in silence, he developed a profound artistic honesty which produced several genuine masterpieces of the modern theatre, including the autobiographical play Long Day's Journey Into Night, for which he won one more Pulitzer Prize (posthumously) in 1957.
Eugene Ionesco did not write his first play until, at the age of 40, he adapted a play from an English primer that he had acquired in order to learn English. The Bald Soprano, staged by Nicolas Bataille on May 11, 1950, went unnoticed until a few established writers and critics launched a campaign to bring attention to Ionesco's play. They were successful in their efforts, and the middle-aged Ionesco soon found himself in a position of international renown. He would go on to write more than twenty plays including Rhinoceros, The Chairs, Jack or The Submission, The Lesson, The Killer, Exit the King, Macbett, and Journeys Among the Dead.
Italian dramatist Dario Fo, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature, is considered by many critics to be the rightful heir to Aristophanes. The main targets of his ideologically inspired attacks have been capitalism, imperialism and corruption in the Italian government. Fo's best known plays include Accidental Death of an Anarchist, We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!, and Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo.
In 1949, Arthur Miller won the Pulitzer Prize for Death of a Salesman. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, running for 742 performances, and has been revived on Broadway four times, winning three Tony Awards for Best Revival. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
On May 25, 1895, Oscar Wilde was convicted of "committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons" and served two years hard labour in jail. After his release from prison, Wilde's spirit seemed to have been broken. He made only a few half-hearted attempts at literary activity and concluded in the end that such endeavors were for "the other self--the man I once was." He spent three years in self-imposed exile from society before dying penniless and alone in a Paris hotel. Oscar Wilde's plays include Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), Salomé (1893), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) which is considered by many critics to be the finest modern farce in the English language.
Aristophanes is the only writer of "Old Comedy" whose works are still extant today. Lost forever are the plays of his contemporaries, among them Chionides, Magnes, Cratinus, Crates, and Eupolis. Fortunately, Aristophanes was, by most accounts, considered the greatest comic writer of his day. He wrote approximately forty plays during his career, eleven of which have survived to this day.
Although the details of Thomas Kyd's life are obscure, it is known that he shared a room with fellow dramatist Christopher Marlowe. Kyd's best known play, The Spanish Tragedy (1589), was the most popular and influential tragedy of Elizabethan times, and it is believed that he also wrote a lost Hamlet, sometimes referred to as the Ur-Hamlet, which was probably the model for Shakespeare's tragedy. Thomas Kyd's brilliant career was cut short, however, in 1593 when he was arrested on the charge of atheism based on one of his manuscripts. Although he denied the charge, his spirit was apparently broken by the imprisonment, torture, and disgrace -- he died in poverty in 1594, only a year after his release. According to some sources, it may have been Marlowe who betrayed Kyd to the authorities.
Tom Stoppard's first major success came with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead which chronicles the tale of Hamlet as told from the worm's-eye view of the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare's play. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern opened in London in 1967, it was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of the modern theatre and catapulted Stoppard into the front ranks of modern dramatists almost overnight.
The plot of Waiting for Godot, an absurdist play written by Samuel Beckett and first produced in 1953, revolves around Vladimir and Estragon who arrive at a certain spot on a country road to await the arrival of Godot. SPOILER ALERT: He never comes.