Madness, the supernatural, and child murder in tragedy

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University of Alabama Libraries

Child murder in modern American drama draws heavily from Greek tragic traditions, both stylistically and thematically. The number of playwrights (and authors) who have chosen to include infanticide in their works in both ancient Greece and modern America is larger than is to be expected of a topic considered taboo in both of these societies. The three great tragedians, Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, each chose to include the act in at least one of their plays. Sam Shepard, Edward Albee, and Eugene O’Neill utilized the structure of Greek tragedy in their own plays, including child murder. This thesis will look into the connections between classical Greek tragedies—specifically those written by Euripides—that include filicide, madness, and the supernatural—and modern American literature and drama, including Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, and Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark. These plays and novels showcase an even balance between mothers committing the act of child murder and fathers committing the act of child murder. Furthermore, the works chosen demonstrate diversity of race, socio-economic positioning, geographic locale, and historical time. Of primary import, these connections will show recurring instances of the past haunting the present to create the future.

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English literature, Literature, History