Though drama often takes the back seat to fiction writing, it’s had a great impact on the current age and the way we see ourselves through performance. As theater has been used to explore topics ranging from mob mentality to existentialism, these plays are great examples of the genre’s ability to present us with relevant characters, memorable motifs, and enduring themes.
5 Essential Classic Plays to Read
1) A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Listed as one of the best plays ever written, A Raisin in the Sun, with it’s depiction of race and poverty has become a staple of American Drama. With the title coming directly from a line in Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem ”, the play examines the aspirations and constraints of black people in America, both in society and in the Younger family’s tightly-knit web.
2) Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Death of a Salesman examines what it means to achieve the American Dream and the pitfalls that await a person striving for such a goal. It is based on the existential problem Miller’s uncle, a salesman, represented to him. Telling the story of Willy, a delusional and insecure salesman who poorly navigates his job and family life, the play is taut with tragedy and the ultimate cost of the American Dream.
3) Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
This play presents man’s struggle with existence through Vladimir and Estragon, its comedic and tragic main characters, who wait by the side of a tree. Though both argue that they should move on, neither is willing to give up the anticipation of “Godot”. A clear analogy for humanity, bound between its logic and its spirituality, the play has remained a poignant portrayal of existence.
4) Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Based on the ancient Greek myth of a sculpture whose work of a woman came to life, Shaw’s play centers around a phonetics teacher who bets that he can teach a poor girl to pass for a duchess. With themes of class conflict and stereotypes, Pygmalion is an enduring story of transformation.
5) The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Written in the midst of the Red Scare and political blacklisting, The Crucible was a bold act of analogical protest. Displaying the mob mentality and paranoia of his era through the protestant accusers of Salem, Massachusetts, Miller questions the stability of society without individual morality. As powerful in its language as in its impact, The Crucible gives insight into American history through different lenses and remains a relevant warning.
Drama has often been overlooked in the canonization of literature but is worth reading in and of itself. While the performance surely brings another element into the experience, reading plays can be an endlessly rewarding and imaginative way to better understand ourselves. Through drama, we can better contextualize our struggles and reach a level of catharsis through unique human voices.