Performance, Cognition, and the Representation of Interiority
Parapsychic Phenomena in Early Twentieth-Century American Drama
“Tut, tut, Jacky; you mustn’t mix up mothers and prospective wives at your age. It’s fatal.” (Sc 713) Thus Percy MacKaye jeers at the Oedipus complex in The Scarecrow (1909), a play that reached Broadway in 1911, just a few months after Ernest Jones had published his epoch-making essay on Hamlet and Oedipus. Freud was receiving scholarly attention, but he was not yet taken seriously by American dramatists. In Arthur Hopkins’s The Fatted Calf (1912; unpubl.), arguably “the first application of a psychoanalytic – as contrasted with a pre-Freudian – concept of psychiatry” (Sievers; qtd. in Cotsell 8), the audience, according to the critic of the New York Times, “laughed a good deal”. Susan Glaspell’s Suppressed Desires and Alice Gerstenberg’s Overtones (both 1915) are delightful satires on Freudian dream interpretation and what came to be called the ego/id split personality. It was not until the nineteen-twenties that depth psychology began to make a serious impact on the American stage.1
But there were, of course, forerunners to modern psychological drama. This paper aims to examine American plays of the years preceding World War I, when dramatists’ interest in parapsychic phenomena reached a high-watermark, notably in The Witching Hour (1907) by Augustus Thomas, The Faith Healer (1909) by William Vaughn Moody, and The Return of Peter Grimm (1911) by David Belasco. Parapsychology, or psychical research, as it was called in the English-speaking world before the 1930s,2 focuses on purportedly paranormal phenomena such as telepathy, hypnotism, precognition, clairvoyance, mental healing,...
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