William Somerset Maugham : as A Dramatist

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      William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965). Between 1904 and 1933, when he finally abandoned the stage, because of failure of his bitter comedy Sheppey, Maugham wrote some thirty plays, often at the rate of two or three a year. Though by 1914 he had written more than ten plays, his most memorable, though not his most profitable, work belonged to the inter-war period.


      After the realistic tragedy of A Man of Honour (1903) he made his name and fortune with gay, light-hearted comedies, full of wit and epigram. Among them were Lady Frederick (1907), Mrs Dot (1908), and Jack Straw (1908). The last of these purely commercial plays was Home and Beauty (1919) Two years later appeared The Circle (1921), a true comedy of manners and his best play. Our Betters, which though produced in New York in 1917 was not seen in England until 1923, and The Constant Wife (1927) are in the same tradition.

Maugham's temperament was ideal for comedy of this kind. A shrewd observer of life and a keen student of human nature, he was a highly intelligent man of the world, cherishing few illusions, and rarely admitting any trace of sentimentality into his drama.
William Somerset Maugham

      Maugham's temperament was ideal for comedy of this kind. A shrewd observer of life and a keen student of human nature, he was a highly intelligent man of the world, cherishing few illusions, and rarely admitting any trace of sentimentality into his drama. His best plays are the ironical comment of a cynically humorous observer, aiming to present life as it realy is. In many ways he reminds us of the Restoration dramatists. With the broadening of the themes goes the maturing of his dialogue, which gradually shakes off its early tinsel brilliance for a pithy, economical style, to which his verbal skill gives a consummate ease.

      His plays are expertly constructed; his early successes depended largely on the theatrical quality of his work. Maugham is an uneven dramatist, whose work shows considerable diversity of tone and mood. He offered realistic tragedy in A Man of Honour and the much better For Services Rendered (1932); the glitter of the early comedies ; the true comedy of manners; and occasionally the stronger and more serious situations of Cesar's Wife (1919), The Letter (1927), and The Sacred Flame (1928).

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