Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Anna K. Nardo


Working roughly from the last decades of the nineteenth century into the first quarter of the twentieth, early modernist playwrights wrote in times which were dominated by realism, but when many still looked to poetic forms for expression. They shared artistic space with realist practitioners like Ibsen and Shaw on the one hand and poetic dramatists like Yeats and Eliot on the other. Interested in dramatizing the conflict between the private and the public selves, they faced a central problem of creating a form and attendant style that could bridge the gap between the individual and her/his environment, thus harmonizing them into an authentic identity. This dissertation answers the following question: if a type of dialectic between the selves could be envisioned which could result in authentic identities for characters, what sort of form and technique would facilitate this dialectic? A group of early modernist playwrights from various countries and cultures addresses this issue in several ways. From Maxwell Anderson's verse drama Mary of Scotland, to the intensely poetic prose of John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, to Federico Garcia Lorca's poetic realism in The House of Bernarda Alba and to D. H. Lawrence's prose naturalism in The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd--each playwright manipulates realism in service to diverse styles while depending to one degree or another on the image in language or on the stage to convey a psychological reality in which a character can recognize choices for action as s/he moves toward or away from self-realization. In order to recognize how each playwright responds stylistically to the question of identity, this study first examines the nature of poetic language, and more particularly the image as the basic structural entity of stage poetry. Once the dramatic and philosophical functions of the image are considered, we examine its psychological role with respect to the concept of the self. We then discuss how these authors respond to the private versus public self dichotomy by using imagistic elements to enable their characters either to discover or reject authentic identity. Each writer, we find, uses images not only esthetically to illuminate stage language in a poetic fashion, but dramatically to further choices for action, psychologically to motivate characters to make those choices, and symbolically to illustrate the principle of authenticity, thereby reconciling the divided self.