Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William W. Demastes


Theories of modern drama point out the powerful sense of loss and alienation that is woven into the very fabric of modern drama. This sense of loss is connected with the death of God and the destruction of absolute value systems. This study, however, takes the theory of loss one step further, tying the absence of God in modern drama to the absence of the father. The psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Carl Jung view the father as a disembodied presence standing above and outside of culture. These psychological theories of the father can be connected to the theories of the Cambridge Ritualists, who see drama as arising out of the primitive rituals that reenact the dying and rebirth of a fertility god. Applying both sets of theories, one can see how the absent father standing behind the absent or dying god becomes an imposing figure in drama. This all-encompassing father figure emerges in modern drama as an absent character, talked about but never seen. His absence, the source of profound mourning, propels a quest to restore him to presence, a quest which leads to self-destruction. Clearly, one phase of modern drama is haunted by the residual presence of the absent father. In this type of drama, the absent father not only controls the dynamics of the plot but also influences the trajectory of the other characters. Through multiple reconstructions of the absent father in the discourse of the other characters, he is projected onto all aspects of the dramatic milieu. As a propelling force, he presents the origin of the drama, initiates the quest, spawns imitators or doubles who trace his path, and becomes the ultimate goal of a destructive quest. The quest for the absent father will be examined in its classical roots and in modern drama using selected works from the following dramatists: Sophocles, Aeschylus, William Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, David Rabe, Marsha Norman, Beth Henley, Peter Shaffer, John Pielmeier, John Osborne, Athol Fugard, and Caryl Churchill.