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THE GREAT DIVIDE

a play in three acts by William Vaughn Moody
First performed in 1906

This analysis of The Great Divide was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 260-2.

The Great Divide is a psychological character-study with a Western background during part of the action, and its very antithesis -- New England -- for the rest.

As in King Lear, the first act of this play contains a climactic scene, after which there is a decided fall, a relaxing of dramatic tension, and an explanation. The case comes first, then the discussion and the problem. In Shakespeare's play the action rises again to a still higher pitch of tension; is this so in The Great Divide? William Archer, in Playmaking, criticizes the play because, "after the stirring first act," it "is weakened by our sense that the happy ending is only being postponed by a violent effort. We have been assured from the very first -- even before Ruth Jordan has set eyes on Stephen Ghent -- that just such a rough diamond is the ideal of her dreams ... the author has taken such pains to emphasize the fact that these two people are really made for each other, that the answer to the question is not for a moment in doubt, and we become rather impatient of the obstinate sulkiness of Ruth's attitude." The criticism is just enough, but there is a graver one: not only is the audience impatient as to the psychological development, but the action drags. How could the dramatist have remedied the defect?

It is natural that the prose work of a poet should bear some impress of his feeling for the beauty of language. The style of this play is on the whole literary in the dramatic sense: that is, it is in accordance with the character of the speakers. Into the mouth of the refined Ruth the dramatist has legitimately put many beautiful speeches, but as these are revelatory of her mind and temperament they are not out of place. This sense of literary effect has been admirably combined with the purely theatrical in the first act:

What a lovely night! Who would ever think to call this a desert, this moonlit ocean of flowers? What millions of cactus blooms have opened since yesterday!

And later on; after she sings the three verses of the song:

Be still, you beauties! You'll drive me to distraction with your color and your odor. I'll take a hostage for your good behavior.
(She selects a red flower, puts it in the dark mass of her hair, and looks out at the open door.)
What a scandal the moon is making out there in that great crazy world! Who but me could think of sleeping on such a night?
(She sits down, folds the flowers in her arms, and buries her face in them.)

Add to this the effective contrast of the following scene, and there can remain no doubt that this is the work of a man of the theater.

After such an act there could come only an anti-climax; the explanation and development following the big scene would probably have been much more interesting had it not been for the graphic and exciting first act. How does the author seek to arouse interest and create suspense again? Is the end of the second act sufficiently tense to force the audience to await impatiently the rise of the curtain on the final act? What of the last act itself? Is the happy ending logical? Compare it with the endings of Young Mrs. Winthrop and The Witching Hour.

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