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Beyond the Horizon

Beyond the Horizon, Birthright

robert andrew ruth farm

a three-act tragedy by Eugene O'Neill, first produced in 1920 when it won a Pulitzer Prize. Often regarded as the play which marks the onset of serious modern American drama, Beyond the Horizon is an exploration of the bondage of family life which constrains the ambitions of its central characters. In addition, it offers an early version of a characteristic figure of O'Neill's theatre, the would-be poet whose circumstances confine him to a place and mode of life which frustrates his idealism. The brothers Robert and Andrew Mayo, studies in contrasting types who are bonded by a deep sibling love, grow up on their parents' New England farm: Robert, the dreamer, signs on his uncle's ship seeking to fulfil his dreams of romantic otherness through exploration of the world beyond his immediate horizons, intending Andrew to take over the farm. However, they are both in love with the same woman, Ruth Atkins; just before Robert is to leave, Ruth persuades him to marry her and stay behind, and Andrew sails in his place. The impractical Robert brings the farm to ruin, and his marriage becomes a lifeless ritual, briefly propped up by the birth of a daughter, Mary, who dies in early childhood. Andrew, whose experiences at sea have made him tough and unemotional, finally returns when Robert is dying of consumption. Urged by Robert to marry Ruth and save the farm, Andrew turns on Ruth in a frenzy of bitter repudiation for her failure with Robert. The immediate source of Beyond the Horizon was a play by the Irish writer T. C. Murray, Birthright; in the depiction of Robert and Ruth's marital disharmony, O'Neill also drew on his knowledge of Strindberg's plays. This play provides an early example of the dramatic arena of familial conflict that he would eventually make his own in the history of modern American theatre.

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