For other uses, see A Streetcar Named Desire (disambiguation).
A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1947 play written by American playwright Tennessee Williams that received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. The play opened on Broadway on December 3, 1947, and closed on December 17, 1949, in the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The Broadway production was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter. The London production opened in 1949 with Bonar Colleano, Vivien Leigh, and Renee Asherson and was directed by Laurence Olivier. The drama A Streetcar Named Desire is often regarded as among the finest plays of the 20th century, and is considered by many to be Williams' greatest.[by whom? – Discuss]
After the loss of her family home, Belle Reve, to creditors, Blanche DuBois travels from the small town of Laurel, Mississippi, to the New Orleans French Quarter to live with her younger, married sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski. Blanche is in her thirties and, with no money, she has nowhere else to go.
Blanche tells Stella that she has taken a leave of absence from her English-teaching position because of her nerves (which is later revealed to be a lie). Blanche laments the shabbiness of her sister’s two-room flat. She finds Stanley loud and rough, eventually referring to him as "common". Stanley, in return, does not care for Blanche's manners and dislikes her presence.
Stanley later questions Blanche about her earlier marriage. Blanche had married when she was very young, but her husband died, leaving her widowed and alone. The memory of her dead husband causes Blanche some obvious distress. Stanley, worried that he has been cheated out of an inheritance, demands to know what happened to Belle Reve, once a large plantation and the DuBois family home. Blanche hands over all the documents pertaining to Belle Reve. While looking at the papers, Stanley notices a bundle of letters that Blanche emotionally proclaims are personal love letters from her dead husband. For a moment, Stanley seems caught off guard over her proclaimed feelings. Afterwards, he informs Blanche that Stella is going to have a baby.
The night after Blanche’s arrival, during one of Stanley’s poker parties, Blanche meets Mitch, one of Stanley’s poker player buddies. His courteous manner sets him apart from the other men. Their chat becomes flirtatious and friendly, and Blanche easily charms him; they like each other. Suddenly becoming upset over multiple interruptions, Stanley explodes in a drunken rage and strikes Stella. Blanche and Stella take refuge with the upstairs neighbor, Eunice. When Stanley recovers, he cries out from the courtyard below for Stella to come back by repeatedly calling her name until she comes down and allows herself to be carried off to bed. After Stella returns to Stanley, Blanche and Mitch sit at the bottom of the steps in the courtyard, where Mitch apologizes for Stanley's coarse behavior.
Blanche is bewildered that Stella would go back with him after such violence. The next morning, Blanche rushes to Stella and describes Stanley as a subhuman animal, though Stella assures Blanche that she and Stanley are fine. Stanley overhears the conversation but keeps silent. When Stanley comes in, Stella hugs and kisses him, letting Blanche know that her low opinion of Stanley does not matter.
As the weeks pass, Blanche and Stanley continue to not get along. Blanche has hope in Mitch, and tells Stella that she wants to go away with him and not be anyone’s problem. During a meeting between the two, Blanche confesses to Mitch that once she was married to a young man, Allan Grey, whom she later discovered in a sexual encounter with an older man. Grey later committed suicide when Blanche told him she was disgusted with him. The story touches Mitch, who tells Blanche that they need each other. It seems certain that they will get married.
Later on, Stanley repeats gossip to Stella that he has gathered on Blanche, telling her that Blanche was fired from her teaching job for having sex with a student and that she lived at a hotel known for prostitution (the Flamingo). Stella erupts in anger over Stanley’s cruelty after he states that he has also told Mitch about the rumors, but the fight is cut short as she goes into labor and is sent to the hospital.
As Blanche waits at home alone, Mitch arrives and confronts Blanche with the stories that Stanley has told him. At first she denies everything, but eventually confesses that the stories are true. She pleads for forgiveness, but an angry and humiliated Mitch refuses her the chance at an honorable relationship and attempts to sexually assault her instead. In response, Blanche screams "fire", and he runs away in fright.
Hours before Stella has the baby, Stanley and Blanche are left alone in the apartment. Blanche has descended into a fantasy that an old suitor of hers is coming to provide financial support and take her away from New Orleans. Stanley goes along with the act before angrily scorning Blanche's lies and behavior, and advances toward her; in response, she threatens to glass him, but is overpowered. It is strongly implied that Stanley rapes Blanche, imminently resulting in her psychotic crisis.
Weeks later, at another poker game at the Kowalski apartment, Stella and her neighbor, Eunice, are packing Blanche's belongings. Blanche has suffered a complete mental breakdown and is to be committed to a mental hospital. Although Blanche has told Stella about Stanley's assault, Stella cannot bring herself to believe her sister's story. When a doctor and a matron arrive to take Blanche to the hospital, she initially resists them and collapses on the floor in confusion. Mitch, present at the poker game, breaks down in tears. When the doctor helps Blanche up, she goes willingly with him, saying: "Whoever you are, I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers." The play ends with Stanley continuing to comfort Stella, but also fondling with her blouse, while the poker game continues uninterrupted, as Steve says: "This game is seven-card stud."
Original Broadway production
The original Broadway production was produced by Irene Mayer Selznick. It opened at the Shubert in New Haven shortly before moving to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on December 3, 1947. Selznick originally wanted to cast Margaret Sullavan and John Garfield, but settled on Jessica Tandy and Marlon Brando, who were virtual unknowns at the time. The opening night cast also included Kim Hunter as Stella and Karl Malden as Mitch. Tandy was cast after Williams saw her performance in a West Coast production of his one-act play Portrait of a Madonna. Williams believed that casting Brando, who was young for the part as it was originally conceived, would evolve Kowalski from being a vicious older man to someone whose unintentional cruelty can be attributed to youthful ignorance. Despite its shocking scenes and gritty dialogue, the audience applauded for half an hour after the debut performance ended.Brooks Atkinson, reviewing the opening in The New York Times, described Tandy's "superb performance" as "almost incredibly true," concluding that Williams "has spun a poignant and luminous story." Later in the run, Uta Hagen replaced Tandy, Carmelita Pope replaced Hunter, and Anthony Quinn replaced Brando. Hagen and Quinn took the show on a national tour and then returned to Broadway for additional performances. Early on, when Brando broke his nose, Jack Palance took over his role. Ralph Meeker also took on the part of Stanley both in the Broadway and touring companies. Tandy received a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in 1948, sharing the honor with Judith Anderson's portrayal of Medea and with Katharine Cornell.
Uta Hagen's Blanche on the national tour was directed not by Elia Kazan, who had directed the Broadway production, but by Harold Clurman, and it has been reported, both in interviews by Hagen and observations by contemporary critics, that the Clurman-directed interpretation shifted the focus of audience sympathy back to Blanche and away from Stanley (where the Kazan version had located it). This was the original conception of the play, and has been reflected in subsequent revivals.
The original Broadway production closed, after 855 performances, in 1949.
Original London production
The London production, directed by Laurence Olivier, opened on October 12, 1949, and starred Bonar Colleano, Vivien Leigh, and Renee Asherson.
Bette Bourne and Paul Shaw of the British gay theater company, Bloolips, and Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver of the American lesbian theater company, Split Britches, collaborated and performed a gender-bent production of Belle Reprieve, a twisted adaption of Streetcar. “This theatrical piece creates a Brechtian,” “epic drama” that relies on the reflective rather than emotional involvement of the audience—a “commentary on the sexual roles and games in Williams’s text.” Blanche was played by Bette Bourne as “man in a dress," Stanley was played by Peggy Shaw as a “butch lesbian,” Mitch was played by Paul Shaw as a “fairy disguised as a man,” and Stella was played by Lois Weaver as a “woman disguised as a woman.”
The first all-black production of Streetcar was likely performed by the Summer Theatre Company at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, in August 1953 and directed by one of Williams's former classmates at Iowa, Thomas D. Pawley, as noted in the Streetcar edition of the "Plays in Production" series published by Cambridge University Press. The black and cross-gendered productions of Streetcar since the mid-1950s are too numerous to list here.
Tallulah Bankhead, for whom Williams had originally written the role of Blanche, starred in a 1956 New York City Center Company production directed by Herbert Machiz.
The first Broadway revival of the play was in 1973. It was produced by the Lincoln Center, at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, and starred Rosemary Harris as Blanche, James Farentino as Stanley and Patricia Conolly as Stella.
The Simpsons did an episode, A Streetcar Named Marge, in which the play was featured. Ned Flanders and Marge took the leading roles as Stanley and Blanche, respectively.
The Spring 1988 revival at the Circle in the Square Theatre starred Aidan Quinn opposite Blythe Danner as Blanche and Frances McDormand as Stella.
A highly publicized revival in 1992 starred Alec Baldwin as Stanley and Jessica Lange as Blanche. It was staged at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, the same theatre that the original production was staged in. This production proved so successful that it was filmed for television. It featured Timothy Carhart as Mitch and Amy Madigan as Stella, as well as future Sopranos stars James Gandolfini and Aida Turturro. Gandolfini was Carhart's understudy.
In 1997, Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre in New Orleans mounted a 50th Anniversary production, with music by the Marsalis family, starring Michael Arata and Shelly Poncy. In 2009, the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, where the original pre-Broadway tryout occurred, began a production of the play for its 200th anniversary season.
The 2005 Broadway revival was directed by Edward Hall and produced by The Roundabout Theater Company. It starred John C. Reilly as Stanley, Amy Ryan as Stella, and Natasha Richardson as Blanche. The production would mark Natasha Richardson's final appearance on Broadway owing to her death in 2009 in a skiing accident.
The Sydney Theatre Company production of A Streetcar Named Desire premiered on September 5 and ran until October 17, 2009. This production, directed by Liv Ullmann, starred Cate Blanchett as Blanche, Joel Edgerton as Stanley, Robin McLeavy as Stella and Tim Richards as Mitch.
From July 2009 until October 2009, Rachel Weisz and Ruth Wilson starred in a highly acclaimed revival of the play in London's West End at the Donmar Warehouse directed by Rob Ashford.
In November 2010, an Oxford University student production was staged at the Oxford Playhouse which sold out and was critically acclaimed.
In April 2012, Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Wood Harris starred in a multiracial adaptation at the Broadhurst Theatre. Theatre review aggregator Curtain Critic gave the production a score of 61 out of 100 based on the opinions of 17 critics.
A production at the Young Vic, London, opened on July 23, 2014, and closed on September 19, 2014. Directed by Benedict Andrews and starring Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster, Vanessa Kirby and Corey Johnson; this production garnered critical acclaim and is the fastest selling show ever produced by the Young Vic. On September 16, 2014, the performance was relayed live to over one thousand cinemas in the UK as part of the National Theatre Live project to broadcast the best of British theatre live from the London stage to cinemas across the UK and around the world. Thus far, the production has been screened in over 2000 venues. From April 23, 2016 till June 4, 2016, the production was reprised at the new St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York City.
In 2016 Sarah Frankcom directed a production at the Royal Exchange in Manchester starring Maxine Peake, Ben Batt, Sharon Duncan Brewster and Youssef Kerkour. It opened on 8 September and closed on 15 October. It was critically well received with Peake's performance in particular singled out for praise.
Main article: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951 film)
In 1951, a film adaptation of the play, directed by Elia Kazan, with Malden, Brando, and Hunter reprising their Broadway roles, joined by Vivien Leigh from the London production for the part of Blanche. The movie won four Academy Awards, including three acting awards (Leigh for Best Actress, Malden for Best Supporting Actor and Hunter for Best Supporting Actress), the first time a film won three out of four acting awards (Brando was nominated for Best Actor but lost). Jessica Tandy was the only lead actor from the original Broadway production not to appear in the 1951 film. References to Allan Grey's sexual orientation are essentially removed, due to Motion Picture Production Code restrictions. Instead, the reason for his suicide is changed to a general "weakness". The ending itself was also slightly altered. Stella does not remain with Stanley, as she does in the play.
Pedro Almodóvar's 1999 Academy Award-winning film, All About My Mother, features a Spanish-language version of the play being performed by some of the supporting characters and the play itself plays an important role in the film. However, some of the film's dialogue is taken from the 1951 film version, not the original stage version.
The 1973 Woody Allen film Sleeper includes a late scene in which Miles (Woody) and Luna (Diane Keaton) briefly take on the roles of Stanley (Luna) and Blanche (Miles).
It was noted by many critics that the 2013 Academy Award-winning Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine had much in common with Streetcar and is most likely a loose adaptation. It shares a very similar plot and characters, although it has been suitably updated for modern film audiences.
In 2015, Gillian Anderson directed and starred in a short film prequel to A Streetcar Named Desire, titled The Departure. The short film was written by the novelist Andrew O'Hagan and is part of Young Vic's short film series, which was produced in collaboration with The Guardian.
In 1995, an opera was adapted and composed by André Previn with a libretto by Philip Littell. It had its premiere at the San Francisco Opera during the 1998–99 season, and featured Renée Fleming as Blanche.
A 1952 ballet production with choreography by Valerie Bettis, which Mia Slavenska and Frederic Franklin's Slavenska-Franklin Ballet debuted at Her Majesty's Theatre in Montreal, featured the music of Alex North, who had composed the music for the 1951 film.
Another ballet production was staged by John Neumeier in Frankfurt in 1983. Music included Visions fugitives by Prokofiev and Alfred Schnittke's First Symphony.
In the mid 2000s, another production was staged by Winthrop Corey, then Artistic Director of Mobile Ballet mobileballet.org
In 2012, Scottish Ballet collaborated with theatre and film director Nancy Meckler and international choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa to create a new staging of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Main articles: A Streetcar Named Desire (1984 film) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1995 film)
In 1955, the television program Omnibus featured Jessica Tandy reviving her original Broadway performance as Blanche, with her husband, Hume Cronyn, as Mitch. It aired only portions of the play that featured the Blanche and Mitch characters.
The multi-Emmy Award-winning 1984 television version featured Ann-Margret as Blanche, Treat Williams as Stanley, Beverly D'Angelo as Stella and Randy Quaid as Mitch. It was directed by John Erman and the teleplay was adapted by Oscar Saul. The music score by composed by Marvin Hamlisch. Ann-Margret, D'Angelo and Quaid were all nominated for Emmy Awards, but none won. However, it did win four Emmys, including one for cinematographerBill Butler. Ann-Margret won a Golden Globe award for her performance and Treat Williams was nominated for Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie.
A 1995 television version was based on the highly successful Broadway revival that starred Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. However, only Baldwin and Lange were from the stage production. The TV version added John Goodman as Mitch and Diane Lane as Stella. This production was directed by Glenn Jordan. Baldwin, Lange and Goodman all received Emmy Award nominations. Lange won a Golden Globe award (for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie), while Baldwin was nominated for Best Actor, but did not win.
In 1998, PBS aired a taped version of the opera adaptation that featured the original San Francisco Opera cast. The program received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Classical Music/Dance Program.
Main article: Streetcars in New Orleans § Historic lines
The Desire Line ran from 1920 to 1948, at the height of streetcar use in New Orleans. The route ran down Royal, through the Quarter, to Desire Street in the Bywater district, and back up to Canal. Blanche's route in the play—"They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!"—is allegorical, taking advantage of New Orleans's colorful street names: the Desire line itself crossed Elysian Fields Avenue on its way to Canal Street. There, one could transfer to the Cemeteries line, which ran along Canal, blocks away from Elysian Fields.
The character of Blanche is thought to be based on Williams' sister, Rose Williams, who struggled with mental health issues and became incapacitated after a lobotomy.
Theatre critic and former actress Blanche Marvin, a friend of Williams, says the playwright used her name for the character Blanche DuBois, named the character's sister Stella after Marvin's former surname "Zohar" (which means "Star"), and took the play's line "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers" from something she said to him.
"A Streetcar Named Success"
"A Streetcar Named Success" is an essay by Tennessee Williams about art and the artist's role in society. It is often included in paper editions of A Streetcar Named Desire. A version of this essay first appeared in The New York Times on November 30, 1947, four days before the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire. Another version of this essay, entitled "The Catastrophe of Success", is sometimes used as an introduction to The Glass Menagerie.
Awards and nominations
- 1948 New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play
- 1948 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play – Jessica Tandy
- 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
- 1992 Theater World Award for Best Actress in a Play – Jessica Lange
- 2010 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Play – Rachel Weisz
- 2010 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play - Ruth Wilson
- 1988 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
- 1988 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play – Frances McDormand
- 1988 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play – Blythe Danner
- 1992 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play – Alec Baldwin
- 2005 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play – Amy Ryan
- 2005 Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play
- 2005 Tony Award for Best Lighting Design of a Play
- 2010 Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play
- 2015 Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play
- 2015 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Play – Gillian Anderson
On October 1, 2009, Swann Galleries auctioned an unusually fine copy of A Streetcar Named Desire, New York, 1947, signed by Williams and dated 1976 for $9,000, a record price for a signed copy of the play.
- ^ abcdWilliams, Tennessee (1995). A Streetcar Named Desire. Introduction and text. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers.
- ^ abcdProduction notes. December 3, 1947—December 17, 1949
- ^December 3, This Day In History Calendar (2008). Sourcebooks, Inc.
- ^Brooks Atkinson, "First Night at the Theatre", New York Times, December 4, 1947.
- ^Geis, Deborah. “Deconstructing (A Streetcar Named) Desire: Gender Recitation in Belle Reprieve”. Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works. Ed. Sharon Friedman. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2009. 237-246. Print.
- ^Barnes, Clive (April 27, 1973). "A Rare 'Streetcar'; Fresh Approach Taken at Vivian Beaumont". The New York Times. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
- ^Production notes. March 10 – May 22, 1988.
- ^Production notes. April 12—August 9, 1992.
- ^Production notes. April 26–July 3, 2005.
- ^"A Streetcar Named Desire". SydneyTheatre.com.au. Sydney Theatre Company. Archived from the original on June 14, 2011. Retrieved June 21, 2011.
- ^"OTR reviews A Streetcar Named Desire at Oxford Playhouse". Oxford Theatre Review. July 26, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
- ^"Blair Underwood On Stanley, Stella And 'Streetcar'". National Public Radio. May 1, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2012.
- ^"A Streetcar Named Desire". Curtain Critic. Retrieved June 21, 2012.
- ^"What's on: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams", Young Vic.
- ^"Young Vic – A Streetcar Named Desire, National Theatre Live.
- ^Nick Curtis (December 3, 2014). "Gillian Anderson: Self destruction is my default mode". Evening Standard. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
- ^"St. Ann's Warehouse - A Young Vic & Joshua Andrews Co-Production". St. Ann's Warehouse. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
- ^"Maxine Peake stalks to the heart of Blanche DuBois". theguardian.com. Retrieved 23 September 2016.
- ^Cohan, Steven (1997). Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-253-21127-1. Retrieved July 11, 2008.
- ^"Movie Review: Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine Is Perhaps His Cruelest-Ever Film". Vanity Fair. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
- ^"Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen's excellent homage to A Streetcar Named Desire". Tri-city Herald. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
- ^Wiegand, Chris (February 5, 2015). "Gillian Anderson goes back to Blanche for prequel to A Streetcar Named Desire". The Guardian. Retrieved October 6, 2016.
- ^Kolin, Philip C. (2000). Williams: A Streetcar named Desire. Cambridge University Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-521-62610-1.
- ^"A Streetcar Named Desire"Archived October 12, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Scottish Ballet
- ^Clark, Nick (July 27, 2014). "Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'". The Independent. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
Stanley as an avatar of Dionysus
The myth of Dionysus is one of the archetypal foundations of Williams’s work. The Rose Tatoo written three years after Streetcar, is his most overt tribute to the ancient god. In “The Meaning of The Rose Tatoo,” Williams celebrates “the Dionysian element in human life” (Williams 1986, 55). The epigraph of the play is taken from Saint-John-Perse’s Anabasis—translated by T. S Eliot—and ends with the words: “this world has more beauty than a ram’s skin painted red” (Williams I 1971, 257). Interestingly, the quotation was also used as an epigraph for the manuscript The Primary Colors before being replaced by the lines from Hart Crane in the final version of Streetcar. The ram is one of Dionysus’s many animal symbols. As Judith Thompson first demonstrated, Stanley Kowalski is endowed with the many mythic attributes of Dionysus, the primitive Asian fertility god become the Greek god of wine, liberation and sexual ecstasy, who represented the amoral, irresistible force of nature (Thompson 43-44).
Dionysus was associated with hunting. His savage bloodlust was reflected in his cult, whose orgiastic rites often culminated in the collective dismemberment of animal or even human victims whose flesh was eaten raw (sparagmos and omophagia). This is precisely the first image we have of Stanley, when he throws Stella his “red-stained package” (Williams I, 1971, 244). In the published version of the play the meat comes from the butcher’s, but in earlier drafts, the association of Stanley with hunting and with death was more obviously emphasized. Blanche once asked what was in the package, saying to Stella: “I had a horrible notion it was part of some—dismembered body.” Her sister then replied: “He brought home squirrels” (Dickson 165-66). In the final version, although she has not seen his first entrance, Blanche still calls him “Stanley Kowalski—survivor of the Stone Age! Bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle!” (4, 323).
The eating of raw flesh is the clearest sign of the god’s archaic animal nature, Dionysus being the divinity of the Greek pantheon who most often assumed animal forms. Likewise, Stanley’s bestiality is stigmatized by Blanche, who says to her sister: “There’s something downright bestial—about him! … He acts like an animal, has an animal’s habit! Eats like one, moves like one, talks like one!” (Williams I 1971, 323). Stella herself berates her husband on the Poker Night: “Drunk—drunk—animal thing, you” (Williams I, 1971, 303). In the last scene of the play, Mitch’s outburst can also be interpreted as an indictment of his friend’s animal nature “You…you….you… Brag….brag…bull…bull…bull!” (Williams I, 1971, 404). The bull and the goat were Dionysus’s favourite incarnations, which is why they were often offered up to him as sacrifices by his followers. Appropriately, Stanley is a Capricorn, born under the sign of the Goat, as Blanche finds out in scene 5 (Williams I, 1971, 328). Steve Hubbel, his comic double is also compared with this animal in the stage directions of the same scene, after his reconciliation with his wife, Eunice: “STEVE bounds after her with goat-like screeches and chases her around corner” (Williams I, 1971, 336). It is relevant to note that a roving goat also features prominently in The Rose Tattoo as a symbol of the Dionysian spirit. As emblems of phallic potency, the goat and the bull reveal an essential dimension of the Greek god of fertility. Like Dionysus, Stanley is described by Williams as the epitome of phallic potency in the first stage-directions: full of “animal joy,” with “the power and pride of a richly-feathered male bird among hens,” he is “the gaudy seed-bearer” (Williams I, 1971, 264-65). Stanley’s taste for the bottle confirms his association with the god of drink. His preference for beer adds to the character’s phallic stature: in the rape scene, to celebrate the birth of his child, Stanley sends up an ejaculatory “geyser of foam” (Williams I, 1971, 295).
Stanley’s sensuality endows him with a hypnotic hold on Stella. This is reminiscent of Dionysus’ power to put women into a trance—the Greek mania which sent the ecstatic maenads roving outside the city limits, causing them to abandon home and hearth to follow the god of madness. After a night of lovemaking, Stella has an attitude of “almost narcotized tranquillity” (Williams I, 1971, 310). Her desire for Stanley appears uncontrollable. She goes back to him on the night of the Poker game after being beaten, which seems “insane” to Blanche (Williams I, 1971, 311). Stella confessed her addiction to her husband in scene 1: “When he is away for a week I nearly go wild!” (Williams I, 1971, 259). Stella has left Belle Reve to make her life with a travelling salesman who is “on the road a good deal” (Williams I, 1971, 259), just as Stanley’s divine prototype was an itinerant god. If she waits for him at home, her marrying into a lower social class and settling into Elysian Fields transposes the wanderlust which used to send the god’s female followers into the wilderness:
I pulled you down off them columns and how you loved it, having them coloured lights going! And wasn’t we happy together, wasn’t it all okay till she showed here!
Dionysus was a god of paradoxes, who could be the most gentle and yet the most terrible of divinities. Likewise, his avatar is described as “a powder keg,” one moment destroying everything in sight and “good as a lamb” in the next (Williams I, 1971, 312). The god brought ecstatic bliss to his worshippers but hunted his enemies down with the utmost ferocity. This duality is dramatized in Euripides’s Bacchae, which, as Judith Thompson demonstrated, is a structural analogue of Streetcar.
The Bacchae as a structural paradigm
Williams studied Greek at the University of Washington. His letters show that he read all of Sophocles’ plays in 1936 (Leverich 183) and probably also discovered Euripides’ play about Dionysus at that time. The Bacchae illustrates the ancient link between theatre and myth, in so far as myth can be defined as a story about gods or exemplary figures, narrating events of a time before or beyond history and periodically re-enacted. The conflict between Stanley and Blanche is reminiscent of Dionysus’ ruthless revenge on the King of Thebes in Euripides’ play. Both King Pentheus and Blanche—whom Stanley ironically calls “Her Majesty” in scene 7 (Williams I, 1971, 358), before mocking her “crazy crown” during the rape scene (Williams I, 1971, 398)—deny the necessity of accepting their own animal passions, personified by their antagonists. Just as Pentheus scorns as a foreigner the god whose salacious influence is corrupting the Theban women, Blanche demeans Stanley, calling him “subhuman” (Williams I, 1971, 323) and a “Polack” (Williams I, 1971, 262). But Stanley prides himself on being “one-hundred-per-cent American” (Williams I, 1971, 374), in the same way as Dionysus claimed to be Theban, since his mother was born in Thebes. Both Dionysus and Stanley exact their vengeance by denouncing their opponent’s hypocritical pretensions, humiliating them and exposing their animal natures.
Like in The Bacchae where “the conflict between Dionysus and Pentheus is structured as a hunt in which the roles of hunter and hunted are reversed midway through the play” (Thompson 40), Blanche initially appears to have the upper hand, taking over Stanley’s flat, and making allies of Stella and Mitch just as the Theban king seems to overcome his enemy. Blanche’s luck is soon to run out however. From scene 5 to the end of the play, Stanley relentlessly stalks his prey to exact a pitiless revenge on Blanche, exposing her past and ruining her hopes. The fourth episode of Euripides’ tragedy is a possible hypotext of Streetcar’s tragic catastrophe. In The Bacchae, Pentheus’ reason is finally overcome by the god’s mania. Misled by strange visions, he is persuaded by Dionysus to disguise himself as a maenad to join the women of Thebes and spy on their revelries. He is finally torn apart and devoured by the bacchae. Blanche’s mind is also unhinged in scene 10. Dressed up in a ball gown and tiara, she is the victim of visual and auditory hallucinations. Her mental collapse after the rape can be seen as the psychic equivalent of the king’s dismemberment—especially since the idea of fragmentation is conveyed symbolically by her shattered mirror (Thompson 45). The Dionysian ritual of sparagmos is thus transposed into schizophrenia, a term which derives from the Greek verb “to split.” Blanche’s neurosis and her psychic dissociation spring from her repressed sensuality and from the denial of her primitive instincts—although she despises Stanley’s bestiality, she is also associated with wild, predatory animals such as a tiger, a fox, a tarantula or even a shark  Stanley calls Blanche a tiger during the rape scene.... In Jungian psychology, Dionysus embodies the shadow side of Greek civilization which, while priding itself on its rationality, also allowed for the cathartic release of powerful archaic impulses through ritual. This is what Aristotle makes clear in his analysis of the effect of tragedy, which is thought to have evolved from the cult of Dionysus. Thus, the dramatic agon between Blanche and Stanley represents an externalization of her own inner division: the struggle between the brutal desires of the flesh and the transcendent yearnings of the soul. In mythic terms, it is the conflict between the Orphic and the Dionysian, which is an archetypal dramatic situation in Williams’s plays. It is for instance at the heart of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, where Maggie the Cat embodies the Dionysian life-force, while her husband Brick, dressed in white, like Blanche, is an avatar of Orpheus, haunted by his past and by a nostalgia for purity.