Theatre Critic, Playwright, and Educator Eric Bentley Passes Away at 103

Bentley enjoyed a long and distinguished career as playwright, translator, critic, director, educator, and performing artist.

By: Aug. 05, 2020

Eric Bentley, revered drama critic, translator, playwright, poet, educator and stage director, has passed away at age 103. His passing was confirmed by his son, Philip.

Bentley's criticism is noteworthy for covering practical, aesthetic, and philosophical aspects of theatre, stemming from a belief that art must rescue humanity from meaninglessness, as well as a noted distaste for mainstream theatre, including Broadway.

Bentley studied at the University of Oxford in his native England. His Ph.D. dissertation from Yale University in 1941 was expanded into the book A Century of Hero Worship, reissued as The Cult of the Superman, followed by several other books including Bentley on Brecht.

In 1952, he succeeded Harold Clurman as drama critic for The New Republic. His work has also been featured in The New York Times,The Nation, Theatre Arts, and The Times Literary Supplement in London.

He is the first translator into English of Bertolt Brecht's plays and poems, and he is credited with introducing Brecht's work to American stages in the 1940's and 50's. In Munich in 1950 he worked with Brecht on a production of Brecht's play Mother Courage and her Children. He also directed the German-language premiere of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh.

In The Brecht Memoir, appended to Bentley On Brecht, he details his personal association with Bertolt Brecht. The latter's chief translator and interpreter in the English-speaking world, Mr. Bentley was also editor of the Grove Press's Brecht edition.

From 1948 to 1951 Bentley directed plays in numerous European cities, including Dublin, Zurich, and Padua. In the 1960s, he founded the DMZ, a cabaret dealing in political and social satire.

From 1952 to 1969 he taught at Columbia University as the Brander Matthews Professor of Dramatic Literature, and also taught poetry at Harvard, in addition to teaching positions at the State University of New York, the University of Maryland, the University of California, Black Mountain College, and at the University of Minnesota.

He spoke as part of the Christian Gauss Lectures at Princeton and the Norton Lectures at Harvard.

Three volumes of his plays were published as Rallying Cries, Monstrous Martyrdoms, and The Kleist Variations. Broadway Play Publishing Inc. published four Bentley titles: Round One, Round Two, A Time to Die & A Time to Live, and The Sternheim Trilogy. At least two of his many critical studies are now classics; The Playwright As Thinker and The Life of the Drama.

Bentley became an American citizen in 1948, and was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2011 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him their Gold Medal for his contribution to belles lettres.


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