Lazarus Laughed

Lazarus Laughed

"Lazarus Laughed" is a play by Eugene O'Neill written in 1925. Its sub-title was "A Play for Imaginative Theatre". It is a long theo-philosophical meditation with more than a hundred actors making up a masked chorus. In theatrical format, "Lazarus Laughed" appears to be a Greek tragedy. But the underlying message is similar to the mystery plays from the Middle Ages. O'Neill's play, "The Great God Brown", can be considered as an introduction to this play. [Winther, Sophus Keith, "Eugene O'Neill: A Critical Study", cf. chapter IV, "The Pagan Way of Life", pp. 95-113.]


The story is a revelation of what O'Neill believes about the events following the raising of Lazarus of Bethany from the dead by Jesus.

Being that Lazarus was the first man to return from dead, a realm whose boundary is never to be crossed back over, the crowd listens intently to his words. He says to them that there is no death – only God’s eternal laughter.

This is the basis of the play. The subsequent scenes portray a series of tests (perhaps similar to those trials of Job) by the Jews, Romans and Greeks to try the faith of Lazarus. Consequently, members of his family are taken from him, but Lazarus continues always to laugh, even to the very end, when the Roman Emperor Tiberius burns him at the stake.

Acts and Scenes

*Act One, Scenes One and Two take place in Bethany.
*Act Two, Scene One takes place in Athens. Scene Two is in Rome.
*Act Three, Scenes One and Two are in Tiberius' palace.
*Act Four, Scene One is still in Tiberius' palace. Scene Two is in the interior of a Roman theatre.

Production history

Since the play was first published, it has hardly ever been produced in major theatre venues. The Pasadena Community Playhouse (Pasadena Community Players) staged the only major production of it, and its world premiere, in 1928, with 151 actors and 420 roles. [ [ Review of "Lazarus Laughed"] , Pasadena Community Playhouse, April 09, 1928 in Billboard, April 21, 1928, by H.O. Stechan] [ [ Program from the premiere 1928 Pasasdena production of "Lazarus Laughed"] ] [Wainscott, Ronald H., "Staging O'Neill". Cf. Chapter X, "Dithyrambs: Marco Millions and Lazarus Laughed", pp. 201-227, for a description of the staging of "Lazarus Laughed".]


*"Tragic is the plight of the tragedian whose only audience is himself! Life is for each man a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors. Terrified is Caligula by the faces he makes! But I tell you to laugh in the mirror, that seeing your life gay, you may begin to live as a guest, and not as a condemned one!" -- Act II, Scene I.



* Bogard, Travis, [ "Contour in Time"] , New York: Oxford University Press, 1972, Revised Edition, 1988. [ Chapter on "Lazarus Laughed"] , Chapter VII, The Triumvirate, 2 (1921-1926). An Excerpt follows below.

Lazarus Laughed is a play which answers in all particulars to this faith. It attempts to visualize with intensity a religious spirit that O’Neill had perceived dimly all his life. Lazarus, characterized early in the play as a man who in life was nothing but a bungling farmer, is reminiscent of Robert Mayo, but now transformed and exalted by his journey beyond the farthest horizon. Caligula, deformed, ape-like in his antics, is a distillation of other spiritually deformed characters with whom O’Neill has been concerned—the Hairy Ape, Marco, with his spiritual hump, the capering Billy Brown. Tiberius Caesar, Pompeia and Miriam also bring into sharp focus in a specifically religious context human characteristics in which, earlier, O’Neill has sensed a "faint indication" of spirit.

*cite journal | author = Clark, Barrett H. | year = 1932 | month = November | title = Aeschylus and O'Neill | journal = The English Journal | volume = XXI | issue = 9 | pages = 699–710 | url = | doi = 10.2307/804473 | format = Dead link|date=June 2008 – [ Scholar search] Cf. p.700 and onwards for "Lazarus Laughed" commentary.

In "Lazarus Laughed", however, we have a positive and joyous assertion of the will to live, a proclamation made by an idealistic prophet who is tortured by no doubts, a man so sure of his message that he has actually banished death from his world; but O'Neill took care to put this prophet into a world two thousand years younger than it is now. "Lazarus Laughed" is not life; it is the playwright's dream between an earlier and later hell on earth.

*cite book | author=Floyd, Virginia. (editor) | title=Eugene O'Neill: A World View| publisher=Frederick Unger | year=1979 | id=ISBN 0-8044-2204-4 Cf pp.255-256 on Lazarus Laughed, in the chapter "O'Neill, the Humanist" by Esther M. Jackson.

*cite book | author=Floyd, Virginia. | title= The Plays of Eugene O'Neill: A New Assessment| publisher=Frederick Unger | year=1985 | id=ISBN 0-8044-2206-0 Cf. pp.319-333, on "Lazarus Laughed", in Chapter 2, "The Mariner's Horizon: Experimental Plays and Maturation".

*cite book | author=Wainscott, Ronald H. | title=Staging O'Neill: The Experimental Years| publisher=Yale University Press | year=1988 | id=ISBN 0-300-04152-7

*cite book | author=Winther, Sophus Keith. | title=Eugene O'Neill: A Critical Study| publisher=Random House| year=1934

External links

* [ Text of "Lazarus Laughed" online]
* [ Wei, Wei Wu] , [ "Why Lazarus Laughed: The Essential Doctrine Zen-Advaita-Tantra"] , Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., London, 1960. [] An interesting book title with a play on words of the title of O'Neill's play.

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