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January 12, 1950

“Of course I have a life work,” playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder said at the outset of his lecture on “The Spanish Theatre of the Seventeenth Century,” “but if you want to hear me whistle, just watch me at my hobby!” The hobby was 17th century Spanish drama. Asking his audience in Avery Hall “What makes a great age in the theater,” Patricia Maynard ’52 reported in the Miscellany News, “Mr. Wilder cited the Greek and Elizabethan golden ages to show that such greatness demands not only inspired playwrights, but also imaginative and sensitive audiences, willing to participate in the fantasy of drama. The dramatist must not be forced to urge between clenched teeth, ‘Pretend with me.’” Citing Lope de Vega as the outstanding representative of the age, Wilder characterized the period, reported Ms. Maynard, as one “when theater enjoyed a national interest and the Spanish people welcomed each new play with enthusiasm. Towns fought to obtain the best plays and companies for their annual festivals, and actors were so identified with their parts that they were greeted on the streets by character names. (‘Very different thing from Broadway. Very.’ Mr. Wilder added tersely.)”

Thornton Wilder spoke at Vassar about his second novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), in March 1929, and in November 1931 the Yale Dramatic Association and Vassar’s Philaletheis joined forces to produce the novelist’s first dramatic productions, four one-act plays—“The Long Christmas Dinner,” “The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden,” “Such Things Happen Only in Books” and “Love and How to Cure It”—presented at the Yale University theater in New Haven.

The Years