Robert E. Sherwood: Playwright And Political Architect
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Robert Sherwood’s politicized writing focuses on the American reaction to war in Europe and the rise of European political movements like Communism and Fascism in a time when most Americans felt deeply isolationist and unconcerned with global events. Most of the criticism available on Sherwood approaches his work in terms of his political opinion shifting from pacifism to interventionism. Instead, I take a revisionist stance against these critics in order to examine how the consistencies in his rhetoric shape both his plays and his speechwriting for President Roosevelt during World War II.Looking at the attempts of a playwright to influence public political beliefs helps define the American position on the eve of war and the function that art and theater play in crafting public opinion, particularly in this period of the twentieth century. I argue that despite the contradictory political messages across Sherwood’s career, underneath the propaganda is an appeal to American optimism and human connection that goes unnoticed by theater scholars today. Sherwood’s position as a sculptor of Roosevelt’s voice reveals a moment of American twentieth-century history when art and politics came together through the rhetoric of a playwright and the President.