Cover image for Is he dead? : a comedy in three acts
Is he dead? : a comedy in three acts
Twain, Mark, 1835-1910.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xii, 233 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm.
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PS1322 .I7 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS1322 .I7 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS1322 .I7 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Grosvenor Room-Rare Books-Appointment Needed

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The University of California Press is delighted to announce the new publication of this three-act play by one of America's most important and well-loved writers. A highly entertaining comedy that has never appeared in print or on stage, Is He Dead? is finally available to the wide audience Mark Twain wished it to reach. Written in 1898 in Vienna as Twain emerged from one of the deepest depressions of his life, the play shows its author's superb gift for humor operating at its most energetic. The text of Is He Dead?, based on the manuscript in the Mark Twain Papers, appears here together with an illuminating essay by renowned Mark Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin and with Barry Moser's original woodcut illustrations in a volume that will surely become a treasured addition to the Mark Twain legacy.

Richly intermingling elements of burlesque, farce, and social satire with a wry look at the world market in art, Is He Dead? centers on a group of poor artists in Barbizon, France, who stage the death of a friend to drive up the price of his paintings. In order to make this scheme succeed, the artists hatch some hilarious plots involving cross-dressing, a full-scale fake funeral, lovers' deceptions, and much more.

Mark Twain was fascinated by the theater and made many attempts at playwriting, but this play is certainly his best. Is He Dead? may have been too "out there" for the Victorian 1890s, but today's readers will thoroughly enjoy Mark Twain's well-crafted dialogue, intriguing cast of characters, and above all, his characteristic ebullience and humor. In Shelley Fisher Fishkin's estimation, it is "a champagne cocktail of a play--not too dry, not too sweet, with just the right amount of bubbles and buzz."

Author Notes

Mark Twain was born Samuel L. Clemens in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. He worked as a printer, and then became a steamboat pilot. He traveled throughout the West, writing humorous sketches for newspapers. In 1865, he wrote the short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which was very well received. He then began a career as a humorous travel writer and lecturer, publishing The Innocents Abroad in 1869, Roughing It in 1872, and, Gilded Age in 1873, which was co-authored with Charles Dudley Warner. His best-known works are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mississippi Writing: Life on the Mississippi, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The theater was the acme of pop-cultural aspiration in the nineteenth century, and few writers pursued peak popularity more ardently than Twain did. Of his several plays, only the first, built around a character created for a novel, was a hit. His hopes were high for the last, however, loaded as it was with proven come-ons: a major man-in-drag character a la the era's biggest hit, Charley's Aunt; a setup--the debt-with-impossible-deadline owed an oily creditor--typical of boffo-BO melodramas of the time; idiotic musical interruptions a la the rising musical-theater mode, vaudeville; and as protagonist, the most famous artist of the century, Francois Millet, whose The Angelus was the first "million-dollar painting." Sound like a hodgepodge? It is. Yet, sparked by enough over-the-top humor, it is laugh-aloud funny to read. It probably won't fly onstage today, though, as editor Fishkin, whose informative afterword is itself practically worth the price of admission, seems to think. The pilots it needs--the Marx Brothers and W. C. Fields--are long gone. --Ray Olson Copyright 2003 Booklist

Choice Review

Including excellent fore- and afterwords and notes by Fishkin (Stanford), this first edition of "Is He Dead?" is based on a text established by the Mark Twain Project. Although Twain had great hopes for the play's success, it has never been performed on stage, even though during his lifetime Twain made several attempts to convince Bram Stoker, Charles Frohman, and others that the play could be very popular. "Is He Dead?" is a spirited romp through the pretentious European art salons, featuring critics, tour guides, and exploiters. Greedy art dealers and artists surrounding the great Jean Francois Millet contest to benefit from the artist's work. The satire is great fun, including a Millet in drag, his pretended death (in order to jack up the value of his paintings), and lots of inspired skullduggery as the artists and students defeat the deceitful art dealers and salon groupies. The play smacks of the fun and artistry of Huck Finn and Pudd'nhead Wilson. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All collections. D. R. Stoddard emeritus, Strayer University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Is He Dead?Mark Twain