Odd items in the newspaper have set many a modern writer to thinking. Matthew Arnold was struck by the brutal phrase, "Wragg is in custody," used by a journal to refer to a woman from a workhouse who had murdered her infant. He opposed its "short, bleak and inhumane" cadence to some sonorously complacent fatuities by two Victorian politicians. Masterworks like Madame Bovary and An American Tragedy have been, in part, set going by their authors' chancing on an article. And much pioneer theatrical Naturalism—early Ibsen like Pillars of Society; Buchner's Woyzeck—had an air of being ripped from newspapers. A freak incident, reported in dry journalese, has sometimes served in centerless times the function of ancient myth—shaping, connecting, and interpreting life.

Nothing novel then in that John Guare, struck by a clipping, has from it fashioned a play,...


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