Eric Bentley

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Eric Bentley
Born Eric Russell Bentley
(1916-09-14) September 14, 1916 (age 101)
Bolton, Lancashire, England
Residence New York City
Occupation Theater critic, scholar, playwright, musician
Years active 1938–present
Known for The Playwright As Thinker (book), The Life of the Drama (book), What Is Theatre? (book), Thirty Years of Treason (editor; book), Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been (play)

Eric Russell Bentley (born September 14, 1916) is a British-born American critic, playwright, singer, editor and translator. In 1998, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame and is a member of the New York Theater Hall of Fame in recognition of his many years of cabaret performances.[1]


Born in Bolton, Lancashire, England, Bentley attended Oxford University, receiving his degree in 1938, and subsequently attended Yale University (B.Litt, 1939 and PhD., 1941), where he received the John Addison Porter Prize.[2]

Beginning in 1953, Bentley taught at Columbia University and simultaneously was a theatre critic for The New Republic. Known for his blunt style of theatre criticism, Bentley incurred the wrath of playwrights Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, both of whom threatened to sue him for his unfavorable reviews of their work. From 1960–1961, Bentley was the Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University.

Bentley is considered one of the preeminent experts on Bertolt Brecht, whom he met at UCLA as a young man and whose works he has translated extensively. He edited the Grove Press issue of Brecht's work, and recorded two albums of Brecht's songs for Folkways Records, most of which had never before been recorded in English.

In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[3]

Bentley was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1969.[4] That same year, he declared his homosexuality. In an interview in the New York Times on November 12, 2006, he claimed he was married twice before coming out at age 53, at which time he left his post as the Brander Matthews Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia to concentrate on writing. He has cited his homosexuality as an influence on his theater work, especially his play Lord Alfred's Lover, based on the life of Oscar Wilde. He won an Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre from the American Theatre Wing in 2006[5], and an Robert Chesley Award in 2007.

Bentley became an American citizen in 1948, and currently lives in New York City. He turned 100 in September 2016.[6]


He has written many critical books, including A Century of Hero-Worship, The Playwright as Thinker, Bernard Shaw, What Is Theatre?, The Life of the Drama, Theatre of War, Brecht Commentaries, and Thinking About the Playwright. In addition, he edited The Importance of Scrutiny (1964), a collection of pieces from Scrutiny: A Quarterly Review, the noted critical periodical, and Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings Before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938–1968 (1971). His most-produced play, 1972's Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been: The Investigations of Show-Business by the Un-American Activities Committee 1947–1958, was based on the transcripts collected in Thirty Years of Treason.[7]

Critical works

  • 1944 A Century of Hero Worship
  • 1946 The Playwright As Thinker
  • 1947 Bernard Shaw
  • 1948 The Modern Theatre
  • 1953 In Search of Theater
  • 1956 What Is Theatre?
  • 1964 The Life of the Drama
  • 1971 Thirty Years of Treason
  • 1972 Theater of War
  • 1981 Brecht Commentaries
  • 1987 Thinking About The Playwright


Recordings by Bentley:[8]

  • 1961 Bertolt Brecht before the Committee on Un-American Activities: An Historical Encounter Folkways Records
  • 1963 "A Man's A Man" by Bertolt Brecht Folkways Records
  • 1964 Songs of Hanns Eisler Folkways Records
  • 1965 Bentley on Brecht: Songs and Poems of Bertolt Brecht Folkways Records
  • 1965 Bertolt Brecht's The Exception and the Rule Folkways Records
  • 1968 The Elephant Calf and Small Comments on Large Themes Folkways Records
  • 1968 Bentley on Biermann: Songs and Poems of Wolf Biermann Folkways Records
  • 1970 Eric Bentley Sings The Queen of 42nd Street Folkways Records

Dramatic works


  1. ^ "Eric Bentley". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  2. ^ Historical Register of Yale University, 1937–1951 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952), p. 80.
  3. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
  4. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Eva C. Schweitzer (2016-12-30). "Übersetzer Eric Bentley "Brecht witterte überall Sabotage und Nazis"" (in German). Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2017-01-21. 
  7. ^ "Eric Bentley", glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture, 2006
  8. ^ Smithsonian Folkways recordings of Eric Bentley
  9. ^ In Monstrous Martyrdoms, p. 11, Bentley mentions the play has been first published in Pirandellian Studies in 1985.

External links

  • Columbia Fetes American Theater Legend Eric Bentley
  • NY Times: Eric Bentley at 90
  • Bentley Discography on Folkways Records
  • Eric Bentley singing "Ballad on the Poet François Villon"
  • "Eric Bentley". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
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