American drama critic George Jean Nathan (1882-1958) wrote in Testament of a Critic (1931):
“Drama.—What literature does at night.”
This short definition of drama has been frequently reprinted in theater books and magazines, but Nathan had used similar language earlier. In his “The Theatre” column in Vanity Fair (1930), Nathan wrote:
“To define drama as what literature does at night is perhaps a half-truth but it is, even in its most unmannerly implications the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth ...”
Wikipedia: George Jean Nathan
George Jean Nathan (February 14, 1882 – April 8, 1958) was an American drama critic and editor. He worked closely with H.L. Mencken, bringing the literary magazine The Smart Set to prominence as an editor, and co-founding and editing The American Mercury.
Volume 34, Issue 4
Pg. 42 (The Theatre by George Jean Nathan):
To define drama as what literature does at night is perhaps a half-truth but it is, even in its most unmannerly implications the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so far as the theatre in Europe goes at the moment and the truth plus so far as the theatre in New York has this season goes up in the writing of this sentence.
Testament of a Critic
By George Jean Nathan
New York, NY: A.A. Knopf
Drama.—What literature does at night.
Google News Archive
4 January 1931, Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, “What 1931 Will Offer In Theater” by Gilbert W. Gabriel, pg. E5, col. 5:
And as the year in which Mr. Nathan summed it all up for all ages with just the following definition: “Drama—What Literature Does at Night.”
A treasury of the world’s great letters from ancient days to our own time, containing the characteristic and crucial communications, and intimate exchanges and cycles of correspondence, of many of the outstanding figures of world history, and some notable contemporaries: selected, edited, and integrated with biographical backgrounds and historical settings and consequences
By Max Lincoln Schuster
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
If the theater is what “literature does at night,” then letters tell what the subjects of autobiography do and think behind closed doors.
The Theatre Quotation Book:
A Treasury of Insights and Insults
By Russell Vandenbroucke
New York, NY: Limelight Editions
Theatre is what literature does at night.
GEORGE JEAN NATHAN
A Treasury of Jewish Quotations
Edited by Joseph L. Baron
Lanham, MD: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
Drama — what literature does at night.
G. J. Nathan, Testament of a Critic, 1931. p. 179
By Boze Hadleigh
New York, NY: Back Stage Books
“Drama [is] what literature does at night.” — critic GEORGE JEAN NATHAN
New York City • Music/Dance/Theatre/Film • Sunday, February 03, 2013 • Permalink