Hymnological Dramaturgy as Escape from Ideology in Horton Foote


  • Robert William Haynes Texas A&M International University




In the 1960s in the United States, ideas often became formulas or slogans, and, as such stripped down ideas tend to do, some of these abstracted ideas, simplified by abbreviation, took on not only the convenience of brevity but also the fatal charm of oversimplification, as though complex issues could be divested of some of their essential internal contradictoriness or the requirement that they be considered properly not only from the basis of selective logic but also from that of experience. In Horton Foote’s plays, screenplays, and teleplays, a central characteristic is the writer’s aversion to such kinds of simplification. Foote’s own background gave him a more philosophic attitude than is compatible with mere intellectual convenience. His rejection of easy rationalization and ill-grounded aesthetic speculation sprang from his impulse to dissociate art from empty abstractions, an impulse particularly manifested in Foote’s frequent invocation of hymns, the simple songs of ordinary people whose spiritual need for comfort is at the heart of this music and its unsophisticated honesty. This article makes a case for the significance of what can be called ‘hymnological dramaturgy’ in Foote’s work. The influence of composer Charles Ives and that of dancer Martha Graham helped shape this author’s artistic purpose, but so, undeniably, did his involvement in the church music of the Texas cotton town in which blacks and whites found common ground in an art quite alien to slogans and superficial cleverness.