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Is He Dead?

Is He Dead?: A Comedy in Three Acts

Mark Twain
Edited with Foreword, Afterword, and Notes by Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Illustrations by Barry Moser
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  • Book Info
    Is He Dead?
    Book Description:

    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 ofIs 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."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93989-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Mark Twain wrote this high-spirited romp of a play in the winter of 1898, as he emerged from one of the deepest depressions of his life. It is printed here for the first time.

    The sudden death of Twain’s eldest daughter, Susy, at age twenty-four in August of 1896 had left a gaping hole in his heart. He tried to ease the pain through work, completing his travel bookFollowing the Equatorand starting several other projects.¹ But little that he wrote during this time suited him—“because of the deadness which invaded me when Susy died.”² Grief mingled with...

    (pp. 1-146)
    Mark Twain

    Memorandum. The handsome young gentleman (a bright Yale student) of whom “Chicago” is an attempted copy, was full of animal spirits and energies and activities, and was seldom still, except in his sleep—and never sad, for more than a moment at a time, awake or asleep. He had a singular facility and accuracy in playing (imaginary) musical instruments, and was always working off his superabundant steam in that way. He could thunder off famous classic pieces on the piano (imaginary) so accurately that musical experts couldnamethe pieces. He imitated the flute, the banjo, the fiddle, the guitar,...

  6. Afterword
    (pp. 147-204)

    Mark Twain was fascinated by the theatre all his life—as an avid theatergoer, as a drama critic, as a close friend of actors and theatrical producers, as a sometime actor in family entertainments, as a writer of works others dramatized for the stage, and as a playwright himself.¹

    During his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri, young Sam Clemens was exposed to mock Shakespearean orations and swordfights, minstrel shows, and amateur theatricals. When he left home at age seventeen, he attended his first professional theatre in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Keokuk, Iowa. He wrote his sister that he was...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 205-232)
  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 233-234)