71 pages 2 hours read

Joseph Kesselring

Arsenic and Old Lace

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1941

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Arsenic and Old Lace

  • Genre: Drama; farcical dark comedy
  • Originally Published: 1941
  • Reading Level/Interest: Adult/College
  • Structure/Length: 3 acts; approx. 96; approx. 2 hours, 44 minutes on audio
  • Protagonist and Central Conflict: When the murderous misdeeds of two spinster sisters, Abby and Martha Brewster, are discovered by their nephew Mortimer, laughable misunderstandings and chaos ensue.
  • Potential Sensitivity Issues: Outdated and insensitive portrayals of mental health conditions

Joseph Kesselring, Author

  • Bio: 1902-1967; American playwright; taught voice and directed productions at Bethel College in Kansas before working in amateur theater in Niagara, New York and beginning a freelance career in playwriting; honored by the National Arts Club with the establishment of an award in his name (the Joseph Kesselring Prize; 1980) to support rising playwrights
  • Other Works: There's Wisdom in Women (1935); “Cross-Town” (1937); Four Twelves are 48 (1951)

CENTRAL THEMES connected and noted throughout this Teaching Unit:

  • Family Loyalty Versus Independence
  • The Absurd Comedy of Contradictions
  • The Endurance and Risks of Love

STUDY OBJECTIVES: In accomplishing the components of this Unit, students will:

  • Develop an understanding of the cultural and historical contexts that incite Mortimer’s conflict.
  • Analyze paired texts and other brief resources to make connections via the text’s themes of Family Loyalty Versus Independence and The Absurd Comedy of Contradictions.
  • Plan and construct a script that conveys dark comedy based on text details.