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Theatre / Beyond the Horizon

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Original 1920 production

Beyond the Horizon is a 1920 play by Eugene O'Neill.

Robert and Andrew Mayo are brothers who grew up together on their family farm. Andrew is a man of the soil who takes after his father James and is being groomed to take over the farm. Robert is bookish and scholarly, was sickly as a child, and has no interest in farming, instead dreaming of going away and seeing the world. Andrew is engaged to marry Ruth, a charming girl who lives on the neighboring farm. However, Robert also loves Ruth, and she loves him, and Ruth dumps Andrew in favor of his brother.

The brothers' uncle is a sea captain, and Robert had planned to follow his dream and see the world by signing up for his uncle's ship. But after Robert and Ruth get together, Robert decides to stay on the farm, as Ruth's mother is an invalid and she doesn't want to go away. Andrew, bitter and hurt over being rejected, takes his brother's place on the ship and goes away to sea. The result is a series of disasters.

Beyond the Horizon was the first full-length play Eugene O'Neill ever wrote, and it won him a Pulitzer Prize for drama. It is, like every other play O'Neill ever wrote, super-depressing.


  • As You Know: Lots of this throughout the play, starting with the opening scenes where exposition explains how Robert was so sickly as a child that he fell behind in school.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Robert and Ruth grow to hate and despise each other. He hates her for trapping him on their dump of a farm, and she hates him for being bad at farming. Her realization that she did love Andrew after all and she made the wrong choice doesn't help.
  • Death by Despair: James's death is attributed to his grief after Andrew left the farm behind and went to sea.
  • Death of a Child: Just to make sure this play is as depressing as possible, Robert and Ruth's little daughter Mary dies.
  • Down on the Farm: A particularly grim example, as life on the farm is presented as a trap. Robert hates it and is terrible at it, and hates Ruth for making him do it. The farm eventually decays into ruin as Robert and Ruth's life descends into hatred and bitterness.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Uncle Dick refers to his boat as "the old hooker".
  • I Have No Son!: "You're no son o' mine", says James as Andrew rejects him and the farm, electing to go off to sea.
  • Sibling Triangle: Robert and Andrew both love Ruth. Things turn out badly.
  • Time Skip: Three years and five years separate the three acts.
  • Title Drop: Robert speaks of his wanderlust a "quest of the secret which is hidden just over there, beyond the horizon."
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Robert and Ruth decide to get married the night before Robert is supposed to go off to sea. Faced with Ruth's rejection, Andrew decides on the spot to go off to sea instead of his brother. The result is tragedy and despair for all concerned, and three ruined lives.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Ruth keeps the letters that Andrew sends from overseas.