Francis Fergusson

Francis Fergusson (1904–1986) was a Harvard and Oxford-educated teacher and critic, a theorist of drama and mythology who wrote The Idea of a Theater, (Princeton, 1949) arguably the best and most influential book about drama written by an American. His readable, illuminating edition of Aristotle's Poetics (Hill and Wang, 1961), with Fergusson's introduction and notes, remains in print. His other works include Dante's Drama of the Mind: A Modern Reading of the Purgatorio, which includes his translations of many passages. In The Rarer Action (Rutgers, 1970), a volume in tribute to Francis Fergusson, the critic Allen Tate wrote: "The Idea of a Theater" is a work comparable in range and depth with Eric Auerbach's "Mimesis". There is no other work by an American critic of which this can be said."[This quote needs a citation]

Born in New Mexico, he attended Harvard University, where he befriended future physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.[1] He then received a Rhodes Scholarship and studied briefly at Oxford University before traveling to France where he befriended Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company. Returning to New York City, he took acting classes with the Polish director Richard Boleslavski and wrote drama criticism for the Herald Tribune. In the early 1930s he founded the drama division of the then new Bennington College in southwestern Vermont. After nearly a decade at Bennington, he moved on to teach at the University of Indiana and then at Rutgers University, where he taught comparative literature. Among his students were poet Robert Pinsky[2] and fiction writer Alan Cheuse.


  • Fergusson, Francis. 1949. The Idea of a Theater: A Study of Ten Plays, The Art of Drama in a Changing Perspective. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1968. ISBN 0-691-01288-1.
  • Trope and Allegory: Themes Common to Dante and Shakespeare
  • Dante's Drama of the Mind: A Modern Reading of the Purgatorio
  • Literary Landmarks: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Literature
  • Sallies of the Mind
  • Shakespeare: The Pattern in His Carpet
  • "Introduction" to Aristotle's Poetics
  • Francis Fergusson and Harold Clurman, “On the 'Poetics',” Tulane Drama Review 4.4 (1960): 23-32.


  1. ^ Bird, K.; Sherwin, M.J. (2006). American Prometheus: The Triumph And Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 39. ISBN 978-0375726262.
  2. ^ Downing, Ben and Kunitz, Daniel. "Robert Pinsky, The Art of Poetry No. 76" Paris Review (Fall 1997)