As Hamlet is to Shakespeare, so is Salesman to Miller. It’s the play that people associate foremost with him, due to its deep impact on postwar American theater and flat-out perfection in terms of construction and climax. Traveling salesman Willie Loman consoles himself and his sons Biff and Happy with lies about the American Dream, even as it becomes, for him, a waking nightmare. Expressionist in its dramaturgical design and finely psychological in its depiction of father-son conflict, Salesman is about capitalism, masculinity and the rotten foundations of modern society. It’s the blueprint for American stage tragedy.
Arthur Miller plays—20 full-length dramas and several one-acts—form one of the greatest bodies of work of the American stage. Miller (1915–2005) was America’s Aeschylus and Ibsen, a writer of tremendous moral authority and integrity who sought to catch the conscience of a nation in tough-minded, idealistic dramas. His project was huge, and if the plays didn’t always live up to the mission, Miller left a shining example of a playwright trying to change the world and the theater. From the 1940s to the 21st century, he changed the shape of American theater. Writers such as Tony Kushner, August Wilson and Aaron Sorkin might not have found their diverse, impassioned voices if not for the example set by Miller. Miller wrote about self-deluding businessmen, morally rotten patriarchs, great men undone by their own hubris or weakness—in other words, tragedies. Many of his plays are family dramas. In his long career he won three Tony Awards (plus one for lifetime achievement) and he earned a permanent spot in the pantheon of great American playwrights. The work continues to attract great actors, such as Saoirse Ronan. Below we rank his ten best full-length plays.