Proof Summary and Study Guide

David Auburn


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  • Features 9 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Proof Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 28-page guide for “Proof” by David Auburn includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 9 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Relationship between Genius and Madness and Isolation.

Plot Summary

Proof is set in Chicago in the present day and centers around the character of Catherine. Catherine is the twenty-five-year-old daughter of Robert, a recently-deceased mathematical genius. After dropping out of college, Catherine spent several years caring for her mentally-ill father. Catherine is brilliant in her own right, but she fears that she might possess the same mental illness that ultimately incapacitated her father. As she prepares for his funeral, her estranged sister, Claire, arrives from New York. Claire, unlike, Catherine, is efficient, practical and successful. She has supported Catherine and Robert financially but never emotionally. Despite the two of them never being particularly close, Claire wants to take Catherine back to New York. where she can keep an eye on her and submit her for psychiatric treatment. Catherine has also formed a connection with Hal, one of her father’s former students, who is cataloging the one-hundred-and-three notebooks that Robert left in his study. Hal is certain he will find something of value, but Catherine warns him otherwise.

However, when Hal discovers, in one of the notebooks, a groundbreaking proof of a mathematical theorem that mathematicians had thought impossible, he is shocked when Catherine claims that it was her, and not her father, who wrote it. Neither Hal nor Claire believe Catherine could have written the proof, given her limited schooling, and conspire to take the proof away. Catherine sinks further into depression. Claire views her outlandish claim and symptoms of depression as evidence of severe psychosis similar to their father’s and intends to drag Catherine to New York, whether her sister likes it or not. The title of the play refers both to the mathematical proof and to the play’s central question: Can Catherine prove the proof’s authorship?

In Proof, Auburn has found a way to explore the notion of “proof” in several different senses: in the idea of a mathematical proof, with its particular iron-clad inevitability; the notion of establishing the authorship of an intellectual work; and the daily proof that people seek to reassure themselves of the stability of reality and of their personal relationships. While the play is about mathematics, under the surface it concerns the tensions between the love of people close to us and the things that undo them. Even when we cannot show love fully, in many ways, our family makes choices in our best interest, whether we accept those choices or not.

David Auburn is an American playwright. After graduating from high school in 1987, he attended the University of Chicago, where he studied political philosophy. Auburn did not know he wanted to be a writer, but joined the Off-Off Campus, an improvisational and sketch comedy group, and started writing some of their sketches. After graduating in 1991, he won a writing fellowship with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment in Los Angeles. Following that he moved to New York City, where he worked as a copywriter for a chemical company during the day and wrote plays in his spare time. In 1994, Auburn was accepted into the Juilliard School’s playwriting program, studying under noted dramatists Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang. His work at Juilliard led to his first major play, Skyscraper. In 1998, several of Auburn’s one-act plays were published by the Dramatists’ Play Service under the title Fifth Planet and Other Plays.

Proof, Auburn’s most successful play, was developed at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and had its world premiere off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club in May 2000. The production was a great success and moved to Broadway that autumn. In 2001, Proof won the Drama Desk Award for Best New Play, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, the Joseph Kesselring Prize, the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Best Play award, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Tony Award for Best Play. It enjoyed a three-year Broadway run, as well as a national tour. By 2002, it was the most-produced play…

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Act One