Christopher J. Herr
This essay examines the history of political drama in the United States from 1910 to 1945. It describes the diversity of styles used and attitudes taken by politically influenced dramas, including those that supported capitalism in the 1920s, the increasingly oppositional leftist dramas of the 1930s, and the pro-war (or antifascist) plays of the 1940s. This essay also considers how much political content is required in order to label a play as political.
This essay investigates the scenic poles of city and frontier as sites for the American drama. It explains that the frontier and the urban were productive of distinct dramatic figures during the antebellum decades. The frontier served as a register of modern concerns while urban plays focused on poverty, seductive dimensions of city life, and threats to morality. This essay also analyzes relevant plays, including Anna Cora Mowatt’s Fashion, Benjamin Baker’s A Glance at New York, and George H. Boker’s Francesca da Rimini.
Amelia Howe Kritzer
This essay focuses on the emergence of women playwrights in the United States during the antebellum period. It analyzes the works of several women playwrights, including Anna Cora Mowatt, Elizabeth Crocker Bowers, and Charlotte Barnes Conner, and it highlights their tendency to avoid political themes except by implication of the cultural and social situation of women themselves. This essay identifies the persistent motif in the works of these women, which is the “powerless woman,” a figure that emerged in connection with the failure of feminism to take hold in American society in the 1790s.
This article examines the career of Samuel Taylor Coleridge as a playwright. It suggests that Coleridge's influence as a dramatic critic has overshadowed his reputation as a playwright. Coleridge completed a total of four plays from 1794 to 1817. These include The Fall of Robespierre, an Historic Drama, Osorio, A Tragedy, Remorse, A Tragedy, and Zapolya: A Christmas Tale. The article discusses the plot and storyline of these works.
Jeffrey H. Richards
This essay examines American playwrights’ post-Revolutionary fixation on republicanism as the motivating source for their dramatic themes. It analyzes several plays including Judith Sargent Murray’s Ladies of Castile, Royall Tyler’s The Contrast, and J. Robinson’s The Yorker’s Stratagem, and suggest that they all develop something of a republican theme. This essay also argues that the republican political plays of the 1780s to 1820s reveal different ways by which republicanism may be enacted or celebrated in the United States.
This essay examines the connection of the stage version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to minstrelsy, a distinctly nonmelodramatic mode of American drama that runs on parody and satire for its fuel. It suggests that Stowe has adopted minstrel techniques in this novel, which was then turned into minstrel-type scenes and dialogue. This essay also considers William Leman Rede’s minstrel play Life in America and explores the history and influences of blackface entertainment.
Scott C. Martin
This essay explores American melodrama with a political twist. It suggests that melodrama is only a literary or dramatic genre but a cultural style that suffused antebellum American life and discusses the limits of reading politics in antebellum melodrama. It also argues against Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations and commentaries about American drama and suggests that he erred in some of his judgments about antebellum theatre and melodrama and sometimes failed to discern trends that would define the American stage. This essay also argues that Edwin Forrest’s prize plays The Gladiator and Metamora, or, The Last of the Wampanoags demonstrate the complexities of appealing to antebellum patriotism.
Heather S. Nathans
This essay examines the history of ethnic representation in the American theater. It highlights the proliferation of Native American, Irish, German, and Jewish characters between the Revolution and the Civil War, and it also considers the emergence of other stereotypes such as the stage Yankee. The essay showcases the ways in which shifting political and social trends shaped the formation of ethnic types in the playhouse, and the ways in which those representations were keyed to emerging definitions of American national identity.
This essay examines the history of the African American drama from 1822 to 1879. It provides evidence indicating the active theatrical self-definition of black writers and performers during the era of slavery and emancipation, and it highlights the liberatory impulse among persons of color in creating distinctive drama and theatre. This essay analyzes some of the most notable works of African American playwrights during this period, including William Brown’s The Drama of King Shotaway, William Wells Brown’s The Escape, and Pauline Hopkins’s Peculiar Sam.
This article examines the development of scholarship on literary responses to the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793–1815. It examines the reasons for the surprising lack of research on this area in both traditional and new historicist accounts of romanticism, as seen in the work of M. H. Abrams and Jerome J. McGann, despite the pioneering work of Betty T. Bennett. It then examines the major studies of the topic produced by Gillian Russell, Simon Bainbridge, Philip Shaw, Mary A. Favret, Neil Ramsey, and others. Particular focus is placed on key critical issues, including the distance from the scene of conflict of those writing and reading about war, the representation of suffering and wounding, and the impact of war on noncombatants. The article ends with pointing to areas for further study.
This chapter analyses Shelley's two tragedies, The Cenci and Swellfoot the Tyrant. It discusses Shelley's view of the purpose of drama, and The Cenci and Swellfoot the Tyrant as national tragedies, outlining the Greek characteristics of the two works.
The theatre was a significant institution of public life in the nineteenth century, and an important source of aesthetic innovation and entrepreneurial energy in Victorian culture. The theatre offers an important perspective on Victorian affect and attitudes to the real. However, drama, theatre, and performance have been overlooked in subsequent histories of Victorian public life and culture, in part because of the theatre’s uncomfortable position between high art and popular culture. Despite its popularity, Victorian attitudes towards the theatre and drama were ambivalent, oscillating between huge enjoyment of spectacle, farce, melodrama, and pantomime, and concern over the moral standards and commercial status of the theatre. For scholars of the Victorian period, the Victorian theatre has a rich archive not limited to the dramatic text, and indicative of the interconnections between performance, dramatic literature, and visual culture.