A_History_of_the_American_Theatre_from_Its_Origins....pdf -...

This preview shows page 1 out of 473 pages.

Unformatted text preview: A H I ST O RY OF T H E AMERICAN THEATRE Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. F Rº M I T S O R I G I N S T º 1 8 3 2 WILLIAM DUNLAP Introducion by Tice L. Miller Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. a history of the american theatre from its origins to 1832 Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Z X A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins to z william dunlap Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. Introduction by Tice L. Miller university of illinois press Urbana and Chicago S A Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2005 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States of America ∞ This book is printed on acid-free paper. 1 2 3 4 5 c p 5 4 3 2 1 Typeset from the 1832 edition by J. & J. Harper, New York Cataloging-in-Publication data is available from the Library of Congress. isbn 0-252-03030-3 (cloth : alk. paper) isbn 0-252-07285-5 (paper : alk. paper) Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. dedicated to james fennimore cooper, esq. by his friend, Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. the author Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Where’s that palace whereinto sometimes Foul things intrude not? The corruption of the Theatre is no disproof Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. of its innate and primitive utility. Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. 0 contents - introduction by ti c e l . m i l l er ix p r efac e A History of the American Theatre From Its Origins to Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. co n c lu s i o n appendix catalogue of american plays and their authors regulations of the theatre françoise: established by the government index Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. 0 introduction Tice L. Miller Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. I n his diary entry for October 26, 1832, William Dunlap wrote: “The Harpers advertise to publish my book this day.”1 This was a little more than four months after he had left his manuscript for A History of the American Theatre with publishers J. & J. Harper at 82 Cliff Street in lower Manhattan, and two weeks after he had deposited the title page in the District Clerk’s Office to copyright the work. Although no extant contract exists, diary entries indicate that J. & J. Harper had planned an edition of 1,500 copies. Eugene Exman in The Brothers Harper suggests that the book might have been “published on a halfprofits arrangement or purchased outright (which seems likely),” and calculates that Dunlap bought copies from the publishers at $1.33 and sold them at $1.93 for a profit of 60 cents a copy.2 It is clear from Dunlap’s diary that Dunlap was expected to collect subscribers and perhaps had worked out some arrangement with the Harpers to get his friends to subscribe. Many did, including Gouverneur Kemble, who ordered a hundred copies. Critical reaction was favorable: the Albion of October 27 praised the author for greatly adding “to our stock of knowledge on the early history of the American stage” and recommended “this entertaining book to our readers.”3 A brief notice in the November 3 New York Mirror praised Dunlap for being “[i]ntimately acquainted with the subject from experience and personally acquainted with all the great actors, authors and critics of his day. . . . [H]is book ought to meet prompt and efficient support. Everybody should purchase it without delay.”4 And in December, the American Quarterly Review weighed in with a lengthy review that quoted extensively from the book, examining it chapter by chapter. Of importance to this critic was the book’s moral tone: “Our author endeavors, throughout his work, to elevate the stage and render it subservient to the great interests of society and morality, by stimulating those who write for it, as well as those who represent what is written, to a just estimate of the duties they have assumed.” The critic concluded that Dunlap “appears to be a man of sound principles and excellent feelings. He is a veteran in service as well as in years, and we hope his book will meet with ix Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. x introduction a reception to gratify his self-love, and replenish his purse.”5 Noted in Dunlap’s diary are letters lavish in their praise from friends such as Washington Irving and Matthew Carey. And while Dunlap was awaiting the publication of his book at home, he was sending advance sheets to Paris to his friend James Fenimore Cooper, who was arranging for a London edition with publisher Richard Bentley in early 1833. A pioneering effort, Dunlap’s History of the American Theatre was the first attempt at chronicling our native theatre, and the reference point for all subsequent stage histories of the United States. With the interest today in early American history and culture, the reissuing of the book by University of Illinois Press seems timely. Born in 1766, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, William Dunlap enjoyed a privileged upbringing as the only child of a prosperous Tory shopkeeper. In his History, he recalls a childhood spend reading books and plays, owing first to an aged neighbor who served as an unofficial tutor, and later to a Quaker tutor who encouraged the young man to read Shakespeare and Homer. Almost sixty years later, he could still recall British soldiers marching through his village and “the heavy rumbling of the wagons over the frozen earth, and the groans of those who were borne to the hospitals.”6 The family spent much of the Revolutionary War in occupied New York, where young William attended his first play, George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem, presented by a company of English soldiers at the John Street Theatre, renamed the Theatre Royal. It was during this time, in 1778, that through a playground accident, Dunlap lost the sight of his right eye. After the war he took up painting and had occasion to paint a portrait of George Washington in 1783. Evidently convinced that his son had talent, Dunlap’s father, Samuel, sent him to London the following year to study painting with expatriate American painter Benjamin West. In the three years he was abroad, Dunlap spent more time at the theatre and in entertaining than he did developing his skills as an artist. Called home in 1787, he returned to New York with no specific career in mind, setting himself up as a portrait painter but with little success. Again the theatre came to occupy much of his time, and he was encouraged by the success of Royal Tyler’s The Contrast in 1786. The play had introduced an American character, Jonathan, played in Yankee dialect by comedian Thomas Wignell. This inspired Dunlap to write a five-act comedy, The Modest Soldier; or, Love in New York, with a Yankee character for Wignell. The play had a reading before managers of the American Company, Lewis Hallam Jr. and John Henry. In spite of being accepted for production, the piece was never performed because, as Dunlap learned, there were no suitable parts for either Henry or his wife. He would not make this mistake in his second play, The Father; or, American Shandyism (later The Father of an Only Child). Borrowing part of the title Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. introduction xi and some of the characters and plot from Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1760), he crafted stock characters to fit the talents of the company, including the Henrys and Wignell. He tailored the comic role of Doctor Quiescent (later revised as Dr. Tattle) for Wignell. First produced at the John Street Theatre in September 1789, The Father received four performances in New York, two in Philadelphia, and one in Baltimore, a successful premiere for the day.7 The same year, Dunlap wrote an interlude, Darby’s Return, again for Wignell, who performed it at his benefit in November with President Washington in the audience. Darby was a low comic character that Wignell had made famous in John O’Keeffe’s The Poor Soldier (1786), one of the most popular plays of the time. In this short interlude, Darby returns to Ireland after adventures in Europe and America to tell his countrymen about the chaos of the French Revolution and orderly process in the United States of adopting a constitution and inaugurating a president. For performance, Dunlap deleted references to Darby’s visit to France, perhaps because he feared they would incite a riot from Republicans who were pro-French.8 It is clear that at this time the playwright held Federalist views of the French Revolution, and these are expressed in the play. Although Dunlap showed some talent as a playwright, his efforts were not financially rewarding enough to support a family. In February 1789, he married Elizabeth Woolsey, a descendent of an old New York merchant family. In December of that year, their first child, a son, was born. Shortly after this, probably in early 1790, his father took him into his business as a partner in Samuel Dunlap and Son, an importer of lamps, glasses, and china. In 1791 he inherited the business when his father died, but life as a merchant held little interest for him. He freed the family slaves and worked for organizations supporting the abolition of slavery. Within two years, he had turned the running of the import shop to one of his wife’s relatives, although he retained a share of the profits. It was at this time that he pursued playwriting seriously, turning out The Miser’s Wedding, a comedy, in 1793; Leicester, a blank verse tragedy, in 1793 (first performed under the title The Fatal Deception; or, The Progress of Guilt); Fontainville Abbey, a mystery, with incidents borrowed from the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe, in 1795; and The Archers, an opera based on the William Tell legend, in 1796. Dunlap was influenced by the novels of Radcliffe and Matthew Gregory Lewis; a vogue for Gothic drama had swept New York at the end of the eighteenth century, and Fontainville Abbey included the machinery typical of the genre: “travellers in gloomy landscapes, fostered in a ruinous abbey, and beset by villains of the deepest die.”9 The young playwright could have continued writing plays and profiting from the family business had he not succumbed to an offer in 1796 to become a partner in the American Company at John Street Theatre with Lewis Hallam Jr. and Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. xii introduction John Hodgkinson. Founded as the Comedians from London in 1752 by Lewis Hallam Sr. and his brother William, the company with a name change had survived the Revolutionary War in Jamaica and reestablished itself afterward in New York. In 1792 the managers, Lewis Hallam Jr. and John Henry, reorganized the company and recruited actors from England, including the talented Hodgkinson. Quickly establishing himself as the best actor in the company, Hodgkinson displaced Henry in his major roles and in 1794 bought out his shares. But by 1796 Hodgkinson and Hallam had become bitter rivals for principal roles and needed someone to act as a buffer between them, manage the theatre, and supply needed finances. Hodgkinson offered to sell Dunlap half of his shares with the agreement that he would serve as manager and have “sole control of the pieces to be brought before the public.”10 Idealism and practical concerns prompted Dunlap’s decision. He persuaded himself that “it was his duty to take the direction of so powerful an engine as the stage,” concluding that he “should have the power to do much good.” And he was persuaded that he could make money and get his own plays before an audience. George Odell notes that “Dunlap entered into the agreement, tempted . . . by the prospect of being able to produce his own plays without let or hindrance.”11 From the perspective of 1832, Dunlap admitted that he should have doubted “his powers” to direct the company. There were difficulties from the beginning. At first, Hallam refused to sign the agreement, with Hallam accusing Hodgkinson of stealing his major roles, preventing his plays from being performed, and forcing his wife off the stage, thus depriving her of her livelihood. Mrs. Hallam allegedly had been drunk during performances, and Hodgkinson would not allow her back on the stage. There was much bad blood between the two, and Dunlap quickly found himself in the middle. Finally, the two managers and Dunlap signed articles of agreement in May 1796 that gave Dunlap the authority to determine the weekly schedule including new plays.12 On September 26, 1796, Dunlap began as head of what Odell called the “ill-assorted Cerberus of Hallam, Hodgkinson and Dunlap.” It was a decision Dunlap soon came to regret. Although the agreement seemed to clarify how the company would be managed, the reality of working with Hodgkinson and Hallam taxed all of his patience and business acumen. His first year of management was filled with strife, not only from his two principal actors but also from the necessity of borrowing money to meet the payroll. Dunlap was forced to use his own property as collateral to meet basic expenses. But if his main objective in managing the American Company was to produce his own work, he found some measure of success. In October 1796, he produced his third tragedy, The Mysterious Monk, drawing on the vogue for Gothic subjects. In January 1797, he added a farce, Tell Truth and Shame the Devil, adapted from a French one-act play, Jérôme Pointu, by A. L. B. Robineau. In June a comedy Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. introduction xiii that owed its origins to both Dunlap and Hodgkinson, The Man of Fortitude, closed the first season. Hodgkinson took the company to Hartford and Boston over the summer to help shore up finances; but the box office did not even cover expenses, and Dunlap had to borrow money to make up the difference. The burden of keeping the American Company solvent would soon exhaust all of his resources. Part of the problem was that the John Street Theatre had become dilapidated and in need of major renovation. An effort had begun in 1794 to build a new theatre in New York. The Daily Advertiser of July 8, 1794, contained a notice that a committee formed to erect the new theatre desired investors or subscribers.13 The committee apparently discussed terms for a lease with Hallam and Hodgkinson; prominent New Yorkers signed on as shareholders; and by the time Dunlap became involved, the building of the New Theatre in Park Row (later called the Park Theatre) was well underway. In June 1797, Dunlap and Hodgkinson reached some kind of understanding about a four-year lease with the proprietors. Hallam retired from management, selling his property to the two comanagers with the agreement that he would receive one-fourth of the profits and that he and his wife would be retained as actors. In anticipation that the 1796–97 season would be their last in John Street, Dunlap and Hodgkinson hired a larger company and planned their debut at the Park Theatre for October 1797. Unfortunately, the theatre was not finished and the Company stayed in John Street until late January 1798, losing money with the expanded company. A more serious problem developed: in negotiating the four-year lease, the managers had failed to get the proprietors’ signatures, and consequently, the terms negotiated in May 1797 were changed. According to Odell, the building had cost more than originally planned: “It is one thing to plan a building at a cost of $42,375 and quite another to erect it at an outlay of over $130,000.”14 Dunlap notes that the committee in charge of raising money and erecting the theatre “had contracted debts for the building on their own responsibility, and now were about to call upon the proprietors to assume them.”15 The rent agreed upon had been based on a percentage of box office receipts, but the committee now added the stipulation that managers were to provide free tickets to each performance for all the stockholders (Dunlap mentions both 130 and 113 stockholders). A final compromise reduced the rent but kept the free tickets. Since these were the persons most likely to attend the theatre, the loss of revenue was a major blow for the enterprise. Other changes in the original terms also served to cast a shadow over the theatre’s opening. Still unfinished, the Park Theatre opened on January 29, 1798, with Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The production brought out a large house, but because of confusion, “great numbers entered without paying at the door or delivering tickets.” Despite this, the night earned receipts of $1,232.16 It seemed for a time Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre from Its Origins To 1832, University of Illinois Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from apus on 2020-03-22 12:10:40. Copyright © 2005. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. xiv introduction that the managers’ gamble might pay off, but after some early successes, the theatre began to lose money. The appearance of Thomas Abthorpe Cooper on February 28 as Hamlet again brought strong houses for a time. Cooper had been recruited from England in 1796 by Wignell, now manager of the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and Cooper established himself as the leading actor on the American stage. But he had a disagreement with the management in Philadelphia and was enticed to play in New York. An important premiere occurred on March 30, 1798, with Dunlap’s blankverse trage...
View Full Document

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture