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In many remarkable respects, “American drama” is an oxymoronic concept whose terms have repelled and attracted each other since national inception. Foremost among the cultural institutions fled by the Puritans in their early-seventeenth-century sojourn in the New World was the English theater, where immoral behaviors proliferated, including offenses as specific as pickpocketing and prostitution and as generally questionable as relaxation and merrymaking. Worse yet was the stage’s obvious emphasis on the mystification, deception, sensationalism, and lavish display all long associated with Puritanism’s theological arch-nemesis, Catholicism, and all threatening to steal thunder from the performative qualities (dare we say the entertainment value?) of the Puritan minister’s own sermonizing (see also Davis, “Plays and Playwrights,” 220–21). As the English Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell created strict laws to rein in the popularity of the English theater, so the Protestant factions controlling various regions in the New World made life difficult to impossible for its budding theater troupes: the earliest known staged theatrical in the colonies, Ye Bare and Ye Cubbe (1665), comes down to us not in the play itself, now long lost, but in the legal transcripts describing the grounds on which the players accused of presenting this play were hauled into court.
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To explain the discrepancy, Francis Wemyss suggested in 1852 that “the stage seems to have been overlooked as a means of livelihood, and it was only as the children of the English actors (born in the United States) became men and women, and adopted the Profession of their parents, that native talent was brought into requisition” (116–17).
The most striking aspect of Daly’s version is the massive rearrangement of scene order from Sheridan’s original. Daly has in fact cut “scenes” altogether, extending each act into one lengthy session, perhaps to reduce the number of sets required, and likely to drastically reduce the number of scene changes. With these streamlining shifts, there are also some cuts, and there is an overall galloping quality to Daly’s rendition. In general he seems to have spared his late-nineteenth-century audience from whatever seemed excessive in Sheridan’s original by having there be less of it.
Meserve, posits that with Androboros “Hunter silenced his opposition, turned the people to his point of view, and … could report by 1717 political Harmony in New York (40). Richardson emphasizes the play’s accessibility and credits it with “ha[ving] the desired effect: … Nicholson’s appointment [was] revoked, and Hunter had reached a rapprochement with the colonial assembly” ( American Drama, 10). Richardson also points out that the many comic action sequences suggest that Hunter had envisioned a staged production, yet all agree that the play never received fame in Hunter’s lifetime, that it was received as a closet drama and circulated mainly among Hunter’s allies (see, e.g., Davis, From Androboros, 53). How well this play was known, and how it managed to effect such change despite its closet status, remain, therefore, questions of interesting debate.
Tyler’s biographers, Ada Lou and Herbert L. Carson, report the remarkable background to this triangle: as a young man, Tyler himself was regarded as the Dimple character in his budding romance with Nabby Adams, daughter of the second president. In 1782, Abigail Adams wrote her husband while he represented the United States in London that Tyler “had a very pretty patrimony left to him, possessing a sprightly fancy, … [but] he was rather negligent in his business … and dissipated two or 3 years of his Life and too much of his fortune for to reflect upon with pleasure” (qtd. in Carson and Carson, 18). John Adams separated the couple by taking his daughter for a year’s sojourn with him in London; Tyler was so distraught that he failed to keep up his communications with Nabby, who eventually met and married a very “Manly” type of character, Colonel William Smith, described by Abigail as “a Gentleman of unblemished reputation” (qtd. in Carson and Carson, 19–20). As irony would have it, Adams eventually rued the day when he pushed these two together, declaring, in June 1786, Smith to have disgraced him more than any other person ever had: “His pay will not feed his dogs; and his dogs must be fed if his children starve. What a folly!” (qtd. in Carson and Carson, 50). Within the year, Tyler was busy with his career in Boston and had evidently recovered enough to satirize the event in his play; compounding the irony, Mrs. Adams saw it performed and thought that Dimple had been written to satirize Colonel Smith (Carson and Carson, 33).
go back to reference Dunlap, William. André: A Tragedy in Five Acts. 1798. Representative Plays by American Dramatists, 1765–1819. Ed. Montrose J. Moses. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1938. 499–564. Dunlap, William. André: A Tragedy in Five Acts. 1798. Representative Plays by American Dramatists, 1765–1819. Ed. Montrose J. Moses. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1938. 499–564.
go back to reference ———. History of the American Theater. New York: J&J Harper, 1832. ———. History of the American Theater. New York: J&J Harper, 1832.
go back to reference Wemyss, Francis C. Chronology of the American Stage, 1752–1852. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1852. Wemyss, Francis C. Chronology of the American Stage, 1752–1852. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1852.
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