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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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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.
———. History of the American Theater. New York: J&J Harper, 1832.
Wemyss, Francis C. Chronology of the American Stage, 1752–1852. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1852.
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