Undergraduate English Courses
358:335 Nineteenth Century Theater and Drama
01 MW5 CAC 15441 JONES MU-208
American Drama: Staging America from the Revolution to the Civil War
In his 1782 Letters from an American Farmer, John Hector St. John de Crèvecœur asked, “What then is the American, this new man?” Crèvecœur was hardly the only one questioning what it meant to be an “American,” as a great many of those constituting the newly formed United States frequently wondered what made them distinct from the rest of the world, especially the British. To perform this imaginative work new Americans very often turned to the stage; and if Alexis de Tocqueville is correct that the “literature of the stage” makes up “the most democratic part of [a national] literature,” their theatrical texts and practices reveal the nation’s most wide-ranging and diverse meditations on Americanness. Consequently, this course treats the drama and theatre from the revolutionary period to the Civil War as shared forms of social knowledge in order to examine the competing ideas of what an American is, and what the nation should be, that circulated in the period. From anti-British protest to heroic tragedies concerning Native Americans, from blackface minstrelsy to satires of urbanity and city life: our readings of these works, among others, will not only allow us to trace the development of early American theatre culture, but also how that culture contributed to the formation of a national identity, intensified or resolved political conflicts, and addressed issues such as slavery, Native American removal, labor and immigrant unrest, and national disintegration.