MARK TWAIN'S TREATMENT of Shakespeare in his novel Huckleberry Finn helps us place the Elizabethan playwright in nineteenth-century American culture. Shortly after the two rogues, who pass themselves off as a duke and a king, invade the raft of Huck and Jim, they decide to raise funds by performing scenes from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Richard III. That the presentation of Shakespeare in small Mississippi River towns could be conceived of as potentially lucrative tells us much about the position of Shakespeare in the nineteenth century. The specific nature of Twain's humor tells us even more. Realizing that they would need material for encores, the "duke" starts to teach the "king Hamlet's soliloquy, which he recites from memory:
To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin That makes calamity of so long life; For who would fardels bear, till Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane, But that the fear of something after death Murders the innocent sleep, Great nature's second course, And makes us rather sling arrows of outrageous fortune Than fly to others that we know not of . . .'
Twain's humor relies on his audience's familiarity with Hamlet and its ability to recognize the duke's improbable coupling of lines from a variety of Shakespeare's plays. Twain was employing one of the most popular forms of humor in nineteenth-century America. Everywhere in the nation burlesques and parodies of Shakespeare constituted a prominent form of entertainment. Hamlet was a favorite target in numerous travesties imported from England or crafted at home. Audiences roared at the sight of Hamlet dressed in fur cap and collar, snowshoes and mittens; they listened with amused surprise to his profanity when ordered by his father's ghost to "swear" and to his commanding Ophelia, Get thee to a brewery"; they heard him recite his lines in black dialect or Irish brogue and sing his most famous soliloquy, "To be, or not to be," to the tune of "Three Blind Mice. In the 1870s the British comedian Charles Mathews visited what he called the "Nigger's (or Negroe's) theatre in New York, where he heard a black tragedian in the character of Hamlet recite "To be, or not to be? That is the question; whether it is nobler in de mind to suffer, or tak' up arms against a sea of trouble, and by opossum end 'em. "No sooner was the word opossum out of his mouth," Mathews reported, than the audience burst forth, in one general cry, 'Opossum! opossum! opossum! -prompting the actor to come forward and sing the popular dialect song Opossum up a Gum Tree . On the nineteenth-century American stage, audiences often heard Hamlet's lines intricately combined with those of a popular song:
Oh! 'tis consummation Devoutly to be wished To end your heart-ache by a sleep, When likely to be dish'd. Shuffle off your mortal coil, Do just so, Wheel about, and turn about, And jump Jim Crow.2
No Shakespearean play was immune to this sort of mutilation. The Comedy of Errors was performed as Ye Comedie of Errours, a Glorious, Uproarous Burlesque. Not Indecorous nor Censorous, with Many a Chorus, Warranted Not to Bore Us, now for the First Time Set before Us. Richard III, the most popular Shakespearean play in the nineteenth century, was lampooned frequently in such versions as Bad Dicky. In one New York production starring first rank Shakespearean actors, a stuttering, lisping Othello danced while Desdemona played the banjo and Iago, complete with Irish brogue, ended their revelries with a fire hose. The comedic form made it possible to touch upon extremely sensitive issues. In a southern parody of Othello, for example, Othello and Desdemona were allowed to sing together, "Dey say dat in the dark all curlers am de same. In Kenneth Bangs's version of The Taming of the Shrew, Kate ended up in control, observing that, although "Shakespeare or Bacon, or whoever wrote the play . . . studied deeply the shrews of his day . . . the modern shrew isn't built that way," while a chastened Petruchio concluded, "Sweet Katharine, of your remarks I recognize the force: / Don't strive to tame a woman as you would a horse." Serious or slapstick, the punning was endless. In one parody of the famous dagger scene, Macbeth continues to put off his insistent wife by asking, "Or is that dagger but a false Daguerreotype? Luckily, Desdemona had no brother, or Othello might look black and blue," a character in Othello remarked, while one in The Merchant of Venice l observed of Shylock, This crafty Jew is full of Jeux d'esprit!" Throughout the century, there was an impressive number of parodies with such titles as Julius Sneezer, Roamy-E-Owe and Juli-Ate, Hamlet and Egglet, Desdemonum, and Much Ado about a Merchant of Venice.3
These full-fledged travesties reveal only part of the story. Nineteenth-century Shakespearean parody most frequently took the form of short skits, brief references, and satirical songs inserted into other modes of entertainment. In one of their routines, for example, the Bryant's Minstrels playfully referred to the famous observation in Act II of Romeo and Juliet:
Adolphus Pompey is my name, But that don't make no difference, For as Massa Wm. Shakespeare says, A name's of no signiforance.
The minstrels loved to invoke Shakespeare as an authority: you know what de Bird of Avon says 'bout 'De black scandal an' de foul faced reproach!' And they constantly quoted him in appropriately garbled form: "Fust to dine own self be true, an' it must follow night and day, dou den can be false to any man." The significance of this national penchant for parodying Shakespeare is clear: Shakespeare and his drama had become by the nineteenth, century an integral part of American culture. It is difficult to take familiarities with that which is not already familiar; one cannot parody that which is not well known. The minstrels' characteristic conundrums would not have been funny to an audience lacking knowledge of Shakespeare's works:
When was Desdemona like a ship? When she was Moored.4
IT IS NOT surprising that educated Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries knew their Shakespeare so well that John Quincy Adams, who was born in 1767, could write, "at ten years of age I was as familiarly acquainted with his lovers and his clowns, as with Robinson Crusoe, the Pilgrim's Progress, and the Bible. In later years I have left Robinson and the Pilgrim to the perusal of the children; but have continued to read the Bible and Shakespeare." What is more interesting is how widely Shakespeare was known to the public in general. In the last half of the eighteenth century, when the reading of Shakespeare's plays was still confined to a relatively small, educated elite, substantial numbers of Americans had the chance to see his plays performed. From the first documented American performance of a Shakespearean play in 1750 until the closing of the theaters during the American Revolution, Shakespeare emerged as the most popular playwright in the colonies. In 1774 the Continental Congress discountenanced and discouraged "every Species of Extravagance and Dissipation, especially all Horse Racing, and all Kinds of Gaming, Cock Fighting, Exhibitions of Shews, Plays, and other expensive Diversions and Entertainments." Fourteen to fifteen of his plays were presented at least one hundred and eighty-and one scholar has estimated perhaps as many as five hundred- times. Following the Revolution, Shakespeare retained his position as the most widely performed dramatist, with five more of his plays regularly performed in an increasing number of cities and towns.5
Not until the nineteenth century, however, did Shakespeare come into his own-presented and recognized almost everywhere in the country. In the cities of the Northeast and Southeast, Shakespeare's plays dominated the theater. During the 181O-11 season in Philadelphia, for example, Shakespearean plays accounted for twenty-two of eighty-eight performances. The following season lasted one hundred and eight nights, of which again one-quarter-twenty-seven-were devoted to Shakespeare. From 1800 to 1835, Philadelphians had the opportunity to see twenty-one of Shakespeare's thirty-seven plays. The Philadelphia theater was not exceptional; one student of the American stage concluded that in cities on the Eastern Seaboard at least one-fifth of all plays offered in a season were likely to be by Shakespeare. George Makepeace Towle, an American consul in England, returned to his own country just after the Civil War and remarked with some surprise, "Shakespearian dramas are more frequently played and more popular in America than in England. Shakespeare's dominance can be attested to by what Charles Shattuck has called "the westward flow of Shakespearean actors" from England to America. In the nineteenth century, one prominent English Shakespearean actor after another-George Frederick Cooke, Edmund Kean, Junius Brutus Booth, Charles Kemble, Fanny Kemble, Ellen Tree, William Charles Macready- sought the fame and financial rewards that awaited them in their tours of the United States.6
It is important to understand that their journey did not end with big cities or the Eastern Seaboard. According to John Bernard, the English actor and comedian who worked in the United States from 1797 to 1819, "If an actor were unemployed, want and shame were not before him: he had merely to visit some town in the interior where no theatre existed, but 'readings' were permitted; and giving a few recitations from Shakespeare and Sterne, his pockets in a night or two were amply replenishe - During his travels through the United States in the 1830s, Tocqueville found Shakespeare in "the recesses of the forests of the New World, and observed, "There is hardly a pioneer's hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare. I remember that I read the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin." Five decades later, the German visitor Karl Knortz made a similar observation:
There is, assuredly, no other country on earth in which Shakespeare and the Bible are held in such general high esteem as in America, the very country so much decried for its lust for money. If you were to enter an isolated log cabin in the Far West and even if its inhabitant were to exhibit many of the traces of backwoods living, he will most likely have one small room nicely furnished in which to spend his few leisure hours and in which you will certainly find the Bible and in most cases also some cheap edition of the works of the poet Shakespeare.
Even if we discount the hyperbole evident in such accounts, they were far from inventions. The ability of the illiterate Rocky Mountain scout Jim Bridger to recite long passages from Shakespeare, which he had learned by hiring someone to read the plays to him, and the formative influence that he plays had upon young Abe Lincoln growing up in Salem, Illinois, became part of the nation's folklore.7
But if books had become a more important vehicle for disseminating Shakespeare by the nineteenth century, the stage remained the primary instrument. The theater, like the church, was one of the earliest and most important cultural institutions established in frontier cities. And almost everywhere the theater blossomed Shakespeare was a paramount force. In his investigation of the theater in Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Detroit, and Lexington, Kentucky, from 1800 to 1840, Ralph Leslie Rusk concluded that Shakespeare's plays were performed more frequently than those of any other author. Chicago, with slightly more than four thousand inhabitants, was barely incorporated in 1837 when productions of Richard III were being given in a theater improvised in the dining room of the deserted Sauganash Hotel. In Mississippi between 1814 and the outbreak of the Civil War, the towns of Natchez and Vicksburg, with only a few thousand inhabitants each, put on at least one hundred and fifty performances of Shakespeare featuring such British and American stars as Ellen Tree, Edwin Forrest, Junius Brutus Booth, J. W. Walleck, Charles Kean, J. H. Hackett, Josephine Clifton, and T. A. Cooper. Stars of this and lesser caliber made their way into the interior by boat, along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, stopping at towns and cities on their way to New Orleans. Beginning in the early 1830S, the rivers themselves became the site of Shakespearean productions, with floating theaters in the form first of flatboats and then of steamboats bringing drama to small river towns.8
By mid-century, Shakespeare was taken across the Great Plains and over the Rocky Mountains and soon became a staple of theaters in the Far West. During the decade following the arrival of the Forty-niners, at least, twenty-two of Shakespeare's plays were performed on California stages, with Richard III retaining the predominance it had gained in the East and South. In 1850 the Jenny Lind Theatre, seating two thousand, opened over a saloon in San Francisco and was continuously crowded: "Miners . . . swarmed from the gambling saloons and cheap fandango houses to see Hamlet and Lear." In 1852 the British star Junius Brutus Booth and two of his sons played Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and Richard III from the stage of the Jenny Lind and packed the house for the two weeks of their stay. In 1856 Laura Keen brought San Franciscans not only old favorites but such relatively uncommon productions as Coriolanus and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Along with such eminent stars from abroad, American actors like McKean Buchanan and James Stark kept the hunger for Shakespeare satisfied.9
But Shakespeare could not be confined to the major population centers in the Far West any more than he had been in the East. If miners could not always come to San Francisco to see theater, the theater came to them. Stark, Buchanan, Edwin Booth, and their peers performed on makeshift stages in mining camps around Sacramento and crossed the border into Nevada, where they brought characterizations of Hamlet, Iago, Macbeth, Kate, Lear, and Othello to miners in Virginia City, Silver City, Dayton, and Carson City. Walter M. Leman recalled the dearth of theaters in such California towns as Tod's Valley, Chip's Flat, Cherokee Flat, Rattlesnake, Mud Springs, Red Dog, Hangtown, Drytown, and Fiddletown, which he toured in the 1850S. In the Sierra town of Downieville, Leman performed Richard III on the second story of a cloth and paper house in a hall without a stage: "We had to improvise one out of the two billiard tables it contained, covering them with boards for that purpose." Such conditions were by no means confined to the West Coast. In earlier years, Leman had toured the Maine towns of Bangor, Belfast, Orono, and Oldtown, not one of which had a proper theater, necessitating the use of church vestries and other improvisations. In 1816 in Lexington, Kentucky, Noah Ludlow performed The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, and The Merchant of Venice in a room on the second floor of an old brewery, next door to a saloon, before an audience seated on backless, cushionless chairs. In the summer of 1833, Sol Smith's company performed in the dining room of a hotel in Tazewell, Alabama, "on a sort of landing-place or gallery about six feet long, and two and a half feet wide." His "heavy tragedian" Mr. Lyne attempted to recite the "Seven Ages of Man" from As You Like It while "persons were passing from one room to the other continually and the performer was obliged to move whenever any I one passed."l0
Thus Shakespeare was by no means automatically treated with reverence. Nor was he accorded universal acclaim. In Davenport and neighboring areas of eastern Iowa, where the theater flourished in both English and German, Shakespeare was seldom performed and then usually in the form of short scenes and soliloquies rather than entire plays. As more than one theater manager learned, producing Shakespeare did not necessarily result in profits. Theatrical lore often repeated the vow attributed to Robert L. Place that he would never again produce a play by Shakespeare "no matter how many more he wrote.» But these and similar incidents were exceptions to the general rule: from the large and often opulent theaters of major cities to the makeshift stages in halls, saloons, and churches of small towns and mining camps, wherever there was an audience for the theater, there Shakespeare's plays were performed prominently and frequently.11 Shakespeare's popularity in frontier communities in all sections of the country may not fit Frederick Jackson Turner's image of the frontier as a crucible, melting civilization down into a new amalgam, but it does fit our knowledge of human beings and their need for the comfort of familiar things under the pressure of new circumstances and surroundings. James Fenimore Cooper had this familiarity in mind when he called Shakespeare "the great author of America" and insisted that Americans had "just as good a right" as Englishmen to claim Shakespeare as their countryman. At the dedication of Shakespeare's statue in Central Park in 1872, his familiarity to Americans was taken for granted. "Old World, he is not only shine," the inscription on the temporary pedestal proclaimed, and Bayard Taylor, in his commemorative poem, declared:
He came, a household ghost we could not ban: He sat, on Winter nights, by cabin-fires; He preached within the shadow of our spires; . . . and became The Master of our Thought, the Land's first Citizen!12
Shakespeare's popularity can be determined not only by the frequency of Shakespearean productions and the size of the audiences for them but also by the nature of the productions and the manner in which they were presented. Shakespeare was performed not merely alongside popular entertainment as an elite supplement to it; Shakespeare was performed as an integral part of it. Shakespeare was popular entertainment in nineteenth-century America. The theater in the first half of the nineteenth century played the role that movies played in the first half of the twentieth: it was a kaleidoscopic, democratic institution presenting a widely varying bill of fare to ad classes and socioeconomic groups.
During the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, the play may have been the thing, but it was not the only thing. It was the centerpiece, the main attraction, but an entire evening generally consisted of a long play, an afterpiece (usually a farce), and a variety of between-act specialties. In the spring of 1839, a playbill advertising the appearance of William Evans Burton in As you Like It at Philadelphia's American Theater announced, "II Diavolo Antonio And His Sons, Antonio, Lorenzo, Augustus And Alphonzo will present a most magnificent display of position in the Science of Gymnastics, portraying some of the most grand and imposing groups from the ancient masters . . . to conclude with a grand Horizontal Pyramid. It was a characteristically full evening. In addition to gymnastics and Shakespeare, "Mr. Quayle (by Desire)" sang "The Swiss Drover Boy," La Petite Celeste danced "a New Grand Pas Seul," Miss Lee danced "La Cachuca," Mr. Quayle returned to sing "The Haunted Spring," Mr. Bowman told a "Yankee Story," and "the Whole" concluded "with Ella Rosenberg starring Mrs. Hield."l3
Thus Shakespeare was presented amid a full range of contemporary entertainment. During the Mexican War, a New Orleans performance of Richard III was accompanied by "A NEW and ORIGINAL Patriotic Drama in 3 Acts . . . (founded in part on events which have occurred during the Mexican War,) & called: Palo Alto! Or, Our Army on the Rio Grande! . . . TRIUMPH OF AMERICAN ARMS! Surrender of Gen. Vega to Capt. May! Grand Military Tableau!" It would be a mistake to conclude that Shakespeare was presented as the dry, staid ingredient in this exciting menu. On the contrary, Shakespearean plays were often announced as spectacles in their own right. In 1799 the citizens of Alexandria, Virginia, were promised the following in a production of Macbeth: "In Act 3d-A Regal Banquet in which the Ghost of Banquo appears. In Act 4th-A Solemn incantation & dance of Witches. In Act 5th-A grand Battle, with the defeat & death of Macbeth." At mid-century, a presentation of Henry IV in Philadelphia featured the "Army of Falstaff on the March! . . . Battlefield, Near Shrewsbury, Occupying the entire extent of the Stage, Alarms! Grand Battle! Single Combat! DEATH OF HOTSPUR! FINALE-Grand Tableau." 14
Shakespeare's position as part and parcel of popular culture was reinforced by the willingness of Shakespearean actors to take part in the concluding farce. Thus Mr. Parsons followed such roles as Coriolanus, Othello, Macbeth, and Lear by playing Ralph Stackpole, "A Ring-Tailed Squealer & Rip-Staver from Salt River," in Nick of the Woods. Even Junius Brutus Booth followed his celebrated portrayal of Richard III with the role of Jerry Sneak in The Mayor of Garrat. In the postbellum years Edward L. Davenport referred to this very ability and willingness to mix genres when he lamented the decline of his profession: "Why, I've played an act from Hamlet, one from Black-Eyed Susan, and sung 'A Yankee Ship and a Yankee Crew' and danced a hornpipe, and wound up with a 'rigger' part, all in one night. Is there any one you know of today who can do that?" It is clear that, as much as Shakespearean roles were prized by actors, they were not exalted; they did not unfit one for other roles and other tasks; they were not elevated to a position above the culture in which they appeared. Although David Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio, a condensation of The Taming of the Shrew, or his Shakespeare's Jubilee, consisting of scenes from a number of Shakespeare's plays concluding with a grand procession, were popular afterpieces, more frequently the final word of the evening was not Shakespeare's. Hamlet might be followed by such farces as Fortune's Frolic and The Sultan; or, A Peep Into the Seraglio, The Merchant of Venice by The Lottery Ticket, Richard III by The Green Mountain Boy, King Lear by Chaos Is Come Again on one occasion and by Love's Laughs at Locksmiths; or, The Guardian Outwitted on another, and, in California, Romeo and Juliet by Did you Ever Send Your Wife to San Jose?15
These afterpieces and divertissements most often are seen as having diluted or denigrated Shakespeare. I suggest that they may be understood more meaningfully as having integrated him into American culture. Shakespeare was presented as part of the same milieu inhabited by magicians, dancers, singers, acrobats, minstrels, and comics. He appeared on the same playbills and was advertised in the same spirit. This does not mean that theatergoers were unable to make distinctions between Shakespearean productions and the accompanying entertainment. Of course they were. Shakespeare, after au, was what most of them came to see. But it was a Shakespeare presented as part of the culture they enjoyed, a Shakespeare rendered familiar and intimate by virtue of his context.
In 1843 the curtain of the rebuilt St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans featured an arresting bit of symbolism: it depicted Shakespeare in a halo of light being borne aloft on the wings of the American eagle. Shakespeare was not only domesticated; he was humanized. Henry Norman Hudson, the period's most popular Shakespearean lecturer, hailed Shakespeare as "the prodigy of our race" but also stressed his decency, his humility, his "true gentleness and lowliness of heart" and concluded that "he who looks the highest will always bow the lowest." In his melodrama Shakespeare in Love, Richard Penn Smith pictured the poet not as an awesome symbol of culture but as a poor, worried, stumbling young man in love with a woman of whose feelings he is not yet certain. In the end, of course, he triumphs and proclaims his joy in words that identify him as a well-rounded human being to whom one can relate: "I am indeed happy. A poet, a lover, the husband of the woman I adore. What is there more for me to desire?" Nineteenth-century America swallowed Shakespeare, digested him and his plays, and made them part of the cultural body. The nature of his reception by nineteenth-century audiences confirms this conclusion.16
While he was performing in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1838, the Irish actor Tyrone Power observed people on the road hurrying to the theater. Their fine horses, ornate and often antique saddles, and picturesque clothing transported him back to Elizabethan England and "the palmy days of the Globe and Beargarden." Power's insight was sound; there were significant similarities between the audiences of Shakespeare's own day and those he drew in America. One of Shakespeare's contemporaries commented that the theater was "frequented by all sorts of people old and younge, rich and poore, masters and servants, papists and puritans, wise men etc., churchmen and statesmen." The nineteenth-century American audience was equally heterogeneous. In both eras the various classes saw the same plays in the same theaters-though not necessarily from the same vantage point. Until mid-century, at least, American theaters generally had a tripartite seating arrangement: the pit (orchestra), the boxes, and the gallery (balcony). Although theater prices fell substantially from 1800 to 1850, seating arrangements continued to dovetail with class and economic divisions. In the boxes sat, as one spectator put it, "the dandies, and people of the first respectability and fashion." The gallery was inhabited largely by those (apprentices, servants, poor workingmen) who could not afford better seats or by those (Negroes and often prostitutes) who were not allowed to sit elsewhere.The Daily Picayune in New Orleans commented on March 14, 1844, '"The plaguing portion of our negro population feel more interest in, and go in greater numbers to see, the plays of Shakespeare represented on the stage, than any other class of dramatic performance." The pit was dominated by what were rather vaguely called the "middling classes"-a "mixed multitude" that some contemporaries praised as the "honest folks" or "the sterling part of the audience."l
All observers agree that the nineteenth-century theater housed under one roof a microcosm of American society. This, the actor Joseph Jefferson maintained, was what made drama a more difficult art than painting, music, or writing, which "have a direct following, generally from a class whose taste and understanding are pretty evenly balanced,-whereas a theater is divided into three and sometimes four classes." And all of those classes had to be addressed, as Jefferson also noted: "There must be no vagueness in acting. The suggestion should be unmistakable; it must be hurled at the whole audience, and reach with unerring aim the boys in the gallery and the statesmen in the stalls." Walt Whitman warmly recalled the Bowery Theatre around the year 1840, where he could look up to the first tier of boxes and see "the faces of the leading authors, poets, editors, of those times," while he sat in the pit surrounded by the "slang, wit, occasional shirt sleeves, and a picturesque freedom of looks and manners, with a rude, good-nature and restless movement" of cartmen, butchers, firemen, and mechanics. Others spoke of the mixed audience with less enthusiasm. Washington Irving wrote a series of letters to the New York Morning Chronicle in 1802 and 1803 describing his theater experiences. The noise in the gallery he found "is somewhat similar to that which prevailed in Noah's Ark; for we have an imitation of the whistles and yells of every kind of animal." When the "gallery gods" were roused for one reason or another, "they commenced a discharge of apples, nuts & ginger-bread, on the heads of the honest folks in the pit." Throughout the evening there was a chorus of "coughing and sneezing . . . whistling and thumping . . . The crackling of nuts and the craunching of apples saluted my ears on every side."l8
Little had changed by 1832 when the English visitor Frances Trollope attended the theater in several American cities. In Cincinnati she observed coatless men with their sleeves rolled up, incessantly spitting, reeking "of onions and whiskey." She enjoyed the Shakespeare but abhorred the "perpetual" noises: "The applause is expressed by cries and thumping with the feet, instead of clapping; and when a patriotic fit seized them, and 'Yankee Doodle' was called for, every man seemed to think his reputation as a citizen depended on the noise he made." Things were no better in Philadelphia and, if anything, worse in New York theaters, where she witnessed "a lady performing the most maternal office possible . . . and a general air of contempt for the decencies of life." When he published his reminiscences in 1836, Tyrone Power tried to counter such accounts by praising the attentiveness and intelligence of his American audiences, but it appears that what differed was less the audience than Power's tolerance for it. For instance, in hailing the "degree of repose and gentility of demeanour" of the audience he performed for in New Orleans in 1835, he wrote:
The least prolonged tumult of approbation even is stilled by a word to order: and when it is considered that here are assembled the wildest and rudest specimens of the Western population, men owning no control except the laws, and not viewing these over submissively, and who admit of no arbiter elegantiarum or standard of fine breeding, it confers infinite credit on their innate good feeling, and that sense of propriety which here forms the sole check on their naturally somewhat uproarious jollity.'9
Evidence of this sort makes it dear that an understanding of the American theater in our own time is not adequate grounding for a comprehension of American theater in the nineteenth century. To envision nineteenth-century theater audiences correctly, one might do well to visit a contemporary sporting event in which the spectators not only are similarly heterogeneous but are also-in the manner of both the nineteenth century and the Elizabethan era-more than an audience; they are participants who can enter into the action on the field, who feel & sense of immediacy and at times even of control, who articulate their opinions and feelings vocally and unmistakably. Washington Irving wryly observed, "The good folks of the gallery have all the trouble of ordering the music." When the orchestra's selection displeased them, they stamped, hissed, roared, whistled, and groaned in cadence until the musicians played "Moll in the wad, Tally ho the ,grinders, and several other airs more suited to their tastes." In 1833 the New York Mirror reported that during a recent evening at the American Theatre the audience was unhappy with the overture, loudly called for "Yankee Doodle," "and its melting tones forthwith breathed forth in mellifluous harmony. The pit were gratified, and evinced their satisfaction by a gentle roar." The audience's vociferousness continued during the play itself, which was punctuated by expressions of disapproval in the form of hisses or groans and of approval in the form of applause, whistles, and stamping to the point that a Virginia editor felt called upon to remind his readers in 1829 that it was not "a duty to applaud at the conclusion of every sentence." A French reporter, attending a production of Shakespeare in California in 1851, was fascinated by the audience's enthusiasm: "The more they like a play, the louder they whistle, and when a San Francisco audience bursts into shrill whistles and savage yells, you may be sure they are in raptures of joy." Audiences frequently demanded-and got-instant encores from performers who particularly pleased them. "Perhaps," a New York editor wrote sarcastically in 1846, "we'll flatter Mr. Kean by making him take poison twice." As late as the 1870S an observer reported that while "the fashionable portion of the audience" in a small northeastern manufacturing city watched quietly as a dramatic troupe led by the great Italian actor Tommaso Salvini presented a "spiritless, dragging" version of Hamlet, the gallery made up in good humor and liveliness whatever was lacking of those qualities on the part of the actors themselves. When the ghost of Hamlet's father rose majestic from the underworld and caught his mosquito-net in the trap-door, they cheered him through all his frantic efforts to jerk himself loose; they manifested their sympathy with Hamlet's psychological difficulties by the groans with which they accompanied the immortal soliloquy; . . . and when, in the final act, the festal goblet was brought upon the stage, they called clamorously but good-naturedly upon the king to "set up the crowd."20
Like the Elizabethans, a substantial portion of nineteenth century American audiences knew their Shakespeare well. Sol Smith reported that in 1839, when he wanted to put on an evening of acts from various Shakespearean plays in St. Louis, he had "no difficulty in finding Hamlets, Shylocks and Richards in abundance, very glad of the opportunity to exhibit their hidden powers." Constance Rourke has shown that as far west as California, from miners' camps to the galleries of urban theaters, there were many who knew large parts of the plays by heart. This knowledge easily became an instrument of control, as more than one hapless actor found out. In the winter of 1856 Hugh F. McDermott's depiction of Richard III did not meet the critical expectations of his Sacramento audience. During the early scenes of Act I "a few carrots timidly thrown, had made their appearance," but the full ardor of the audience was roused only when Richard's killing of Henry included a "thrust, a posteron, after Henry had fallen." Then, the Sacramento Daily Union reported, "Cabbages, carrots, pumpkins, potatoes, a wreath of vegetables, a sack of flour and one of soot, and a dead goose, with other articles, simultaneously fell upon the stage." The barrage woke the dead Henry, who fled followed by Richard, "his head enveloped in a halo of vegetable glory." Pleas from the manager induced the audience to allow the play to go on-but not for long. In Act II, McDermott's inept wooing of Lady Anne again exhausted the patience of the audience. "When Richard placed the sword in her hand," a reporter observed, "one half the house, at least, asked that it might be plunged in his body." This storm of shouts was followed by a renewal of the vegetable shower accompanied this time by Chinese firecrackers. As poor Richard fled for the second time, "a well directed pumpkin caused him to stagger, and with still truer aim, a potato relieved him of his cap, which was left upon the field of glory, among the cabbages."21
Scenes like this account for the frequent assurance on playbills that 'proper officers are appointed who will rigidly enforce decorum.' Proper enforcers or not, such incidents were common enough to prompt a nineteenth-century gentleman to note in his diary, "The egg as a vehicle of dramatic criticism came into early use in this Continent." Despondency over the use of such critical "vehicles" by audiences in Philadelphia's Chestnut Street Theatre led the actor Richard Fullerton to drown himself in the Delaware River in the winter of 1802. "He was annoyed by anonymous and cutting criticisms," a contemporary observed, "and by contemptible hissing and other open demonstrations directed to him personally when on the stage." Here was literal proof of the continued validity of Samuel Johnson's prologue:
The drama's laws, the drama's patrons give, For we that live to please, must please to live.
"The public," an American critic agreed in 1805, "in the final resort, govern the stage." It was of course a two-edged sword, the same California audiences capable of driving King Richard from the stage could pay homage to a performance they recognized as superior. Irish-born Matilda Heron's portrayal of Juliet on New Year's` night 1854 "SO fascinated and entranced" the «walnut-cracking holiday audience," according to the San Francisco Chronicle, that "they sat motionless and silent for some moments after the scene was done; and then suddenly recovering themselves from the thraldom under which they had been placed, they came down in a shower of applause that shook the house."22
These frenetic displays of approval and disapproval were signs
of engagement in what was happening on the stage-an engagement that on occasion could blur the line between audience and actors. At a performance of Richard III with Junius Brutus Booth at New York's Bowery Theatre in December 1832, the holiday audience was so large that some three hundred people overflowed onto the stage and entered into the spirit of things, the New York Mirror reported. They examined Richard's royal regalia with interest, hefted his sword, and tried on his crown; they moved up to get a dose look at the ghosts of King Henry, Lady Anne, and the children when these characters appeared on stage; they mingled with the soldiers during the battle of Bosworth Field and responded to the roll of drums and blast of trumpets by racing across the stage. When Richard and Richmond began their fight, the audience "made a ring round the combatants to see fair play, and kept them at it for nearly a quarter of an hour by 'Shrewsbury's dock.' this was all done in perfect good humor, and with no intention to make a row." When Dan Rice came on to dance his famous Jim Crow, the on-stage audience made him repeat it some twenty times, «and in the afterpiece, where a supper-table [was] spread, some among the most hungry very leisurely helped themselves to the viands." Frequently, members of the audience became so involved in the action on stage that they interfered in order to dispense charity to the sick and destitute, advice to the indecisive, and, as one man did during a Baltimore production of Coriolanus and another during a New York production of Othello, protection to someone involved in an unfair fight. In a wonderful instance of how nineteenth century American audiences tended to see drama as both reality and representation simultaneously, a canal boatman screamed at Iago in a production of Othello in Albany, New York, "You damned lying scoundrel, I would like to get hold of you after the show and wring your infernal neck."23 Constance Rourke has related another fine example: "On a small stage in a Kentucky village a gambler's family was pictured as starving and a countryman rose from one of the boxes. 'I propose we make up something for this woman,' he said. Some one whispered that it was all a sham, but he delivered a brief discourse on the worthlessness of the gambler, flung a bill on to the stage with his pocketbook, advised the woman not to let her husband know about it or he would spend it all on faro, and then with a divided mind sat down, saying, 'Now go on with the play.'"
THE PLACE of Shakespearean drama in the nineteenth century American theater should make it clear how difficult it is to draw arbitrary lines between popular and folk culture. Here was professional entertainment containing numerous folkish elements, including a knowledgeable, participatory audience exerting important degrees of control. The integration of Shakespeare into the culture as a whole should bring into serious question our tendency to see culture on a vertical plane, neatly divided into a hierarchy of inclusive adjectival categories such as "high," "low," "pop," "mass," "folk," and the like. If the phenomenon of Shakespeare was not an aberration-and the diverse audiences for such art forms as Italian opera, such performers as the singer Jenny Lind, and such writers as Longfellow, Dickens, and Mark Twain would indicate that it was not-then the study of Shakespeare's relationship to the American people helps reveal the existence of a shared public culture to which we have not paid enough attention. It has been obscured by the practice of emloying such categories as "popular" aesthetically rather than literally. That is, the adjective "popular" has been utilized to describe not only those creations of expressive culture that actually had a large audience (which is the way I have tried to use it), but also, and often primarily, those that had questionable : artistic merit. Thus, a banal play or a poorly written romantic novel has been categorized as popular culture, even if it had a tiny audience, while the recognized artistic attributes of a Shakespearean play have prevented it from being included in popular culture, regardless of its high degree of popularity. The use of such arbitrary and imprecise cultural categories has helped obscure the dynamic complexity of American culture in the nineteenth century.
Our difficulty also proceeds from the historical fallacy of reading the present into the past. By the middle of the twentieth century, Shakespearean drama did not occupy the place it had in the nineteenth century. Although in the mid-twentieth century there was no more widely known, respected, or quoted dramatist in our culture than Shakespeare, the nature of his relationship to the American people had changed: he was no longer their familiar, no longer part of their culture, no longer at home in their theaters or on the movie and television screens that had become the twentieth-century equivalents of the stage. If Shakespeare had been an integral part of mainstream culture in the nineteenth century, in the twentieth he had become part of 'polite' culture-an essential ingredient in a complex we call, significantly, "legitimate" theater. He had become the possession of the educated portions of society who disseminated his plays for the enlightenment of the average folk who were to swallow him not for their entertainment but for their education, as a respite from-not as a normal part of-their usual cultural diet. Recalling his youthful experiences with Shakespeare, the columnist Gerald Nachman wrote in 1979 that in the schools of America "Shakespeare becomes theatrical spinach: He's good for you. If you digest enough of his plays, you'll grow up big and strong intellectually like teacher." In 1955 Alfred Harbage characterized the mood prevailing at Shakespearean performances as "reverently unreceptive," containing "small sense of joy, small sense of sorrow; . . . rarely a moment of that hush of absorption which is the only sign-warrant of effectual drama." People attended Shakespeare the way they attended church: "gratified that they have come, and gratified that they now may go." The plays of Shakespeare, he reflected, "have ceased to be plays at all- they have become classics." The efforts of such young producers and directors as Joseph Papp in the late 1950S and the 1960S to liberate Shakespeare from the genteel prison in which he had been confined, to restore his plays to their original vitality, and to disseminate them among what Papp called "a great dispossessed audience," is a testament to what had happened to Shakespearean drama since the mid-nineteenth century.24
Signs of this transformation appear throughout the twentieth century. In his 1957 treatise on how to organize community theaters, John Wray Young warned, "Most organizations will find it difficult to please with the classics . . . Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, the Greeks, and the other masters are hard to sell in the average community situation." Shakespeare had become not only a hard-to-sell classic to average members of the community but even an alienating force. In a 1979 episode of the popular comic strip Bringing up Father, the neighborhood bartender, Dinty Moore, suddenly goes "high hat" when he meets and courts a wealthy woman. The symbols of his attempt to enter "society," which separate him from his friends, are his fancy clothing, his poodle dog, his horseback riding and golf, his pretentious language, and his reading of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which so infuriates his friend Jiggs that he seizes the volume and throws it at Moore, whose having dared to read Shakespeare was portrayed as the ultimate put-down, the final sign of his class apostasy. In one of his wonderful monologues on politics, published in 1905, George Washington Plunkitt, ward boss of the fifteenth assembly district in New York City and one of the powers of Tammany Hall, admonished aspiring politicians:
If you're makin' speeches in a campaign, talk the language the people talk. Don't try to show how the situation is by quoting Shakespeare. Shakespeare was all right in his way, but he didn't know anything about Fifteenth District politics . . . Go out and talk the language of the Fifteenth to the people. I know it's an awful temptation, the hankerin' to show off your learnin'. I've felt it myself, but I always resist it. I know the awful consequences.
In her account of her life as a worker, Dorothy Richardson deplored the maudlin yellowback novels that dominated the reading habits of working women at the turn of the century and pleaded for the wide dissemination of better literature:
Only, please, Mr. or Mrs. Philanthropist, don't let it be Shakespeare, or Ruskin, or Walter Pater. Philanthropists have tried before to reform degraded literary tastes with heroic treatment, and they have failed every time. That is sometimes the trouble with the college settlement folk. They forget that Shakespeare, and Ruskin, and all the rest of the really true and great literary crew, are infinite bores to every-day people.25
Culture is a process, not a fixed condition; it is the product of unremitting interaction between the past and the present; thus, Shakespeare's relationship to the American people was always in flux, always changing. Still, it is possible to isolate a period during which the increasing separation of Shakespeare from "every-day people" becomes more evident. The American Theatre in San Francisco advised those attending its May 29, 1855, production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that "owing to the length of the play there will be NO FARCE." Similarly, in 1869 the Varieties Theatre in New Orleans announced in its playbill advertising Mrs. Scott Siddons in As You Like It, "In consequence of the length of this comedy, it will constitute the Evening's Entertainment." In following decades it became less and less necessary for theaters to issue such explanations. In 1873 the California Theatre in San Francisco advertised Coriolanus with no promise of a farce or between-act entertainment-and no apologies. This became true in city after city. There is no precise date, but everywhere in the United States during the final decades of the nineteenth century the same transformation was evidently taking place; Shakespeare was being divorced from the broader world of everyday culture. Gone were the entr'acte diversions: the singers, jugglers, dancers, acrobats, orators. Gone, too, was the purple prose trumpeting the sensational events and pageantry that were part of the Shakespearean plays themselves. Those who wanted their Shakespeare had to take him alone, lured to his plays by stark playbills promising no frills or enhancements. In December 1890 Pittsburgh's Duquesne Theatre advertised productions of The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar by announcing simply, "Engagement of Mr. Lawrence Barrett, supported by Miss Gale And a Competent Company of Players." Significantly, the frequent admonitions relating to audience behavior were now missing as well. By the early twentieth century, playbills of this type became the norm everywhere. William Shakespeare had become Culture.26
This change resulted in an inevitable decline in the frequency with which Shakespearean drama was produced. "Shakespeare was heard ten times in New York then  for once that he is heard now," the critic Richard Grant White pointed out in 1882. What seemed to be the nadir to White appeared to be a golden age to Mark Twain who observed in 1908, "Thirty years ago Edwin Booth played 'Hamlet' a hundred nights in New York. With three times the population, how often is 'Hamlet' played now in a year? . . . What has come over us Englishspeaking people?" The question was still troubling a Shakespearean scholar who lamented in 1963, "the days when a Davenport and a Barry could open rival productions of Hamlet on the same night, as in 1875; when Macbeth could be seen at three different theatres in New York in 1849; when ten Hamlets could be produced in a single season, as in New York in 1857-58; . . . these days are unfortunately gone."27
It is easier to describe this transformation than to explain it, since the transformation itself has clouded our vision of the past. So completely have twentieth-century Americans learned to accept as natural and timeless Shakespeare's status as an elite, classic "dramatist, to whose plays the bulk of the populace do not or cannot relate, that we have found it difficult to comprehend nineteenth-century conceptions of Shakespeare. Too frequently, modern historians of the theater have spent less time and energy understanding Shakespeare's nineteenth-century popularity than in explaining it away. The formula is simple and proceeds from an attempt to account for the indisputable popularity of a great master in a frontier society with an "overwhelmingly uneducated" public. The consensus seems to be that Shakespeare was popular for all the wrong reasons: because of the afterpieces and divertissements that surrounded his plays; because the people wanted to see great actors who in turn insisted on performing Shakespeare to demonstrate their abilities; because his plays were presented in altered, simplified versions; because of his bombast, crudities, and sexual allusions rather than his poetry or sophistication; because of almost anything but his dramatic genius. "Shakespeare," we are told in a conclusion that would not be important if it were not so typical, "could communicate with the unsophisticated at the level of action and oratory while appealing to the small refined element at the level of dramatic and poetic artistry." Esther Dunn studied the "indifferent and vulgar stuff" accompanying Shakespeare in the theater and concluded that, "if the public could stand for this sort of entertainment, night in and night out, they could not have derived the fullest pleasure from the Shakespearean portion of the programme." In 1926 Poet Laureate Robert Bridges spoke for many on both sides of the Atlantic when he attributed the "bad jokes and obscenities," "the mere foolish verbal trifling," and such sensationalism in Shakespeare's plays as the murder of Macduff's child or the blinding of Gloucester, to Shakespeare's need to make concessions "to the most vulgar stratum of his audience, . . . those wretched beings who can never be forgiven their share in preventing the greatest poet and dramatist of the world from being the best artist."28
Again and again, historians and critics have arbitrarily separated the "action and oratory' of Shakespeare's plays from the "dramatic and poetic artistry' with which they were, in reality, so intricately connected. We are asked to believe that the average member of the audience saw only violence, lewdness, and sensationalism in such plays as Richard m, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth and was incapable of understanding the moral and ethical dilemmas, the generational strains between parents and children, the crude ambition of Richard III or Lady Macbeth, the haunting guilt of Macbeth, the paralyzing introspection and doubts of Hamlet, the envy of Iago, the insecurities of Othello. We have been asked to believe that such human conditions and situations were beyond the powers of most of the audience and touched only a "refined element" who understood the "subtleties of Shakespeare's art."
Certainly, the relationship of an audience to the object of its focus-be it a sermon, political speech, newspaper, musical composition, or play-is a complex one and constitutes a problem for the historian who would reconstruct it. But the problem cannot be resolved through the use of such ahistorical devices as dividing both the audience and the object into crude categories and then coming to conclusions that have more to do with the culture of the writer than that of the subject. In fact, the way to understand the popularity of Shakespeare is to enter into the spirit of the nineteenth century. Shakespeare was popular, first and foremost, because he was integrated into the culture and presented within its context. Nineteenth century Americans were able to fit Shakespeare into their culture so easily because he seemed to fit-because so many of his values and tastes were, or at least appeared to be, close to their own, and were presented through figures that seemed real and came to matter to the audience. Shakespeare's characters, the lecturer Henry Norman Hudson insisted, were so vivid, so alive, that they assumed the shape "of actual persons, so that we know them as well and remember them as distinctly as we do our most intimate friends.» A correspondent in American Monthly in 1836 declared that Shakespeare's characters "become as vivid and real as those which we encounter in life. They are the acting and moving beings in a world, into which we can expand ourselves with so complete a presence as to include them within our actual experience." For the teenaged William Dean Howells, who memorized great chunks of Shakespeare while working as an apprentice printer in his father's newspaper office in the 1850S, the world of Shakespeare was one in which he felt as much "at home," as much like "a citizen," as he did in his small Ohio town.29
Both worlds enshrined the art of oratory. The same Americans who found diversion and pleasure in lengthy political debates, who sought joy and God in the sermons of church and camp meeting, who had, in short, a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for the spoken word, thrilled to Shakespeare's eloquence, memorized his soliloquies, delighted in his dialogues. Although nineteenth-century Americans stressed the importance of literacy and built an impressive system of public education, theirs remained an oral world in which the spoken word was central. In such a world, Shakespeare had no difficulty finding a place. Nor was Shakespearean oratory confined to the professional stage; it often was a part of life. Walt Whitman recalled that as a young man he rode in the Broadway omnibuses "declaiming some stormy passage from Julius Caesar or Richard" to passersby. In the 1850S Mark Twain worked as an apprentice to the pilot-master George Ealer on the steamboat Pennsylvania: "He would read Shakespeare to me; not just casually, but by the hour, when it was his watch, and I was steering . . . He did not use the book, and did not need to; he knew his Shakespeare as well as Euclid ever knew his multiplication table." In Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1845, soldiers of the Fourth Infantry Regiment broke the monotony of waiting for the Mexican War to begin by staging plays, including a performance of Othello starring young Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant as Desdemona. That the scene in Corpus Christi was not unusual is made clear by an entry George Templeton Strong made in his diary in 1850 after a stay at West Point: "Some of the officers got up a series of Shakespeare readings last winter by way of varying the routine of mess life." Many of Lincoln's aides and associates remember his tendency to recite long, relevant passages from Shakespeare during the troubling days of the Civil War. Lincoln was not alone; Shakespeare was part and parcel of nineteenth-century political discourse. Senator John B. Henderson of Missouri, for example, supported James G. Blaine's presidential aspirations by writing of him to Carl Schurz in 1884: "If he has been a Prince Hal in days gone by, when responsibility comes he will be a Henry V. The Falstaffs who have followed him . . . will not be recognized in shaping his policies nor be suffered to bring odium upon his Administration." Shakespearean allusions and quotations were a regular feature of nineteenth-century newspapers. In the antebellum New Orleans press, reports of thefts regularly featured such aphorisms as "who steals my purse steals trash," murder stories commonly compared the contemporary transgressor with such Shakespearean killers as Othello and Macbeth, and the kindest thing a critic could say of a local comedian was that he "would make the ghost of Hamlet's father laugh." Shakespeare was taught in nineteenth-century schools and colleges as declamation or rhetoric, not literature. For many youngsters Shakespeare was first encountered in schoolbooks as texts to be recited aloud and memorized. Through this impressive panoply of means, Shakespearean phrases, aphorisms, ideas, and language helped shape American speech and became so integral a part of the nineteenth century imagination that it is a futile exercise to separate Americans' love of Shakespeare's oratory from their appreciation for his subtle use of language.30
It was not merely Shakespeare's language but his style that recommended itself to nineteenth-century audiences. In a period when melodrama became one of the mainstays of the American stage, Shakespearean plays easily lent themselves to the melodramatic style. Shakespearean drama featured heroes and villains who communicated directly with the audience and left little doubt about the nature of their character or their intentions. In a series of asides during the opening scenes of the first act, Macbeth shares his "horrible imaginings" and "vaulting ambition" with the audience (I.iii-vii). Similarly, Iago confides to the audience "I hate the Moor," rehearses his schemes of "double knavery" to betray both Cassio and Othello, and confesses that his jealousy of Othello "Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my innards; / And nothing can or shall content my soul / Till I am evened with him" (I.iii). As in melodrama, Shakespearean villains are aware not only of their own evil but also of the goodness of their adversaries. Thus Iago, even as he plots against Othello, admits that "The Moor-howbeit that I endure him not-/ Is of a constant, loving, noble nature" (II.i).
Lines like these, which so easily fit the melodramatic mode, were delivered in appropriately melodramatic style. The actors who dominated the stage during the first half of the nineteenth century were vigorous, tempestuous, emotional. To describe these men, contemporaries reached for words like "hurricane," "maelstrom,» "avalanche,» "earthquake," "monsoon," and "whirlwind." Edmund Kean's acting, one of them noted, was "just on the edge, sometimes quite over the edge of madness." It "blinded and stunned the beholders, appalled the imagination, and chilled their blood." Walt Whitman, who saw Junius Brutus Booth perform in the late 1830s, wrote of him, "He illustrated Plato's rule that to the forming an artist of the very highest rank a dash of insanity or what the world calls insanity is indispensable." The first great American-born Shakespearean actor, Edwin Forrest, carried this romantic tradition to its logical culmination. William Rounseville Alger, who saw Forrest perform, described his portrayal of Lear after Goneril rebuffs him:
His eyes flashed and faded and reflashed. He beat his breast as if not knowing what he did. His hands clutched wildly at the air as though struggling with something invisible. Then, sinking on his knees, with upturned look and hands straight outstretched towards his unnatural daughter, he poured out, in frenzied tones of mingled shriek and sob, his withering curse, half adjuration, half malediction.31
As in melodrama itself? language and style in American pro auctions of Shakespeare were not utilized randomly; they were used to inculcate values, to express ideas and attitudes. For all of the complaints of such as Whitman that the feudal plays of Shakespeare were not altogether fitting for a democratic age, Shakespeare's attraction for nineteenth-century audiences was due in no small part to the fact that he was-or at least was taken to be-in tune with much of nineteenth century American consciousness. From the beginning, Shakespeare's American admirers and promoters maintained that he was preeminently a moral playwright. To overcome the general prejudice against the theater in the eighteenth century, Shakespeare's plays were frequently presented as "moral dialogues» or "moral lectures." In Newport, Rhode Island, in 1761 Othello was advertised as «Depicting the Evil Effects of Jealousy and other Bad Passions," and the example of Iago was utilized to warn, "The man that wrongs his master and his friend, / What can he come to but a shameful end?" For Thomas Jefferson, "A lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics and divinity that ever were written." For Abraham Lincoln, Macbeth stood as "the perfect illustration of the problems of tyranny and murder.'' And John Quincy Adams concluded, even as he was waging his heroic fight against the power of the slave South in the House of Representatives in 1836, that the moral of Othello was "that the intermarriage of black and white blood is a violation of the law of nature. That is the lesson to be learned from the play."32
Regardless of specific interpretations, writers of nineteenth century schoolbooks and readers seemed to have agreed with Henry Norman Hudson that Shakespeare's works provided "a far better school of virtuous discipline than half the moral and religious books which are now put into the hands of youth" and reprinted lines from Shakespeare not only to illustrate the art of declamation but also to disseminate moral values and patriotic principles. As late as 1870 the playbill of a New Orleans theater spelled out the meaning of Twelfth Night: "MORAL: In this play Shakespeare has finely penciled the portraits of Folly and Vanity in the persons of Aguecheek and Malvolio; and with a not less masterly hand, he has exhibited the weakness of the human mind when Love has usurped the place of Reason." The affinity between Shakespeare and the American people went beyond moral homilies; it extended to the basic ideological underpinnings of nineteenth-century America. When Cassius proclaimed that "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings" (Julius Caesar, I.ii), and when Helena asserted that «Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, / Which we ascribe to heaven: the fated sky / Gives us free scope" (All's Well That Ends Well, I.i), they articulated a belief that was central to the pervasive success ethos of the nineteenth century and that confirmed the developing American worldview.33
Whatever Shakespeare's own designs, philosophy, and concept of humanity were, his plays had meaning to a nation that placed the individual at the center of the universe and personalized the large questions of the day. The actor Joseph Jefferson held Shakespeare responsible for the star system that prevailed for so much of the nineteenth century since "his tragedies almost without exception contain one great character on whom the interest of the play turns, and upon whom the attention of the audience is centered." Shakespeare's characters-like the Davy Crocketts and Mike Finks that dominated American folklore and the Jacksons, Websters, Clays, and Calhouns who dominated American politics-were larger than life: their passions, appetites and dilemmas were of epic proportions. Here were forceful, meaningful people who faced, on a larger scale, the same questions as those that filled the pages of schoolbooks: the duties of children and parents, husbands and wives, governed and governors to one another. In their lives the problems of jealousy, morality, and ambition were all writ large. However flawed some of Shakespeare's central figures were, they at least acted-even the indecisive Hamlet-and bore responsibility for their own fate. If they failed, they did so because ultimately they lacked sufficient inner control.
Thus Othello was undone by his jealousy and gullibility, Coriolanus by his pride, Macbeth and Richard III by their ambition. All of them could be seen as the architects of their own fortune, the masters of their own fate. All of them, Henry Norman Hudson taught his audiences, "contain within themselves the reason why they are there and not elsewhere, why they are so and not otherwise." In 1906 Martha Baker Dunn looked back on her long-standing relationship with Shakespeare, whom she first met through his plays when she was a young girl ill with measles, and recalled how attracted she always was to the "moral of individual responsibility' in his work "Shakespeare's message is the message of a robust manhood and womanhood: Brace up, pay for what you have, do good if you wish to get good; good or bad, shoulder the burden of your moral responsibility, and never forget that cowardice is the most fatal and most futile crime in the calendar of crimes."34
How important this quality of individual will was can be seen in the fate of Sophocles' Oedipus in nineteenth-century America. The play was introduced twice in the century to New York audiences and failed both times, largely because of its subject matter. The New York Tribune's reaction, after Oedipus opened in January 1882, was typical: "King Oedipus certainly carries more woe to the square inch than anybody else that ever walked upon the stage. And it is woe of the very worst kind-without solace, and without hope." Sophocles seemed guilty of determinism-an ideological stance nineteenth-century Americans rejected out of hand. "The overmastering fates that broke men and women upon the wheel of torture that destiny might be fulfilled are far away from us, the gods that lived and cast deep shadows over men's lives are turned to stone," the New York Herald's reviewer wrote. "The helpful human being-who pays his way through the world finds it hard to imagine the creature kicking helpless in the traps of the gods." Similarly, critics attacked the bloodshed and immorality in Oedipus. The New York Mirror denounced "a plot like this, crammed full of murder, suicide, self-mutilation, incest, and dark deeds of a similar character."35 Shakespearean drama, of course, was no less laced through with gore. But, while this quality in Sophocles seemed to Americans to be an end in itself, Shakespeare's thought patterns were either close enough or were made to seem close enough so that the violence had a point, and that point appeared to buttress American values and confirm American expectations.
This ideological equation, this ability of Shakespeare to connect with Americans' underlying beliefs, is crucial to an understanding of his role in nineteenth-century America. Much has been made of the adaptations of Shakespeare as instruments that made him somehow more understandable to American audiences. Certainly, the adaptations did work this way-not primarily, as has been so widely claimed, by vulgarizing or simplifying him to the point of utter distortion but rather by heightening those qualities in Shakespeare that American audiences were particularly drawn to. The liberties taken with Shakespeare in nineteenth-century America were often similar to liberties taken with folklore: Shakespeare was frequently seen as common property to be treated as the user saw fit. Thus many small changes were made for practical and moral reasons without much fanfare or fuss: minor roles were consolidated to create richer acting parts; speeches and scenes, considered overly long or extraneous, were shortened or omitted; sexual references were rendered more palatable by shifting such words as "whores" to "wenches," having Othello refer to "stolen hours of unfaithfulness" rather than "stolen hours of lust," and changing the phrase "happiness to their sheets" to "happiness be theirs"; contemporary sensibilities were catered to by making Juliet eighteen rather than thirteen, by softening some of Hamlet's angriest diatribes against Ophelia and his mother, or by preventing Othello from overtly manhandling Desdemona before he finally strangles her. Some of the alterations bordered on the spectacular, such as the flying, singing witches in Macbeth and the elaborate funeral procession that accompanied Juliet's body to the tomb of the Capulets in Romeo and Juliet. On the whole, such limited changes were made with respect for-and sensitivity to-Shakespeare's purposes.36
It is important to realize that, while some of the alterations were imported from England and others were made in America, none were adopted indiscriminately. Of the many drastically revised editions of Shakespeare that originated in England, only those by David Garrick, Nahum Tate, and Colley Cibber held sway in the United States during the nineteenth century. David Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio (1756), a three-act condensation of The Taming of the Shrew that retained the basic thrust of Shakespeare's original, won considerable popularity as an afterpiece and was not superseded until Augustin Daly produced the full version of Shakespeare's play in 1887. The popularity of Garrick's revision of Romeo and Juliet, which allowed Juliet to awaken from her sleep moments before Romeo's poison took effect so that the two lovers could enjoy a final farewell, was further proof that Shakespeare was viewed as a human playwright whose dramatic effects were often imperfect and could be improved upon. For our purposes, however, Nahum Tate's revision of King Lear (1681), and Colley Cibber's revision of Richard III (1700), are the most interesting. If brevity and enhanced dramatic effect were the chief virtues of Garrick's revisions, the attractions of Cibber's Richard and Tate's Lear were more complex and suggest that those alterations of Shakespeare that became most prevalent in the United States were those that best fit the values and ideology of the period and the people.
For most of the nineteenth century Colley Cibber's Richard III held sway everywhere. Its popularity continued well into the twentieth century. Its popularity continued well into the twentieth century. In 1909 Alice Wood reported that Cibber's version of Richard III "is still holding the stage and is still preferred by a large part of the community," and thus "the struggle for the 'Richard the Third' of Shakespeare is still 'on.'" In 1930, Arthur Colby Sprague attended a performance of Richard in Boston and was treated to "the Cibber text, practically in its entirety" although Cibber's name was nowhere mentioned. As late as 1955, Laurence Olivier, in his film version of Richard III continued to recite Cibber's as well as Shakespeare's lines. Cibber's revision, by cutting one third of the lines, eliminating half of the characters, adding scenes from other Shakespearean plays and from Cibber's own pen, succeeded in muting the ambiguities of the original and focusing all of the evil in the person of Richard. Thus, although Cibber retained Shakespeare's essential plot and much of his poetry, he refashioned the play in such a way that? while his work was done in the England of 1700, it could have been written a hundred years later in the United States, so closely did it agree with American sensibilities concerning the centrality of the individual, the dichotomy between good and evil, and the importance of personal responsibility. Richmond's speech over the body of the vanquished Richard mirrored perfectly America's moral sense and melodramatic taste:
Farewell, Richard, and from thy dreadful end May future Kings from Tyranny be warn'd; Had thy aspiring Soul but stir'd in Vertue With half the Spirit it has dar'd in Evil, How might thy Fame have grac'd our English Annals: But as thou art, how fair a Page thou'st blotted.
If Cibber added lines making dear the fate of villains, he was no less explicit concerning the` destiny of heroes. After defeating Richard, Richmond is informed that "the Queen and fair Elizabeth, / Her beauteous Daughter, some few miles off, are / On their way to Gratulate your Victory." His reply must have warmed America's melodramatic heart as much as it confirmed its ideological underpinnings: "Ay, there indeed my toil's rewarded."37
Tate's altered King Lear, like Cibber's Richard III, virtually displaced Shakespeare's own version for almost two centuries. It was not until November 16, 1875, when Edwin Booth presented his "restored" version of Lear, that an important American actor performed the play without benefit of Tate. Tate, who distorted Shakespeare far more than Cibber did, devised a happy ending for what was one of the most tragic of all of Shakespeare's plays: he created a love affair between Edgar and Cordelia and allowed Cordelia and Lear to live. Although there were certainly critics of this fundamental alteration, it proved popular with theatergoers. When in 1826 James H. Hackett chided his fellow actor Edmund Kean about his choice of Tate's ending rather than Shakespeare's, Kean replied that he had attempted to restore the original, "but when I had ascertained that a large majority of the public-whom we live to please, and must please to be popular-liked Tate better than Shakespeare, I fell back upon his corruption; though in my soul I was ashamed of the prevailing taste, and of my professional condition that required me to minister unto it." Still, many Americans defended the Tate version on ideological grounds.
"The moral's now more complete," wrote a contemporary, "for although Goneril, Regan, and Edmond were deservedly punished for their crimes, yet Lear and Cordelia were killed without reason and without fault. But now they survive their enemies and virtue is crowned with happiness." That virtue be "crowned with happiness" was essential to the beliefs of nineteenth-century Americans. Thus audiences had the pleasure of having their expectations confirmed when Edgar concludes the play by declaring to "Divine Cordelia":
Thy bright Example shall convince the World(Whatever Storms of Fortune are decreed) That Truth and Vertue shall at last succeed.38
THE PROFOUND and longstanding nineteenth-century American experience with Shakespeare, then, was neither accidental nor a errant. It was based upon the language and eloquence, the artistry and humor, the excitement and action, the moral sense and worldview that Americans found in Shakespearean drama The more firmly based Shakespeare was in nineteenth-century culture, the more difficult it is to understand why he lost so much of his audience so quickly; why as early as 1890 A. C. Wheeler could announce "The Extinction of Shakespeare," and ask rhetorically, "Does anyone suppose that the theatre will ever be able to reawaken in the public the interest in Shakespeare's work that attended its earlier productions?"39
Certainly some of the factors underlying Shakespeare's transformation were intricately connected to the internal history of the theater. So long as the theater was under attack on moral grounds, as it was in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Shakespeare, because of his immense reputation, could be presented more easily and could be used to help make the theater itself legitimate. Shakespearean drama also lent itself to the prevalent star system. Only the existence of a small repertory of well known plays, in which Shakespeare's were central, made it feasible for the towering stars of England and America to travel throughout the United States acting with resident stock companies wherever they went. The relative dearth of native dramatists and the relative scarcity of competing forms of theatrical entertainment also figured in Shakespeare's popularity. As these conditions were altered, Shakespeare's popularity and centrality were affected. As important as factors peculiar to the theater were, and I will return to them at the end of this chapter, the theater did not exist in a vacuum; it was an integral part of American culture-of interest to the historian precisely because it so frequently and so accurately revealed the conditions surrounding it. A fuller explanation must therefore be sought in the larger culture itself.
Among the salient cultural changes at the turn of the century were those in language and rhetorical style. The oratorical mode, which so dominated the nineteenth century and which helped make Shakespeare popular, hardly survived into the twentieth century. In 1838 Philip Hone heard Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky denounce the sub-treasury bill and pronounced it "the greatest speech I ever heard.... He spoke just three hours, and when he concluded, and the Senate adjourned, the audience lingered in their seats, as if loath to leave the spot of their enchantment." By the close of the century no longer would Americans tolerate speeches of such duration; no longer was their attention riveted upon such political debates as that between Webster and Hayne in 1830, which consumed several days. It is true that in the closing years of the century William Jennings Bryan could still rise to national political leadership through his superb oratorical skills, but it is equally true that well before his death in 1925 he lived to see himself become an anachronism, the bearer of a style redolent of an earlier culture. What was true of politics was true of the theater. "Philosophy in action, not in words, represents the ideal of what is best and most desirable in the drama of these times," the New York Times declared in 1909 in an attempt to understand why "no large and steady portion of the regular theatregoing public will be diverted from its pursuit of the things which really interest it" to attend Shakespearean drama. The reason, the Times concluded, was that Shakespeare had catered more to the ear than the eye; had provided more of a rostrum for the speaker than a visual arena for acting out human drama.40
The surprisingly rapid decline of oratory as a force in national life - which deserves more intensive study - certainly was affected by the influx of millions of non-English-speaking people. The more than one thousand foreign-language newspapers and magazines published in the United States by 1910 testify graphically to the existence of a substantial group for whom Shakespeare, at least in his original language, was less familiar and less accessible. Many immigrant groups, of course, created their own theaters, which, Louise Taylor has argued, helped to keep Shakespeare alive in Chicago during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. One certainly could make the same argument for New York City on whose Yiddish stages a number of Shakespearean plays became familiar in unique versions. Here, for example, is Hutchins Hapgood's summary of the Yiddish Hamlet (1899):
The uncle is a rabbi in a small village in Russia. He did not poison Hamlet's father but broke the latter's heart by wooing and winning his queen. Hamlet is off somewhere getting educated as a rabbi. While he is gone his father dies. Six weeks afterwards the son returns in the midst of the wedding feast, and turns the feast into a funeral. Scenes of rant follow between mother and son, Ophelia and Hamlet, interspersed with jokes and sneers at the sect of rabbis who think they communicate with the angels. The wicked rabbi conspires against Hamlet, trying to make him out a nihilist. The plot is discovered and the wicked rabbi is sent to Siberia. The last act is the graveyard scene . . . Ophelia is brought in on the bier. Hamlet mourns by her side and is married, according to the Jewish custom, to the dead woman. Then he dies of a broken heart.
In similar fashion, Romeo and Juliet (Raphael and Shaindele) were depicted as the children of antithetical religious factions with Friar Lawrence cast as a Reform rabbi. In Jacob Gordin's popular The Jewish King Lear, Lear is transformed into a Russian Jewish merchant who ignores the lesson of Shakespeare's King Lear, which a friend reads to him, and prematurely divides his wealth among his grasping daughters only to end up blind, poor, and broken. The existence of such productions does not preclude the fact that these immigrant folk were a vital factor in the creation of a ready constituency for the rise of the more visual entertainments such as baseball, boxing, vaudeville, burlesque, and especially the new silent movies, which could be enjoyed by a larger and often more marginal audience less steeped in the language and the culture.4l
If what Reuel Denney called the "deverbalization of the forum" weakened Shakespeare among some segments of the population, the parallel growth of literacy among other groups also undermined some of the props that had sustained Shakespeare's popularity. Literacy encroached upon the pervasive oral culture that had created in nineteenth-century America an audience more comfortable with listening than reading. The "men who move and lead the world," Professor Melvil Dewey declared in 1876, "are using the press more and the platform less." Thus the generations of people accustomed to hearing and reciting things out loud-the generations for whom oral recitation of the King James version of the Bible could well have formed a bridge to the English of Shakespeare-were being depleted as America entered a new century.42
These language-related changes were accompanied by changes in taste and style. John Higham has argued that from the 1860S through the 1880S romantic idealism declined in the United States. The melodramatic mode, to which Shakespeare lent himself so well and in which he was performed so frequently, went into a related decline. "The grand days of histrionics," Olive Logan declared as early as 1879, were "now forever past." No longer would critics advise actors, as they had counseled Tyrone Power earlier in the century, "You must not be so quiet: give them more bustle . . . You must paint a little broader, my dear fellow, you're too natural for them; they don't feel it." Edwin Booth, the most influential Shakespearean actor in America during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, played his roles in a less ferocious, more subtle and intellectualized fashion than his father and most of the other leading actors of the first half of the century had. When asked how his acting compared to his father's, Booth replied simply, "I think I must be somewhat quieter." The younger Booth's quietness became the paradigm.43 The questioner was the young actor Otis Skinner. As he was preparing for his first portrayal of Shylock in 1893-the year of Booth's death-Skinner discovered the extent of Booth's influence: "I found myself reading speeches with the Booth cadence, using the Booth gestures, attitudes and facial expressions, in short, giving a rank imitation. The ghost of the dead actor rose between me and the part."
When Robert Bruce Mantell opened in Richard III in 1904, the critic for the New York Journal praised him by writing, "There were none of the mouthings and rantings of your old school; there were none of the noise and incoherency of the bumptious barnstormer." "We cannot abide Shakespeare spouted after the manner of the old days," the Boston drama critic H. T. Parker proclaimed in 1914, while the critic-scholar Brander Matthews observed that same year, "Our actors are now less rhetorical and more pictorial-as they must be on the stage of our modern theater." Conceptions of what was "natural» and tasteful on the stage changed so rapidly that by the end of their careers actors like Booth and Mantell were considered by many to be vestiges of the old school.'In the 1920s Alan Downer saw Mantell-then in his seventies-act Macbeth in a Syracuse theater: "As he huddled through his part for the thousandth time, he was plainly an actor who had lived too long, worked too hard. The theatre had disowned him, he was acting in a dead tradition, living in a dead repertory." The visceral, thunderous style fell into such disfavor that by 1920 the critic Francis Hackett not only berated John Barrymore for his emotional portrayal of Richard III but also took Shakespeare himself to task for the "unsophisticated" manner in which he had crafted the play that nineteenth-century audiences had enjoyed above all others: "The plot, the psychology, the history, seem to me infantile . . . Are we led to understand Richard? No, only to moralize over him. Thus platitude makes cowards of us all."44
These gradual and decisive changes in language, style, and taste are important but by themselves do not constitute~a totally satisfying explanation for the diminished popularity of Shakespeare. As important as changes in language and the decline of oratory were, they did not prevent the development of radio as a central entertainment medium at the beginning of the 1920s or the emergence of talking movies at the end of that decade. Nor was there anything inherent in the new popular media that necessarily relegated Shakespeare to a smaller, elite audience; on the contrary, he was quite well suited to the new forms of presentation that came to dominance. His comedies had an abundance of slapstick and contrived happy endings, his tragedies and historical plays had more than their share of action. Most important,
having written for a stage devoid of scenery, Shakespeare could and did incorporate as much spatial mobility as he desired into his plays: twenty-five scene changes in Macbeth, one of his shortest plays, and forty-two in Antony and Cleopatra, where the action gravitated from Alexandria to such locales as Rome, Messina, Athens, and Syria. This fluidity-which caused innumerable problems for the stagecraft of the nineteenth century-was particularly appropriate to the movies, which could visually reproduce whatever Shakespeare had in mind, and to radio, which, like the Elizabethan stage itself, could rely upon the imagination of its audience. In 1927 the film director Abel Gance was full of hope. "Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Beethoven will make films," he exclaimed, "all legends, all mythologies and aü myths, all founders of religion, and the very religions . . . await their exposed resurrection, and the heroes crowd each other at the gate." A few years later an American critic declared that only Hollywood could rescue Shakespeare from the confines of the intellectuals and of Broadway and make him available once again to Main Street. That these hopes went unrealized, that the new media did not take full advantage of so recently a popular source of entertainment as Shakespearean drama, demands further explanation.45
Shakespeare of course remained-and remains-a presence in American society. In the 1895 edition of Montgomery Ward's catalogue, for example, one could purchase the complete works of Shakespeare in many forms for a variety of relatively reasonable prices. In one volume for $1.23; in three volumes for $1.85; in four volumes for $1.50 (cloth) or $3.98 (half calf); in eight volumes for $4.00 (cloth) or $5.75 (French morocco with gilt edges); in thirteen volumes for $3.98; in forty volumes with five hundred illustrations for $11.00. In this and related forms, Shakespeare remained readily and easily accessible but less and less as a living playwright and more and more as a literary classic.46
Even when Shakespeare penetrated to the very heart of mass culture in the form of films and radio and television programs, it was almost always as a means of gaining prestige for the producer, director, and actors as in Max Reinhardt's 1935 film A Midsummer Nights Dream-featuring such improbable but interesting casting as James Cagney and Joe E. Brown playing Bottom and Flute respectively-which captured the attention of the intellectual and artistic communities but not of the general populace. The New York Times reviewer was typical in praising it not as a film but as «a work of high ambitions," and "a credit to Warner Brothers and to the motion picture industry." A Midsummer Nights Dream, Time magazine announced, "will be exhibited throughout the U.S. in theatres usually used for legitimate productions rather than in cinemansions, impressively brought to the attention of schools, women's clubs and Shakespeare societies." "Culture groups will be as happy as bees," the New Yorker declared, and the New Republic predicted that "at its many screenings there will be no lack of Ah's and Oh's, culture clubs will have discussions, newspaper critics will put on their Sunday adjectives; but . . . there is going to be a powerful minority of American husbands who will get one load of the elves and pixies, and feel betrayed." In 1937 when CBS announced a summer Shakespearean radio series featuring such popular actors as Burgess Meredith as Hamlet, Walter Huston as Henry IV, and Edward G. Robinson as Petruchio, its main rival, NBC, immediately resurrected the celebrated John Barrymore, then in a state of decline, and put him in a "Streamlined Shakespeare" series on Monday nights at eight o'clock directly opposite the CBS show so that listeners had to choose between the two.47
Shakespeare had become a cultural deity to whom even some of the most commercially minded producers and directors occasionally paid homage. Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom among radio, movie, and ultimately television executives, was that Shakespeare was for show not for profit. As early as 1890, A. C. Wheeler declared that any àstute theater manager "will tell you that the intrinsic Shakespeare 'spells failure.' You must make a contemporaneous event of him with a notorious actor or an affluent backer." Shortly before his death in 1984, the actor Richard Burton-who had once had to pay for the chance to do a film version of The Taming of the Shrew summed up a longstanding attitude when he commented: "Generally if you mention the word Shakespeare in Hollywood, everybody leaves the room, because they think he's box-office poison." When in the late 1970's the Public Broadcasting System prepared to show the television productions of the Shakespearean dramatic corpus produced by BBC-TV and Time-Life Television, it treated its task as one of education more than entertainment, arranging for college and university credit for the programs and preparing instructional kits for junior and senior high schools throughout the nation.45
Certain Shakespearean plays, scenes, and soliloquies retained sufficient familiarity to encourage the continuation of parody. One favorite bit of newspaper verse turned Hamlet into a tortured poker player:
To draw or not to draw, that is the question.
Whether it is safer in the player to take The awful risk of skinning for a straight, Or, standing pat, to raise 'em all the limit, And thus, by bluffing, get it . . .
A firm in Savannah used the same soliloquy to sell its fruit, hay, grain, and peanuts:
TO BE Or not to be-gin to save money For your future maintenance . . . Whether 'tis more sagacious in you To handle poor goods at high prices, Or by patronizing the Only Depot, Get the best at bottom prices . .
Shakespeare proved equally adept at selling canned meat and soap. In one advertisement Caesar's complaint, "Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look," prompted Brutus to respond, "Feed him on Libby, McNeill & Libby's Cooked Corned beef." An ad in Youth's Companion had the rustic Uncle Josh ask his neighbor at the theater why Lady Macbeth was wringing her hands so:
"It's Duncan's blood," the man replied,
"She strives the fearful stains to hide." "Why don't she wash her hands, b'gosh With Ivory Soap?" cried Uncle Josh.49
Though such references were common well into the twentieth century, they seem to have become increasingly limited to the handful of Shakespearean scenes and characters that remained well known in the society and were as emblematic of change as of continuity. Film parodies, for example, were largely confined not merely to Romeo and Juliet but primarily to the balcony and funeral scenes from that play. In Hal Roach's 1926 film Bromo and Juliet, the humor derived less from true parody of Shakespeare's plot or language than from the fact that the actor playing Romeo came to the theater drunk and turned the balcony scene into chaos. Hamlet and Eggs (1937), which dealt with an exhausted Shakespearean director who tries to find rest on an isolated ranch in Arizona only to be forced to put on an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet, came closer to nineteenth century parody when Juliet awakens in her tomb and sings, «O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie." But for the most part its humor derived from the contrast between the rough Western audience and the overcivilized Shakespearean director, who by the end of the film returns to his effete New York crowd converted to cowboy dress and speech. In the 1940 cartoon Shakespearean Spinach, Popeye as Romeo and Olive Oyl as Juliet sing their lines to the tunes of operatic arias, presumably on the assumption that one form of high culture is indistinguishable from another. The notion that Shakespearean drama was elevated above the cultural fare of everyday life was fundamental to all of these parodies. In the spring of I939, a radio version of Romeo and Juliet, starring the heavyweight boxer Tony Galento (Two Ton Tony) as Romeo, attempted to induce laughter through the contrast created by filtering Shakespeare's glorious language through a pugilist's accent and phrasing. The announcer Milton Cross introduced the show by musing in his elevated tones, "These are days of contrasts. When Tchaikovsky invades Tin Pan Alley." Referring sarcastically to Galento, he promised, "Theatrical history is about to be made!" In a real sense, the parody was less of Shakespeare than of Galento and the culture he presumably represented.50
"Whin Shakespeare was played I often had a seat in th' gal'ry, . . . because I'd heerd me fried Hogan speak iv Shakespeare. He was a good man, that Shakespeare," the bartender Mr. Dooley told his friend Mr. Hennessy shortly after the new century had begun. "Why don't they play Shakespeare any more?" Hennessy wondered. The answer of course was that they were still playing Shakespeare but in a different manner and to a different clientele, which a leading magazine characterized in 1900 as that "refined minority which still finds pleasure in Shakespeare and in all the dramas of the old-time school." Had Shakespeare largely vanished from or become a negligible force in American culture, as let us say Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has, we might be less hard pressed for an explanation of the changes, since many genres of culture regularly wax and wane. The problem that requires thoughtful attention is not why Shakespeare disappeared from American culture at the turn of the century, since he did not; but rather why he was transformed from a playwright for the general public into one for a specific audience. This metamorphosis of Shakespearean drama from popular culture to polite culture, from entertainment to erudition, from the property of "Everyman" to the possession of a more elite circle, needs to be seen within the perspective of other transformations that took place in nineteenth-century America.51
AT THE BEGINNING of the nineteenth century, the theater was a microcosm; it housed both the entire spectrum of the population and the complete range of entertainment from tragedy to farce, juggling to ballet, opera to minstrelsy. The theater drew all ranks of people to one place where they constituted what Erving Goffman has called a "focused gathering" -- a set of people who relate to one another through the medium of a common activity. The term is useful in reminding us that in the theater people not only sat under one roof, they interacted. In this sense, the theater in the first half of the nineteenth century constituted a microcosm of still another sort: a microcosm of the relations between the various socioeconomic groups in America. The descriptions of such observers as Washington Irving and Mrs. Trollope make it clear that those relations were beset by tensions and conflicts. In 1830 the Tremont Theatre Investigating Committee worried about the "mass of vulgarity" that was being attracted to Boston's theaters, which were rapidly ceasing to be "fashionable" places of resort. Even so convinced a democrat as Walt Whitman complained by 1847 that the New York theaters were becoming "'low' places where vulgarity (not only on the stage, but in front of it) is in the ascendant, and bad-taste carries the day with hardly a pleasant point to mitigate its coarseness." Whitman excepted only the Park Theatre "because the audiences there are always intelligent, and there is a dash of superiority thrown over the Performances." Earlier in the century the Park Theatre had received the patronage of the entire public; by the 1830S it had become more exclusive, while the Bowery, Chatham, and other theaters became the preserves of gallery gods and groundlings. After visiting the New York theaters, Mrs. Trollope wrote in 1832 "The Park Theatre is the only one licensed by fashion, but the Bowery is infinitely superior in beauty; it is indeed as pretty a theatre as I ever entered, perfect as to size and proportion . . . but it is not the fashion. The Chatham is so utterly condemned by bon ton, that it requires some courage to decide upon going there." This development was not exclusive to New York. "I have discovered the people are with us," Tyrone Power reported from Baltimore in 1833 since the Front Theatre, at which he was performing, drew "the sturdy democracy of the good city," while its rival, the Holiday Theatre, was "considered the aristocratic house."52
There was an increasing segregation not only of audiences but ultimately of actors and styles as well. On a winter evening in 1863, George William Curtis, the editor of Harper's, took a "rustic friend" to two New York theaters. First they went to see Edwin Forrest at Niblo's Gardens. "It was crammed with people. All the seats were full, and the aisles, and the steps. And the people sat upon the stairs that ascend to the second tier, and they hung upon the balustrade, and they peeped over shoulders and between heads." Forrest's acting, Curtis noted, was "a boundless exaggeration of all the traditional conventions of the stage." Theatrically, he wrote, Forrest represented "the muscular school; the brawny art; the biceps aesthetics; the tragic calves; the bovine drama; rant, roar, and rigmarole." Still, he conceded that Forrest "move[d] his world nightly . . . There were a great many young women around us crying . . . They were not refined nor intellectual women. They were, perhaps, rather coarse. But they cried good hearty tears." After one act his friend whispered, "I have had as much as I can hold," and they went up the street to the Winter Garden, where Edwin Booth was portraying Iago. "The difference of the spectacle was striking. The house was comfortably full, not crowded. The air of the audience was that of refined attention rather than of eager interest. Plainly it was a more cultivated and intellectual audience." And just as plainly they were seeing a very different type of acting. "Pale, thin, intellectual, with long black hair and dark eyes, Shakespeare's Iago was perhaps never more articulately represented . . .; all that we saw of Booth was admirable.''53
In 181O John Howard Payne complained, "The judicious few are very few indeed. They are always to be found in a Theatre, like flowers in a desert, but they are nowhere sufficiently numerous to fill one." By the second half of the century this was evidently no longer the case. Separate theaters, catering to the "judicious," appeared in city after city, leaving the other theaters to those whom Payne called "the idle, profligate, and vulgar." The psychologist Robert Somer has shown the connections between space and status and has argued that "society compensates for blurred social distinctions by clear spatial ones." Such scholars as Burton J. Bledstein and William R. Taylor have noted the Victorian urge to structure or rationalize space. As the traditional spatial distinctions among pit, gallery, and boxes within the theater were undermined by the aggressive behavior of audiences caught up in the egalitarian exuberance of the period and freed in the atmosphere of the theater from many of the demands of normative behavior, this urge gradually led to the creation of separate theaters catering to distinct audiences and shattered for good the phenomenon of theater as a social microcosm of the entire society.54
This dramatic split in the American theater was part of more extensive bifurcations that were taking place in American culture and society. How closely the theater registered societal dissonance can be seen in the audiences' volatile reaction to anything they considered condescending behavior, out of keeping with the unique nature of American society. Anything even bordering on unpatriotic or aristocratic behavior was anathema. Joseph Jefferson told of the time in the early 1840S when he was asked to sing a patriotic anthem in a St. Louis theater, forgot the words, and was hissed off the stage. A performance of Henry V in Philadelphia's Chestnut Street Theatre in 1808 resulted in a riot because Henry's declaration "I thought upon one pair of English legs did march three Frenchmen," was interpreted as propaganda in favor of aristocratic England against revolutionary France. Having learned his lesson, William Wood, the theater's manager, insisted in 1825 that the actor Francis Wemyss change the line "Herbert stuck to his commander to the last, and died as every Englishman should," to read "as every brave man should." Wemyss insisted on delivering the line as it was written and, as he later reported, "I was saluted by such a general hiss as is seldom heard within the walls of a theatre."55
Not only was obeisance to the republic required, but allegiance to the democratic nature of the republic was demanded as well. As early as 1772 the manager David Douglass offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of vandals who "broke open the gallery door of the theatre, tore off and carried away the iron spikes which divide the galleries from the upper boxes." The tension created by hierarchical seating arrangements helps explain the periodic rain of objects that the gallery unleashed upon those in more privileged parts of the theater. When Washington Irving was "saluted aside [his] head with a rotten pippen" and rose to shake his cane at the gallery gods, he was restrained by a man behind him who warned that this would bring down upon him the full wrath of the people; the only course of action, he was advised, was to "sit down quietly and bend your back to it."56
English actors, who were ipso facto suspected of unpatriotic and undemocratic leanings, had to tread with particular caution. Edmund Kean failed to do so in 1827 when he canceled his performance of Richard III in Boston because only twenty people were in the audience. The next day's papers denounced him for insulting and dishonoring the American people and suggested that he be taken "by the nose, and dragged . . . before the curtain to make his excuses for his conduct." Four years later, when Kean returned to Boston, he attempted to make those excuses, but it was too late. The all-male audience that packed the theater and overflowed onto the streets allowed him neither to perform Richard III nor to apologize for what he admitted were his "indiscretions." A barrage of nuts, foodstuffs, and bottles of odorous drugs drove him weeping from the stage and the theater, after which the anti-Keanites in the pit and gallery turned on his supporters in the boxes and did grievous damage to the theater. Kean performed in Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston without serious incident but on the opening night of Richard III in Baltimore he faced what an observer called "a violent opposition" that "rendered all [his] attempts to be heard hopeless." He was finally escorted from the theater "safely, but in extreme terror," and never again appeared in the United States.57
In 1834 the Irishman Tyrone Power committed exactly the same error-he canceled a performance in Albany, New York, when the audience numbered less than ten-and found that even his outspoken democratic sympathies could not save him from a similar fate. When he next performed two days later, he reported,
"the house was filled with men, and everything foreboded a violent outbreak . . . On my appearance the din was mighty deafening; . . . every invention for making the voice of humanity bestial was present and in full use. The boxes I observed to be occupied by well-dressed men, who generally either remained neutral, or by signs sought that I should be heard." Upon the intervention of the manager, Power was allowed to explain himself, after which "the row was resumed with added fierceness: not a word of either play or farce was heard."58
Scenes like this could take place suddenly upon the slightest of provocations. In the fall of 1831 J. R. Anderson, an English actor and singer, arrived in New York City accompanied by stories that he had spoken abusively of Americans on board ship and that he continued his abuse after landing in America. The aristocratic Philip Hone attended Anderson's debut at the Park Theatre on Thursday, October 13, and found him "standing in the front of the stage, with the most imperturbable self-possession, amidst deafening shouts of 'Off! Off! Go back to England!
Tell them the Yankees sent you back!"' The play went on in a dumb show: "The songs were sung, and the dialogue was spoken," but every time Anderson appeared "the clamorous uproar was renewed, and the curtain fell midst . . . disorder." Despite his contrite letter of apology in the newspapers, when Anderson next appeared two nights later he faced more than noise. Apples, oranges, eggs, "and other like missiles," descended upon the stage. An alarmed manager held an impromptu town meeting, asked his patrons-a group of whom had come to support Anderson-what they desired and responded to the dominant cries of "let him be withdrawn!" "off with him!" "send him home!" by "bowing in token of compliance" and removing Anderson from the play. Although the Evening Post concluded that "the audience, for a riotous one, behaved with singular decorum," the people were not yet pacified. The following day, Sunday, large groups gathered in front of the theater, shouting, cheering, breaking windows, and battering doors. The American and tricolored flags were exhibited from the Park's upper windows, which appeared to appease the people, who were further propitiated on Monday when the front of the theater was "covered with transparencies of patriotic subjects, flags and eagles in abundance." On Tuesday, the Park Theatre's main rival cautiously preceded its announcement of that evening's play-The Glory of Columbia by declaring: "BOWERY THEATRE-The Manager announces that this Theatre will heareafter be called the 'American Theatre Bowery.'"59
The full extent of class feeling and divisions existing in egalitarian America was revealed on a bloody Thursday in May 1849 at and around the Astor Place Opera House m New York City; The immediate catalyst was a long-standing feud between two leading actors, the Englishman William: Charles Macready and the American Edwin Forrest, who had become symbols of antithetical values. Forrest's vigorous acting style, his militant love of his country, his outspoken belief in its citizenry, and his frequent articulation of the possibilities of self-improvement and social mobility endeared him to the American people, while Macready~s cerebral acting style, his aristocratic demeanor, and his identification with the wealthy gentry made him appear Forrest's diametric opposite. On May 7, Macready and Forrest appeared against one another in separate productions of Macbeth. Forrest's performance, at the Broadway Theatre, was a triumph both dramatically and politically. When Forrest spoke Macbeth's lines, "What rhubarb, senna or what purgative drug will scour these English hence?" the entire audience, according to the actor Lester Wallack, "rose and cheered for many minutes." Macready's performance, at the Astor Place Opera House, was never heard- he was silenced by a storm of boos and cries of "Three groans for the codfish aristocracy," which drowned out appeals for order from those in the boxes, and by an avalanche of eggs, apples, potatoes, lemons, and, ultimately, chairs hurled from the gallery, which forced him to leave the stage in the third act. For hours after the theater was forcibly closed, Macready's opponents triumphantly paraded through the streets chanting snatches of the witches' chorus:
When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightening, or in rain? When the hurlyburly's done, When the battles lost and won.
"This cannot end here," Philip Hone correctly predicted in his diary the next day; "the respectable part of our citizens will never consent to be put down by a mob raised to serve the purpose of such a fellow as Forrest." Though Macready was prepared to leave the country, he was dissuaded by persons of "highest respectability," including Washington Irving and Herman Melville, who urged him not to encourage the mob by giving in to it and assured him "that the good sense and respect for order prevailing in this community will sustain you." The signers of the letter to Macready included twenty-two lawyers, six merchants, five editors, three authors, two physicians, one banker, one broker, one shipowner, one hotel proprietor, and several other assorted businessmen. Eighteen hundred people filled the Astor Place Opera House on the evening of May 1O, with some ten thousand more on the streets outside. Assisted by the quick arrest of the most voluble opponents inside the theater, Macready completed his performance of Macbeth, but only under great duress. Those outside-stirred by orators' shouts of "Burn the damned den of the aristocracy!" and "You can't go in there without . . . kid gloves and a white vest, damn 'em!" - bombarded the theater with paving stones, attempted to storm the entrances, and were stopped only after detachments of militia fired point blank into the crowd. In the end at least twenty-two people were killed, and over one hundred and fifty were wounded or injured. Richard Moody sets the number killed at thirty-one: twenty-two during the riot itself and nine more as a result of wounds received during the riot. In his more recent research, Peter Buckley has only been able to account for a total of twenty-two dead: eighteen during the riot and four more as a result of wounds received. "Although the lesson has been dearly bought," Philip Hone noted in his diary, "it is of great value, inasmuch as the fact has been established that law and order can be maintained under a Republican form of government."60
If the eighty-six men arrested were at all typical, the crowd had been composed of workingmen-coopers, printers, butchers, carpenters, servants, sailmakers, machinists, clerks, masons, bakers, plumbers, laborers-whose feelings were probably reflected in a speech given at a rally in City Hall Park the next day: "Fellow citizens, for what-for whom was this murder committed? . . . Was it done for the sake of justice and the object of preserving order? (Loud cries of'No, no.') I think not. For what, then, was it done? To please the aristocracy of the city, at the expense of the lives of inoffending citizens-to please an aristocratic Englishman, backed by a few sycophantic Americans . . . to revenge the aristocrats of this city against the working classes." Mingling with the crowd gathered at Astor Place the day after the riot, a journalist reported, "There was evidently a strong feeling excited, but it was not so much against the military whom all parties exonerate from blame, as against the committee of the Opera House, and those who signed the requisition to Mr. Macready to appear again, in the face of the organised opposition against him. It would seem as if Macready and Forrest were now lost sight of, and 'the d-d aristocracy,' as the crowd call them, are the obnoxious party."61
Although such observers as the New York Tribune and the Boston Traveller saw the riot as the "absurd and incredible" result of a "paltry quarrel, of two actors jealous of each other's reputation," the role of class was not ignored. The Home Journal viewed the riot as a protest against "aristocratizing the pit" in such new and exclusive theaters as the Astor Place Opera House and warned that in the future the republic's rich would have to "be mindful where its luxuries offend." The New York Herald asserted that the riot had introduced a "new aspect in the minds of many . . . nothing short of a controversy and collision between those who have been styled the 'exclusives,' or 'upper ten,' and the great popular masses." The New York correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger lamented a few days after the riot, "It leaves behind a feeling to which this community has hitherto been a stranger-an opposition of classes-the rich and poor . . . a feeling that there is now in our country, in New York City, what every good patriot hitherto has considered it his duty to deny-a high and a low class."62
From the rhetoric used both during and after the riot, it is clear that many of those who engaged in it understood that to term the altercation between Forrest and Macready a personal one was only a partial truth; that in a larger and truer sense it was a dash over questions of cultural values over the role of the people in culture. "I was not hostile to Mr. Macready because he was an Englishman, a speaker proclaimed on May II, "but because he was full of his country's prejudices from the top of his head to his feet." Macready's first encounter with Forrest, whom he saw perform in New York in 1826, produced a criticism not of Forrest so much as of his relationship with his audience and of the culture that enveloped both the actor and his admirers: "I said then," Macready later wrote of Forrest, "if he would cultivate those powers and really study, where, as in England, his taste could be formed, he would make one of the very first actors of this or any day. But I thought he would not do so, as his countrymen were, by their extravagant applause, possessing him with the idea and with the fact, as far as remuneration was concerned, that it was unnecessary." Through the years, Macready's critique of Forrest continued to be coupled to his distaste for Forrest's audience, whom he termed "vulgar," "coarse," "underbred," "ruffianly," "disagreeable," "ignorant." Following Forrest's portrayal of King Lear in 1843, Macready wrote privately, "I did not think it the performance of an artist . . . But the state of society here and the condition of the fine arts are in themselves evidences of the improbability of an artist being formed by them." Though the two actors maintained civil relations, Macready's deepening obsession with the disruptive environment of the theater and Forrest's growing sense of ideological identification with his audience to the point where, as Peter Buckley has remarked, he began to see it as his constituency, created inevitable tensions. The break came on March 2, 1846, in Edinburgh while Macready, waving his handkerchief, was performing the brisk pirouette he had long ago introduced into his portrayal of Hamlet. In the audience, Forrest, who considered what he called Macready's "fancy dance" an effete "desecration of the scene," broke the dark silence with a loud hiss. Macready was first stunned, then enraged by the impropriety. "I do not think that such an action has its parallel in all theatrical history! The low minded ruffian!" he wrote in his diary two days later. In a letter to the Times of London, Forrest defended himself and the right of audiences everywhere to exercise and articulate their independent cultural judgment:
As well-timed and hearty applause is the just meed of an actor who deserves well, so also is hissing a salutary and wholesome corrective of the abuses of the stage; and it was against one of these abuses that dissent was expressed . . . That a man may manifest his pleasure or displeasure after the recognized mode, according to the best of his judgement, actuated by proper motives, and for justifiable ends, is a right which until now I have never heard questioned.
Forrest here anticipated the defense summation of the attorney John Van Buren in the trial of the Astor Place rioters:
The right to hiss an actor off the stage is an undisputed right of anyone who goes into a theatre of his own will and there is no presence of saying he ought to be indicted for conspiracy . . . The right of hissing an actor has been exercised from time immemorial. It has been exercised in this country towards Mr. Kean, towards the Woods, towards Cook, and Anderson, towards other Englishmen, towards Power, and towards Macready himself, by the general judgement of the people.63
The purpose of acting, Shakespeare had Hamlet say in his charge to the players, "was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure" (III.ii). The functions of the nineteenth-century American stage were even broader. As a central institution, the theater not only mirrored the sweep of events in the larger society but presented an arena in which those events could unfold. When in The Confidence Man Herman Melville turned to the reader and observed that "in real life, the proprieties will not allow people to act out themselves with that unreserve permitted to the stage," he was enunciating merely part of the case.64 "Unreserve," in fact, characterized not only the actors on the stage but the audiences in front of it. The theater was one of those houses of refuge in the nineteenth century where the normative restrictions of the society were relaxed and both players and audience were allowed "to act out themselves" with much less inner and outer restraint than prevailed in society.
Both were permitted a degree of tolerance not generally experienced outside of the theater, a degree of tolerance that soon proved to be greater than many desired inside the theater as well.
The Astor Place Riot, which in essence was a struggle for power and cultural authority within theatrical spacer was simultaneously an indication of and a catalyst for the cultural changes that came to characterize the United States at the end of the century. Theater no longer functioned as an expressive form that embodied all classes within a shared public space, nor did Shakespeare much longer remain the common property of all Americans. The changes were not cataclysmic; they were gradual and took place in rough stages: physical or spatial bifurcation, with different socioeconomic groups becoming associated with different theaters in large urban centers, was followed inevitably by the stylistic bifurcation described by George William Curtis, and ultimately culminated in a bifurcation of content, which saw a growing chasm between "serious" and "popular" culture.
These developments help explain the transformation of Shakespeare, who fit the new cultural equation so well. His plays had survived the test of time and were therefore immortal; his language was archaic and therefore too difficult for ordinary people; his poetry was sublime and therefore elevating-especially if his plays could be seen in a theater and a style of one's own choice, devoid of constant reminders that they contained earthier elements and more universal appeals as well. The nineteenth century had harbored two Shakespeares: the humble, everyday poet who sprang from the people and found his strength and inspiration among them, and the towering genius who in 1838 was depicted on the curtain of Richmond's Marshall Theatre as rising above a storm of fanaticism while the figure of Fame points and the figure of History records this "Never-dying Truth": "We ne'er shall look upon his like again."65 The happy symbiosis between the two began to wear thin by the end of the century when the sacred Shakespeare emerged triumphant.
IN HONOR of Shakespeare's three hundredth birthday on April 23, 1864, Barnum's American Museum helped to raise funds for a proposed statue by announcing benefit performances of Catharine and Petruchio, concluding with the farce, Dumb Belle and featuring "MR. HARRISON, the Comic and Impromptu Singer, and MR. STOEPEL, with his WOOD AND STRAW INSTRUMENTS," between the acts. This was in addition to Barnum's "COLOSSAL GIANTS, 'INFANT DRUMMER, THREE ALBINO CHILDREN," TABLEAUX OF MOVING WAX FIGURES, "MONSTER SERPENT," and "MUSICALLY-EDUCATED SEAL." Barnum's mode of honoring Shakespeare proved to be a throwback to the past. More typical of the developing mood was the tercentenary celebration at which the actor James H. Hackett spoke of "this reverent act," described "the reverence of those gathered round,, as "too deeply awakened to admit of applause," and proclaimed Shakespeare's greatness to be "so transcendent and far-reaching that it may command not merely our admiration and our gratitude, but our homage as well." Eight years later, at the dedication of the monument to Shakespeare in Central Park, the poet William Cullen Bryant could hardly find superlatives adequate to his subject. He hailed Shakespeare as "a genius far beyond all ordinary greatness," compared him to the giant Sequoia trees and "the cataract of Niagara," spoke of "an imagination so creative, a reason so vigorous, a wisdom so clear and comprehensive," that his life afforded us "a glimpse of what . . . the immortal part of man shall be," and voiced his conviction that Shakespeare was one of those great minds "the Maker of all sometimes sends upon the earth and among mankind, as if to show us of what vast enlargement the faculties of the human intellect are capable."66
Such rhetoric was far removed from the attitude manifested by Herman Melville in his 1850 review of Hawthorne, in which he predicted that "if Shakespeare has not been equalled, he is sure to be surpassed, and surpassed by an American born now or yet to be born." As early as 1846, Edgar Allan Poe attacked those who went beyond respect for genius to stand in awe of it: "Your Shakespeare worshippers, for example-what do they know about Shakespeare? They worship him-rant about him-lecture about him-about him, him, and nothing else . . . They have arrived at an idea of his greatness from the pertinacity with which. . . men have called him great. As for their own opinion about him - they really have none at all." By 1884 Richard Grant White was asserting that "Shakespeareanism" had become "a cult, a religion, with priests and professional incense-burners, who lived . . . by his worship." Although Shakespeare had written "to please a miscellaneous and uncultivated public," these "shrine-makers" were dedicated to the proposition "that the reading of Shakespeare is an art, and the editing of him a mystery." The "new literary religion" of which White complained was to win increasing numbers of adherents in the coming decades.67
Even in the first half of the nineteenth century there were those who felt that Shakespeare was not meant for the masses. As one bard put it:
Throw not the pearl of Shakespeare's Wit, Before the swine of the Bowery pit.
The conviction that Shakespearean drama no longer be compromised by mingling it with lesser forms of entertainment-and thus with lesser forms of people-deepened. In 1892 the Polish actress Helena Modjeska wrote that when she had first arrived in the United States she was surprised to see plastered on walls "posters, lithographs, pictures of Shakespeare standing side by side with advertisements of patent medicines and dog-shows." More shocking were the newspapers which listed theatrical notices under the heading "Amusements," where she discovered "just beneath an elaborate criticism on the performance of 'Julius Caesar,' an account of a show of trained monkeys." Where, she asked, "is art then? Art has covered her face and flown away, ashamed of those who cease thus to be priests at her altar and simply become commercial travellers in art, changing the stage to a sample-room where the public has only a vague idea what the article might have been if it had been shown under the best conditions." The playwright Israel Zangwill spoke of "the barbarousness of cutting up a play with vaudeville items," and compared people who mixed Shakespeare and other genres of amusement to "people who enjoy impartially the cheapest wine and the choicest vintages." In 1910 a committee examining Boston's amusement situation was disturbed that the new Shubert Theatre followed two weeks of Shakespeare with a "commonplace" musical and recommended that in the future theaters try to establish greater symmetry between their offerings and their clientele by creating a more homogeneous cultural atmosphere so that the Shubert would devote itself to "first-class serious attractions," the Majestic to musical comedies, and the Globe to "farces and other light performances." In such an atmosphere, T. R. Sullivan promised, it would be possible to perform Shakespeare "not in a modern, mutilated acting version, but played with a full text."68
It was necessary to confine Shakespeare to certain theaters catering to a discreet clientele because he was simply too complex for untrained minds. Mark Liddell examined seventeen lines from Polonius's farewell to his son and discovered nineteen forms of expression which even an average educated man would fail to understand. We were in danger of losing "the supreme poet of the whole world," Liddell insisted, if we continued to deceive ourselves that all one needed to digest Shakespeare "is a knowledge of every-day English." A writer in World's Work began his analysis "Why Shakspere Is Not Understood?" by asserting that "not one in ten thousand of us can really read common passages of Shakspere intelligently," and so convinced himself of the fact that Shakespeare wrote in what amounted to a foreign language, that in his conclusion he doubled the bad news: "Not one man in twenty thousand can read Shakspere intelligently." James Russell Lowell confessed, "I never open my Shakespeare but I find myself wishing that there might be professorships established for the expounding of his works as there used to be for those of Dante in Italy." Those still courageous enough to tackle Shakespeare on their own were advised that they had best be willing and able to work at it. In 1903 the University Society advertised its thirteen-volume New International Shakespeare as "the only edition published that gives two full sets of Notes in connection with each play-Explanatory Notes for the average reader and Critical Notes for the critical student or scholar." Shakespeare, billed as the "supreme teacher," who "shows the way-more clearly than any other author-to the higher intellectual and moral life," and who "uses a larger vocabulary than any other writer," was obviously not to be approached lightly. "This edition," the ad promised, "contains a complete Method of Study for each play, . . . the idea of the editors being to give in the set a college course in Shakespeare Study." The Review of Reviews promoted its eleven-volume Eversley Shakespeare edition by featuring an endorsement attributed to Mark Twain:
I am of the unlearned and to me the Notes and Introduction are invaluable; they translate Shakespeare to me and bring him within the limits of my understanding. Most people have limits similar to mine, and need these generous helps; here they have their opportunity to supply their lack.69
By the turn of the century Shakespeare had been converted from a popular playwright whose dramas were the property of those who flocked to see them, into a sacred author who had to be protected from ignorant audiences and overbearing actors threatening the integrity of his creations. On April 23, 1879- Shakespeare's three hundred and fifteenth birthday-Edwin Booth was playing the lead role in Richard II at McVicker's Theatre in Chicago while in the dress circle a dry good's clerk named Mark Gray sat comparing Booth's performance with the text of Shakespeare's play. By Act V, apparently infuriated at the alterations Booth was introducing, Gray drew his pistol and fired two shots at Booth in an attempt, as one eye witness put it, "to kill the man that could, as he thought, so murder Shakespeare." Gray's action was obviously extreme, but his concern for what actors and their audiences were doing to Shakespeare was widely shared. The attitudes of such as John Quincy Adams, who distinguished in 1836 between "the true Shakespeare" he read in his study and "the spurious Shakespeare often exhibited upon the stage," gained an increasing number of adherents in the second half of the century. The Englishman Charles Lamb found a warm reception in the United States when he asserted that Shakespeare's finest creations were reduced to mere caricatures on the stage. How, he asked, could Hamlet's inner musings "be represented by a gesticulating actor, who comes and mouths them out before an audience, making four hundred people his confidants at once?" The love dialogues of Romeo and Juliet or Othello and Desdemona were "sullied and turned from their very nature by being exposed to a large assembly." Actors only reduced Shakespeare's "fine vision" to the mundane standard of flesh and blood: "We have let go a dream, in quest of an unattainable substance." Shakespeare's plays, Lamb insisted, were suited neither for performance on a stage nor for exposure to the multitudes since they were "so deep that the depth of them lies out of the reach of most of us." The American critic A. C. Wheeler was in essential agreement, arguing that the theater "materializes Shakespeare, and in doing so vulgarizes him. Intellectual good taste outside of the theatre spiritualizes him." A. A. Lipscomb announced in 1882 that Shakespeare "has ascended to a new and higher sphere in the firmament of intellect." Increasingly, men had come to understand both that "Shakespeare off the stage is far superior to Shakespeare on the stage," and that to comprehend the "special worth" of Shakespeare required "rigid mechanical training," without which "Shakespeare is not of much use." Shakespeare, Lipscomb predicted "is destined to become the Shakespeare of the college and university, and even more the Shakespeare of private and select culture. Nor will he ever be perfectly himself and perfectly at home anywhere else"70 The essential validity of Lipscomb's prediction-the extent to which it became impossible to conceive of Shakespeare apart from higher education-is illustrated in a poster displayed on Metro subways in Washington,D.C., in 1986. A worried Shakespeare is depicted pleading with the Metro's riders: "Help our colleges cope with inflation. The money you give may decide whether I'm to he or not to be."
The human Shakespeare who existed for most of the nineteenth century could be parodied with pleasure and impunity; the sacred Shakespeare who displaced him at its close posed greater problems. For years Mark Twain found himself ambivalent about-and unable to complete-a parody of Hamlet featuring Hamlet's foster brother, Basil, a traveling book agent who tries to sell books to Hamlet, the Queen, and the Ghost, saying of the last, "I reckon I begin to see what he was chasing me around like that for . . . he wanted to subscribe. I'll just set him down for a couple of copies, anyway." Burlesquing Shakespeare's language, Twain has Basil complain of the way people around him speak:
Why it ain't human talk; nobody that ever lived, ever talked the way they do. Even the flunkies can't say the simplest thing the way a human being would say it. "Me lord hath given commandment, sirrah, that the vehicle wherein he cloth of ancient custom, his daily recreation take, shall unto the portal of the palace be straight conveyed; the which commandment, mark ye well, admitteth not of wasteful dalliance, like to the tranquil mark of yon gilded moon atwart the dappled fields of space, but, even as the molten meteor cleaves the skies, or the red-tongued bolts of heaven, charged with death, to their dread office speed, let this, me lord's commandment, have instant consummation!"
Though Edwin Booth encouraged Twain to complete his parody, other friends advised him that "it would be a sort of sacrilege."71 It is hardly coincidental that in this atmosphere there was a blossoming of books and articles maintaining that Shakespeare's plays were the product of another writer. The loftier Shakespeare's position became, the more untenable it was that a man of his low social standing and dubious education-whom the American teacher and author Delia Bacon dismissed as "a stupid, ignorant, illiterate, third-rate play-actor"-could have risen to the heights of his drama, which must have been the creation of someone better trained, better born, more nobly situated: Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, Edmund Spenser, the Earls of Oxford, or Rutland, or Derby, anyone more fit to play the new role assigned to the former bard of Avon. Though the arguments m this prolonged debate were often detailed and intricate, they revolved around questions of culture and suitability. Appleton Morgan challenged his readers to truly conceive "of the man who gave the wife of his youth an old bedstead, and sued a neighbor for corn delivered, penning Antony's oration above Caesar, or the soliloquy of Macbeth debating the murder of Duncan . . ." Ignatius Donnelly had only to compare William Shakespeare, "the guzzling, beer-drinking, poaching, lying playactor, of whom tradition does not record a single generous expression, or a single lovable act," with the scholar and statesman Francis Bacon, "founder of the school of philosophy which has done so much to produce our modern advancement and civilization," to understand who was the more likely author of the plays.72
The inspired plays of the noble playwright-whoever he turned out to be-required an appropriate setting. In 1867 George Henry Lewes had warned of the drift in American plays toward cheap diversion and declared that unless there was "a decided separation of the drama which aims at art from those theatrical performances which only aim at amusement of a lower kind," and unless one or more theaters were devoted to what he called "poetic drama," then "the final disappearance of the art is near at hand." By the end of the century the separation Lewes had called for was dearly becoming manifest and terms were being shaped to describe it. "So out of vogue is the classic drama in America," Norman Hapgood observed in 1899, "that in theatrical circles it is frequently called 'the legitimate,' to distinguish it from contemporary plays." The term Hapgood referred to was not entirely novel. In England the terms "legitimate" or "regular" had long distinguished plays with spoken dialogue from those in which the dialogue had to be accompanied by music. In 1832 Douglas Jerrold helped to redefine the term when he told a parliamentary committee investigating the state of the drama that a play was legitimate "when the interest of the piece is mental rather than physical." In his testimony, the actor William Macready agreed, defining a legitimate play as one possessing poetic quality or superior literary worth. It was in this sense that the term was imported and used in America. Thus by the turn of the century "legitimate," or its slang variant "legit," came to be defined as "concerned with . . . stage plays, or serious art; classical; semi-classical; other than popular." In the twentieth century the term also came to refer to the increasing separation that was taking place between drama and such elements as slapstick, acrobatics, and equestrian acts, which had been integral appendages of drama in nineteenth-century theater and were now divorced into such distinct entertainment genres as vaudeville, burlesque, and the circus.73
Legitimate plays needed to be housed in legitimate theaters and performed before discrete audiences, Hapgood insisted, because "the more ignorant spectators, who formerly followed the lead of the educated, now read, have opinions and enforce them. Caliban is in power and sits in judgment at the theatre." This denigration of popular audiences and propensity to blame them for the low state of the drama was common. For James Ford the decline of Shakespeare was directly attributable to the period's commercial activity, which exhausted Americans and left little room for higher endeavors: "The fact that the men who are doing the real work of the world should find themselves in a mood for melodious tomfoolery, rather than for such an intellectual diversion as the representation of Hamlet, argues not that their brains are defective, but that business is brisk." Whatever the cause, the results were the same."Our audiences do not want ideas in their plays," the Dial complained in 1898; "they want costumes, and tricks of stage-carpentry, and farcical situations; they are hugely delighted by a catchy song or an utterly irrelevant dance; they will tolerate sentiment if not too delicate, and even passion if its origin be not too deep within the soul; but ideas they will not have on any terms." Consequently, American theatrical productions were lavish and impressively dazzling to the senses, "but they do not make art their foremost consideration." Nor would they so long as a heterogeneous audience dominated the stage.74
This fear of the masses and their effect on "legitimate" theater was paralleled by the existence of increasingly attractive mass surrogates for the theater. The new movie industry in particular provided alternatives not merely to the content presented on the stage but, even more significantly perhaps, to the atmosphere that increasingly pervaded the theater in the new century. In 1915 Walter Prichard Eaton contemplated the profound changes that had taken place in the theater audience. Whereas in the past "the galleries were always packed with a proletarian audience," this was no longer true. Now a worker could take his wife and three children to the movies for the price of one gallery seat at the regular theater. But Eaton was quick to recognize that the problem was not a simple one of economics. He related the attempt of a group of wealthy men in a New England industrial town to attract a wide audience by purchasing the best theater, installing an excellent stock company and reducing the cost of gallery seats to compete with movie prices. "But the theatre was on the 'fashionable' side of town, it was looked upon by the six thousand mill operatives and their families . . . as something that belonged to the other class-and they would not go near it." In the movie house the worker will not be segregated from the rest of the audience, the "shirtfront" contingent below stairs, the class which employs him by day. He will sit on the ground floor, with his own kind, feeling as it were a kind of proprietorship in the playhouse. Here he is apart from his daytime distinctions of class; he is in an atmosphere of independence. He is paying as much as anybody else, and getting as good a seat. It will require a tremendous deal of "educating" before you can persuade such a man to invest a dollar and a quarter instead of twenty-five cents, out of a yearly wage of $500, on a single evening's entertainment, and to invest it in a theatre where he enters by the back stairs.
Vaudeville houses established a similarly egalitarian atmosphere. At the opening of Keith's New Boston Theatre in 1894, a vaudeville actress recited a dedicatory poem in which she promised the audience that, "all are equal here," and assured th~em that Keith's recognized "no favorites, no class." Behavior patterns that had once characterized playhouses were increasingly transferred to other types of theaters. Rollin Lynde Hartt's description of the "low-browed men and boys" at New York's Gaiety Theatre, a burlesque house, in 1908 sounds very much like Mrs. Trollope's depiction of a Shakespearean theater seventy years earlier: "If heat annoys, men shed their coats. Always they smoke . . . they indulge in audible dramatic criticism . . . Whistling, stamping, and hand-clapping rage in gallery and balcony." The process of divorcing popular entertainment from the legitimate stage, which had been gradually at work throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, came to fruition in the twentieth.75
The point, then, is not that there was a conspiracy to remove Shakespeare from the American people but that cultural developments occurred which produced the same result-a result compounded by the fact that during these years American entertainment was shaped by many of the same forces of consolidation and centralization that molded other businesses. For the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, the American theater was characterized by local stock companies, permanently attached to a specific theater, whose performances were frequently augmented by the prestigious star actresses and actors who roamed the country. After the: Civil War these independent, decentralized stock companies began to be replaced by what were called combination companies, which generally were organized in New York City and spent the season touring local theaters with ? single play. The rapidity of the change was impressive: the fifty permanent stock companies operating in the larger cities from Portland, Maine, to San Francisco in 1871 had declined to less than ten by the end of the decade. By 1886 almost three hundred combination companies were touring the country. As they became increasingly dependent upon traveling combination companies, theaters in an area attempted to increase the efficiency of the booking process by banding together in theatrical circuits. In 1896 a half dozen important theater owners and booking agents from New York, Philadelphia, and Boston forged these local circuits into a centralized national booking system which ultimately functioned as a national theatrical monopoly. "We decided," one of the participants later wrote, "that the betterment of the whole theatrical business would be achieved if the bookings of all the theatres could be centered in one office." The Theatrical Trust, commonly known as the Syndicate, which at its inception comprised thirty-three theaters, soon controlled bookings in some five hundred to seven hundred theaters throughout the nation. The Syndicate, along with the new rival organization controlled by the Shuberts, with which it alternately warred and collaborated, and which itself came to control upward of one thousand theaters and employ more than three thousand entertainers by 1921, increasingly determined the nation's theatrical repertory. The actor-managers who had dominated the nineteenth-century theater were replaced in the twentieth century by the producer-booking agents centered in New York City. Broadway and the American theater became more and more inseparable, the repertory of the former becoming the standard fare of the latter.76
Philistines were now in the saddle, Norman Hapgood complained in 1899; "the control of our theatres by speculators suits the tendencies of a mercenary age." Writing in a more positive vein, Robert Grau made the same point in 191O. During the last "forty years of progress," he observed, "the amusement purveyor has advanced to a position, which places him on a level with the great magnates and financiers of the commercial and industrial world."77 If it is true-as I believe it is-that the businessmen who managed the new theater chains; and huge booking agencies approached their tasks with a hierarchical concept of culture, with the conviction that an unbridgeable gulf: separated the tastes and predilections of the venous socioeconomic groups, and with the belief that Shakespeare was "highbrow" culture of little interest to the masses and therefore of slight potential profit to producers' then we have isolated another decisive factor in Shakespeare's transformation from popular to elite culture.
Whatever the causes, the results of the transformation were clearly illustrated in the Twentieth Century Club's assessment of Boston theaters in 1909 and 191O. The club's Drama Committee found that Boston vaudeville, burlesque, and movie houses combined could accommodate an audience of 608,000 people weekly (with the movies alone accommodating 402,000), while the city's legitimate theaters could accommodate only 151,000. When the committee broke down the figures more discretely it found that theaters featuring Shakespearean drama could accommodate less than one percent of the Boston theaters' potential weekly audience. What the committee found in 191O had already been experienced by Edwin Booth two decades earlier when in September 1890 he and his fellow Shakespearean actor Lawrence Barrett were asked to give up their two week engagement at the Boston Theatre in favor of a highly successful melodrama since, as the management informed him, it would be "a pity to interrupt a run that pays so well." In Boston, as in the nation, the centrality of Shakespeare in theaters that catered to the widest possible diversity of genres and people was a thing of the past.78
It was appropriate then, as Charles Shattuck has reminded us, that the major event in celebration of the three hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's death be commemorated in New York City in 1916 by a ten-day run of an extravaganza entitled Caliban ~ the Yellow Sands, written by the poet Percy MacKaye, and performed by a cast of over 1,500 actors, singers, and dancers in Lewisohn Stadium before a total audience of 135,000. This Tempest-like allegory concluded with Caliban, who has yearned to usurp Prospero and rape Miranda, kneeling in penance at the feet of a God-like Shakespeare. The language throughout was larded with the proper "thees" and "werts" and "cansts" and "wouldsts." "Wist where the sea-bull / Flap-flappeth his fin and walloweth there his cow / And snoreth the rainbow from his nostrils," Caliban exclaims to Miranda. No one objected to this, Professor Shattuck concludes, "for it was the sound of 'poetry'; it was 'Shakespeare.' The huge audience knew, for the most part, that Shakespeare talked like that."79 It was, after all, archaic and inaccessible-precisely what Shakespeare had become to the vast majority of Americans. When he was visiting San Francisco with his one-man show, Acting Shakespeare, in 1987, Ian McKellen was asked what he did if he forgot a soliloquy. He smiled and replied: "You can usually say some rubbish or other. It's Shakespeare and nobody will ever know."
In 1868 Kate Field created an imaginary dialogue concerning the decline of the theater, concluding with the declaration of her most optimistic debater that the elevation of the theater would come "with culture; culture will come with the lapse of a hundred years . . . Meanwhile calm your ardor, and rest assured that the elevation of the stage is as inevitable as the elevation of humanity."80 Whatever the merit of Field's prediction, her insistence that the theater could not be seen apart from the rest of what she called "culture" was correct. Similarly, the transformation of Shakespeare cannot be understood without placing it alongside the nineteenth-century history of opera, symphonic music, and the fine arts-the other central components of the high culture that was to emerge at the turn of the century. What Shakespeare's career in nineteenth-century America signifies will remain murky until it is examined in the context of the broader phenomenon of cultural bifurcation of which it was only a part.