Helpful but scattered information can be retrieved from such studies as Hugh F. Essays on Performance , and Shakespeare and Southern Writers. A Study in Influence 4. Among the aspects to be taken into account are the following: which Shakespeare are we dealing with—on page or on stage?
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What was the relative popularity of Shakespeare in general, and of particular plays, on the Northern vs. What was the nature of the familiarity with Shakespeare and how is it to be assessed? Indeed, from the first documented American professional performance of a Shakespeare play that of Richard III in New York in by the Hallams until the closing of the theaters during the American Revolution in , Shakespeare emerged as the single most popular playwright in the colonies, a position he retained after the Revolution. Even when, by the nineteenth century, books had become a more important vehicle for disseminating his works, the stage, Levine contends, remained the primary instrument of his popularity Levine 7.
More than that, the South seems to have offered a more relaxed moral climate and a warmer welcome to the theater 8. The public was composed of Ladies and Gentlemen, wealthy planters as well as merchants, steamboatmen, small farmers, and visitors, while the gallery was inhabited largely by those—apprentices, servants, poor workingmen—who could not afford better seats or by those including free men and women of color, slaves, and prostitutes who were not allowed to sit elsewhere.
In an oral culture in which the spoken word was central, even the illiterate knew their Shakespeare or whole stretches , from hearing him performed, from public readings, or from having him read to them.
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Kim Sturgess tells the story of one Jim Bridger the founder of Fort Bridger in Wyoming , who is known to have traded a pair of cattle worth about dollars to a passing wagon train, so that he could get their copy of Shakespeare. Since, however, he was illiterate, he had to pay a local boy to read this to him, and he used to wander around quoting great swathes of Shakespeare which he had memorized for all sorts of points in his life As Nan Johnson has shown, his works held pride of place in the two major textbook traditions of the rhetorical treatise teaching the classical principles of invention, arrangement, and style, and of the rhetoric anthology offering excerpts from the best writers of the Anglo-American tradition This, as Aronson suggests, was probably due to the star system introduced by Cooper, a British actor of the Kemble school who came to Philadelphia in Charles B.
This tradition of amateur acting among the Southern gentry may have been related to their English education and tastes mentioned earlier. Indeed, as Sturgess has noted, the issues that finally brought about the Civil War went far beyond the issue of slavery. But it hardly applies to the South, which conceived of man as an essentially social being, whose natural state was to live in society. One sun ruleth over the day, and one moon over the night; and to descend downn to the earth, in a little beast, which of all other is most to be marvelled at, I mean the bee, is left to man by nature, as it seemeth, a perpetual figure of a just governance or rule 7.
Therefore doth heaven divide The state of man in divers functions, Setting endeavour in continual motion; To which is fixed, as an aim or butt, Obedience: for so work the honey-bees, Creatures that by a rule in nature teach The act of order to a peopled kingdom.
Nature, as in the cases of bees and ants, has it formed for him. He and society are congenital. But life, and home, and health! When they struck for independence in the fall of , when they contributed their part to tearing the Union asunder, lowcountry yeomen acted in defense of their own identity, as masters of small worlds.
As Lewis P. The literary plantation was conceived as a pre-lapsarian world of Edenic, natural, self-yielding plenty.
It was an essentially atemporal, idealized world of pastoral innocence which was bound to remain an illusion as it came into tension with history Simpson x. As Murphy concludes:. Hence a predilection, as William R. So, it may be argued, the Lost Cause myth enabled the Southern people to retain their sense of dignity, to preserve their faith in a distinct, superior, white Southern culture, and to survive the defeat of the idea of a Southern nation on the battlefield.
In addition, some familiarity with Shakespeare although of a less reliable kind could also be acquired through a variety of other vehicles, both oral and written.
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Finally, a more unexpected avenue of enquiry has revealed more subtle, subterranean and enduring affinities between Shakespeare and Southern literature in such important themes as conception of society, attachment to place, or awareness of the psychic burden of history on the individual embodied in such emblematic characters as the anachronistic Hotspur or the Romanticized Hamlet.
Bristol , Michael D. New York: Routledge, Byrnside , Ron. Dickey , Stephen. Dormon , James H. Theater in the Ante Bellum South, Without cookies your experience may not be seamless. Institutional Login. LOG IN. Interdisciplinary Literary Studies. In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: Contributors.
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