Shakespeare FOR A DEMOCRACY

By Ferington, Esther | Humanities, March/April 2007 | Go to article overview

Shakespeare FOR A DEMOCRACY


Ferington, Esther, Humanities


On May 10, 1849, a riot broke out in New York City near the Astor Place Opera House. The state militia fired on the angry crowd, which numbered in the thousands, killing at least twenty-two people. The dispute was over the right way to perform Shakespeare on the American stage.

The trouble grew out of a long-standing rivalry between two leading men: British actor William Macready-a cool, cerebral performer-and American actor Edwin Forrest. known for his muscular build and forceful acting style. "Forrest really captures the popular imagination," says theater historian Heather Nathans in the NEH-supported radio documentary Shakespeare in American Life. "He's asked to run for senator; he speaks at Democratic Party rallies. He really fuses this kind of public persona of democratic righteousness and heroism with who he is on stage."

In early May 1849. the actors' differences came to a head in New York. Forrest was starring in Macbeth at the Broadway in his usual dynamic style, while Macready portrayed the role at the Astor Place Opera House. To Forrest's supporters, the idea of letting Macready play Macbeth in the same city as their hero was just too much to swallow.

The Astor Place tragedy is one of many Shakespeare stories with an American twist in the three-part radio documentary, a production of Folger Shakespeare Library funded by NEH. Distributed through Public Radio International, the three one-hour shows begin airing April 1.

As conceived by producer Richard Paul, Shakespeare in American Life is a subject as big as the country itself, taking in performance, advertising, education, the movies, race and ethnic identity, and even pop culture (don't be surprised to hear a line or two from Bruce Springsteen's lyrics, or from Star Trek).

The story covers the sweep of American history, from John and Abigail Adams comparing King George to Shakespeare's villainous Richard III. to Cold Rush-era performances in California mining camps, to how Shakespeare influenced recent political figures. Walter Mondale, Alan Simpson, and Janet Reno are among those interviewed for the documentary.

The documentary examines how a British playwright became an American icon, and the way that leading figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson helped make that transformation through essays and lectures. For Emerson, who once called Shakespeare "the father of the man in America." Shakespeare and his fellow Elizabethans were just as much the ancestors of American culture as of British.

Exploring America's relationship with Shakespeare became a two-year odyssey for Paul, who conducted more than forty interviews with scholars, theater professionals, and public figures; located rare audio recordings; and worked with actors to evoke the sounds of old stage performances. The project inspired shakespeareinamericanlife.org, a companion Web site produced by Folger Shakespeare Library and funded by NEH. Among other offerings, the site provides photos, prints, an interactive timeline, maps, children's games, teaching ideas, links to Shakespeare resources, and longer excerpts from the documentary's interviews.

The contrast between the familiar-Shakespeare's playsand the unfamiliar is a continuing theme in the documentary. For example, nineteenth-century theatergoers did not restrain their reactions to a Shakespearean production. If audiences didn't like a play, says historian James Cook, "you're going to hurl rotten vegetables at the performer. You're going to shout and demand that certain kinds of things will take place on the stage. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Shakespeare FOR A DEMOCRACY
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.