America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940

By Foster Rhea Dulles | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE THEATRE COMES OF AGE

IN SPITE OF THE DISAPPROVAL OF THE STRONG RELIGIOUS FORCES of the day, the theatre was forging steadily ahead after 1800. It was attempting to establish itself by pleasing all classes, and with this end in view the playhouses of the period welcomed everything on their hospitable stages with delightful indiscrimination. A century ago the same house might advertise Junius Brutus Booth in Hamlet on one night, the "Original, Aboriginal, Erratic, Operatic, Semi-Civilized and Demi-Savage Extravaganza of Pocohontas" on the next, and on the third an equestrian melodrama with a cast of circus performers playing on horseback. A single evening often produced almost as varied theatrical fare, Macbeth, a daring French ballet, and perhaps such a popular and rowdy farce as My Young Wife and the Old Umbrella, making up the program. The theatre, that is, was a democratic institution, playing a rôle which in later years it largely surrendered, first to the vaudeville stage and then to the moving picture.

The trend was steadily away from Shakespeare and toward more farce and variety. But the function of the theatre before the days of vaudeville, let alone those of the movies, made this natural. "The rapid increase in population in newly formed cities," wrote an observant visiting actor, William Davidge, "produces a style of patrons whose habits and associations afford no opportunity for the cultivation of the arts."1 When the craze for lectures in the 1840's drew off the theatre's more sophisticated patrons, there was even greater need to meet the populace's demand for undiluted entertainment. "Opera and burlesque, the melodrama and the ballet," sighed one critic, "have literally swallowed up the

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America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xiii
  • Illustrations xv
  • Chapter I - In Detestation of Idleness 3
  • Chapter II - Husking-Bees and Tavern Sports 22
  • Chapter III - The Colonial Aristocracy 44
  • Chapter IV - The Frontier 67
  • Chapter V - A Changing Society 84
  • Chapter VI - The Theatre Comes of Age 100
  • Chapter VII - Mr. Barnum Shows the Way 122
  • Chapter VIII - The Beginning of Spectator Sports 136
  • Chapter IX - Mid-Century 148
  • Chapter X - Cow-Towns and Mining-Camps 168
  • Chapter XI - The Rise of Sports 182
  • Chapter XII - The New Order 201
  • Chapter XIII - Metropolis 211
  • Chapter XIV - World of Fashion 230
  • Chapter XV - Main Street 248
  • Chapter XVI - Farm and Countryside 271
  • Chapter XVII - The Growth of the Movies 287
  • Chapter XVIII - A Nation on Wheels 308
  • Chapter XIX - On the Air 320
  • Chapter XX - The Great American Band-Wagon 332
  • Chapter XXI - Sports for All 347
  • Chapter XXII - The New Leisure 365
  • Bibliography 375
  • Notes 391
  • Index 425
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