Heralds of Promise: The Drama of the American People during the Age of Jackson, 1829-1849

Heralds of Promise: The Drama of the American People during the Age of Jackson, 1829-1849

Heralds of Promise: The Drama of the American People during the Age of Jackson, 1829-1849

Heralds of Promise: The Drama of the American People during the Age of Jackson, 1829-1849

Synopsis

Here is a fascinating account of the struggle to create a viable American theatre and dramatic tradition in a society that, while eager for culture and entertainment, provided an environment hostile to their development. Meserve begins by describing the potential for dramatic writing that existed in America in 1829 and the obstacles faced by the many talented dramatists who emerged during the period. The author describes the work of playwrights in American popular theatre--their dramatization of current events and social issues and their attempts to adapt popular fiction and foreign plays. Two major categories of playwright are emphasized--the journeyman or actor-playwright and the literary playwright. The author finds that by 1850 virtually all of the outstanding American playwrights were either dead or had withdrawn from the theatrical scene.

Excerpt

My mother once told me that she enjoyed reading the prefaces of the books I wrote. I am not sure that she ever read more than the preface, although I may misjudge her, and I never asked. Knowing that she liked my prefaces, however, made me feel good in the past and makes me pause a moment now. My mother died at the end of October 1984, after I had completed one version of this book which, unknown to me at the time, was to undergo drastic revision-- from Spectacles for a Developing Nation to Heralds of Promise--during the next six months. She was well past her ninety-fifth birthday by that fall, and we felt more pride in the life she had lived than sorrow at her passing.

The previous spring my wife, Mollie, and I had paid Ma a surprise visit at the nursing home on Cape Elizabeth, Maine. We had been in New York doing some library research when Mollie decided that in order to understand a character in a play she was writing she needed to see where this person lived in suburban Boston and learn something about her neighborhood and her home. Once you are in Boston, of course, it is only a couple hours to Cape Elizabeth and, as we were driving, we soon headed "north of Boston." Ma was watching television when we arrived. Although obviously interested in her program, she visited with us in a more coherent manner than we had come to expect during the past two or three years. She knew us and gave us her attention; then, always a lady, she thanked us politely for dropping by and told us to come back again sometime. Our visit was over, and Ma was back with her television program or somewhere. That was that! Now, on to something else. Everybody has things to do. Perhaps I have no reason for a preface now, and you have a book to read while I have more books to write.

All good plays have that obligatory scene. Histories should, too, and I have debts to confess and obligations to acknowledge before I conclude these pre-

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