( United States: Nineteenth-Century Theater)
The stage Yankee represents the earliest attempts to portray the "American" character in the theater. As the United States created itself, the question of what it meant to be American craved attention, and one of the most popular answers was offered in the form of the Yankee, a seemingly dim-witted fellow from somewhere in New England, endowed with common sense and often even guile, but also basic honesty and continuing pride in being American. The Yankee was a caricature, a clown. In his definitive study Yankee Theatre: The Image of America on the Stage, 1825-1850, Francis Hodge states that if the picture of the Yankee was an external one, and not always flattering, it was a symbol of the American democracy ( 4-5). Arthur Hobson Quinn describes the Yankee as a figure in whom most Americans proudly noted "traits they liked to believe were national, while they were quite willing to laugh at his ignorance, credulity, and uncouthness on the stage" (294). Constance Rourke, in her study American Humor, argues that writers and actors who developed the Yankee character used the caricature to mock old values and to define, to an extent, new ones. To her, the Yankee is "a symbol of triumph, of adaptability, of irrepressible life -- of many qualities needed to induce confidence and self possession among a new and unamalgamated people" (35).
The origins of the stage Yankee are obscure. Rourke writes that although there seem to be some connections to the Yorkshire yeoman of British literature, the Yankee seemed to leap into existence from almost nowhere, first as the subject of the song "Yankee Doodle," then onto the stage in Royall Tyler