The Cambridge History of American Literature

By William Peterfield Trent; Stuart P. Sherman et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
The Early Drama, 1756-1860

OUR native drama, even though it antedated the novel and the short story, has practically no history until the latter half of the eighteenth century. The first drama written in this country which is now in existence, the satirical farce, Androborus, was printed, it is true, in 1714. It was by Governor Richard Hunter1of New York, but as he was an Englishman, the interest in his work is limited to its representation of local conditions. Androborus was not acted, and had no influence in the development of an acting drama. The two forces which seem to have led to the production of a native play upon the stage were the indirect influence of the early performances of masques and of dramatic odes and dialogues at the colleges, and more directly, the acting of the first regular company of professional players.

The earliest college exercise, including original composition, that has survived, is Francis Hopkinson's revision of The Masque of Alfred, originally written by Thomson and revised by Mallet in 1751, which deals with the invasion of England by the Danes. It was performed, according to Hopkinson's statement,2several times during the Christmas holidays of 1756-7 in the College of Philadelphia.3. Hopkinson's original lines number more than two hundred, besides a new prologue and epilogue, and new scenes are introduced so that the masque may be considered as in large measure original. What makes

____________________
1
For a description of Androborus, see Ford, P. L., The Beginnings of American Dramatic Literature in The New England Magazine, Feb., 1894, New Series, vol. IX., No. 6, p. 674.
2
See The Pennsylvania Gazette, 20 and 27 Jan.; 3 and 10 Feb., 1757, for a detailed account of the Masque, giving Hopkinson's lines.
3
Now the University of Pennsylvania

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