Theatre U.S.A., 1665 to 1957

By Barnard Hewitt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
1665 TO 1782
The Original Pioneers

Theatre or the stuff of theatre existed in the ceremonies and dances of the American Indians when the first settlers arrived in what is now the United States, but our theatre owed nothing in its beginnings to native sources.

The first play produced in territory which was to become the United States was a comedia, written by a Spanish captain, and presented in 1598 on the bank of the Rio Grande near what is now El Paso. Between 1640 and 1652, at least two of Corneille's tragedies were produced in Quebec. But these early examples of theatre in Spanish and French had no more to do with the development of American theatre than did the ceremonies and dances of the Algonquins or the Iroquois. They serve only as a reminder of two of the nations which might have dominated this part of the world. But England, not Spain or France, gained control of most of the North American continent, and the theatre when it came, like nearly everything else in the new land, was wholly English in origin.

The United States gained political independence from England in 1783 as a result of the Revolution and cemented it in 1814 as a result of the War of 1812, but long after that the American theatre remained in many ways subject to the English theatre, and the story of its growth and

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