Included in the second release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900, are several minstrel plays. Developed in the United States beginning in the 1830s, minstrel shows mocked the appearances and language of black characters, reinforcing white views on race for more than a century. This first example, An Elephant on Ice, is subtitled "An Ethiopian Interlude, in One Scene":
Sam Johnson.—Well worn grey pants and vest, a black patch covering entire seat of pants, with patches on knees; dark back, with huge red patch between the shoulders on vest; fancy striped shirt; large shoes; and battered white hat, high crowned.
Sol Squash.—Dandy dress, wig parted in the middle, silk hat, cane; kid gloves and eye glass.
An example of the dialogue as the play opens:
Scene.—A street in second or third grooves.
Enter Sam Johnson R., carrying a buck and saw on his shoulder.
Robert Davis, Adjunct Assistant Professor, English Department, John Jay College (CUNY)
Thomas Hamblin (1800-1853) was arguably the most influential—and contradictory—figure in antebellum U.S. theater. An English actor and manager, he became synonymous with American working-class nativist culture. He transformed New York City’s Bowery Theatre from a failed venue for refined drama to what became known as “The House of Blood and Thunder.” Hamblin excelled at producing successful melodramas, tragedies, and farces... > Full Story
The inaugural release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes plays that range over the most popular genres of its 80-year time span. There are comedies and melodramas, Revolutionary and Civil War dramas, plays with all-women and all-black casts, temperance plays, and plays for children for school and home entertainment, as well as many plays written by women. Here are some examples of the diversity of genres and titles now available:
‘Pocahontas. A Historical Drama, in Five Acts’ by Robert Dale Owen (1837)
‘The Ku Klux Klan, or, The Carpet-Bagger in New Orleans’ by Elizabeth Avery Meriwether (1877)
‘Mohammed, The Arabian Prophet. A Tragedy in Five Acts’ by George Henry Miles (1850)
In the nineteenth century drama became the most popular form of entertainment in America while taking on myriad forms: historical plays, melodramas, political satires, black minstrel shows, comic operas, musical extravaganzas, parlor entertainments, adaptations of novels and more. All of these—more than 4,700 works in total—can be found in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment. This unique and comprehensive collection sheds new light on an enormous range of heavily studied topics, including daily life in the United States; politics, both local and national; culture in all of its forms; and the shifting and evolving tastes of Americans from across the country. Learn more.