This book traces Shakespeare's contributions to America's cultural history from the colonial era to the present, with substantial attention to theatre history, publishing history, and criticism.
It identifies four broad themes that distinguish Shakespeare in the United States from the dramatist's reception in other countries. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Americans in search of self-improvement took a utilitarian approach to the plays, mining them for moral insights and everyday wisdom; beginning in the nineteenth century, American entrepreneurs collected, edited, and adapted Shakespeare for their own pleasure and profit; while America's public schools and theatre practitioners sought to make the works widely accessible; and throughout American history, Americans have had fun with Shakespeare in spoofs, parodies, and other appropriations and the collection of Shakespeare kitsch.
Shakespeare in America also examines America's evolving awareness of Shakespeare, initially through the importation of his writings in the early eighteenth century, the staging a few decades later of English adaptations of the plays, and in the nineteenth century and beyond, through the promotion of Shakespeare and his works at Lyceums, Chautauquas, Shakespeare Clubs (both scholarly men's associations and more socially-oriented women's clubs), and America's literary 'renaissance' as championed by Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Whitman, and others. The nineteenth century also witnessed growing attention to Shakespeare in schools, especially in William H McGuffey's Readers, and later in colleges, while simultaneously American familiarity with Shakespeare encouraged burlesques on stage, including the popular 'black' minstrel shows of the 1840s through 1870s.
The twentieth century witnessed new organizations for promoting Shakespeare, such as the Shakespeare Association of America, and new venues for amateur and professional performances, such as Shakespeare summer festivals beginning in the 1930s and still going strong; and in new media for enjoying Shakespeare, such as feature films, Broadway musicals, and, toward the end of the twentieth century, radical adaptations of the plays on stage, on film, and in fiction, often aimed at persuading American youth that Shakespeare speaks to them. The story of Shakespeare in America is ever-changing.
Alden T. Vaughan, Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, has published widely on England's American colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially on their racial perceptions and policies. His most recent historical book is Transatlantic Encounters: American Indiansin Britain, 1500-1776 (2006). Earlier titles include New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675 (1965, 3rd edn. 1995); American Genesis: Captain John Smith and the Founding of Virginia (1975); Puritans Among the Indians: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption, 1676-1724 (1981), coedited with Edward W. Clark; and a collection of his own essays, Roots of American Racism (1995).
Virginia Mason Vaughan, Professor of English and former Chair of the English Department at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, has published essays on Shakespeare's history plays and three books on Shakespeare's Othello: the annotated bibliography in the Garland Shakespeare series, compiled with Margaret Lael Mikesell (1990); an anthology, Othello: New Perspectives, coedited with Kent Cartwright; and Othello: A Contextual History (1994). Among her more recent work are a study of early modern blackface performances, Performing Blackness on English Stages, 1500-1800 (2005), and The Tempest in Manchester University Press's 'Shakespeare in Performance' series (2011).
The Vaughans are the coauthors of Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History (1991), and the coeditors of Critical Essays on Shakespeare's The Tempest (1998) and The Tempest in the Third Arden Series (1999, rev. ed. 2011).
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