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Volume I Number 1
Spring 1989
Vera Mowry Roberts Walter J. Meserve
CUNY Graduate School
Managing Editor
Edwin Wilson
Editorial Assistant
Joel Berkowitz
CAST A Copyright 1989
The Journal of American Drama and Theatre is published
three times a year, in the Spring, Fall, and Winter. Sub-
scriptions are $12.00 for each calendar year. Foreign sub-
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of CAST A, CUNY Graduate School, 33 West 42nd Street,
New York, New York 10036.
Editorial Board
Stephen Archer
U ni versi ty of Missouri
Ruby Cohn
University of California,
Linda Jenkins
Northwestern University
Bruce A. McConachie
College of William and Mary
Margaret Wilkerson
University of California,
Don B. Wilmeth
Brown University
From the Editors
We admit to a long-cherished dream of a scholarly pub-
lication whose sole focus would be American drama and
theatre. With the happy conjunction of editorial forces at
the Graduate School of the City University of New York,
and the sponsorship of the Center for Advance Studies in
Theatre Arts this dream has become a reality. We now
present this initial issue of the Journal of American Drama
and Theatre with pride and many thanks to those who
have made it possible.
Our aim is to promote research on American
playwrights, American plays, and American theatre and to
encourage the thoughtful contemplation that will lead to a
more enlightened understanding of our literary and
theatrical heritage and of America's continuing contribu-
tion to world literature and the performing arts.
Please join us in our celebration of American drama
and theatre by subscribing today to your Journal of
American Drama and Theatre.
Vera Mowry Roberts Walter J. Meserve
Table of Contents
Volume I Spring 1989 Number 1
Walter J. Meserve Our English-American
Playwrights of the
Mid-Nineteenth Century ................... 5
Stanley Kauffmann Miss Anglin: A Memoir ....................... 19
Gerald Weales High Comedy Over a Cavern ........... 25
Don B. Wilmeth Noble or Ruthless Savage?:
The American Indian on Stage
and in the Drama ............................... 39
J. Ellen Gainor A Stage of Her Own:
Susan Glaspell' s
The Verge and Women's
Dramaturgy ............................................ 79
Contributors........................................................................................... 100
Manuscripts should be prepared in conformity with The
Chicago Manual of Style, 13th ed., and should be submitted
in duplicate with an appropriately stamped, self -addressed
envelope. Please allow three to four months for a
response. Our distinguished Editorial Board will constitue
the jury of selection. Address editorial inquiries and
manuscript submissions to the Editors, Journal of American
Drama and Theatre, Ph.D. Program in Theatre, Graduate
School, CUNY, 33 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036.
Walter J. Meserve
By the time the United States had celebrated one
hundred years of independence, literary critics and the
American reading public had begun to recognize and
appreciate a distinctive American literature. It was a
relatively new discovery. Well into the third quarter of
the 19th century critics had persisted in accepting
American writing only as a "condition of English litera-
ture," and the Duyckinck's Cyclopedia of American Litera-
ture, 1855, had declared it still "thoroughly and essentially
English." A strong literary nationalism also existed,
however, and the frequent pleas for a truly American
literature--most eloquently presented in Ralph Waldo
Emerson's "The American Scholar," 1837--were loudly
echoed by fervent demands for an American drama.
At mid-century Walt Whitman's voice in the Brooklyn
Eagle, lamenting the quality and scarcity of American
plays, only repeated the complaints of lesser known critics
of the theatre, which by its very nature at this point in
time, compounded the problems involved in the creation
of an American drama. In a manner more pronounced
than in other arts and letters, the theatre did remain
essentially English. English actors and actresses still
flocked to America and, by virtue of their experience and
the elite American's fascination with foreign talent, were
widely employed and applauded. More importantly, a
majority of the theatres in America at mid-century were
managed by Englishmen who naturally selected for per-
formance the classics of English theatre or the latest suc-
cesses on the English stage, there being no international
copyright agreement that might counter their · brand of
entrepreneurship. Not until well after the Civil War did
American actors and actresses, theatre managers and
playwrights gain substantial control of their theatres.
Inherent in an assessment of the development of an
American drama throughout much of the third quarter of
the nineteenth century, there is a particular problem all
historians must consider. During these years American
playwrights suffered from some of the same conditions
that discouraged the promising playwrights of the Age of
Jackson. Consequently, few efforts were made by
dramatists whose reputations would be lasting--George
Henry Boker complained bitterly of his frustrations and
the delayed acceptance of Francesca Da Rimini--and
Augustin Daly was only beginning to show his talents.
Yet a great many plays were written in America for per-
formance in American theatres. Some of the playwrights
were native born; others were not. Under what nation-
ality should those other playwrights be known--those
numerous actor-playwrights who, though born in England
or Ireland, lived in America for a greater or lesser period
of time and while here wrote some of the major and a
great many of the minor dramas that kept theatres open
during these years?
Although in the long run of history any answer may
not make much difference, the current confusion that
exists in histories and resource material should be noted.
Inconsistencies should be recognized and facts presented
upon which some judgments may be based. Many of the
playwrights, of course, are long forgotten, but their plays,
obviously distinctive for their quantity and subject matter
more than for their quality, were part of the slowly
developing American drama. Before the long-running
plays of Bronson Howard, Bartley Campbell, Steele Mack-
aye and Augustin Daly changed the nature of the
American theatre as the country entered the last quarter
of the 19th century, these American and English/
American dramatists provided many of the amusements
and entertainments--terms generally used at this time by
critics of theatrical performances--that theatre audiences
demanded. In the history of an American drama such
contributions should be recognized.
One of the largest collections of 19th century plays
is the Readex Microprint Collection of English and
American Plays of the Nineteenth Century, edited by George
Freedley and Allardyce Nicoll. To facilitate the use of
this great resource Don L. Hixon and Don A. Hennessee
compiled Nineteenth-Century American Drama, a Finding
Guide, 1977, and James Ellis with Joseph Donohue com-
piled and edited English Drama of the Nineteenth Century,
an Index and Finding Guide, 1985. From these sources and
George C. D. Odell's Annals of the New York Stage one can
list about twenty-five presumably American dramatists
who were consistently writing plays for the American
himself as a playwright and adapter of French plays for
the English stage. Returning to America in 1832 Payne
travelled a bit, complained about a lack of appreciation
for his work, wrote nothing for the theatre and was
appointed Consul at Tunis in 1842 by President Tyler.
Both indexes also include John H. Wilkins (1826?-1853), an
Englishman who, as actor, playwright and journalist, came
to America in the early 1850's only to die in August, 1853.
Six of his plays were performed on the American stage
before the end of the decade but only one during his
lifetime. The sole reason for his inclusion among con-
tributors to American drama rests upon the curious deci-
sion of the editor of Volume XIV of America's Lost Plays
to include Wilkins's Signor Marc in his collection.
It is not at all surprising that historians and critics
have individually claimed Dion Boucicault (1820- I 890) as
either an American, an English or perhaps an Irish actor
and playwright. He worked both sides of the Atlantic
Ocean equally well and achieved a substantial reputation
as a writer and actor of spectacular and sentimental
melodramas. As for nationality, when asked, "Are you an
Irishman?" a writer for The Gael, December 1899 (p. 262),
quotes Boucicault as saying, "Sir, Nature did me that
honor." His reputation as a playwright, however, began in
England with the production of London Assurance in I 841.
From that point on, this complicated and often brilliant
man, who experienced tremendous successes and numerous
failures, earned fortunes and squandered them freely
while enjoying a popularity that followed him through
most of his life. No wonder that historians rush to claim
Boucicault as contributing to a particular national
dramatic literature. Ellis and Donohue list him as
English; Hixon and Hennessee indicate that he is an
American dramatist.
The argument for claiming Boucicault as American
rests upon the length of time he spent in America, the
kind and quality of plays he wrote while here, his con-
tribution to American copyright legislation and several
essays on dramatic theory, written late in his life, which
formed part of a developing American dramatic criticism.
Still, Boucicault was not American by birth, and during
the years immediately following the success of London
Assurance he had at least twenty-two plays produced in
London. In September, I853 Boucicault arrived in New
York; seven years later, July, I 8 60 he sailed back to
England. In the interim, and in addition to his successes
theatre during the third quarter of the 19th century, and
the names of other Americans who contributed a play or
two and went on to other things quickly double this num.:.
The contemporary quality of their work eliminates
most of these twenty-five actor-playwrights from serious
consideration by historians who assess the broad scope of
American drama and theatre, but the problem of confused
identity persists and is well illustrated in the c·areers of
Dion Boucicault, John Brougham, J.B. Howe, James Pil·
grim, Henry W. [Grattan] Plunkett and a number of other
actor-playwrights. Bernard Hewitt, Arthur Hornblow, and
Garff Wilson, for example, comment only on Boucicault
and Brougham and do not become involved in the ques-
tion of their nationality--which is less a problem in a dis-
cussion of the American theatre, as opposed to American
drama, a concern for plays written by Americans. George
B. Bryan, Stage Lives, A. Bibliography and Index to Theatri-
cal Biographies in English, 1985, identifies both Boucicault
and Brougham as Irish, while Don Mullin, Victorian Actors
and Actresses in Review, 1983, cautiously lists Boucicault as
English-born Anglo-American and Brougham as Irish-born
Major problems occur with the two indexes to the
collection of English and American Plays of the Ninete.enth
Century as the compilers attempt to distinguish English
and American playwrights. Both indexes, for example--
the one for American plays and playwrights and the one
for English plays and playwrights--list William Bayle
Bernard (1807-1875) who, born in Boston, the son of actor·
manager John Bernard, moved to England in 1820 and·
made a good reputation as a writer of plays about
America and as an adapter of American plays and fiction
to English circumstance. He never wrote specifically for
an American theatre, although his plays were frequently
performed on American stages. Also listed by both com-
pilers, Morris Barnett (1800-1856) did not arrive in·
America from his native England until 1854, two years
before his death, although his version of Old Times in Vir·
ginia; or, The Yankee Peddler, a popular Yankee vehicle,
played in America in 1841.
It is more curious, although understandable, that
both indexes include the works of John Howard Payne
(1791-1852), the American actor, playwright and author of
"Home, Sweet Home" who sailed for England in 1813 to
make his fortune as an actor and, instead, established
as an actor and his uneven ventures as a theatre manager,
Boucicault enriched American drama with three distinc-
tive efforts. The first may have been simply a fortunate
circumstance. The lack of copyright protection for
American playwrights had been a source of complaint in
America for thirty years, and efforts by Robert Mont·
gomery Bird in the early 1840's and by George Henry
Boker ten years later had failed to bring Congressional
action. Then Boucicault added his words and reputation
to the argument, and on 18 August 1856 a copyright law
was enacted by the United States which gave playwrights
"along with the sole right to print and publish the said
composition, the sole right also to act , perform, or
represent the same." As experience would show, in the
commercial theatre of this time the law did not prove to
be a completely satisfying solution to the problem, but it
was a beginning, and Boucica ult had, at least, contributed
to the enactment of legislation long awaited and substan-
tially endorsed by playwrights.
Boucicault's second contribution to American drama
was his adaptation of Les Pauvres de Paris by Edouard
Brisebarre and Eugene Hus to American circumstance for
Wallack's Theatre on 8 December 1857. A popular
melodrama, it revealed the impeccable moral behavior
that separated heroes and heroines from the hardhearted
and ruthless villains of the 19th century. Showing both
the theatrical talents of the author and the kind of
entertaining spectacle demanded by audiences, The Poor of
New York was eventually performed, among other rein-
carnations, as The Streets of New York, The Poor of Liver-
pool, The Streets of London, The Poor of London Streets, The
Streets of Philadelphia, The Streets of Dublin and, because
its action is divided between the commercial Panic of
1837 in America and the Panic of 1857, as The Money
Panic of '57.
Boucicault's third contribution was his production
of The Octoroon at the Winter Garden Theatre on 5
December 1859. Taking his basic material from Mayne
Reid's novel entitled The Quadroon, 1856, Boucicault
created a theatrical masterpiece that excited audiences
throughout the 19th century and moved Howard Taub-
man, reviewing a successful revival at the Phoenix
Theatre for the New York Times, 30 January 1961, to
remind audiences that "Boucicault's literary equals thrive
in our day, too."
Basking in a popularity that had brought him a for·
tune when The Colleen Bawn opened in New York in
March 1860, Boucicault spent the next dozen years in
England and Ireland. He returned in 1872 to America
where he premiered The Shaughraun at Wallack's Theatre
in 1874 and thereafter travelled back and forth across the
ocean until his death in 1890 in New York City. If his
popularity waned toward the end of his life, his energy
did not. Among his lasting contributions to American
theatre and drama are his thirteen essays in the North
American Review (1877-1889) which, along with essays in
other American publications, present his theories of
drama and theatre. For the record, Boucicault spent
twenty or more of his most productive years in America,
somewhat less than half of his professional life.
A better case can be made for John Brougham (1810-
1880) as an American actor and playwright, although Ellis
and Donohue list him as English and Hixon and Hennes-
see consider Brougham in the American index of the
microfilm collection. Arriving in America in 1842,
Brougham immediately established himself in the theatre
and by the 1850's was writing some of his best plays.
Introducing Brougham's Dramatic Works, 1856, Dr. Sheldon
MacKenzie, a critic and writer to whom a number of
American dramatists appealed for advice, described
Brougham as "one of the most successful of living
dramatists." James Oakes ("Acorn"), writing as the Boston
theatre critic for the Spirit of the Times (12 June 1858, p.
205) noted that few men possessed "so many rare qualities
as author and actor as are owned by John Brougham."
And in his essay on John Brougham in Wags of the Stage,
1902, Joseph Whitton praised him extravagantly for his
wit and humor as a writer of burlesque and for his excep-
tional qualities as a speechmaker. Most memorable are
the words of Laurence Hutton in his essay on "The
American Burlesque," Harper's Monthly, 81 (1890), 59-74,
which describe Brougham as the "American Aristophanes."
From 1842 until his death thirty-eight years later,
Brougham was, with the exception of one brief period, a
luminary of the American stage. Like Boucicault,
Brougham moved back to England during the years of the
Civil War. Like Boucicault, he had established a reputa-
tion in the English theatre before coming to America and
even laid claim to some responsibility for the creation of
London Assurance. In America Brougham's career ranged
through theatre management, acting and playwriting. Not
a good businessman in his attempts as a theatre manager,
he was, in the minds of many contemporary critics,
unsurpassed as a comic actor, particularly in Irish and
burlesque roles. During his lifetime Brougham wrote
more than 125 plays--burlesques, farces, Irish plays, social
comedies and melodramas--some of which showed his
thoughtful concern for the infirmities of man and the dis-
parity of living conditions in American society. For most
students of American drama, unfortunately and unfairly,
Brougham is remembered only as the clever author of
Met-a-mora; or, the Last of the Pollywogs, 1847, and
Pocahontas; or, the Gentle Savage, 1855, in which he
amused a generation of Americans. Although he wrote
several other burlesques, these represent only a portion of
his playwriting efforts. He was, for example, particularly
fond of Dickens's works and adapted several of his novels
to the stage as well as numerous stories by Sylvanus Cobb,
that prolific writer for The New York Ledger whose popu-
larity was a phenomenon of this period. Brougham's
numerous Irish plays such as The Fortune Hunter, 1850, his
comedies and farces--The Game of Life, 1853, and The
Game of Love, 1855--and his melodramas such as The
Duke's Motto; or, I am Here, 1863, delighted audiences and
helped sustain the American theatre during the difficult
pre-Civil War years. ·
Brougham always amused his audiences and
occasionally pricked their sensibilities. No other
playwright in America during the 1842-1860 period
equaled his productivity in quality or quantity. Ever in
demand as a public speaker--at Tony Pastor's Variety
Theatre in the mid-1870's, for example, or at the newly
founded Lotus Club in New York--Brougham was known
to be a witty but thoughtful and intelligent man, a
charitable man who never made or was able to keep much
money, a playwright whose concern for man and his way
of life in America is embedded in the dialogue and
themes of many of his plays. Although born in Dublin,
Brougham was accepted as an American by those who
knew him.
The leading actor at Brougham's Bowery Theatre
during the 1856-57 season and occasional co-author of
plays with Brougham, J. Burdette Howe (1828-1908), born
in London, had come to America at the instigation of
Charles T. Parsloe and had appeared first at the National
Theatre in New York in 1855 as St. Clair in Uncle Tom's
Cabin. Soon he "began to aspire to dramatic authorship,"
as he described his career in A Cosmopolitan Actor, His
Adventures All Over the World, 1888 (p. 73). For the next
several years Howe played in many cities in Canada and
the United States, managed the Bowery Theatre and wrote
an undetermined number of plays. In 1857 he and
Brougham dramatized Karmel, the Scout, one of Cobb's
numerous popular stories. A sampling of Howe's plays
would include, among many others listed in Odell's Annals
of the New York Stage, The Black Hills of Erin, The Golden
Eagle (from a story by Cobb), Knights of the Mist, The
Mysteries and Crimes of New York and Brooklyn, Capitola;
or, the Hidden Hand (an adaptation of E.D.E.N. South-
worth's novel), Woman of the World and The Career of a
Sometime in late 1860 or early 1861 Howe went to
England but returned two years later to the New Bowery
Theatre in New York where, according to Odell, he was a
prolific playwright, writing five plays for the fall season
of 1864, and "almost" a star actor. Early the next year, in
late February, 1865, Howe quarreled with the manager of
the New Bowery Theatre, James Lingard, over an amount
of $200 which he claimed Lingard owed him for two
plays he had written for the theatre, and angrily boarded
a steamer bound for England. Lingard reacted by having
Howe arrested and thrown in jail. The gist of their prob-
lem was a confusion based on American dollars versus
English pounds and Howe, furious with Lingard,
threatened a suit for false arrest but eventually decided
against this action and returned to England. In a letter of
explanation to the editor of ERA--the currently popular
way to air a personal grievance--Howe maintained a posi-
tive view of his position in the world and signed himself
"J.B. Howe, Tragedian and Dramatic Author."
Once again, in 1872, Howe visited America but
rather than stay in New York journeyed on immediately
to California and from there to Honolulu, Australia,
India, Venice and back to London. Another trip took him
to South Africa, but his autobiography indicates that by
1886 he was back in London. In his History of English
Drama Nicoll considers Howe an Englishman and lists ten
of his plays, a number that must be only a fraction of his
total output. Ellis and Donohue omit any reference to
Howe, and Hixon and Hennessee list him as an American
dramatist. Certainly, most of Howe's plays were written
while he was in America, and a number of them
dramatize American interests and American themes. But
Howe also had a substantial career as actor, manager and
playwright in England, where he died at Cheswick in
1908: Perhaps Howe knew best when he described himself
as "A Cosmopolitan Actor."
For reasons that appear completely arbitrary, Hixon
and Hennessee do not list James Pilgrim (1825-1879) in
their American index, and both Ellis and Donohue and
Nicoll include him as English. This inconsistency and
resulting confusion surrounding Howe and Pilgrim is typi-
cal of an attitude toward a significant number of theatre
people who came to America during the 19th century.
Pilgrim left his native England for good in 1849 and first
appeared at the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia in
the role of Paddy Miles in his own play of The Limerick
Boy, which remained popular on both sides of the Atlantic
Ocean for many years. Like most actors of this period,
Pilgrim had a fling at theatre management--at Boston's
National Theatre, the old National Theatre in Philadel-
phia and the New Bowery in New York--but he was
mainly an actor and an extremely active playwright. His
obituary in the New York Times, 16 March 1879, indicated
that he had acted "on nearly every stage" in the United
States and that his writings for the theatre, including
pantomimes, original plays, adaptations and spectacle
creations for the stage, numbered more than 200. Irish
Assurance and Yankee Modesty, Shandy Maguire and Paddy
the Piper were among his most repeatedly performed plays,
and throughout his professional life he acted with and
wrote plays for some of the most successful actors and
actresses in America: Mr. and Mrs. Barney Williams, Mag-
gie Mitchell, Mary Devlin, F .S. Chanfrau and the
Early in Pilgrim's career there may have been some
negative reaction among native Americans in the theatre
to this foreign-born actor who ran away from home with
a group of strolling players at the age of fourteen and
appeared on the London stage two years later. Harry Wat-
kins, that fiercely nationalistic American playwright and
itinerant actor who kindly recorded for posterity his
theatre activities, once noted that H.O. Pardey, a theatre
manager, had asked him to rework an adaptation of a
novel, Harry Burnham, which Pilgrim had been commis-
sioned to dramatize. According to Watkins, as reported in
One Man in His Time, the Adventures of H. Watkins, Strolling
Player, 1845-1863, from His Journal, edited by Maud and
Otis Skinner (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 1938, p. 98), Pilgrim knew 1i ttle American history,
and his adaptation looked more like the Irish revolt of
'98. Pilgrim, however, became a more popular playwright
than Watkins, creating those innumerable adaptations of
the popular fiction of the day that sustained the New
York theatres during the 1850's. It was, in part, the work
of Pilgrim that stimulated Odell to comment in his Annals
of the New York Stage (VII, p. 237), that "perhaps, after
all, those Bowery playhouses were the 'cradles of
American drama,' though the hands that rocked them
were very crude. " It would appear that audiences
accepted James Pilgrim, the actor and the playwright, as
American, and after the age of twenty-two when he first
played at the Arch Street Theatre, he obviously lived and
worked as an American.
Henry W. Grattan Plunkett (1808-1889) spent twenty-
three years in America writing a number of plays, work-
ing as an actor and managing theatres in New York and
Memphis. Born in Dublin, Plunkett--who also wrote under
the name of H.P. Gra ttan--like Boucica ult, Brougham,
Howe, perhaps Pilgrim, and certainly many others, had a
fair reputation on the stage in London before coming to
America in 1842 and appearing first on the stage of the
Park Theatre in New York as Hamlet in 1843. Dreams of
opportunity, however, drew all of these actors to America,
some to find complete satisfaction in the opportunities
discovered and others to take what they wan ted and
return home. Plunkett was one of the latter. During the
1850's he wrote a number of plays for the acting talents
of Mr. and Mrs. Barney Williams, the extremely popular
Irish and Yankee impersonators. Modern Mephistopheles;
or, Lucifer Matches, 1855, won a prize offered by Williams,
who always seemed to need new material and paid
Plunkett to write The Fairy Circle that same year. In 1856
Plunkett provided Mrs. Williams with a popular vehicle by
adapting the Widow Bedott Papers by Frances Witcher.
Other than plays for the Williamses and one entitled
Our Japanese Embassy, 1860, which referred to the
appearance of the new Japanese ambassador in America,
Plunkett maintained an English orientation in his
playwriting--plays such as Wat Tyler, 1857, The Four
Phantoms; or, the Legend of St. Mark, 1857, or The Fire and
Plague of London, 1860. When he returned to England
about 1865, Plunkett continued to write for the theatre in
London where Nicoll lists twenty-one of his plays pro-
duced between 1873 and Plunkett's death in 1889. The
microprint index compilers had a certain amount of logic
on their side in listing him as English, in spite of his con-
tributions to American theatre and drama.
When an evening in the theatre consisted of at least
three plays--and before the long-running play became pop-
ular in America--theatre managers were always looking
for new works to entertain audiences that demanded
novelty and new sensations. Of the score of journeymen
or hack playwrights whose names appear again and again
in George C.D. Odell's Annals of the New York Stage a sub-
stantial number who were born in England found satisfy-
ing careers in America. Charles Weston Taylor, who was
born in England in 1785 and died in West Farms, New
York in 1874, was a regular contributor to the drama dur-
ing his active years in the theatre. H.J. Conway, born in
England in 1800 and died in Philadelphia in 1860, is
remembered for many plays and, in particular, a success-
ful version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Benjamin Edward
Woolf came to America from England in 1839 and made
his reputation as music critic and author of plays that
emphasized American qualities. He died in Boston in
1901. Even during the final decades of the century,
Englishmen were still coming to America and making
their fortunes in the theatre--Maurice Barrymore Blythe,
George H. Jessop, August R. Cazauran, George Fawcett
Rowe and Archibald C. Gunter, among others. Quickly
these people became absorbed in the expanding theatre
and were accepted in it while questions of their nation-
ality seemed unimportant or forgotten. They became part
and parcel of the developing American theatre and drama.
Perhaps it was the nature of society during the lat-
ter part of the century, when immigrants were expected to
become Americans, that allowed these late 19th century
theatre people to be considered unquestionably American.
Perhaps it was the nature of the theatre and drama which
was distinctly more American in personnel and manage-
ment by this time. Whatever the reasons, there is a pro-
gression in the history of drama in America that requires
clarification. The few dramatists writing in America dur-
ing the first half of the 19th century present few prob-
lems; almost every one was an Englishman or was assumed
to be one. It was, in fact, an advantage for playwrights
to claim English nationality because any public knowledge
that a play had been written by a native American was
sometimes sufficient to insure its failure in the theatre.
As America passed the mid-century mark, vestiges of
Jacksonian independence became mixed with changing
social configurations, and nationality assumed importance.
The Know-Nothing Party of the mid-1850's that blatantly
advertised its anti-foreign bias, for example, illustrates a
political reaction of these years. Later in the century
nationality might be loosely equated with an economic
condition or a social situation, but in the theatre it
seemed to matter less. Be that as it may, for that mid-
century period historians have felt it necessary to identify
by nationality the dramatists who were writing for the
American theatre, and they have been excessively
arbitrary in making decisions.
Thomas Blaydes De Walden (1811-1873) is yet
another example of the mid-century journeyman
playwright in America whose contributions to the theatre
provide evidence for an intelligent answer to questions of
historical identity. Born in London where he first
appeared at the Haymarket in 1834, De Walden made his
debut in America in 1844 and became a productive
dramatist whose works occasionally reflected American
society. There was The Upper Ten and the Lower Twenty,
1854; Circe and Her Magic Cup, 1855; Manifest Destiny,
1855; Wall Street, 1855; The Monkey Boy, 1860, and Sam,
1865, which F.S. Chanfrau performed 783 times, according
to the anonymous compiler of Theatrical Biography of
Eminent Actors and Authors (n.d.). De Walden returned
only once to England, in 1857, where he inherited money,
returned to America the following year to become a
businessman, lost his money and went back to the theatre
which received him happily. He died in New York City.
An even more prolific playwright who worked hard
to feed the insatiable appetites of American theatre
managers and their audiences was Dublin-born John F.
Poole (1835-1893)--not to be confused with John Poole
(1786?-1872) the popular English dramatist, author of a
perennial favorite, Paul Pry, 1825, and friend of Charles
Dickens. John F. Poole came to America when he was
twelve years old, graduated from St. John's College and by
1859, according to Odell, was the chartered dramatist of
the Old Bowery theatre in New York, a young man of
twenty-four years. From the opening of the fall season in
August through November, 1859, Poole adapted or wrote
eleven plays for this theatre, and this was only the
beginning of his prolific career. Among his plays are The
Venetian Buccaneer, 1859 (a story by Cobb); The Privateer
and the Pirate; or, Our Country's Flag, 1859; The Massacre
of Wyoming, 1859; Santa Claus; or, A Christmas Dream,
1862; Cudjo's Cave, 1864 (adaptation of a Trowbridge
novel); The Bounty Jumper of the Bowery, 1865; The Ballet
Girls of New York, 1868 and Di-vorce, 1872.
During his life Poole managed several theatres in
New York, even opened his own Poole's Theatre in Astor
Place, but was seldom very successful in these ventures.
He was also one of the founders of the Actors Fund. As a
hack or a journeyman playwright, he certainly played a
role in establishing an American drama, and at his death
the New York Times for 18 July 1893 entitled the obituary:
"The Man Who First Introduced High-Class Stars to the
West Side."
Unlike poetry and fiction, drama requires a set of
conditions and a group of performers to fulfill the
ultimate vision of the dramatist. Whereas the reading of
poetry or a story is a private enjoyment, the presentation
of a play is a social event. Quite in spite of the fact that
many literary people during the 19th century wrote plays
for their own sa tis faction and a reading public while
eschewing the social event, the nature of the American
theatre, as well as the natures of some of the founding
fathers, demanded that American theatre maintain a
dependence upon English theatre much longer than forces
of literary expression in a new country might ordinarily
require. Needless to say, the English were only too happy
to foster and maintain that dependence which, in truth it
must be admitted, undoubtedly produced a more active
and a better theatre than might otherwise have been
created in America. The process of developing this
theatre, however, encouraged foreign or English participa-
tion to a degree that frequently discouraged native-born
Americans--as actors and actresses, as theatre managers
and as playwrights.
By the third quarter of the 19th century English
dominance in the theatres began to wane. Historians
should now look more carefully at those playwrights who
individually wrote scores of plays and produced a body of
drama that would become part of America's theatre
heritage. The American theatre was clearly dependent
upon the immigrants who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in
ever increasing numbers during the 19th century, the dis-
satisfied or adventurous actors and actor-playwrights who
found opportunity in the American theatre and the
theatre managers in America who frequently went to
England to bring actors and actresses back to America.
With theatre people coming and going and coming and
staying, there is abundant opportunity for historians to be
confused in determining nationality. Distinctions,
however, should be made. Some were clearly visitors,
even if for a prolonged period; others declared their
adopted nationality through their plays. An American
drama is revealed in the endeavors of George Henry
Boker, E.G.P. Wilkins, Charles Gayler, Clifton W.
Tayleure, Augustin Daly and J .J. McCloskey (born in
Canada) as well as in the works of John Brougham, James
Pilgrim, Thomas De Walden and John F. Poole.
voice orchestral. She was a short, dumpy woman in a
housegown in a small living room, but she made the room
We turned to the project. War had begun in Europe,
and she had remembered a play she had bought during
the First World War, a melodrama translated from the
French about a French fisherwoman who was abducted by
the crew of a German submarine. Most of the play took
place on board and put the young woman in a situation--
details escape me--in which she could do something noble
for her country at great risk to herself. Of course she
survived, and the Germans were foiled.
Miss Anglin thought the play could be updated.
When I hesitated, she chuckled somewhere in her chest
and said she didn't expect to play the young woman on
the stage but thought it would make a good radio vehicle
for her. The Canadian Broadcasting Company had asked
her to do a play of her choosing. This might be it. She
asked me to take it home and read it and see if I wanted
to adapt it to today and to radio.
I knew in advance that I would want to. In the next
few weeks I made the adaptation, with her advice and
suggestions, and she sent it to Canada. Then came the
first of the oddities in the course of my work with her.
A couple of months later, the CBC sent her a check for
the use of the play, which they had broadcast with
another actress. She sent the check back (I remembered
the scene from Fresh Fields) with a letter conveying her
Everything we did together had some sort of frus-
trating finish. I was glad that I was doing other work of
my own that gave me satisfaction and a little income so
that I didn' t have to withdraw from these adventures
with her, but one after another, our joint projects fizzled.
We roughed out an adaptation of Racine's Athaliah
for herself and for the Yiddish actor, Maurice Schwartz,
who was to play the high priest; but Schwartz, after some
telephone conversations, moved on. When Greece's
heroism against the Italians and Germans was very much
in the news, she suggested a radio version of Shelley's
He/las. We worked on that for a while, then she called up
David Sarnoff, the head of RCA which owned NBC. I
was present when she spoke to him and will never forget
utterances like, "You see, Sarnoff, we shall need a
symphony orchestra conducted by Mitropoulos--it's only
fitting that a Greek should conduct." Sarnoff, who knew
and admired her, considered the idea for a week or so,
then dropped it.
The biggest disappointment came with Giraudoux's
The Madwoman of Chaillot. Alfred Lunt, who early in his
career had been a member of Miss Anglin's company, had
seen the play in Paris and had brought her a copy because
he thought it was ideal for her. She read it and agreed;
the Mad woman was a juicy part, and it was particularly
right because she could be seated most of the time. She
was a bit unsteady, as she said, "on my pins."
She was fluent in French--she had been educated by
French-speaking nuns in Canada--and she had made a
literal translation. She gave it to me for smoothing and
adaptation. I can still see her large handwriting in light
blue ink coursing through several soft-covered school-
child's composition books.
I finished Act One and took it to her. She read it
and thought it fine. "Now," she said, "we must do some-
thing about securing the American rights." I felt a
twinge. I had assumed that the rights were already hers.
She made some telephone calls that day and found out
that the rights were already sold. She viewed the sale as
a personal offense; and I saw what the trouble with all
our ventures had been. Miss Anglin could not, would not,
adjust her perspectives. In her own mind she was still the
queen of the theater that she had been, with choice and
prerogative at her disposal. She made no concession to
the passage of time.
Essentially she was right, because in herself she was
still the royal artist she had been. Practicality was
another matter. Even in this little living room I could
sense her greatness. I have never regretted the time I
spent working with her because of what I learned. First,
it gave me a chance to see the processes of a bygone
theater age from the inside. Her accounts of directing
masses of people, of deploying symphony orchestras--
sometimes conducted by Walter Damrosch--stemmed from
a large approach to production that was fading even at
the time I knew her. She had made much money and had
put most of it back in her productions so that she could
do the plays she wanted as she wanted. She despised stars
like William Gillette who went into the theater to make
money in order to get out of the theater. "He sat up
there," she once said after there was a newspaper story
a bout Gillette's Connecticut estate, "playing with his toy
railroad, when he might have been acting."
I also got some biographical glimpses of the kind
that biographers cannot find through research. In the
period when she was playing with James O'Neill she was
visited in her dressing room one day, after a matinee, by
Mrs. O'Neill, who brought her son, Eugene, then seven or
eight. The two women were friends and embraced in a
flurry of arms and sleeves and scents. Young Eugene
hung back in the doorway. Miss Anglin turned to him
and, surmising that he was fearful of embraces, said,
"Come in, little boy. I won't kiss you." Eugene hung
back, glowering upward, and muttered, "You might."
After another rna tinee some ten or twelve years
later, Mark Twain came to her dressing room and, striding
back and forth, told her that she ought to play Joan of
Arc, that, if he were younger, he would write the play
himself. (She did play Joan in 1921 in an adaptation of
some French vehicle.) Then, when he left, he took her
hand in both of his, and, she said, she could still remem-
ber the warmth of his handclasp.
About her genius as an actress, I had garnered some
idea, both in the one performance I had seen in that
flimsy Novello play and in various glints and gleams
when she read lines of the scripts we were working on.
There were reviews aplenty testifying to her art, but even
then I was suspicious of (other people's) reviews. The one
glorious confirmation I had of her powers came one eve-
ning after we had been going over a script for an hour or
so. It was about nine o'clock. She sat back and said, "Oh,
bother this. I'm tired of this work. I'd like to read. Shall
I read some Medea?"
I managed not to shout. I merely said yes.
She reached up to the shelf next to her and took
down the green-covered Gilbert Murray translation.
Then, sitting on the other side of a bridge table, she
began to read.
She read, as far as I can recall, virtually the whole
play, including the choruses. As she began, I thought,
"Now I'm going to see it. I'm going to see how a great
actress acts." I. never saw anything of the kind. It just
happened, sheer transformation as if by wizardry, the
voice itself becomeing a sort of arena within which par-
tial uses of it portrayed various characters. The exception
was Medea herself, who seemed to take up all of that
capacious voice. Jason and the others moved through that
living room, Medea moved to her ascent. I can't imagine--
! mean that literally, I am not capable of imagining--a
performance in the theater that could have been more ful-
filling. Indeed, this experience was more overwhelming
than it could have been in a theater because I knew it
was being created by a plump, sixtyish woman, in horn-
rimmed glasses, wrapped in a house-gown.
Not many months afterward, Miss Anglin and I
parted, ·more or less amicably. I saw that, unless I wanted
my life to be devoured by her teeming interests, I would
have to pull loose from her and attend to my own affairs
more completely. We never met again. I was afraid that,
if we did, I'd be drawn once more to forgetfulness of my
own work. But the whole experience with her has never
dimmed, and those two hours of Medea still blaze for me.
They reassure me when the theater of our day grinds
along in paltriness, and they help to define tragedy.
Copyright 1989 Stanley Kauffmann
Gerald Weales
"You child--" says Florrie in Saturday's Children
(1927), "it is funny. You're going through a period of
adjustment and it ' s always funny. " The romantic
gamesplaying with which Maxwell Anderson's play ends is
both correct, a proper conclusion to that kind of comedy,
and suspect, coming from a playwright whose most
celebrated works chronicle the inevitable corruption of
innocence in an evil world. The possibility of a double
response makes the Anderson play an appropriate lead-in
to a discussion of Tennessee Williams's Period of Adjust-
ment. ·
For Williams, if not for Florrie, the period of adust-
ment, whether within a marriage or between a person and
his society, world or universe, is co-extensive with the life
of the marriage or the man. Williams's first use of the
phrase--at least, the first one that I have come across--is
in "On a Streetcar Named Success" (New York Times, 30
November 1947), one of those combinations of publicity
and confession that the Sunday Times used regularly to
run to herald important openings. Describing the depres-
sion that he fell into after the success of The Glass
Menagerie, Williams says, "I thought to myself, this is just
a period of adjustment." Within the essay, it is, for he
tells how he went on to write A Streetcar Named Desire;
yet, the tone of the piece denies the positive thrust of the
narrative and it ends with the line: "the monosyllable of
the clock is Loss, Loss, Loss, unless you devote your heart
to its opposition." The phrase "period of adjustment" is a
convenient and comforting label which breaks continuing
or recurring situations into encompassable units. Williams
spent his life coping with one period of adjustment after
another with drink, drugs , sex, compulsive travel,
psychoanalysis, hospitalization and, most of all, obsessive
work as aids in the endeavor.
This view of life lies darkly behind Period of
Adjustment" although the titular phrase is used in the mar-
riage counselor sense that Florrie borrowed from a sage
on the N·ew York American. Both couples are going
it moves several pages of the second act into the first.
That version does a lot of naturalistic tidying, seeing to it
that Ralph asks for George's keys before he gets Isabel's
zipper bag from the locked car and that she gives the
telephone number to the operator so that her call to her
father can be completed. That the playwright left the
original unlikely bridge between acts when the play was
printed in The Theatre of Tennessee Williams in 1972 sug-
gests one of two things. Either he is so indifferent to the
play that he ignores bothersome details, or he uses them as
signals to indicate that Period of Adjustment is not a
realistic play and should not be taken as such.
Williams's somewhat tenuous relationship with his
own play can be seen in the flood of interviews that he
gave in 1959 and 1960. The play was first performed in
Miami at the end of 1958, but it was almost two years
before it reached New York. Between the two openings,
Williams talked to a great many reporters, and the pub-
lished accounts, read side by side, show a wealth of con-
tradictory sta tern en ts and a variety of voices ranging
from the solemn to the playful. His tone presumably
changed according to the publication, the interviewer and
his state of mind that day, and if he tripped over his own
statements, he could always blame it on the "dreadful
misquotations" which, he told Whitney Bolton (The Morn-
ing Telegraph, 3 October 1960), dogged his every
utterance--Bolton interviews excepted. All these inter-
views were advertisements for the play in process, and the
general sense of them is that there is a new Williams, per-
haps thanks to psychoanalysis,2 who has put aesthetic
violence behind him. It is a nice, neat idea, suitable for a
chapter break in a biography, but it is somewhat flawed
by Williams's having worked on Period of Adjustment at
the same time he was struggling with Sweet Bird of Youth
and Night of the Iguana, the works that preceded and fol-
lowed Period in New York, and according to Lewis Funke
(New York Times, 6 December 1959), on plays called The
Milk Train Does Not Stop Here and The Poem of Two (prob-
ably "The Mutilated").
Reactions to the new Tennessee Williams ranged
from Donald I. Klepfer's assertion, in his review of the
pre-Broadway try-out in Wilmington, that the playwright
was "in a mellow, merry mood" (Wilmington Morning News,
13 October 1960), to Alan Brien's contention, in his review
of the London production, that Period is "perhaps the most
pessimistic and bitter of all the Williams plays." (London
Sunday Telegraph, 14 June 1962). John Griffin, reviewing
the New York product i on in The Theatre (December,
1960), expressed an interest in seeing the play done "from
an entirely different viewpoint, as a scathing commentary
on current American sexual mores," and Tennessee Wil-
liams, who had dedicated the printed play to "the director
and the cast," told i nterviewers in Theatre Arts (January,
1962) that, after he saw Dane Clark play Period in sum-
mer stock, he realized that what he thought was "a happy
play . .. was about as black as Orpheus Descending." Pro-
duction decisions and the personality of performers can
obviously change the way one responds to a play, but the
production in London, judging by the notices, was not
that different from the one in New York. Reviewers on
both sides of the ocean split over whether the play was a
conventional commercial comedy or a harsh satire, and
the perceptions seemed not to depend on whether they
liked or disliked the play.
Most of those who went for
sa tire--like many commentators since--assumed that
middle-class behavior or American marriage is the target.
Tom Mackin, reviewing a revival (Newark Evening News,
8 April 1971 ), found the "plight of the returning hero
whose exploits no longer matter" among its insufficiently
explored themes. More interesting is the statement of the
"special correspondent" in the November 23, 1960 edition
of The London Times that the satirical subject is "our
interest in closely analysing the personal problems of
others while we refuse to concede that we have any prob-
lems ourselves," or Harold Clurman's acid suggestion (The
Nation, 3 December 1960) that Williams is mocking his
own audience, offering them "a jolly little play" in which
they can condescend to the characters whom they never
recognize as themselves.
Most of these satiric elements are in Period of
Adjustment. It would be hard to miss the import of the
McGillicuddys, cartoons as broad as the unctuous, bequest-
hunting clergyman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The inciden-
tal satire--on television, on American consumerism--is a
standard Broadway joke, much enjoyed even by TV-
watching consumers in the 1950s. The difficulty comes as
one extends the object of satire. Are the two couples
sympathetic comic figures or pathetic butts? Is this the
new avuncular, warm-hearted Williams or the savage Wil-
liams who, like Cora and Billy in "Two on a Party,"
"loathed and despised ... the squares of the world"? Both
they and he fall somewhere in between, the characters
being at once funny in their distress and touching in their
funniness. When Williams wanted to indicate that he did
not like the characters, he did so directly as in the stage
direction which calls the McGill i cuddys "a pair of old
bulls." His amused sympathy for the two couples can be
found in the stage directions and the epigraph. Chekhov
may have had the self-irony to use his own fiction to
show the limitations of Trigorin in The Sea Gull, but Wil-
liams is too sentimental to intend sardonically an epigraph
that is a variant on the last stanza of one of his own
poems.• The voice in the epigraph, like the four main
characters, has a desperate need for tenderness and an
inability to express it to others. Even though this conflict
is a serious one for Williams, he has the wit to use tender-
ness as one of those words like dignity and the ubiquitous
sweet, comic labels for possibly genuine responses. "There
is such a tender atmosphere in this sweet little house . .. "
says Isabel, in one of her attempts to persuade Ralph to
stay with his wife. "I mean· you can breathe the tender
atmosphere in it!"
Williams's descriptions of Ralph are as direct and as
ambiguous as the message in the epigraph. Ralph has a
"look of gentle gravity which is the heart" of the character
and "a fine , simple sweetness and gentleness." These lines
from two different stage directions are intended to lead
the reader (and presumably the director and the actor) to
a sense of the character as clearly as Williams's statement
that Blanche "suggests a moth" or that Brick has "that cool
air of detachment that people have who have given up the
struggle." These are suggestions, not complete character-
izations. From the plays, we know that Blanche is as
much tiger as moth and that Brick, as the confrontation
with his father shows, is still struggling. The sweetness in
Williams's stage direction may not have quite the taste
that it has in Isabel's mouth, but his use of her favorite
cotton-candy word might remind us that American popu-
lar culture has a tradition of gentle comic figures from
Harry Langdon to Coach on Cheers. In his attempt to be
helpful, Ralph is as funny as he is gentle, but Williams's
emphasis in the stage directions indicates that the play is
not intended as a demolition job on his main characters.
He describes Isabel's "so lonesome" scene at the end of Act
Two as "a sentimental moment, but not 'sticky'." It is a
ludicrous moment, as Isabel murmurs "Little Boy Jesus" to
the statue of the Infant of Prague she cradles in her arms,
but, if Shirley Temple taught us nothing else, she taught
us that a scene could be outrageous and touching at the
same time. Anyone who has sat through a screening of A
Streetcar Named Desire, as I did a few years ago, and
listened to a young audience laugh at passages that once
broke my heart knows that audience perspective is central
to the way characters are perceived. Williams seems to be
using the playwright's tools of direct address to warn the
audience that the satiric intentions of his play should not
mask that his characters are human beings intended to
elicit our sympathy, but that sympathy should not become
so "sticky" that it obscures--obfuscates, Ralph would say--
their central funct ion as comic figures.
One of the generic bases touched by Period of
Adjustment is Broadway comedy of the 1950s. Unlike the
farces which were one of the theatrical strengths of
American drama in the 1920s and 1930s, 1950s comedy
tended to be earnest in both its search for laughs and its
psychological problem solving. On neither count does Wil-
liams's play fit comfortably in that pigeonhole. The gag
line, used by one character to put down another, is a
staple of the genre, and some reviewers praised Williams
for being comic in that way. The best example, the fun-
niest line as line, is Isabel's response to Ralph's assertion
that "they don't make them any better" than George: "If
they don't make them any better than George Haverstick
they ought to stop production!" In con ven tiona I usage, a
gag does its work and then gets out of the way, but Isabel,
startled by Ralph's hearty laugh, proceeds to explain that
the joke is a serious statement; later, disoriented by the
growing intimacy with Ralph and his cont inued praise of
George, she repeats the joke and thi s time she "utters a
sort of wild, sad laugh which stops as abruptly as it started."
Williams could not be a gag writer if he wanted to, and
he is as little in tune with the psychologizi ng of 1950s
comedy as he is with its jokery. The genre at its best --
George Axelrod's The Seven Year Itch (1952), for instance--
could carry attractive characters through foolish con-
tretemps to an ending that was at once a comfort and a
message. Period of Adjustment might be seen as a cousin
to a show like Itch, but for all the instant psychology that
washes through the l ines in Williams' s pl ay, it is more
concerned with questions than with answers. He provides
an ending for his comedy, not solutions to the problems of
his characters. Nor that "message you can take home with
you," the absence of which Sabina lamented in The Skin of
Our Teeth.
Williams calls his play "A Serious Comedy," but there
is some difficulty about the where and the what of the
seriousness. There are many passages which could be
lifted out of the text--and have been, by reviewers and
academic critics alike--and displayed as the key to the
whole thing. "Women are vulnerable creatures," says
Ralph, and George answers, "So's a man." Williams
understood vulnerability and spent a good part of his
playwriting life investigating that human weak-
ness/virtue, and there is every reason to assume that many
of the. sen tim en ts that come from the mouths of the
characters belong to the dramatist as well. His work sug-
gests that, like Isabel, he believes that the "whole world's
a big hospital, a big neurological ward," but no shared
allegiance keeps him from using the idea in a comic
seduction speech. One might read the play as feminist on
the basis of Isabel's "Women are human beings and I am
not an exception to that rule" and Ralph's attack on the
male's use of the penis as a weapon, but Isabel's rejection
of humiliation is balanced by Dorothea's admission that
she came "crawling" back home. Anyone who wants to see
Williams as a marriage counselor can equate Ralph and
the playwright and take Ralph's platitudes as his
creator's, but Ralph's message can be and has been
summed up in a popular song ("Try a Little Tenderness").
There are lines and scenes to prove that the play is
serious about the defects of American culture (George
says TV is "a goddam NATIONAL OBSESSIONAL"), the
corruptive power of money and materialism, the fragility
of youthful aspirations, the ruinous influence of parents
on children, the precariousness of existence, but it is
always a good idea in Period of Adjustment to see who is
speaking and in what context. Consider Isabel's
philosophical musings on the meaning of life, which
Nancy M. Tischler seems to take straight in Tennessee Wil-
liams: Rebellious Puritan. They are triggered by Ralph's
"That's life for you," which he must repeat because Isabel
has not been listening to his unhappy account of his mar-
riage. "What is life for us all?" she asks, as if in response
to a cue, and then sighs her way into her "giant question
mark" speech to which Ralph responds, "When did you say
you got married?" The seriousness in Period does not lie
in the "many random true and tender insights" an unwill-
ing Jerry Tallmer found in it (The Village Voice, 24
November 1960), for as often as not they are undercut by
context. It lies in the assumption that comedy begins in
the recognizable and painful problems that regularly beset
all of us.
"What they talk about is serious but the way they do
it is comedy," Williams told some "friends," or so Francis
Donahue says in one of those unidentified quotations that
make the reading of The Dramatic World of Tennessee Wil-
liams such a chore. Authentic or not, the line does indi-
cate the comic method in Period of Adjustment. Alan
Pryce-J ones (Theatre Arts, January, 1961) complained, "The
comedy is kept afloat entirely on conversation," and Bam-
ber Gascoigne (The Spectator, 22 June 1962) faulted the
play as an example of Williams's "retrospective play-
making." Both were right, although both are wrong
because the play is not about the Ha versticks' disastrous
wedding night in the Old Man River Motel or Ralph's
having married Dorothea on the implidt promise of
taking over her father's business. It--the first act, at
least--is about Isabel's account of that night and Ralph's
attempt to explain his own situation in the face of her
self -preoccupation. "You often speak of having no plot in
Period of Adjustment," Cheryl Crawford, who produced
the play, said in a letter to Williams (quoted in her
autobiography, One Naked Individual). "You're wrong:
People will rush back to their seats to find out what is
going to happen." Crawford rather overstates the case
(she was complaining of a lack of plot in The Night of the
Iguana), for by the end of the act, anyone with any expe-
rience of comedy knows that it is the business of the plot
to lead George and Is a bel to consummation and Ralph and
Dorothea to reconciliation. The interesting action in Act
One is the coming together of Ralph and Isabel, not sexu-
ally although there are erotic overtones in their behavior,
but as friends, comrades who can share a laugh.
means to their mutual attraction is ·verbal, and the voices
are COmlC.
The play opens with a not very successful parody of
a pompous television commercial (The Mother-Mouse dog-
gerel of the acting edition is better, but not much), but
this is not satire. It is a way of emphasizing the
coventionality of the setting ("a 'cute' little Spanish-type
suburban bungalow") and the fact that Ralph is alone--a
state that is intensified when he switches channels and
picks up "White Christmas." (A Christmas play to follow
the Easter of Sweet Bird?) This quiet scene is followed by
the hubbub of the Haversticks' arrival and George's fail-
ure to get the car up the steep drive. It is probably
appropriate that our first sense of George is that he cantt
get it up--given his fear of impotency--but that is a
retrospective joke--if i t is a joke at all--and the scene
here, the first exchange between Ralph and Isabel,
punctuated by shouts to and from the offstage George,
provides the chaotic disconnection that will finally modu-
late into an uneasy companionship. George drives off,
ostensibly to get a present for Ralph, actually for the
same reason that Isabel walks the dog in Act Two--to give
the other two characters a chance to play alone.
Exposition is action in this act. While Isabel lets us
know about her brief career as a student nurse, her
dependence on "PRECIOUS DADDY," how she met
George, she conveys the incipient hysteria in the charac-
ter, the growing conviction that she has been abandoned.
Her account of their wedding night, the disaster that fol-
lowed the long, sullen ride in the freezing honeymoon
hearse, is almost a set piece like Maggie's opening
monologue i n Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Ralph's inter-
ruptions ("Aw") are sometimes as brief as Brick's. To keep
this tale of woe in comic perspective she seems as
desperate in her need for her "small zipper bag" as she
does about her frightening marriage. She repeats the
phrase in varying intensities (represented by different
types--italics, small caps--in the printed text) and begins
to load it with adjectives: "little blue zipper bag," "little
blue zipper overnight bag." Although her concern about
the bag may represent a transfer from an incomprehen-
sible situation to a small dislocation, it is characteristic of
Isabel's tendency to be distracted--by the child's Christmas
presents under the tree, for instance. She never hears the
contradictions in her flow of words. "I think my pride
has been hurt," she says, explaining her anger at George,
and in her next speech reprimands Ralph for reacting "out
of hurt feelings, hurt pride." Her most endearing quality
is the sense of propriety that keeps breaking through her
chronicle of outrage and despair. Early in the act, build-
ing up a head of steam in her exasperation with George,
she suddenly notices that the television is on and says,
"Excuse me, you're watching TV!" Later, describing their
drive down from St. Louis, she says "Ever since then it's
been hell! And I am--" and then, as though she were sud-
denly conscious that she was not being a proper guest, she
breaks off and finishes with "--not exactly the spirit of
Christmas, am I?" Williams does not need these abrupt ,.
jumps to let us see the Isabel who so admires this "sweet
house." He can do it with a string of possessive pronouns
as in her shyness about that zipper bag: "It had my, all
my, it had my--night things in it."
Most of the New York reviewers, even those who
hated the play, praised Barbara Baxley as Isabel; although
she was a delight in the part, Williams deserves credit for
creating a character so vividly verbal. By comparison,
Ralph is muted. He does try to explain his marriage, his
separation, his impending departure, the cavern in to
which the house is sinking ("If anyone wishes to pin a
symbolism there--he may," Williams told Whitney Bolton in
the interview quoted earlier, insisting that he was simply
using a house that his mother bought and had to have
shored up), but Isabel is usually not listening. Otherwise,
Ralph can only offer cliches of comfort or ask leading
questions. He is at his strongest when he uses gestures
rather than words--offering her the flaming brandy,
bringing her his wife's slippers, kissing the bride to still
her sobs. Her self -absorption and his slightly pompous
hovering presence are the comic heart of the first act.
The two-character encounter of Act One gives way
to an uneasy threesome in the second act. Ralph cannot
quite do the old-buddy routine with George, infected as
he is by his sympathy for Isabel, and George's presence
makes it impossible for him to sustain the mood on which
the first act ends--even though Is a bel starts calling him
Ralph instead of Mr. Bates. He is forced much of the
time to stand around with his oil can waiting for a
chance to pour bromides on troubled water. Isabel, in
direct contention with George, cannot be the waif of Act
One. Her toughness shows through except in that
preposterous telephone call--"Can't talk, can't talk, can't
talk, can't talk, can't--talk"--that provides the farcical
high point of the act. Add that both men get increasingly
drunk as the act progresses, making Ralph more
ponderous, George more contentious. Although Isabel and
Ralph are on hand much of the t ime, this act belongs to
George. We hear about his shakes in the first act; now we
get to see them.
It is possible to be psychologically solemn about
George's condition, but the way Williams plays with
tremors in this play makes that difficult. The shakes are
either a cause or a result of George's fear of impotency,
but they reflect more than sexual self -doubt. According
to Isabel, George began to shake in the car when she said
he would have to start looking for a new job immediately,
and Ralph trembles in his encounter with Mr. McGil-
licuddy. Ralph tells Isabel that Dorothea used to shake
whenever she approached a man, and IsabePs unfinished
comment suggests that it may have been desire, not fear,
that moved Dorothea; at the end of the play, as George
and Isabel begin to come together, she says, "I didn't know
until now that the shakes are catching!" Perhaps this con-
geries of shakes is supposed to suggest something about
our general insecurity--the world as "neurological ward"--
but the ludicrous metaphors (Dorothea's buck teeth sound-
ing like "castanets at a distance," George shaking like
"dice in a crap shooter's fist" undercut that possibility.
George on stage is the visual sign of all the shakes,
seen and unseen, including those of the house ("We get
those little tremors all the time," says Dorothea, when the
house slips at the end of the play), but he is not a dark
comedy figure of "affliction," however often he uses the
word. He is primarily a big little boy in his noisy play-
fulness with Ralph, his hurt reaction to Isabel's having
rejected him the night before, his petulance at both Ralph
and Isabel. In his one unsuccessful attempt at reconcilia-
tion with I sa bel in Act Two (a balancing scene to her
similar a ttempt--"How are you feeling now, George?"--
which he refuses), he apologizes for having implied that
Isabel seduced him in the hospital and then "slumps in a
chair with a long. despairing sigh." Like Isabel, he is easily
sidetracked; they both forget their main quarrel long
enough for a funny fight over whether the cocker spaniel
should be called animal or dog. He also contradicts him-
self, but even more obviously than Isabel's shifts, his have
a child's urgent sense of what will work right now. "Man
an air record will cut you no ice on the ground," he says
early in the act, feeling sorry for himself, but later,
trying to persuade Ralph to join him in the Longhorn-
breeding scheme. "Haven't you blazoned your name in the
memory of two wars?" George is never more the boy than
in his dream about the ranch, a longing to run away from
the shake-giving real world. The idea of raising Long-
horn cattle for television Westerns is as effective, if not
as brutal, an image of the decline of the wide-open-spaces
myth as catching wild horses for dog food (v. Arthur Mil-
ler's The Misfits). The cultural implications are there
certainly, but the primary use of George's plan is to pro-
vide a counterpart to Isabel's nurse-doctor fantasy. Isabel
may be little girl enough to imagine the "youngish middle-
aged doctor" risking contagion to sweep her into his arms,
but she is adult enough to laugh with Ralph at the movie
origins of her dream, as she shows neatly when she
switches from "I" to "she" within a single sentence.
George's fantasy is more persistent, and he is so
enthusiastic about it that he drags Ralph--fortified by
drink and his own desire to escape--along with him.
The McGillicuddys arrive in the last act and their
strident, bitter presences--which I could happily forego--
momentarily alter the tone of the comedy. As Williams
once said (New York Times, 1 May 1960), he has a taste for
"cornpone melodrama," and the caricatured greed of the
McGillicuddys may fall into a slapstick corner of that
label. Dorothea's parents are probably in the play for
their own sakes, but it would be nice to think that they
are there for contrast, an ugly noise that gives way to the
final pattern of the play in which, after the "bulls," even
the lovers' quarrels are quiet. Williams develops a fine
comic movement at the end of Act Three in which George
and Isabel in the living room, Ralph and Dorothea in the
bedroom circle each other, the circles overlapping as we
jump from couple to couple, an exchange, a speech, even a
single line holding us for a moment before we jump again.
The acting edition tries to tidy this process by shifting
between couples only after exchanges have been com-
pleted, but this is a mistake, I think. These are intermesh-
ing circles and both are turning slowly, running down to
a single ending in which the two couples come together.
"That these four persons decide to remain with their
spouses is a notion less comic than ghoulish," complained
Tom F. Driver in a group review (The Christian Century,
28 December 1960) in which he clearly preferred Under
the Yum Yum Tree to Period of Adjustment. Driver's dis-
taste, which was shared by a number of other reviewers,
is understandable only in an aesthetic world in which the
end of a play can be read in just one way. Williams's own
comments on the final curtain are instructive. He told an
interviewer in Newsweek (23 March 1959) that "it has a
happy ending." A year later (New York Times, 1 May
1960) that ending had become "non-tragic." Shortly before
the play opened, he told Don Ross (New York Herald
Tribune, 6 November 1960) that "it hasn't really a happy
ending. It's only happy in the sense that all the charac-
ters are alive and that they are in teres ted in going on
living." Whatever Williams says, it is a happy ending so
far as the genre is concerned, for commercial comedies do
end with the lovers in one another's arms. Yet, anyone
tempted to . wring a message from the double union of
these mismatched pairs should remember that in the typi-
cal Williams play the most his characters hope for or get
is the momentary comfort of shared warmth. A not so
happy ending, then, and there is the rumble that reminds
them (us) that the "sweet house" is built over an abyss.
The pattern of action and words leads to the happy
ending, but the implications are darkly Williams.
Ralph's line was dropped in the acting edition of
the play, but an altered form of the titular phrase ("a
little adjustment period") is used elsewhere in that ver-
sion, in Ralph's telephone assurances to Isabel's Daddy.
In this essay, unless I make specific reference to the ver-
sion of the play in Esquire (December, 1960) or the acting
edition (Dramatists Play Service, 1961), I will use the play
as it was published by New Directions in 1960 and
reprinted in Volume 4 of The Theatre of Tennessee Wil-
liams in 1972. In Tennessee Williams: A Bibliography,
Drewey Wayne Gunn assumes that the New Directions
version is a revision of the one in Esquire, but book pub-
lication came first. The subtitle in both Esquire and the
acting edition is "High Point Is Built on a Cavern" instead
of the New Directions's "High Point over a Cavern," a
precise and funny sexual image that I prefer to the
social/philosophical implications of the longer subtitle.
Esquire and the acting edition also share the epigraph and
a number of lines that are not in New Directions. There
is an awkward and unnecessary scene between Isabel and
a sailor in Esquire, which one would expect to be the first
thing to go in revision and which, as the sailorless cast
list attests, did disappear in production. If that sailor
appears in the earlier unpublished manuscript at the
University of Texas, which I have not seen, I can only
assume that he was in, then out, then in, then out again.
The confusion about priority of edition was heightened
by Arnold Gingrich, who congratulated himself ("Pub-
lisher's Page," Esquire, January, 1961) for having printed
the play "months in advance of its appearance in book
form." My conjecture about the order of publication,
based on textual evidence alone, was confirmed by Peggy
L. Fox of New Directions, who wrote me (8 November
1985), enclosing xeroxes of a number of 1960 letters
indicating that the play was published by New Directions
on November 14. One of the letters, dated November 28,
was from Gingrich, apologizing in advance for the
forthcoming note, the January Issue of Esquire already
having gone to the printer.
In Memoirs, Williams says that the critical
response to Orpheus Descending (1957), which he misdates
1959, sent him to Dr. Lawrence Kubie
for the mistake of
strict Freudian analysis, .. and in the pre-opening essay for
Sweet Bird of Youth (New York Times, 8 March 1959) that
he had gone into analysis the year before. Whenever the
analysis began, by early 1959 it was finished, although
Williams was a great deal kinder toward Kubie then
(Newsweek, 27 June 1960) than he would be in Memoirs.
Of course, there is Ralph's .. She had fallen into the hands
of a psychiatrist" speech to counter the journalistic
testimony. In the Sweet Bird piece, he says that he and
the doctor never agreed on the word--not hate, as Kubie
suggested--to describe his feeling for people and that he
finally drifted from the couch to
Some Caribbean
beaches... In Memoirs, he indicates that the analysis ended
because Kubie's only practical suggestion was that Wil-
liams break with Frank Merlo, his long-time lover.
As a warning against taking first reactions too
seriously, let me point out that I am here writing an
apparently sympathetic examinati on of a play which I
dismissed in my initial review (Drama Survey, Fall, 1961)
as one that "might have been written by any of the Broad-
way regulars, .. a negative response that I carried
unexamined into American Drama Since World War II
Since "Shadow Wood" first appeared in the 1964
edition of In the Winter of the Cities, it is not certain--at
least, from published sources--whether the epigraph was
adapted from the poem or a poem grew out of the
epigraphic quatrain.
I have an active dread of articles with titles like
The Fire Symbol in Tennessee Williams .. so I approached
Krisna Gorowara's essay in The Literary Half-yearly
(January and July, 1967) with trepidation. I was gratified
to discover that he used the fireplace in Period not as a
symbol but as a dramatic device that implemented the
relationship between Ralph and Isabel in Act One, George
and Is a bel in Act Three.
· Don B. Wilmeth
Native Americans, though they have been on these
shores longer than any other minority, are still adrift in
their own land. Our Founding Fathers saw Indians as
foreigners, not as citizens with equal rights. Indeed, Arti-
cle I of the Constitution empowered Congress to regulate
commerce "with the Indian Tribes," effectively opening
the flood gates for a long list of injustices, methodically
destroying a once proud people whose civilization had
been based on consensual democracy, and forcing them
off familiar grounds onto hostile reservations. Almost
400 treaties with various tribes resulted in the taking of
nearly one billion acres of Indian land. The Dawes Act
of 1887 shifted federal policy from extermination to
"Americanization" of the Indian but did little toward
easing Indian acculturation, for the providing of alloted
land to individual Indians was certainly not an ultimate
solution. The hesitancy of the Indian to adopt the values
of a white culture was exacerbated by corruption and
conflicts of interest among government, business, and reli-
gious officials. Indians were not even granted citizenship
and the vote by Congress until 1924. Even worse,
guarantees of free speech and due process were not theirs
on reservations until 1968. To this day, although the
plight of the American Indian has somewhat improved,
the suffering remains, with Indians more resistant to
assimilation into the mainstream than any other ethnic
Predictably, Native Americans became the subject of
literature and popular culture created by whites. As
Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr. has noted: "As with images of
other races and minorities, the essence of the white image
of the Indian has been the definition of Native
Americans in fact and fancy as a separate and single
other. Whether evaluated as noble or ignoble, whether
seen as exotic or degraded, the Indian as an image was
always alien to the white" (xv). In the theatre the Indian
became one of a number of so-called native types depicted
by dramatists, along with the Yankee, the Negro, the
Frontiersman, the urban tough, and, later, immigrant
groups such as the Irishman, the German, the Italian, and
the Jew .
However, only the Indian was excluded
altogether from American culture from the beginning.
Blacks were certainly disenfranchised, as were women,
but Native Americans from the white man's first
encounter were seen only from their biased and distorted
perspective and over several centuries. The result, as this
essay will attempt to illustrate, was the creation of
stereotypical Indians, ranging from the noble savage to
ruthless, varmint redskins or lazy, drunken, dissipated ras-
cals, from the Indian princess to the squaw on the fringe
of white society. American playwrights, only a handful
of them Indians, did little honestly and objectively to
depict the Native American but created their own image
of what an Indian was, reflecting most often their own
values and beliefs. Even the so-called noble savage, one
of the more extreme stereotypes, created a negative image,
for whether portrayed good or bad the Indian as created
for the stage was seldom fleshed out to be a real person or
was placed in a context where verisimilitude counted for
much. For the most part, Indians in American drama,
even when identified as from specific tribes, are more
often than not cultural constructs projected upon them by
Europeans and their descendents.
The object of this essay, then, is to offer a summary
or overview of the changing image of the American
Indian as depicted in our drama and on our stages, and to
suggest some of the dominant themes of these dramas.
Detailed studies of the Indian in American drama have
proliferated in recent years and those stimulated to inves-
tigate this subject further should consult these sources.
gratefully acknowledge my dependence on the findings of
these scholarly efforts. As the appendix to this essay
illustrates, the body of work with Indian characters is
quite large. Thus far I have identified almost 600 plays,
many lost, from 1606 to the present with Indian charac-
ters, both South and North American aborigines. This
essay cannot begin to offer detailed analyses of even a
small number of these texts, though representative plays
will be discussed.
It is difficult to define Indian plays by geography.
Most Indian plays have focused on Forest, Northwestern,
or East Coast Indians; few Indian plays take place on the
geographical Plains, in the Indian Territory or in the far
west. There has, however, always been an American fron-
tier and even what was considered the American west has
changed as the country has expanded, for rather than a
fixed geographical area this almost mythic area of the
United States has been more of an evolving process, as
many historians have noted. Consequently, the panoramic
survey used here seems quite appropriate.
The earliest plays with Indian characters were seen
on the London stage, stimulated by early visits of Indians
to Europe, aided by eighteenth-century literature and
philosophy. The introduction of the Indian character to
North America actually began with Indian roles in French
masques and plays, first in Nova Scotia (1606) and later in
New Orleans (1753) . It was, however, the impact of
British drama on early American playwrights, such as
Thomas Morton's Columbus; or, A World Discovered (1792)
and the first of many Columbus plays, that ultimately led
to the introduction of the Indian in indigenous American
In itself, the inclusion of Indians as characters in
early American plays did not mark a tremendous libera-
tion from European thought, for most early Indian plays
viewed the Indian in European terms, as the noble savage
of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a tradition transmitted largely
through the writings of   Renl! de Chateaubriand,
who had been to America briefly, though his contact with
Indians was no doubt perfunctory; his writing was done
exclusively in France.
As described by Burl D. Grose, the noble savage was
given a number of stereotypic attributes, including "total
understanding of nature and its secrets, physical beauty
and perfect grace, clever, stoic, lack of fear of pain or
death, elegant speech, and complete faithfulness to
friends, relatives, and loved ones, even to the point of
sacrificial death" (6). Indeed, the image of the noble
savage inherited from Europe is the peak of human virtue
of a sort. Living in the forest the noble savage is natu-
rally good, existing in harmony with nature and obeying
his impulses; he is childlike in his inability to control his
emotions, but has a definite sense of honor, can endure
hardships, and is brave in battle. This general pattern
was perceived as a universal one, applied to all aborigines
of North America, with no real distinctions between
tribes or their various levels of development.
Not too surprisingly, Indians were promising
material for drama, combining the strange and the famil-
iar. Sufficiently removed from the audiences of the East
Coast by the time the plays were widespread, at the
height of Romanticism in the United States, the Indian
image was authenticated by reports from travelers and
thus not total fantasy to them.
The earliest extant
Indian plays, however, did not have widespread influence
but are historically of interest. Ponteach, ascribed to
Robert Rogers, for instance, the first play to give full
dramatic treatment to White-Indian affairs, first appeared
in print in London in 1766.
It was not staged until it was
given an obscure production in New York in 1975. Like
the majority of Indian plays, especially those prior to the
twentieth century, Pont each is not a particularly well-
written literary effort, but it has been consi dered the
precursor of later Indian plays. Critics have also inter-
preted it as a pia y sympathetic to the Indian plight,
although as Grose suggests this may be an exaggeration,
for the Indians in the play create a predominately nega-
tive image, appearing most often "cruel, coward! y,
arrogant, unreasonable, and exceed in gl y treacherous
savages" (39-40).
Another historically important early drama, though
not performed, is Joseph Croswell's A New World Planted;
or, the Adventures of the Forefathers of New England; Who
Landed in Plymouth, December 22, 1620, significant as the
play that introduced Pocahontas (Pocahonte in Croswell's
text) into American drama, the prototype of a dominant
Indian stereotype, the Indian princess or heroine, a
character type that achieved great popularity in the 1830s
and 1840s, along with the inter-racial marriage theme.6
It was, however, another play, an "operatic melo-
drama·" produced in 1808 in Philadelphia, that gave us the
first example of the Pocahontas character in performance
and that was, in fact, the first produced Indian play by
an American playwright. The Indian Princess; or La Belle
Sauvage by James Nelson Barker underscores a theme that
becomes commonplace in Indian plays, white superiority.7
Over the next twenty years twenty-five or more
Indian plays are known to have been written, most
notably the New York Tammanyite Mordecai Noah's She
Would Be a Soldier; or, The Plains of Chippewa (1819) with
its dominant noble savage in the mold of earlier noble
savages in plays by such writer s as William Dunlap (and
his Peruvian Indians) and Anne Kemble Hatton's America
Discovered,· or, Tammany, the Indian Chief (1794); Henry J.
Fi nn's Montgomery; or, the Falls of Montmorency, with both
a good and bad Indian (Altamah is the typical Indian
princess, albeit a half-breed, and Oneida, her brother, is a
drunken villain); and finally, George Washington Parke
Custis's The Indian Prophecy (1827), an Indian play with a
common theme--the salvation of the Indian comes with
the acceptance of the white man's ways.
It is relevant to interject here, that during the
period when the influence of real Indians might have
made a difference in their depiction as stage characters,
few participated in theatrical performance. Indeed,
although there were brief forays of Indians onto the stage
from the early nineteenth century to after the turn of the
century, most frequently in Wild West exhibitions, they
were not brought to the stage to play principal roles or
add meaningful verisimilitude to the proceedings; thus,
the presence of actual Indians did little to alter an
increasing creation of Indian stereotypes by white
authors. Those Indians who did participate in theatrical
performances did so primarily to demonstrate their vari-
ous cultures, and then only those parts of their cultures
that seemed theatrically exciting: for instance, they per-
formed in dances, sang war songs, and acted out
tomah a wkings and scalpings. These representations
usually took place as entreact entertainment or as part of
a circus turn. In 1824, for example, the Castle Garden in
New York advertised: "Natives from the West--Six of
These Sons of the Forest perform the War Dance, the War
Song, the Rejoicing of Two Chiefs after Victory, Scalping
a Prisoner, Etc." (Odell, III, 168). One of the earliest
recorded instances of Indians on stage was a war dance
given in 1804; such performances were given unabated
until the Civil War, but Indians were not used as conven-
tional actors in created roles.
Historically, the period from Barker's Indian Princess
to the beginning of the Jacksonian Era in 1829 represents
twenty years of great stress and clash between the Indian
and the white man.
The struggle against the British and
the Indians during the War of 1812 resulted in a militant
egalitarianism in this country and a powerful nationalism.
Andrew Jackson, who became a national hero after two
decisive, bloody battles against the Indians, promoted two
of his most dominant issues--westward expansion and
Indian removal, all the way to the White House. Indian
removal would become a major issue in the 1820s and
By the 1830s the Cherokees were being driven out
of Georgia. The Black Hawk War took place in 1831 and
1832, and in the decade 1827-1837, ninety-four treaties
were made with the Indians. National attention was
focused on the Indian, yet, despite a popularity for the
stage Indian up to 1845 never to be eclipsed, interest in
the stage Indian never extended to contemporary problems
faced by the Indian.
Marilyn J. Anderson suggests that this brief spurt
of popularity and its parallel curtailment can be
explained as follows:
Certainly the demand for a unique national litera-
ture, which accompanied the Jacksonians' victory
and the expansion westward, led to an increasing
interest in exploiting native material, including the
Indian, as subjects for drama. The great success of
James Fenimore Cooper's novels also inspired
writers to explore various genres by which they
might present those Indian themes which had
proved popular. It is also relevant to note that
those years in which the Indian drama was at its
peak coincide with the years that the Indian
Removal policy was being put into effect. For this
brief period of time, Indian themes probably
seemed pertinent to a people who were then
engaged in the process of justifying their encroach-
ment upon the last of the Indian's territory. (800)
Eugene H. Jones correctly adds that because of the attrac-
tiveness of Indian themes and the relative ease with
which an Indian melodrama could be constructed, "Any
amateur or hack playwright who could turn out a formula
piece with Indian characters and one or two ideas for
spectacle scenes in it ... could get it considered for pro-
duction and find a buyer" (124-25).
Yet, ironically, the Indian on the frontier was not a
major subject for playwrights. Marilyn J. Anderson sug-
gests that with the completion of the Removal of the
Indians, conflicts between the Indian and the white man
dissipated into occasional skirmishes and that as a result
plays "about the white man and the Indian meeting on the
frontier therefore came to seem less pertinent. Since they
had limited themes, hackneyed plots, stereotyped charac-
ters and stiff dialogue, most of the dramas lost their
appeal within a few years. There was a limit to the
amount of interest that could be raised by the plight of a
'vanishing people"' (800).
It is also significant that the presentation and writ-
ing of Indian plays were largely limited to the eastern
seaboard. Reasons are self-evident. The early American
theatre was largely one of escape from the hardships of
daily life. Nowhere was this more a truism than in the
Western mining towns. When one of the major threats to
one's existence is the Indian menace, one hardly needs to
go to the theatre to be reminded of it. Indians were, in a
sense, too close to home, and the majestic and noble
savage of the drama of the 1830s and 1840s would have
seemed ludicrous in contrast to the Indians Westerners
knew only too well.
Certainly the play that gained the greatest popu-
larity and had the biggest impact during this era, John
Augustus Stone's Metamora; or, the Last of the Wampanoags,
illustrates an almost universal trend in the writing of
Indian plays during the Jacksonian period, and that is
that dramatists ere not attempting to portray Indians as
they existed at the time the plays were written, nor were
they striving for realism as we might perceive it today.
Even when historical material was used for names and
battles, for example, playwrights were more conscious of
the legend rather than the actual occurence. Rather than
reflect reality, most writers were speculating on the
destinies of both races and of civilization in general in
America. Indeed, as Roy Harvey Pearce notes in his
important, pioneer study of the Indian and the American
mind, though rather limited in its perspective on the
drama, discovering the white man's attitudes toward the
struggle of what he calls "savagism and civilization" is one
of the most persuasive reasons for looking at the Indian
play today.
Metamora, based tenuously on King Philip's War
(1675-1676), was chosen in 1829 by the actor Edwin Forrest
as the first winner of a contest for an aboriginal drama
by an American playwright.
Roy Harvey Pearce says
Metamora "furnishes us the richest evidence of the
imbalance between the convention of the noble savage
and the idea of sa vagism" (176). Much of the popularity
of this play no doubt stemmed from the protean perform-
ance by Forrest, but it is also frequently a theatrically
exciting play on its own terms, conveying a sense that
reconciliation between the two races is impossible. Nei -
ther race is inherently good or evil, but they are
incompatible. Most critics seem to agree that the central
characters of Stone's play are more complex and have
greater individuality than the mass of Indian dramas that
preceded it and many that came after. Metamora (King
Philip) is, quite expectedly, the most noble of the charac-
ters, though the general level of white ci vilizati on is
certainly higher, and the i dea is clearly stated that the
effect of civi lization on the Indi an was degeneracy, and
that meaningful acculturation was out of the question.
It is a mistake to assume that Metamora is simply
another noble savage, for as Grose notes, he "not only
exhibits all the stereotypic traits of the noble savage, he
also incorporates the attributes of the noble savage's
antithesis, the r ed devil" (186). Nevertheless, as Marilyn
Anderson illustrates, his "gentleness toward his family dis-
tinguishes him from the stereotyped noble savage found
in many of the Indian plays . .. he expresses himself with
sufficient indi viduality to avoid having his traits appear
hackneyed" (801). Metamora certainly operates in terms of
a clearer moral code than his more impulsive predecessors,
and is always careful to justify his actions, until he is
f i nally driven to the wall, as Richard Moody has shown
(America Takes the Stage 93-94). At that point his single-
ness of purpose in attacking whites can only be described
by pointing to his white counterpart, the Indian-hater,
who like most of the whites in the play, consider Indians
a "savage race, hated of all men--unblessed of heaven"
(Stone 218). Here, as was true in Barker's several
portrayals of Indians, is the Indian as warrior of Satan.
Stone's play was not the first, nor would it be the
last, to provide a stage vehicle based on a specific Indian
chief, the last of a particular tribe, as the titular charac-
ter, although most had little to do with the actual his-
torical figures. As the appended checklist indicates, a
rush of Indian plays followed the enormous success of
Metamora, including other versions of that play, the
majority of which had short stage histories, if produced .
at all, and most were pale imitations of Stone's play. A
few successors from this period, however, are worth
ment i oning: Ri chard Penn Smith's William Penn (1829),
Nathaniel Deering's Carabasset (1830), Richard Emmons's
Tecumseh, Robert Montgomery Bird's Oralloossa (1832),
Alexander Macomb's Pontiac (1836), Nathaniel H. Ban-
nister's Putnam; the Iron Son of '7 6 ( 1844 ), Louisa H.
Medina's adaptation of Robert Montgomery Bird's Nick of
the Woods (1838), and three new Pocahantas pl ays,
Washington Parke Custi s's Pocahontas; or the Settlers of
Virginia ( 1830), Robert Dale Owen' s Pocahontas; or an His-
torical Drama (1837), and Charlotte M.S. Barnes's The
Forest Princess.
Space cannot permit analysis of these
texts, though a few comments on Indian character types
portrayed in them would be useful. The Pocahontas plays
can be dealt with as a group quickly, for they are
generally the most sympathetic in their treatment of the
Indian, though ambivalence is clearly evident in the
portrayal of these Indians as childish, inferior personages,
doomed to extinction and controlled by their environment.
Carabasset, an Indian play with a scant stage his-
tory, was based on the 1724 attack on the chief village of
the N orridgewoks by the English and preaches the idea of
the beneficial influence of Christianity upon the Indians,
another common theme of Indian plays. The title charac-
ter, a noble savage almost too good to be true, rather than
submit to the hated white man, takes his own life by
jumping over a cliff; his gentleness is his major virtue,
one however that is not very useful for survival! Like
Carabasset and most Pocahontas plays, the earlier William
Penn emphasizes the need to domesticate the Indian and
stresses the benefits of Christianity for the savage Indian,
who, living close to nature, has learned "neither wisdom
nor goodness. Existing in darkness and error, they need
instruction of 'the true religion' to be relieved from
ignorance and brutality" (Anderson, Journal, 808) Brenda
Anderson finds this play most unique for its break with
the traditional plot conflict of white/red men and its con-
cern with "domestic and intertribal conflict of Indians"
(68). In Tecumseh, based on the Indian leader of the
Shawnee who died in the war of 1812, the Indians are
treated in an ambivalent manner. Moody states that
"Tecumseh appeared as a high-tempered brave who, like
Metamora, was fearless in the face of superior numbers.
The other Indians of the play were, however, represented
as cold-blooded and cruel" (America 101).
Oralloossa is in the long line of plays that involve
Indians of South America, and most, like Bird's play, con-
cern the conquest of the Spaniards. Specifically Oral-
loossa focuses on the conspiracy in the Spanish ranks
which led to the assassination of Pizarro and the Inca
rebellion. In this and most related plays, since the vil-
lains were Spanish rather than English, the Peruvian
Indians are in general portrayed more sympathetically
than their North American counterparts. However, unlike
the hope of an improved position for the North American
Indian, as his place is methodically usurped, under the
influence of the progressive white man of this land, the
Spaniard offers nothing better in place of the society they
are destroying.
Pontiac gives us a twist on the Indian's savagery,
blaming it in part on the mistreatment of the Indian by
the white man, but insisting that the Indian nonetheless
must adapt to the changing times brought on by the
inevitable encroachment of the Westward expansion. In
Putnam a similar theme is developed.
Of all the other plays written during the heyday of
the Indian play, only one presents the Indian in a totally
negative fashion (with the possible exception of the white
Indian maiden, Telie Doe), referring to Indians as
"inhumane fiends," "red niggers," and "wild, besotted
beasts," without, as Grose notes, "any suggestion that
reform or civilization is possible" (101). Louisa H.
Medina's play, Nick of the Woods,· or, the Jibbenainosay, or
the Renegade's Daughter, an adaptation of Bird's novel,
was an immense hit, bursting upon the scene, in Odell's
words, with an "incredible combination of Indians, track-
less wilderness, scalping dangers, melodramatic rescue,
waterfalls, and avenging whites" (Odell, IV, 317).
The message of the play, as Grose notes, is that
"White society can only prosper and grow through the
total destruction of the aborigines" (102) and with the
creation of the Indian-hater par excellence, Ash burn,
Medina helped to establish a character on the nineteenth-
century stage as popular as the noble savage. The writing
was on the wall; never would the stage Indian or the
portrayal of the Indian's position in American society be
quite the same. Indeed, as Marilyn Anderson concludes in
her summary treatment of the Indian plays of this period,
playwrights from 1829-1845 "were recognizing that the
Indian's choices were to be destroyed or to adapt to the
new style of living which the white man's presence
imposed on him. The escape to the West or the hope that
in America there could be a happy blend of both the
Indian's and the white man's culture were, with the over-
whelming pressures of an increasing white population
moving ever westward, no longer were [sic] solutions that
could be viably set forth" (809).
Plays written during the golden age of the Indian
play were dominated by the image of the noble savage,
although ambivalency was ever more present and the
shadow of the varmint Indian began to take on a clearer
outline. As Grose has concluded, playwrights from this
period explored all possible means of extermination, not
just the destruction of the sub-human Indian, as
represented in Medina's play: "the noble, defiant Indian,
who fights until his tribe is destroyed; the Indian unwill-
ing to change, who moves west to oblivion; the Indian
princesss, who betrays her race, marries a white, and
ceases to be an Indian" (119). By 1845 the removal of the
Indians had been accomplished; interest in Indian drama
declined, the image of the Indian in those plays that were
written post-1845 inextricably changed and no longer
dwelt on the noble savage, and, indeed, the very frame-
work for Indian characters was altered for a time.
Most of the pre-1845 Indian dramas had little lasting
value; certainly the i r stage lives were brief. Only
Metamora retained any interest, and primarily because of
Forrest's portrayal. Moody contends that it was "one of
the significant plays in American dramatic literature"
(America 96), an assessment that might be something of an
exaggeration. There is no doubt, however, that the play
remained a staple of Forrest's repertory throughout his
career. No other single actor was ever as successful essay-
ing an Indian, although John McCullough, D.H. Harkins,
and a few others, with very limited success, attempted
Metamora after Forrest and William Wheatley attained
something of a reputation as a specialist in Indian roles.
After the peak of popularity of the Indian plays in
the 1830s, far more numerous were the metrical romances
of Indian life which looked forward to the great success
of Longfellow's "Hiawatha" (1855). The idealization of
the Indian as an expression of national ideals and heroic
or romantic acts, as Brenda Anderson has demonstrated,
"was no longer needed in theatre to foster American
Nationalism and a sense of history" (97), and the age of
"Critical Realism" of the 1850s required a different kind
of presentation, so that the Indian plays that were written
and gained popularity moved away from the earlier fig-
ures representing inspirational protagonists toward a far
more villainous and dangerous antagonist, as much or
even more a caricature than before.
The diminishing populari ty of Indian plays in the
1840s, according to many critics, was hurried along by
playwrights that ridiculed the form, clearly aware that
these plays portrayed silly stereotypes and that the
melodramatic plots were ever more transparent and pre-
dictable. Certainly these burlesques, which were not at all
limited to the Indian,
were more a reflection of the
times than as an attack aimed solely at the Indian play.
As Constance Rourke has noted, burlesques like those of
Brougham "produced a lusty, gay and savage humor, full
of barbs flung at the current scene, full of native
extravagance. Through their incidental satire many of
the cults of the day at last toppled into ridicule" (104).
As early as the mid-1830s at least one non-extant
play, The Cherokee Chief,· or, The Shipwrecked Sailor and
His Dogs, pointed the way towards the more popular and
effective Indian burlesques of the late 1840s and 1850s. It
is certainly not surprising that Forrest's performance
would also be satirized, as it was in Metaroarer, an
anonymous sketch of 1849, the title of which came from
Forrest's booming voice which had been compared to the
roar of Niagara Falls. But it was the burlesque treat-
ments of the Indian play and of Forrest by John
Brougham, the foremost burlesque satirist writing in the
United States at mid-century, that ultimately had the
greatest impact. Indeed, his Metamora,· or the Last of the
Pollywogs (1847), though effective, was followed by an
even more popular and superior burlesque eight years
later, one that turned the Pocahontas story inside out--Po-
Ca-Hon-Tas; or, The Gentle Savage.
Brougham's second
effort retained its position as a standard burlesque after-
piece until at least 1884, offering the audience music, a
libretto and subjects that were all relevant to New York
life and the country as a whole in the 1850s.11 Only one
other Indian burlesque followed, authored by Charles M.
Walcot, the actor who had played John Smith in
Brougham's Pocahontas burlesque. Hi-A-Wa-Tha; or, Ardent
Spirits and Laughing Water (1856) was an obvious parody
of Longfellow's epic poem, and gained considerable popu-
larity in its own right.lB
Although I have located the titles of over 30 serious
Indian plays written between 1850 and 1860 (only a hand-
ful extant), it is true, as most historians of Indian drama
have noted, that the stage Indian was in a steady decline
during this decade for several reasons: as a result of the
hackneyed nature of the plays themselves, the shifting
interest from the Indian issues to those of slavery and
secession, and the changing perception of the aborigines
during this decade.
Events changing the status of the
American Indian were happening rapidly beginning in the
late 1840s and continuing up to 1890, preceded by mass
resettlements in the 1830s, culminating in the "Trail of
Tears" (1838-39). In 1848, with the discovery of gold,
California quickly changed its status from that of a ter-
ritory to that of a state in 1850, and by the end of the
1850s the white population west of the Mississippi had
doubled. Jackson's Indian frontier established by his
Indian Trade and Intercourse Act became meaningless and
the Indian was forced into conflict from both sides of his
Indian problems escalated, including in addition to
white land greed and other related difficulties, the fol-
lowing: four epidemics across the plains before the Civil
War and their resultant weakening of tribal strength;
intertribal rivalry brought about by the forcing of eastern
tribes into lands belonging to the more antagonistic Plains
Indians and the disruption of nomadic patterns of these
tribes by the new railroad, among other causes; and,
finally, the consequent retaliation by various tribes.
From 1865 to 1890 a series of fierce examples of Indian
resistance were experienced--Red Cloud at Fort Laramie,
Sitting Bull at Little Big Horn, the offensives of Crazy
Horse, Geronimo's Apache raids, and so forth. The toll of
America's "manifest destiny" was immense; by 1871 it was
clear that treaties were not the answer to the Indian prob-
lem. With the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871, assimila-
tion became the catchword and a new phase in White-
Indian relations was heralded.
One notable play with a unique Indian type was
written prior to the Civil War, Dion Boucicault's The
Octoroon; or, Life in Louisiana, which, to some extent,
looked forward to a stereotype much more common in the
1870s as the Plains Wars altered white attitudes ever more
0 Boucicault's melodrama centered on the
plight of the beautiful octoroon Zoe, but almost of as
much interest was the character of Wahnotee, a minor
Indian character who is described by Brenda Anderson as
a "curious combination of heroic and degenerate traits"
{123). As Jones suggests, this rum-drinking idler, who
hangs about the plantation because of his friendship for a
slave named Paul, "shows for the first time some effects
of the removal and dispersal of tribes and families" (141).
Ultimately, Wahnotee kills the villain, M'Closkey, the
murderer of his friend Paul, and yet Boucicault in quite a
realistic manner is saying that in the civilized environ-
ment of the white man, this character is little more than a
parasite and a drunkard, and all the more despicable
because of his red skin.
Few plays before or after managed to provide the
audience such a dimensional Indian character, although a
number of Indian plays did assist in the transformation
of the Indian character from the noble savage to the
varmint red skin. These plays of the 1850s, however,
represented by such titles as Nick Wiffles (1858), Stella
Delorme (1859), and The Mute Spy (1859), turned away
from the largely noble and stately Indians created by such
novelists as Cooper, Simms, and Bird, and found inspira-
tion instead in weekly story papers that portrayed Indians
as mean, filthy, treacherous individuals, frequently side-
kicks of white villains. Through the 1870s and 1880s the
predominant Indian image deteriorated more and more
in to the villainous savage, providing for the hungry
audience a theatrically effective contrast to the "civilized"
white man of the Western expansion and his concomitant
nationalism. White supremacy demanded the defeat of
the Indian, as was virtually always the case in the ever-
increasing number of lurid melodramas with Western
themes or settings, many drawn from the dime novel, the
source of many of the perpetuated myths of the American
Ironically, the more the vanishing Indian
became a reality, the more whites became aware of
Indians around them.
With the hiatus following the Civil War came a new
period of Indian plays and new attitudes toward Native
Americans, dominated by the notion that salvation for the
aborigines was based on detribalization, a disaster for the
Indian. Regardless of the reality of the Indian situation,
by the 1870s the American public hungered once more for
Western spectacle, Western customs and Western charac-
ters, as Walter Meserve has noted (Revels 186). The first
notable melodrama of the 1870s, James J. McCloskey's
Across the Continent; or, Scenes from New York Life and the
Pacific Railroad, satisfied some of these demands,
certainly with its portrayal of the evil Indian Black Cloud
(the Indians in the play are referred to as "red-skinned
devils") and the Indian attack on the railroad station
providing a good dose of sensa tiona! Western spectacle.
It was Horizon (1871), however, written by one of the
major theatrical figures of the 19th century, manager,
playwright and critic Augustin Daly, that best typifies the
dominant trend of the 1870s and 80s.
Also, Daly popu-
lated his play with a larger number of Indians, warriors
and squaws, than did McCloskey, with four named
Indians, including Wannemucka, "the civilized Indian and
Untutored Savage," and Wahcotah, "the friendly Indian,"
both also the central villains of the piece. Although Daly
knew little of the real West, he was the first to write a
successful sensational melodrama based on the local color
of a Western setting, albeit an invented one, and it was
the most important frontier drama thus far written.
Daly provided his characters individualized touches,
never more so than in his handling of Wannemucka, an
Indian tainted with cynicism, and a miscegenistic sex
drive to boot, although the final view of Wannemucka is
somewhat poeticized.
Ultimately, this untrustworthy,
lazy Indian, though also capable of great courage and
strength, is like all good Indians better off dead, soundly
defeated by the American cavalry, as Marvin Felheim
demonstrates in his analysis of the play (67-74).
Despite the popularity of Daly's play, primarily in
New York City, no single play or group of plays had the
impact of the melodramas written to be played by William
F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) or written about his various
exploits. Between 1872 and 1876 Cody alternated between
his career as scout and guide on the Plains (only one of
the many chapters of his colorful life and still largely
misunderstood today)
and his business venture as the
star of a series of melodramas in the East. His first
vehicle, Scouts of the Prairie, simplistic and   l i   h ~ ridden,
and lambasted by the critics, was nonetheless a hit, boast·
ing among other questionable assets, the first and possibly
the only female Indian villain in the American dramatic
canon. Cody's subsequent theatrical undertakings were
also generally successful. In 1873 he formed his own "Buf •
falo Bill Combination" with Wild Bill Hickok and Texas
Jack Omohundro, providing greater structure and manage-
ment skills to his enterprise.
As Richard Slotkin con-
cludes: "While the melodramas themselves were trivial, and
the acting not of the highest quality, Cody had discovered
that public interest could be aroused by the association of
familiar dime-novel or melodrama figures with authentic
representatives of the frontier" (31). With the encour-
agement of such entrepreneurs and exploiters of things
Western as dime novelist E.Z.C. Judson, better known as
Ned Buntline, Cody was largely responsible for creating
the twentieth-century image of the Indian, transforming
the Plains Indian into the prototype of the Indian of pop-
ular American culture and creating contexts with strong, -
anti-Indian attitudes.
If Cody's annual melodrama, which actually fea-
tured real Indians on several occasions, spread negative
images of the American Indian, then the propagandistic
power of his creation of the Wild West ex hi bi tion was
even more wide-spread and lasting. Slatkin writes: "The
effect of Cody's assimilation of history to melodrama is to
reduce (or inflate) historical moments to archetypal status.
They cease to represent contingent events, and become
embodiments of timeless and typical struggles between
forces and figures that are emblematic of progress and
right against savagery and evil. In his conception of the
Wild West show, Cody found the perfect vehicle for
achieving this effect, and the successive versions of the
Wild West suggest that he was or became fully conscious
of the show's possibilities as a mythmaking medium" (33).
The ultimate mythmaking result reaches to the present,
despite efforts to demythologize the legend, most promi-
nently in the play Indians by Arthur Kopit, discussed
below. One scholar, William Brasmer, has concluded,
however, perhaps with a somewhat extreme stance: " ...
for many persons, the Wild West Exhibition and the con-
tinuation in the Hollywood western of the myths it first
popularized, with its stereotype of the American Indian
and its blatant disregard for his life and property, is
viewed as cultural genocide by subverting the Native
American's various ethnic identities and retaining him as
a racial scapegoat'" (Brasmer 133).27 It is certainly true
that in the Buffalo Bill melodramas as well as in the Wild
West, every Indian attack was thwarted by the American
white hero; such defeats became standard fare, under-
scoring in increasingly more spectacular ways the strength
of white civilization and the power of nationalism.
The origin and history of Cody's Wild West show,
dating from 1882 to the early teens, has been told often
and need not be repeated here; however, it is relevant to
focus on the involvement and representation of the Indian
in the exhibition.
The tradition of exhibiting Indian
activities and artifacts was well established by 1882. As
early as 1827 a group of Iroquois Indians were presented
at Peale's Museum in New York, and P.T. Barnum got on
the Indian bandwagon by 1841. Philadelphia had seen an
Indian gallery opera ted by George Catlin even earlier.
Other assorted exhibitions of cowboy skills and Indians
date from the 1820s. Later in the century such exploita-
tions were commonplace. C.D. Odell notes nearly sixty
appearances of Indians in New York in the period 1870 to
1890 alone, most in freakshow /dime museum settings,
clearly demonstrating the inferior position of the
aborigines (Cited in Grose 165-66).
In 18 76 a group of Arizona Apaches was exploited
by their Indian agent in a theatrical tour that, though
financially unsuccessful, is another prime example of the
real Indian being forced to conform to an acceptable stage
image. In this case, the Apaches performed a scalp dance,
even though Apaches did not scalp their foes.29 Even
well-known Indians were exhibited. Chief Sitting Bull
and several of his warriors were displayed in New York
in 1884; the following season the aged Sioux medicine man
travelled with Cody's show for four months. And Cody
was not the sole exhibitor of Indians. For instance, "Cum-
mins's Wild West and Indian Congress" featured Red
Cloud, Chief Joseph, and Geronimo.
In Cody's show the Indians, though well treated,
were still shown as exotic and savage beings in the exhib-
ition's various recreations of western life; rarely were the
Indians given the limelight but were on the fringes as
marauders attacking the Prairie wagon train, the Dead-
wood Mail-Coach, or settlers' cabin, invariably rescued by
Cody and his white cohorts. When given a special place
in the entertainment, it was to demonstrate Indian ways,
most frequently games, war dances, and fighting techni-
ques, although in the section called "The Congress of
Rough Riders," Cody gave the Indians equality with con-
tigents from other nations.
In truth, at the beginning of the Wild West's history,
the exhibition appeared to be a faithful representation of
the contemporary western scene, but as the old West
vanished and the show added attractions foreign to the
true West in order to remain competitive, it soon trans-
cended the reality and created a legendary West based
largely on illusion. The scenes depicted by Cody's Wild
West were invariably drawn from his own legendry, that
is "from historical events as filtered through the distort-
ing lens of Buffalo Bill dime novels and journalistic
'puffs'" (Slotkin 33), thus offering "mythic" history and
distorted reality. As the show entered the twentieth
century, the central spectacles became more mili tar is tic
and imperialistic, more referential to contemporary his-
tory; the Western scenes remained virtually unchanged,
simply perpetuating the symbolism of the frontier mytho-
logy and transferring these images to the imaginations of
new generations of Americans--(and Europeans through
several highly successful foreign tours).
The Indian image was not greatly aided by the dis-
plays of real Indians in the various Wild West exhibitions.
As Don Russell makes clear in The Wild West or. A History
of the Wild West Shows, what Cody and others did manage
to do was to change our concept of the Indian from that
of the James Fenimore Cooper romantic depiction of
unhorsed Indians east of the Mississippi to wild-riding .
Indians of the West. Despite the largely negative image
of the Indian perpetuated by Cody's exhibitions, in Cody's
defense it should be noted that he regretted those occa-
sions when he was viewed as an exterminator of either
human or animal life. Also, as Vine Deloria, Jr., author
of Custer Died for Your Sins, has demonstrated, Cody's
relationship with the Indians prior to his show business
career was above average in the positive human qualities
of justice and fair play; as an entrepreneur Cody treated
the Indians as "mature adults capable of making
intelligent decisions and of contributing to an important
enterprise," gaining in tours with Cody knowledge of
white society which stood many of the Indians in good
stead in later years, and "without this knowledge, the
government's exploitation of the Sioux during the period
before the First World War might have been even more
harsh" (Deloria 54-55).
Quite frequen t1 y the public exp loi ta tion of the
Indian was done in the name of civilizing them. In the
1880s this practice came under increasing criticism. Grose
notes that Indian reformers considered the use of Indians
for exhibitions and stage shows "as retrogressive because
they perpetuated olds ways and hindered an all-out com-
mitment to White culture. Such glorification of the
savage past had to be stopped. By 1890 considerable pres-
sure was being applied to reservation agents and Indians
to curtail the practice of allowing employment off the
reservation." However, as Grose continues, "only after the
decline of the Wild West and medicine shows did this type
of Indian exploitation cease" (167). Indeed, by the final
death of the Wild West exhibit, it was not necessary to be
concerned about the Indian leaving the reservation; film
makers were quite willing to come to them. In fact, as
Slotkin concludes, the Wild West exhibition became "the
source of images, staging techniques and personnel for the
major medium that replaced it--the Western movie" (43).
During the 1880s, then, plays with or about Buffalo
Bill and his exploits flourished, with numerous imitations.
During the nineties the Wild West exhibitions over-
shadowed the more legitimate frontier dramas, with a few
notable exceptions noted below. The Indian as hero had
virtually become an anomaly, although a few plays of the
1880s, most notably Ina Dillaye's Ramona (i887), one of
many plays based on Helen Hunt Jackson's novel (1884),
recognized Indian grievances and even suggested that
Indians might be portrayed as real human beings, with
real feelings and even believable dialogue,
0 and a few
plays, mostly closet dramas, focused on historical Indians
in the noble savage mold, such as Miantonimo (1884) ,
Tecumseh (1886), and Canonicus (1887).
During the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s Indians continued
to be featured i n variety, in circuses, and as the subject
for parody in minstrelsy, where, in fact , Indian sa tire
continues well into the twentieth century.
As early as
1865 Bryant's Minstrels enjoyed great success with their
minstrel farce, The Live lngin,· in succeeding years the
minstrel stage, like its legitimate cousin, reflected chang-
ing attitudes toward the Indian, from ambivalence to the
late nineteenth-century image of the barbaric pagan.3
The minstrel stage helped to underscore the burlesque
approach to the Indian originated by Brougham and
others, and, in turn, influenced other stage treatments,
such as Weiland Hendrick's Pocahontas (1886), billed as a
burlesque operetta.
Not concerned with any particular
Indian stereotype, Hendrick's script is principally a satire
on racial prejudice, although he does create a unique
Indian type, rare in Indian drama, a half -breed Indian
Prior to the turn of the century, two major figures
in the history of American drama, James A. Herne and
David Belasco, tried their hand at writing plays with
Indian characters. Herne's The Minute Men of /774-1775
(1886) deals with miscegenation in its story of Roanoke,
the Indian, and the daughter of a Yankee militiaman.
Roanoke is portrayed as an idealized noble Indian, though
the other Indians are seen as red devils under the com-
mand of whites. Herne's drama, however, did little to
improve the image of the Indian, for the playwright's
attitude is essentially the accepted one--that is, the evil
red devils were better off dead or, if like Roanoke and
revealed to be a white man, the situation must be that due
to being the victim of some kind of villainy he has been
placed in Indian hands.
Belasco's The Girl I Left Behind Me (I 893 ), co-
authored with Franklyn Fyle, is a military melodrama
that enjoyed great success during its first season, with
numerous revivals and a film. version in 1915.
As Jones
summarizes, this play, with four named Indians, is "rife
with sentimental concern about soldiers' honor in a plains
outpost, and laden with manufactured suspense over
Indian menace and the fate of the post's occupants" (183).
The play, full of anti-Indian attitudes, purports to portray
the American Indian "in a new way" but in no way does
so. Indeed, as Grose suggests, the Belasco-Fyle version of
the stage Indian stereotype no longer simply gives rein-
forcement and reassurance to white attitudes but portrays
the "ruthless foes of civilization" as stage reality (197),
although Brenda Anderson credits the play as "the first
Indian drama to deal with the white man's threat to the
preservation of ritual and communal aspects of Indian
culture on a reservation" (160), a theme handled in other
twentieth-century plays with greater conviction.
A dozen years later Belasco wrote another western
melodrama with two stage Indians, Billy Jackrabbit and
Wowkle. The Girl of the Golden West (1905) offers negative
images even more extreme than in his 1893 effort .
Wowkle is an amoral squaw maidservant and Jackrabbit,
according to Belasco's own stage directions, is "a full -
blooded Indian, lazy, shifty and beadyeyed, wearing moc-
casins, odds and ends of a white man's costume, and
quantity of brass jewelry, ... he frequents the barroom,
picking up cigar butts, and occasionally when the
opportunity presents itself, steals a drink."37 Wowkle and
Jackrabbit, albeit minor characters in the melodrama, pro-
vide a grotesque and totally unflattering comic element in
the play. Indeed, along with the function of the Indian as
villain, now, as so strongly demonstrated here, a second
major stage function has been added, that of comic butt
at the expense of their humanity and pride.
Despite the Belasco approach to the Indian charac-
ter, a more sympathetic strain, though a minority one, sur-
vived through the 1880s and up to the turn of the century.
Minority characters in general at the turn of the century
were treated with a good deal of ambivalence, though
with more believable characterizations came some concern
for Indians as real people. The historical changes affect-
ing the Indian had strong impact on the stage depiction of
Indians as well. The Dawes General Allotment Act of
1887 or the Dawes Severalty Act, as it was often called,
with its belief that Indian-white relations would be
improved by assuring tribesmen of individual land hold-
ings, brought a considerable amount of optimi sm to
Indian reformers. Finally, with the admission of
Oklahoma to the Union in 1907, the final bastion of the
Indian Territory vanished. The loss of Indian land,
rather than having the salutary effect reformers hoped,
actually made Indian life deteriorate. One provision of
the Dawes Act was to make "surplus" land available to
whites, who by 1932 had swallowed up two-thirds of the
138,000,000 acres the Indians had held in 1887.
Ironically, then, despite the virtual elimination of
once strong and proud Indian tribes of the Oklahoma ter-
ritory, by the turn of the century the Indian was receiv-
ing renewed attention by American playwrights with some
concern for their plight in the new century, finding an
acceptable position in white society while preserving their
traditions and culture on the reservation, while the older
Indian stereotypes were passed on to the growing movie
industry where little changes would occur for decades.
A small handful of plays, in addition to Belasco's
melodrama, written during the first decade of this
century merit some attention. William C. DeMille's
Strongheart (1905) is a prime example of the shifting atti-
tudes toward Indians demonstrated by the work of some
few important writers.
Although the structure and plot
of the play are quite old-fashioned, DeMille's handling of
the theme of miscegenation provides an early twentieth-
century portrait of a gifted and educated young Indian in
love with a white woman in the throes of middle-class
Eastern society. Such a focus and setting gets little atten-
tion again until the 1930s. The result in DeMille's play is
surprisingly effective and, tho-ugh the ending is
romanticized and disappointing, with Soangataha, known
to the whites as Strongheart, giving into the old beliefs
against miscegenation and sending his white love a way,
DeMille's treatment in general is quite unsentimental and
honest and uses Indian stereotypes only as a element of
white preconceptions in order to paint a portrait of racial
prejudice among the so-called educated, liberal white men
of the play.
Far less effective, but similar to DeMille's
play in the essential background of the central character,-
is Frank Dumont's The Half-Breed (1908).
Arizona Jack
is also a product of the Carlisle Indian School, an
accomplished athlete, and in love with a white woman.
Unlike Strongheart, however, Jack turns out to be in
reality a white man and the other Indians depicted fall
into the stereotypical mold of the red devils, ultimately
projecting a strongly negative image of the Indian.
Edwin Milton Royle's The Squaw Man (1905), also
less effective than Strongheart, was nonetheless far more
It not only had revivals in 19ll and 1921 but
was turned into a novel and had three film versions
directed by Cecil B. DeMille (in 1913, 1918, and 1931) and a
sequel in 1917 (The Squaw Man's Son). One can speculate
that the success of Squaw Man has a good deal to do with
its more traditional and thus acceptable handling of the
well-established story of the pathetic Indian maid who
dies for her white lover, and, despite the author's stated
efforts to portray the "real Indian," Indian characters that
reflect established attitudes and well-worn stereotypes.
Royle's solution to the Indian problem is no less unique--
extermination in the form of suicide.
The plays written in 1905 suggest that playwrights
are beginning to portray Indians as real people and as
part of a real societal problem, and yet there is definite
hesitancy to embrace them as a meaningful part of the
white man's society. Although the "varmint injun" will be
almost completely transferred to film, as Grose concludes,
"the mythic and problem Indian remains to haunt the
American playwright" (206).
As Jones, Grose, and Brenda Anderson observe, one
step toward the acceptance of aborgines for white
audiences during the first decade or so of this century
was to incorporate the theatrically effective Indian
dances and songs into dramatic offerings and to show that
their ways of life were "not only attractively colorful but
also culturally well-organized ... and something less than
the war-dance-and-torture orgies of 19th-century fiction"
(Jones 228). This task was undertaken in a number of
ways. From 1909 through 1917, over 240 pageants were
presented in order to celebrate the history and
accomplishments of various towns or regions, primarily in
the Eastern United States.
Many of these, by such
authors as Thomas Wood Stevens, Kenneth S. Goodman,
Constance D'Arcy Mackay, Margeret Ullman, and William
Chauncey Langdon, specialists in the American version of
the pageant, included Indians in their presentations, more
often than not as background or local color; rarely did
Indians take on roles of major importance or appear other
than as two-dimensional cut-outs, with exceptions such as
Thomas Wood Stevens's A Historical Pageant of Illinois
(1909) and his later The Masque of Montezuma (1912). A
large number of pageants were built around the figures of
Hi a watha or Pocahontas, though with little change in the
traditional image of the Indian maiden.
Another venue for the depiction of Indian grandeur
and spectacle was opera and operetta, after a long tradi-
tion of plays about Indians with some limited use of
music. Among the earliest Indian operas, none of which
gained lasting places in the opera repertory, were Poi a
(1906) by Arthur Nevin and Randolph Hartley, La Fan-
cuilla del West, Puccini's opera based on The Girl of the
Golden West (1910), Natoma (1911), Victor Herbert's only
serious operatic effort, Azora (1917) with music by Henry
Hadley, and Shanewis (1918) by Charles W. Cadman and
E.R. Eberhart. Shanewis is of special interest for two
reasons: it marked the New York debut of the work of
designer Norman Bel Geddes and Cadman, a sound musi-
cal researcher, had studied first-hand the living condi-
tions of the Omahas, recording their songs, and spent time
with the Osage Indians of Oklahoma, the San Domingo
Indians of New Mexico, and the Blackfoot Indians. Cad-
man thus used music based on actual Indian songs and
dances to further the development of an indigenous opera,
and, in the story line the Indian heroine was allowed to
live after her lover is killed, a rarity in love stories
involving an Indian maiden and a white man.
serious musical stage treatment of the Indian, however,
never truly developed, regardless of a few isolated later
examples composed since this one brief surge.
The more popular musical stage first found the
Indian of use in its spectacle in 1924 with . the operettas
Rose-Marie (set in the Canadian rockies) and in 1927 The
White Eagle, both with music by Rudolf Friml. With a
plot very similar to The Squaw Man, The White Eagle, pre-
sented at the Casino Theatre for forty-eight performances,
is the more historically interesting of the two but did
little to promote a series of Indian operettas or even musi-
cal comedies. Indeed, Indians in later musicals are
invariably assigned minor roles, often in a comic vein, as
is true of the wise Sitting Bull in Annie Get Your Gun
(1946), the villainous Yellow Feather of Little Mary
Sunshine (1959), or the comic Indian side-kick in the long-
running Off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks (1960).
The pageant movement alluded to above was ulti-
mately overshadowed in the years prior to the First World
War by the Little Theatre and Art Theatre movements.
Out of the latter came a play related to the depiction of
Indians in pageants by a playwright with a background
similar to that of the composer of Shanewis.
Mary Austin, the author of The Arrow Maker (1911),
was a westerner who, in addition to feminist concerns,
had a special interest in the Indian of the American
Southwest and had lived for a time with the Indians of
the California desert.
It was Austin who popularized
the name "Amerindian." Her play was one of the final
productions at the ill-fated New Theatre, a structure
which opened in 1909 in New York as a subsidized institu-
tion dedicated to the raising of theatrical tastes of its
audience and, among other aims, the encouragement of
new realistic American plays. Austin certainly believed
that her play fit the bill on both counts. As she makes
clear, this was not to be a tradi tiona I Indian play; fur-
thermore she believed that she understood the reasons for
the failure of most previous efforts:
The greatest difficulty to be met in the writing of
an Indian play is the extensive misinformation
about Indians. Any real aboriginal of my
acquaintance resembles his prototype in the public
mind about as much as does the high-nosed,
wooden sign of a tobacco store, the fact being that,
among the fifty-eight linguistic groups of
American aboriginals, customs, traits, and beliefs
differ as greatly as among Slavs and Sicilians.
Their speech appears not to be derived from any
common stock. All that they really have of like-
ness is an average condition of primitiveness: they
have traveled just so far toward an understanding
of the world they live in, and no farther. It is this
general limitation of knowledge which makes, in
spite of the multiplication of tribal customs, a
common attitude of mind which alone affords a
basis of interpretation.47
The principal character of Austin's play, not too sur-
prisingly, is the Chisera, a Paiute medicine woman of
exceptional gifts, and the theme is, in reality, that of
women's rights. Austin's Indians are not the real Indians
that she had hoped for; indeed, there is little believable
about them. Nonetheless, the play is unique, as far as I
can ascertain, as the only play by a white author of fic-
tional creation (as opposed to Indian legend or myth) with
a dramatis personae composed entirely of Indians. Brenda
Anderson believes its major importance is "its emphasis on
ritual to express Indian emotion" (201), noting the serious
depiction on stage of Chisera's authentic chants and dane-
in g.
From the First World War to the present, Indian
plays diminished in number, although as my checklist
indicates, the number was not as modest as most previous
studies suggest. Certainly dramatic interest did increase
somewhat after 1918, paralleling a new Indian reform
movement in the 1920s created to counter the Harding
administration's attempts to consume or control more
Indian lands, stimulated by the Barsum bill of 1922. In
addition, as Grose discusses, during the period from 1913
to 1932 "the Native American became a source of inspira-
tion to many White Americans on both a popular and
scientific level" (213). On the popular level, idealization
of the Indian could be theatrically seen most effectively
through the historical pageant, many written for a new
and prosperous children's theatre, while the scientific
interest was found in anthropology, which tended in the
1920s to see the Indian as a frozen artifact. As a result,
the image of the stage Indian changed little during the
first decades of this century. In general, the varmint
Indian, used as a dramatic protagonist, was transferred to
the movies, where this stereotype flourished for years and
the mythic winning of the West was replayed ad nauseum.
At the same time, on stage, the tradition of the noble
savage was sustained and promoted, although no play of
great impact appeared during the 1920s.
The 1930s saw more Indian reforms, under the direc-
tion of John Collier, appointed Indian Commissioner in
1933, which, though not as effective as they might have
been, did mark a more enlightened period in our history.
The Indian Reorganization Act (1934), the Indian Claims
Commission (1946), and the formation of various Indian
political pressure groups beginning in the 1940s might
have contributed to an altered popular image of Native
Americans over the last fifty years. This has not,
however, .been the case; "white conceptualizations of the
Indian have remained virtually intact for nearly two hun-
dred years ... The stage Indian . . . remains a persistent
indignation to Native Americans" (Grose 234).
Over the last half century Indian characters have
appeared in every conceivable form of theatre, yet the
Indian of the mythic past has continued to dominant.
Conceivably the emergence of a committed Native
American playwright or a writer personally familiar with
Indian concerns and frustrations, along w.i th popular
acceptance, could have altered the continuing
ambivalence toward the stage Indian. Such an individual
might have been Rollie Lynn Riggs, born in the Indian
Territory (Claremore) of Cherokee descent and certainly
familiar with the struggles of the Cherokees. And yet
Riggs's only major accomplishment as a playwright was
with his one successful play, Green Grow the Lilacs (1930),
which was transformed a dozen years Ia ter in to the
Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! Riggs, who
was more interested in the cowboy culture of the Indian
Territory than that of the Indian, did attempt two
unsuccessful plays with Cherokees as major characters--
The Cherokee Night (written in 1930; produced and pub-
lished in 1936) and Cream in the Well (1941).
The former
pia y, considered too non-traditional and obscure for
Broadway, deals with the curse of the Cherokee blood in
its depiction of Indian life in eastern Oklahoma during
the 1920s and 1930s. Cream in the Well is concerned with a
Cherokee farm family in the Indian Territory, although
their Indian heritage has little to do with the tragedy of
the piece. Both of Riggs's pieces, though not commercial
hits, reflect a growing tendency after the 1920s of placing
Indian characters in more contemporary settings, and, in
fact, showing them in milieux other than the traditional
or historical.
It would, however, be incorrect to suggest that this
trend toward apparent assimilation dominates Indian
plays of the past five decades. Nor would it be justified
to hint that Riggs's emergence as a minor American
playwright marked the beginning of a school of Native
American playwrights. In truth, the number of Indian
playwrights is few, and, as far as I can ascertain (see
checklist), even fewer of these contemporary plays have
been published. Still, a small group of Native American
writers have gained some recognition and visibility during
the past twenty years, including Monica Charles, Bruce
King, Robert Shorty, and, above all, Hanay Geiogamah.
Only Geiogamah (Kiowa Indian) has gained any real
national attention, having received visibility and critical
attention as the result of the publication of three of his
plays in 1980. His plays, however, despite a number of
productions at New York's La Mama Experimental
Theatre Club, have been most successful with Indian
Still, his purpose is both important and
noteworthy. As Jeffrey Huntsman in his introduction to
Geiogamah's plays states, Geiogamah's purpose is "first, to
present and thereby perserve living Indian traditions and,
next, to demonstrate the facts of Indian life in America
today, unvarnished by either Indian or non-Indian
roman ticizers." Furthermore, he wishes to "stimulate
Indian people to think about their lives of quiet or con-
firmed desperation" and thus "he is interested more in sur-
vival and self -knowledge than in reproach and confronta-
tion." In general, by showing Indians in various situa-
tions, including Indians mistreating each other (in Body
Indian), Geiogamah's Indian characters avoid, for the most
part, the stereotypic image of the usual stage Indian,
although he is not above using stereotypes for his own
purposes, invariably with a sense of humor, as he does in
Foghorn in order "to provide his audience an occasion to
exorcise their own acceptance of the ancest r al noble
savage--dour, stoic, and dumb--or the contemporary wel-
fare derelict--drunken, irresponsible, and shiftless" (xi).
For the most part, however, the contemporary
theatrical pieces with Indian characters that have
received the greatest attention have been written by white
authors who, with a few interesting exceptions, resort to
ambiguity in their portrayal of Indians, doing little to
alter the stage image established in the preceding century.
The prime example has been the historical outdoor drama,
a revamped version of the earlier civic pageant, which
began its very successful history in 1937 with Paul Green's
The Lost Colony, retelling the story of the first English
colonization effort by Walter Raleigh on Roanoke Island,
but offering nothing new for the Indian's image. Since
this first effort, a series of similar outdoor dramas, most
written by Green (Trumpet in the Land, Wilderness Road,
Texas, The Common Glory) or Kermit Hunter (Trail of
Tears, Horn in the West, Beyond the Sundown), recounting
some notable historical event of a specific region or locale
have been written and successfully produced with annual
repeats. Several of these so-called "symphonic dramas"
focus primarily on Indians, most notably Hunter's Unto
These Hills, a potted history of the Cherokees from 1540 to
1842 in which the image of Indian is, in Grose's words, "a
willing victim and innocent child" (252).
Indians often figure prominently in the historical event
being dramatized in outdoor dramas, their image
represents a stereotype from the past and little more.
Of major con temporary North American play-
wrights, only a few have included Indian characters in
their plays, although one represents the most forceful and
theatrically effective handling of the Indian image in this
century, Kopit's Indians.
A number of Canadian playwrights, including James
Reaney and Sharon Pollock, the latter with Walsh (1974),
an epic retelling of the treatment given Chief Sitting Bull
in Canada after his defeat of Custer, have dealt with
their native Indians, none more successfully than George
Ryga, playwright, poet, and novelist who utilizes sur-
realistic methods in his treatment of powerful and
realistic stories of injustice and oppression. One of
Ryga's first plays, Indian (1964), deceives the audience
with an initial impression that the title character is the
lazy, drunken stereotype, when in actuality the portrait is
that of a character who is desperate and angry at his non-
entity status in con temporary society. Ryga 's second
Indian play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1967) and his most
successful work, is a grim indictment of Canada's treat-
ment of its native people, developing the idea of Indian
despair and portraying in Jamie Paul a militant Indian
controlled ultimately by the white system.
Similarly, Chief Bromden in Dale Wasserman's adap-
tation of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
(1963) is a symbol of another kind of Indian trapped, and
destroyed, by modern white technology. As theatrically
effective as Bromden is as a character, he is nonetheless
based on white perceptions and emerges as the protypical
good Indian.
It is, finally, of some significance that three of the
U.S.'s most prominent playwrights of the past twenty
years have written plays with Indians as major characters,
although with varying degrees of success.
Indians figure in at least four of Sam Shepard's
minor and early plays. For the most part these Indian
figures are developed with such ambiguity as to say very
little about the image of the characters depicted. The
most effective of these plays and the most significant in
terms of its theme is Operation Sidewinder, which
premiered in a controversial production at the Vivian
Beaumont Theatre in New York's Lincoln Center in
1970.54 As Bonnie Marranca has indicated, this play "con-
trasts the spiritual world of the American Indian with
materialistic white America" (American Playwrights 93).
With two major Indian characters, a half -breed named
Mickey Free and Spider Lady, a wizened old shaman, and
a good deal of Hopi tradition, Shepard tells his compli-
cated narrative of a crazed, hostile America.
One of the
most effective moments occurs in Act II, scene 4 in which
an entire authentic Hopi snake dance ritual is staged,
with lengthy stage directions and music for Hopi chants
in the text, marking Shepard's clear interest in the
spiritual nature of the Indian. As Brenda Anderson con-
cludes: "The power of the Indian rituals blends with the
superior consciousness of the computer to move toward an
unrealized form of life and defeats the white man's
power of technology" (219).
Lanford Wilson's Angels Fall, one of his lesser suc-
cesses, was commissioned by the New World Festival in
Miami, Florida. After an initial production there in June
1982, the play opened at the Circle Repertory Company in
New York in October and transferred to the Longacre
Theatre on Broadway in January 1983.
Set in a plain
adobe mission in remote north western New Mexico, the
play concerns a small group of confused outsiders who
find themselves isolated because of a nuclear accident at
a nearby uranium mine; together they act out what is a
"rehearsal for the end of the world." One of the residents
is Don Tabaha, an intense half-Indian and unofficial
foster son and helper of Father Doherty, the spiritual
leader of the mission. The Indian of Wilson's play,
though potentially one of the more effective characters in
the piece, is developed as a surly, brooding Navajo who, it
is revealed, is a medical genius who has chosen to forego
the chance to practice medicine among impoverished fel-
low Indians for a more glamorous research position in San
Francisco. Although Don Tabaha is fairly interesting as
the only real insider-outsider of the dramatis personae, his
image is essentially a negative one, for despite the charac-
ter's brilliance and potential, Don Tabaha simply seems
truculent, a bit selfish, and almost bitter toward everyone
and everything. Even if many of his feelings are justi-
fied, it is difficult to feel any sympathy toward him or to
empathize emotionally with Wilson's creation.
Without question, the most successful and con-
troversial contemporary play with Indian characters has
been Arthur Kopit's Indians, which was first performed in
London in 1968, had its U.S. premiere at the Arena Stage
in Washington, D.C. in May 1969 and was staged in New
York in October of that year.
7 With the possible excep-
tion of Stone's Metamora, no Indian play has received as
much critical attention.
8 It was also turned into a highly
controversial and historically distorted film with a screen-
play by Robert Altman and Alan Rudolph.5
In essence, Kopi t's very complex and often thea tri-
cally fascinating play is concerned with genocide, the
myth of the West, and, as Kopit made clear in an inter-
view with John Lahr, though this was less obvious in per-
formance, he was not particularly interested in the
American Indian but was seeking a way "to expose the
madness of our involvement in Vietnam."60 What is easy
to discern in Kopit's "combination of Wild West Show,
vaudeville, and circus," as he called it, is his use of the
Wild West exhibition as a symbol for white man's cruelty
to, and subjugation of, the Indians, and the despoliation
of their land. In a broader sense, as Michael C. O'Neill
demonstrates, Kopit is offering "a portrait of Vietnam-era
America which interprets history theatrically to describe
the cumulative effect of that history--contemporary life--
in a new, dramatically viable way" (495). Or, as John
Bush Jones illustrates, "The central argument of Indians is
that the United States has always had to fabricate myths
about her more unpleasant behavior in order to conceal or
justify the actualities of the bare historical facts" ( 443).
In accomplishing his aims, Kopit has distorted his•
tory to suit his own purposes and thus perpetuated myths
about White-Indian relations, despite a generally
sympathetic attitude expressed toward the Indians and
their myths. Grose concludes that "Kopit was willing to
exploit two hundred years of disastrous American Indian
policies and to reinforce and perpetuate ossified White
conceptualizations of Native Americans solely to make a
statement on an unpopular war in Southeast Asia: William
Cody was victim of mythmaking; Arthur Kopit of the
marketplace" (274). Though this judgement may be
extreme, it is true that Kopit does little to improve the
image of the stage Indian. Indeed, the Indians portrayed
by Kopi t--incl uding Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and Chief
Joseph (the latter two never associated with Cody)--are
generally demeaned and presented in a negative manner.
Geronimo, for example, is treated like a captive animal,
caged and humiliated, acting out his legendary ferocity.
Kopit, who is inconsistent in his knowledge of Indians (in
several places in the text he even confuses the tribes that
he deals with), offers a greatly distorted image of the
Indian and his role in Cody's Wild West as well. Likewise,
Kopit makes Buffalo Bill the symbol of American cruelty
and injustice to Indians, even though he grants Cody an
equivocal attitude and offers glimpses of the frontiersman
as a friend of the Indian. This historical fact is a voided
altogether in the 1976 film, in which Cody is portrayed as
an Indian-hater or more specifically, Indian-exploiter.
One of the most malicious aspects of Altman's film,
depicted only in part in Kopit's play, is the relationship
between Sitting Bull and Cody, shown by Altman to be
hostile in the extreme, when in reality it was a relation-
ship of mutual esteem. Although Kopit does portray Sit-
ting Bull as a proud and dignified man (unlike the film
portrait), his heroic stature is retained because it satisfies
Kopit's purpose of stimulating anger against American
injustices to weaker peoples; Sitting Bull is undeniably a
theatrical foil for the weakness of Cody. The result,
however, is the perpetuation of one of the standard
Indian stage stereotypes. For instead of Sitting Bull
emerging as a human-being with complex feelings and
ideas, he instead is represented with a priest-like
simplicity and innocence.
Indians is undeniably an effective play when staged,
and Kopit certainly is successful in his structure of the
play, having theatricality and reality (at least as
depicted) play off one another, analyzed most effectively
in Jones's essay on the play. In Kopit's defense, it is
noteworthy that he never pretended that he wished to
reproduce historical events; indeed, he stated that he
wanted to create "a mosaic, a counterpoint of memory and
reality," according to Lewis Funke (New York Times). Yet,
with the historical distortion of Indian heroes and
numerous other historical elements in the play in order to
support and illustrate his themes, Kopit does little to
advance the stage image of the American Indian. Even
Chief Joseph, the stage character who comes the closest to
succeeding in Kopit's satirical terms, is not fleshed out
but is portrayed as the typical doomed noble savage of
earlier plays. One interpretation, discussed by Jones and
Doris Auerbach, does justify the distortions as a key to a
major theme of the play--"the threat to authentic existence
and personal integrity presented by constant self-
impersonation." Auerbach explains that "In the play, the
Indians' as well as Cody's authenticity is destroyed by the
mythicizing process of impersonation" (90-91). Thus the
Indian heroes, most notably Sitting Bull, fear that they
have accepted the white man's vision of themselves so
that only false images remain to pass down to their chil-
dren. Thematically this is a sensible conclusion, though it
offers little justification for allowing us to see only the
white man's stereotypical image of the Indians.
The majority of plays about American Indians,
certainly those that have gained some popularity or criti-
cal attention, have been written by white authors with
little knowledge of real Native Americans. For the most
part plays with Indian characters have only created
stereotypical Indians, dominated by the noble savage, the
villainous red devil, and the Indian princess or pathetic
maiden, with few of these types portrayed as real people
having distinctive personalities. The result has been an
overall negative image, despite isolated examples of
Indians portrayed sympathetically and of a few plays
focused on au then tic Indian concerns.
As this essay has attempted to illustrate, the role of
the Indian in American drama has been determined in
part by historical changes in White-Indian affairs, though
even the Ia ter, more realistic presentation of Indians
reflected a white reality, and thus the attitudes were dis-
torted, representing a majority opinion that supported the
belief that Native Americans, regardless of their nobility
or their plight in the historical past, were inferior beings
to the white man. White playwrights portrayed Indians
for predominantly white audiences who possessed natural
though often unfounded fears of the red man. Indeed, the
tendency in the American theatre has been, and to a great
extent still is, to ossify Native Americans as minorities
from the past and to pretend that aborigines no longer
exist in contemporary America, thus contributing little to
our understanding of the continuing problems and frus-
trations of the Native American Indian.
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Berkhofer, Robert F., Jr. The White Man's Indian: Images
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Brasmer, William. "The Wild West Exhibition and the
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O'Neill, Michael C. "History As Dramatic Present: Arthur
L. Kopit's Indians." Theatre Journal 34 (Dec. 1982):
Pearce, Roy Harvey. Savagism and Civilization: A Study of
the Indian and the American Mind. Rev. ed.
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.
Rourke, Constance. American Humor: A Study of the
National Character. New York: Harcourt, Brace,
Russell, Don. The Wild West or, A History of the Wild West
Shows. Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum of
Western Art, 1970.
Slotkin, Richard. "The ' Wild West'." Buffalo Bill and the
Wild West. Distributed by University of Pittsburgh
Press, 1981.
Stone, George Augustus. Metamora or The Last of the
Wampanoags. Dramas From the American Theatre
1762-1909. Ed. Richard Moody. Cleveland and New
York: The World Publishing Co., 1966.
lFor a most useful bibliographical essay on ethnic
types in American drama, see Joyce Flynn, "Melting Plots:
Patterns of Racial and Ethnic Amalgamation in American
Drama Before Eugene O'Neill," American Quarterly 38
(Bibliography 1986): 417-38.
In addition to sources cited, the following
scholarly studies have provided useful background:
Richard E. Amacher, "Behind the Curtain with the Noble
Savage: Stage Management of Indian Plays 1825-1860,"
Theatre Survey 7 (Nov. 1966): 101-14; Marilyn Jean Ander-
son, "The Image of the American Indian in American
Drama: From 1766 to 1845," Diss. U. of Minnesota, 1974;
Rosemarie K. Bank, "Rhetorical, Dramatic, Theatrical, and
Social Contexts of Selected Frontier Plays, 1871 to 1906,"
Diss. U. of Iowa, 1972; Paul R. Cox, "The Characterization
of the American Indian in American Indian Plays 1800-
1860 As a Reflection of the American Romantic Move-
ment," Diss. New York U., 1970; Kathleen A. Mulvey, "The
Growth, Development and Decline of the Popularity of
American Indian Plays Before the Civil War." Diss. New
York U., 1978; Perley Isaac Reed, "The Realistic Present-
ation of American Characters in Native American Plays
Prior to Eighteen Seventy," The Ohio State University Bul-
letin XXII (May 1918); Priscilla F. Sears, A Pillar of Fire to
Follow: American Indian Dramas, 1808-1859 (Bowling
Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1982)--
originally a 1975 Tufts U. diss.; Fred Sitton, "The Indian
Play in American Drama, 1750-1900," Diss. Northwestern
U., 1962. Other relevant sources can be found in Joyce
Flynn's assessment of scholarship in this area, with which
I generally agree: "Academics on the Trail of the Stage
'Indian' : A Review Essay," Studies in American Indian Lit-
erature 2 (Winter 1987): 1-16.
Columbus: or, A World Discovered (London: W. Mil-
ler, 1792). The American premiere of Morton's play was
15 Sept. 1797 at the Greenwich St. Theatre in New York.
See Moody, America Takes the Stage 78-79, and
Cox's dissertation, above.
Ponteach; or, The Savages of America (London,
1776). Reprinted in Representative Plays by American
Dramatists, ed. Montrose J. Moses (New York: E.P. Dutton,
6A New World Planted; or, the Adventures of the
Forefathers of New England (Boston: Gilbert & Dean,
1The Indian Princess; or La Belle Sauvage (Philadel-
phia, 1808). Reprinted in Representative Plays by American
Dramatists, ed. Montrose J. Moses (New York: E.P. Dutton,
See also Pat M. Ryan, "Wild Apaches in the Effete
East: A Theatrical Adventure of John P. Clum," Theatre
Survey 6 (Nov. 1966): 147-56.
A superb source on the drama of the Jacksonian
period and the Indian play in this period is Walter J.
Meserve's Heralds of Promise: The Drama of the American
People During the Age of Jackson, 1829-1849 (Westport, CT
and London: Greenwood Press, 1986).
This idea and its relationship to the Indian play,
primarily Metamore, is developed in B. Donald Grose's
"Edwin Forrest, Metamora, and the Indian Removal Act
of 1830, Theatre Journal 37 (May 1985): 181-91.
This seminal work, first published in 1953,
includes a very brief section on Indian plays. See 170-78.
Any list of standard sources on the Indian in literature
would also include Albert Keiser's The Indian in American
Literature (New York, 1933; rpt. New York: Octagon
Books, 1970).
12See Stone in Sources Cited. For sources on Stone
and Metamora, see Moody's Dramas From the American
Theatre 863, as well as Moody's biography of Edwin For-
rest (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960) and Grose' s essay
above (n. 1 0).
Wi!liam Penn in The Sentinels and Other Plays by
Richard Penn Smith, ed. R.H. Ware and H.W. Schoenberger
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1941); Carabas-
set (Portland: S. Colman, 1830); Tecumseh (New York:
Elton & Harrison, 1836); Oralloosa in The Life and
Dramatic Works of Rob.ert Montgomery Bird by Clement E.
Foust (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1919); Pontiac
(Boston: Samuel Coleman, 1835); Putnam (Boston: William
H. Spencer, 1859); Nick of the Woods (London: John Dicks,
1856); Custis's Pocahontas in Representative American Plays
from 1767 to the Present, ed. Arthur H. Quinn (New York:
Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953); Owen's Pocahontas (New
York: George Dearborn, 183 7); The Forest Princess in
Plays, Prose and Poetry by Charlotte M.S. Barnes (Philadel-
phia: E.H. Bu tier, 1848).
14Marilyn Anderson is one of the few to discuss
this play in the context of Indian dramas. See essay in
lAC 805.
See Moody, Dramas 402.
Metamora; or, The Last of the Pollywogs (New
York: Samuel French, 1857); Po-Ca-Hon-Tas; or The Gentle
Savage (New York, n.d.), rpt. Dramas from the American
Theatre, ed. Moody.
17See Jones's analysis, 133-38.
Hi-A-Wa-Tha (New York: Samuel French, 1856).
See Mulvey's coverage for the period up to the
Civil War.
2°The Octoroon in Best Plays of the American Theatre
From the Beginning to 1916, ed. John Gassner (New York:
Crown, 1967) and also Upper Saddle River, New Jersey:
Literature House, 1970.
See Roger L. Nichols, "The Indian in the Dime
Novel," Journal of American Culture 5 (Summer 1982): 49-
55. Nichols points out that "Dime novels tended to popu-
larize existing views of Indians, fastening such stereotypes
upon readers who lacked their own ideas about the tribes-
men, and perpetuating the resulting attitudes on much of
American society for generations" (50). The same could
be said for Indian plays of the same period (1860-1910).
Frontier melodrama has received a useful study in Bank
(n. 2) and the number and types of frontier plays is dis-
cussed in Roger Allan Hall's "Frontier Drama Classifica-
tion," Nineteenth Century Theatre Research 7 (Spring 1979):
Across the Continent in American's Lost Plays, Vol.
4, ed. Barrett H. Clark (rpt. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1963).
23Horizon in Plays by Augustin Daly, eds. Don B.
Wilmeth and Rosemary Cullen (New York and London:
Cambridge University Press, 1984).
Grose (171) believes that the threat of violent
sexual conquest was Daly's major contribution to the stage
image of the American Indian.
Numerous biographies of Cody have been pub-
lished. The most recent is Nellie Snyder Yost, Buffalo
Bill: His Family, Friends, Fame, Failures, and Fortunes
(Chicago: Swallow Press, 1979).
Cod y's stage career is discussed in William S.E.
Coleman, "Buffalo Bill on Stage," Players 47 (Dec.-Jan.
1972): 80-91; Jay Monaghan, "The Stage Career of Buffalo
Bill," Journal of the Illinois Historical Society 31 (Dec.
1938): 411-23; and in Paul T. Nolan's essays, "When
Curtains Rise, Scouts Fall Out," Southern Speech Journal 29
(Spring 1964): 175-86 and "The Western Heros on Stage,"
Real West II (October 1968): 3 7-38, 56-57, 66, 7 4-75. All
standard biographies include some coverage of this phase
of Cody's career.
27Brasmer quotes here an excellent source on the
image of the Indian in the cinema, a subject beyond the
scope of this essay. See Ralph and Natasha Friar, The
Only Good Indian . .. The Hollywood Gospel (New York:
Drama Book Specialists, 1972). Also recommended is
Gretchen M. Bataille and Charles L.P. Silet, eds., The
Pretend Indians: Images of Native Americans in the Movies
(Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1980). The most
recent study of Cody's Wild West is Sarah J. Blackstone's
Buckskins, Bullets, and Business: A History of Buffalo Bill's
Wild West (Greenwood, CT and London: Greenwood Press,
1986), although this effort does not supercede earlier
books, especially Don Russell's book on the Wild West
shows (see sources cited) and his The Lives and Legends of
Buffalo Bill (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1960),
Rupert Croft-Cooke and W.S. Meadmore's Buffalo Bill: The
Legend, The Man of Action, The Showman (London:
Sidgwick and Jackson, 1952), and Henry Blackman Sell
and Victor Weybright's Buffalo Bill and the Wild West
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1955).
In the course of history, there were over one hun-
dred Wild West shows, although none quite equalled
Cody's reputation or spectacle.
See n. 8 above and John P. Clum, "Apaches as
Thespians in 1876," New Mexico Historical Review 6 (Jan.
1931): 76-99.
30Ramona (Syracuse: F. LeC. Dillaye, 1887).
Robert B. Caverly, Miantonimo (Boston, 1884);
Charles Mair, Tecumseh (To ron to: Hunter, Rose, 188 6);
Alexander Hamilton, Canonicus, in Dramas and Poems
(New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1887).
32In 1907, for example, the well-known minstrel
performer Lew Dockstader presented a song titled "Big
Chief Battle-Axe" about a wooden Indian outside a
tobacco store. Dockstader performed the song in tails and
blackface with an Indian headdress and mocassins.
33For a discussion of Indian characters in minstrel
shows, see Robert C. Toll, Blacking Up (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1974), 164-68.
Pocahontas (Chicago: T.S. Denison, 1886).
85The Minute Men of 1774-1775 in America's Lost
Plays, vol. 7, ed. Barrett H. Clark, 1940; rpt. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1963.
The Girl I Left Behind Me in America's Lost Plays,
vol. 18, ed. Barrett H. Clark, 1940; rpt. Bloomington:
Indiana U ni versi ty Press, 1963.
37The Girl of the Golden West in Representative
American Dramas, ed. Montrose J. Moses (Boston: Little,
Brown, 1925), 58.
Strongheart (New York: Samuel French, 1909).
39Strongheart is also unique as the first play to use
a non-Colonial Indian as a strong protagonist, and one
noted for his sporting accomplishments, generally credited
to whites, as contrasted to earlier emphases on hunting
and Indian skills.
The Half-Breed (Philadelphia: Penn, 1908).
41The Squaw Man (New York: n.p., 1906).
For a discussion of this story line in drama, i.e., a
white man cohabitating with an Indian woman for an
extended length of time, usually in an Indian setting, see
Jones 223-25.
Th is estimate is based on figures drawn from
reports in the American Pageant Association's bulletins
for these years. In addition to pageants, the bulletins also
list festivals and masques that the Association consider
related to pageants. See Jane K. Curry, "William Chaun-
cey Langdon and American Historical Pageantry," Thesis,
Brown U, 1987, 2-3.
44See Edward E. Hipsher, American Opera and Its
Composers (Philadelphia, Theodore Presser, 1927).
0tto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein, Rose Marie
(London: Samuel French, 1931); Herbert and Dorothy
Fields, Annie Get Your Gun (Chicago: Dramatic Publishing
Co., 1952); Rick Besoyan, Little Mary Sunshine (New York:
Music Theatre, 1959); Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, The
Fantasticks in 2 Musicals by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
(New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1973). I've yet to
locate the libretto for White Eagle. Although beyond the
scope of this essay, it is worth noting that the use of
Indian themes was commonplace in staged musical num-
bers for many years, especially during the first decade of
this century, even when Indians did not figure as specific
characters. Also, popular songs often turned to Indian
subjects or themes. A superficial survey of the sheet
music holdings of Special Collections in Brown
University's John Hay Library revealed numerous exam-
ples. A sampling here should suggest the scope: "Navajo"
in Nancy Brown (1903); "Navaho" in The Cherry Girl (1904);
"My Indian Maid" in A Venetian Romance (I 904); "The
Indians Along Broad way" in The Rollicking Girl ( 1905);
"Little Red Papoose" in The Girl and the Bandit (1905); "Big
Chief Smoke (Uoof, Uoof, Uoof)
in Lonesome Town
The Indian Rag .. (firewater cliche) in The Wall
Street Girl (1912); .. Injun Love
(idea of the Indian giver)
in Over the River (1911). In addition, numerous cantatas
and art songs were written to such poems of the day as
Longfellow's "Hiawatha" and John Greenleaf Whittier's
"The Bridal of Pennacook" and on subjects such as Indian
summer; novelty songs, such as
Coon for a Beau .. , about a
black man's love for a Navajo girl, gained some popu-
larity, as did sketches such as "Big Chief Not-Afraid-of-
His-Lessons .. (1912) and numerous Indian love songs
(examples: "By the Waters of Minnetonka"--1914;
"Hi a watha's Melody of Love
--1920; "Cherokee"--1938) and
Indian lullabies ("Indian Mother's Lullaby"--1855; "Indian
Lullaby"--1925; "Indian Cradle Song"--1927). Rarely is the
image of the Indian reflected in the lyrics to these songs
more than ambiguous, comic, demeaning, romanticized or
sentimentalized; indeed they simply add to the dominant
negative image of the American Indian character by per-
petuating all of the predictable stereotypes.
46The Arrow Maker (New York: Duffield, 1911).
47There is a great deal more to this quote from the
play's introduction, too much to quote here. See vii-ix.
8The Cherokee Night in Russet Mantle and the
Cherokee Night (New York: Samuel French, 1936); Cream
in the Well in Four Plays (New York: Samuel French, 1947).
For a discussion of Native American ritual and
contemporary plays by aborigines and theatre companies
composed of Indian artists, see Jeffrey F. Huntsman's
"Native American Theatre," in Ethnic Theatre in the United
States, ed. Maxine Schwarts Seller (Westport, CT and
London: Greenwood Press, 1983) 355-85. Also useful is
Linda Walsh Jenkins and Ed Wapp, Jr., "Native American
Performance," The Drama Review 20 (June 1976):· 5-12.
The Lost Colony (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina, 1954); Unto These Hills (Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina, 1951 ).
51Walsh (Vancouver, B.C.: Talonbooks, 1973).
The Ecstasy of Rita Joe and Indian in The Ecstasy
of Rita Joe and Other Plays (Toronto: New Press, 1971 ).
0ne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (New York:
Samuel French, 1970).
540peration Sidewinder in Four Two-Act Plays (New
York: Urizen Books, 1980) and The Unseen Hand and Other
Plays (New York: Bantam, 1986). The essential facts of
Shepard's career can be found in Lynda Hart, Sam
Shepard's Metaphorical Stages (Westport, CT and London:
Greenwood Press, 1987).
sssee Marranca 93-96 and American Dreams: The
Imagination of Sam Shepard, ed. Bonnie Marranca (New
York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1981) 27-28,
Angels Fall (New York: Hill & Wang, 1983).
57 Indians (New York: Hill & Wang, 1969). Also
published by Bantam (New York, 1971) with Kopit inter-
view with John Lahr.
For example, in addition to Auerbach, Funke,
Jones, Marranca, and O'Neill listed in Sources Cited, see
also Karl Heiz Westarp, "Myth in Peter Shaffer's The
Royal Hunt of the Sun and in Arthur Kopit's Indians,"
English Studies 2 (1984): 120-28.
9Buffalo Bill and the Indians of Sitting Butt's His-
tory Lesson (New York: Bantam, 1976).
The interview in the Bantam edition of Indians is
unpagina ted.
J. Ellen Gainor
Susan Glaspell's The Verge was first produced by
the Provincetown Players in New York during the 1921-22
season--the last with which she and her husband George
Cram Cook, co-founders of the group, would have any
connection. Cook had stated the original mission of the
theatre to give:
an equal chance to the unknown or little-known
playwright ... to cause the writing of the best
plays that can be written in the United States, and
to give each play the best possible start in life.
This includes inspiring playwrights. If in any way
we decrease the force of desire to write true plays,
we defeat the purpose for which we exist.
Cook and Glaspell started their theatre, perhaps
best known now for the initial production of the works of
Eugene O'Neill, in Provincetown in 1915, after having
moved to Cape Cod and New York from their hometown
of Davenport, Iowa. Born there in 1876, Glaspell attended
Drake University, and after graduating became a political
reporter for the Des Moines Daily News. After a few
years she returned to Davenport to pursue a creative writ-
ing career, gaining a considerable reputation as a "local
colorist" and author of popular stories printed in women's
periodicals. In 1907, Glaspell met her future husband and
his good friend Floyd Dell at a meeting of the Monist
Society, a group the two men had organized for the dis-
cussion of liberal/radical politics, religion, and
philosophy. Glaspell's writing immediately reflected the
new influences and ideas she encountered through the
Monists; her fiction began to incorporate larger socio-
political concerns with stories of American life.
After their marriage in 1913 and move to the East
Coast, Glaspell and Coo·k both pursued writing careers,
although Cook had already explored such diverse profes-
sions as journalism, academia, and agriculture. Inspired
by a performance of the Irish Players he had seen in
Chicago, Cook wanted to start an equivalent American
group, with "no stage conventions in the way of projecting
with the humility of true feeling" (Temple, 218). They
were both dissatisfied by the lack of originality on Broad-
way, and in the winter of 1915, they collaborated on their
first dramatic effort, a short spoof on the current craze
for psychology called "Suppressed Desires." The next sum-
mer Cook decided to convert an old Cape fish-house into
the Wharf Theatre to try out their ideas for new
American drama. Cook tra veiled often between New
York and the Cape, working toward a permanent home
for the theatre in Greenwich Village to augment the
makeshift summer facility in the artists' community of
Cook encouraged Glaspell to try her hand inde-
pendently at playwriting; when she expressed concern
about her lack of knowledge of the genre, he told her,
"Nonsense . .. You've got a stage, haven't you? ... What
playwrights need is a stage . . . their own stage" (Temple,
255-56). Virginia Woolf's insistence that a woman writer
needs "a room of [her] own," was borne out by Glaspell,
who found the stage, and the second-floor room Cook had
equipped for her in their Cape home, essential for her
I went out on the wharf, sat alone on one of our
wooden benches without a back, and looked a long
time at that bare little stage. After a time the
stage became a kitchen--a kitchen there all by
itself. I saw just where the stove was, the table,
and the steps going upstairs. Then the door at the
back opened, and people all bundled up came in
.. . Whenever I got stuck, I would run across the
street to the old wharf, sit in that leaning little
theater under which the sea sounded, until the play
was ready to continue. Sometimes things written
in my room would not form on the stage, and I
must go home and cross them out. (Temple, 255-56)
For Glaspell, both the room of her own in which to
write and the proximity of a stage were invaluable. In
the years 1915-1921, between her first dramatic effort and
the composition of her most adventurous play, The Verge,
she produced seven one-act and three full-length plays, of
which three of the short pieces were collaborations with
her husband. Cook insisted playwrights work on all
facets of the productions, and Glaspell was also noted
during that time for her abilities as an actress.
Gerhard Bach, who has written a study of Glaspell
and the Provincetown Players, identifies several phases of
plays produced by the group before Cook and Glaspell's
the initial phase of social realism, leading to the
phase of realism vs. symbolism (or realistic prose
play vs. the symbolist verse play), leading again
into the last phase of renewed social realism inter-
spersed with experiments in expressionism.3
Glaspell wrote plays during each of these periods,
and it is clear that her own dramaturgy was profoundly
affected not only by the socio-political concerns of Cook,
Dell, and their activist friends like John Reed, but also by
other playwrights produced by the group. Linda Ben-Zvi
has observed the close communication between O'Neill
and Glaspell,
and the similarities between their plays at
this time, particularly The Hairy Ape and The Verge, both
produced in the 1921-22 season ("Susan Glaspell," 27). But
Edna St. Vincent Millay's and others' verse dramas must
also have been influential, for within a year after their
appearance, Glaspell was incorporating poetry into her
latest work, demonstrating structural conflict and tension
between the social realism Cook propounded and other,
more experimental themes and techniques.
As the title suggests, The Verge is a play about bor-
ders. Claire Archer, the central character, is a woman on
the verge of insanity. Her social and familial behavior
teeters on the edge of propriety. Her horticultural experi-
ments bring plants to their biological limits, thrusting
them toward an evolution into new species. And
Glaspell's dramaturgical form echoes this indeterminacy:
the play appears at times to be on the brink of farce; at
other moments, it mirrors a Strindbergian development
from problem play to expressionism.
Act I is set in Claire's greenhouse, "not a green-
house where plants are being displayed, nor the usual
workshop for the growing of them, but a place for experi-
ment with plants, a laboratory."
It has just snowed
heavily, and Glaspell notes the violent wind outdoors, and
the pattern of frost on the panes. In a recent study of
plate glass, Richard Sennett observes:
greenhouses . . . are extraordinary buildings ... the
nineteenth-century greenhouse abolished the dis-
tinction between i nside and outside, in terms of
light, while radically con trolling this barrier in
terms of heat [and] the penetration of smoke ...
permitting an experience of walking outside and
inside simultaneously, which remains as magical to
us as it was to the Victorians . . . . The dappling
play of light and shadow in these enormous glass
halls ... makes space int o action. The rooms con-
stantly change their form, just as a stage is trans-
formed through lighting . . . there is an artifice
which does not register on our senses as a stage set
because all the actors here are plants."
Sennet's comments here have immediate relevance to
Glaspell's greenhouse setting, for not only does the play
deal directly with the theme of inside vs. outside on both
literal and metaphysical levels, it also makes use of the
dramatic potential of her set, calling our attention to the
theatricality of the greenhouse as a space.
Several years before their marriage, Cook had built
a greenhouse, and had written a lengthy poem about it,
which Glaspell quotes from in her biography of her hus-
No mere Wordsworthian guest of Nature be,
Spectator and not sharer of her life,
But her co-worker, with selective art
Prescribing form to her wild energies:
Saying, "Thou shalt be!" and "Thou shalt not be!"
(Temple, 202)
Cook embraced Nietzschean philosophy, particularly its
fascination with the superman, and much of its thought
informed his writing. At the same time that Glaspell was
writing The Verge, Cook was working on his play The
Spring, which developed from i deas for a play based on
the alchemist Paracelsus: "Paracelsus is one of the flam-
ing minds of the world--his soul a crucible in which the
elements of nature are transmuted i nto a new form of
existence" (Temple, 294).
Glaspell's presentat ion of this mater i al on The
Spring, in the biography, shows the connections between
her work and her husband's; both plays feature a Faustian
thirst for knowledge, and it is clear in her play that
Glaspell combines the vegetative creativity of the green-
house lyric with the alchemical, Nietzschean compulsion
to make superior life forms. Glaspell's biography of
Cook, which is primarily a collection of quotations from
his diaries, notebooks, and verse interspersed with her
succinct narrative exposition, also features a number of
provocative passages with no authorial explication or com-
mentary. One of the most interesting is a note about an
i dea of Cook's for a play, which Glaspell places
immediately before the discussion of Paracelsus and The
Play of Madame Curie and her husband--she discov-
ering radium through the guidance of his superior
sources of knowledge, he having sunk back into the
unconscious. She tapping the sub-conscious mind
of the whole world through her belief in the
vitality of his dead mind. (Temple, 293)
Although Glaspell rarely discussed the origin of ideas for
her works, it is clear from the number of collaborations
between herself and Cook, and from the way her writing
developed after her contact with him, that his influence
on her creativity was substantial. The tone of the
biography, The Road to the Temple, indicates how much
Glaspell revered Cook, and friends and colleagues also
observed her devotion to him (Ben-Zvi, "Susan Glaspell,"
22). Cook had great ambitions, which he never seemed
able to fulfill. His own writing met with nowhere near
the success of his wife's, and historically he appears more
important as a facilitator of others' creative development.
He was known as an autocratic theatrical producer, and
passages like that quoted above suggest a manipulative
attitude toward his wife's work, which in turn raises the
possibility of Cook's co-optation of Glaspell, and her sub-
sequent difficulty in developing or maintaining her own
The conflict presented in The Verge evolves from
Claire's feelings of confinement--her desire to break away
from the conventions and constraints of "inside": society,
her family, and their definition of her, to move "out" to a
new form and identity without barriers. Her
horticultural experiments, first with the "Edge Vine" and
then with the flower "Breath of Life," mirror her own
struggle to control her life and break free from conven-
tion. The startling and disturbing conclusion of the play
may reflect Glaspell's own (subconscious) conflict over the
influence of Cook on her work. Glaspell employed a flo-
ral simile for herself early in her career: "I am like the
flowers in the hot-house, a forced production . .. How
would it feel to be free? ... and be a free thinker and an
eccentric, generally?" (Ben-Zvi, "Susan Glaspell," 23) Mary
Heaton Vorse, another founding member of the Players,
described the formation of the group as "an organic thing
like a plant growing."7 And in the play itself, Claire is
identified early on as "the flower of New England"
(Verge, 18), while the flower she creates is itself a meta-
phor for female creativity: "the womb [she] breathed to
life" (Verge, 106). As images of Glaspell and the theatre
company, Claire and her horticultural experiments may in
part represent the author's development as a playwright
and the problems she saw with the Players' work for a
new American drama.
A brief plot outline here may help throw in to
relief some of the issues of feminism and women's writing
The Verge suggests for a con temporary reader. Claire
Archer, a woman nearing middle age, lives with her sec-
ond husband Harry, a professional pilot, in a house
noteworthy for its adjacent greenhouse and its unusual
tower room, for which Claire has purchased the house.
Claire has a grown daughter, Elizabeth, from her first
marriage to an artist, whom she has divorced, and several
years before the start of the action, her young, dearly-
loved son from her second marriage has died. Claire
appears to have taken up her botanical experiments
shortly thereafter, and is now totally obsessed with her
attempts to produce new plant forms. The action of the
play conforms to the traditional unities, occurring over a
little more than a twenty-four hour period from one
morning to the next. At the play's opening, Claire is
anticipating the result of her latest genetic experiment,
and the Archers are entertaining two of Claire's old
friends, Tom Edgeworthy and Richard Demming (one, a
former, the other, a current lover). In addition, Claire's
daughter is expected imminently on a visit, as is her sister
Adelaide, who has taken on the rearing of Elizabeth.
Claire has rejected her daughter for her conventionally
feminine views, which she seems to have developed from
her aunt and at her boarding school. The climax of Act I
features Claire's hostile attack on Elizabeth, who hopes to
live "up to the men [she comes] from" (Verge, 48). In a
rage, Claire destroys one of her plants, the Edge Vine,
which, as a metaphor for her daughter, has reverted to its
original genetic form. Act II takes place in Claire's tower
room, where she has retreated for the evening. One by
one, the other characters come up to see Claire, to try to
reason with her and find out why she is so close to
insanity (as they feel her earlier behavior demonstrates).
This act features a heated conflict between Claire and her
sister Adelaide, who represents social conformity and
traditional womanly behavior. Harry informs Claire that
he wants her to meet Dr. Emmons, a noted nerve specialist
who is known for his recent treatment of veterans of the
Great War, and the act ends with a confrontation between
the two. The third act is set the next morning, as Claire
is about to see the res.ult of her most challenging experi-
ment with the flower Breath of Life. Harry is incensed
by the revelation that Richard is Claire's lover, and much
of the action revolves around Claire's attempts to protect
Richard from Harry. As Claire's speech and action
become more incomprehensible and irrational, Tom
attempts to save her from losing touch with reality. When
she sees that her experiment has been a success, but that
it will ultimately be not free, but fixed in form, just as
she is confined by the men who try to hold her, she
breaks down, and in a fit of madness strangles Tom. The
final curtain falls on Claire's halted singing of a hymn
that has had special meaning for her and Adelaide.
As a study of female hysteria, The Verge, written
in 1921, closely resembles Charlotte Perkins Gilman's
story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," which had been reprinted
the year before.
Floyd Dell, in his study of early femi-
nism, Women as World Builders, discusses Gilman, and it is
certainly possible that Glaspell knew her work.
The play
and short story share a basic plot: a woman's movement
from sanity into madness--madness integrally connected to
feelings of entrapment within patriarchal structures and
the desire to escape to a realm of alternate self -definition.
Both works feature woman's understanding of conven-
tional female roles and the knowledge that they must be
subverted through female creation. They also share with
other texts central to feminist criticism the structural
nexus of "a madwoman in an attic"--here, Claire's
"thwarted tower" (Verge, 6Q), and the prescription of a
"rest cure," which feminist critics read as patriarchal
attempts to maintain women in positions of weakness and
inferiority. Although she does not discuss Glaspell's work
here, Elaine Showalter analyzes female hysteria, and par-
ticularly its treatment in comparison to the treatment of
male shell shock following World War I, in her study The
Female Malady.lO Obviously, Glaspell must have been
a ware of the observed similarities between male and
female hysteria at this time, and her brief character-
ization of Dr. Emmons adds greater medical veracity to
the play. Glaspell also incorporates both scientific
accuracy and timeliness to Claire's botanical work, which
historically parallels the experiments with the Evening
Primrose of the geneticist Dr. Hugo DeVries.ll
In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator struggles
with her husband's prohibition to write, this dictum being
closely connected with the symptomology of her nervous
condition. This patriarchal displeasure with women's
creativity finds evidence in The Verge as well, when early
in Act I Harry discusses his concerns about Claire with
Harry: Oh, I wish Claire wouldn't be strange
like that. What is it? What's the matter?
Dick: It's merely the excess of a particularly
rich temperament.
Harry: But it's growing on her. I sometimes
wonder if all this is a good thing. It would be all
right if she'd just do what she did in the
beginning--make flowers as good as possible of
their kind. That's an awfully nice thing for a
woman to do--raise flowers. But there's something
about this--changing things in to other things-·
putting things together and making queer new
Dick: Creating?
Harry: Give it any name you want it to have--
it's unsettling for a woman. (Verge, 20-21)
Harry, clearly unsettled himself, represents the
conventional view of the roles of the sexes. Claire, com-
mitted to the breaking of form, says of him:
You want to hear something amusing? I married
Harry because I thought he would smash something
... I thought flying would do something to a man.
But it didn't take us out. We just took it in ...
But our own spirit is not something on the loose.
Mine isn't. It has something to do with what I do.
To fly. To be free in air ... But no; man flew,
and returned to earth the man who left it. (Verge,
They have recently discussed Harry's view of
Claire's "form" and formation as "the flower of New
Claire: Well, if this is the flower of New
England, then the half has never been told.
Dick: About New England?
Claire: I thought I meant that. Perhaps I
meant--about me.
Harry: Explain that this is what came of the
men who made the laws that made New England,
that here is the flower of those gentlemen of cul-
ture who--
Dick: Molded the American mind!
Claire: Oh! [it is pain]
Harry: Now what's the matter?
Claire: I want to get away from them!
Harry: Rest easy, little one--you do.
Claire: I'm not so sure--that I do. But it can be
done! We need not be held in forms molded for us.
There is outness--and otherness. (Verge, 18-19)
As a locus · of patriarchy, ·no place in America
reverberates with more sense of "fatherhood" than New
England. The Puritan founding fathers, shapers of
American morality and ethos, are palpable presences for
Claire, representing all she wishes to escape. Glaspell
positions Claire in diametric opposition to the prescribed
codes of conduct New England exemplifies, demonstrating
through her manic-depressive behavior both the comic and
serious ramifications of their strictures.
Glaspell's heroine is very much a feminist, the
kind of superwoman who cannot find a single man to
meet all her emotional, physical, and psychological needs.
Harry's infantilizing endearment, "Rest easy, little one,"
demonstrates his paternal attitude towards her, one that
she finds impossible to reconcile with her passionate
energies. One of Glaspell's striking choices in The Verge
is her naming of Claire's male companions Tom, Dick and
The generic humor evolving from this designa-
tion corresponds dramaturgically to the farcical love
intrigue, which Glaspell perpetuates into the third act.
This storyline culminates in Harry's discovery of Dick's
affair with his wife, and subsequent chase sequence,
Harry in pursuit of Dick with a loaded gun. Just as
Harry corners Dick, Tom enters to announce his departure
for India, to which Claire cries, "God! Have you no heart?
Can't you at least wait till Dick is shot?" (Verge, 100) The
hilarity of this moment is perfect, for it teeters on the
edge of hysteria, corresponding to the structural matrix of
verges shaping the entire play.
Claire's understanding of the absurdist nature of
this moment1
shows how. cognizant she is of her own and
others' actions--how she sees the conventions of behavior
to which they conform. But Claire also sees the pos-
sibility of breaking these patriarchal structures: "There is
outness--and otherness." Claire's repeated use of the terms
"other" and "otherness" in the play corresponds to her
vision of a new self -definition, one that is independently
generated, rather than derived from patriarchal society.
Her movement toward that "outness," however, is
inextricably tied to her movement toward insanity--
crossing over the border to madness, entering a marginal
zone that only she--a woman self-defined--can occupy.
Glaspell's use of these terms has particular
resonance with the work of a number of contemporary
feminist critics, and the correspondence between the
dramatization of Claire's struggle and these theoretical
observations is striking .. In the Introduction to The Second
Sex, Simone de Bea uvoir establishes the equation of
female alterity, "she is the Other"
· which Alice Jardine
expands upon in her essay "Gynesis": "The space 'outside
of' the conscious subject has always connoted the femi-
nine in the history of Western thought--and any movement
into alterity is a movement into that female space."
Glaspell's concept of alterity in The Verge seems
derived from an intuiti:ve, prescient understanding of this
phallocen tric definition of self and other, which she
demonstrates through Claire's metaphoric identification of
herself with the flowers she creates.- The Breath of Life
thus achieves a feminized "otherness" by breaking out of
its original form, which, like other structures in the play,
is perceived as initially male-determined.
Claire's "otherness" also resembles that described
years later by Luce lrigaray in This Sex Which Is Not One:
'She' is indefinitely other in herself. This is doubt-
less why she is said to be whimsical ,
incomprehensible, agitated, capricious ... not to
mention her language, in which 'she' sets off in all
directions leaving 'him' unable to discern the
coherence of any meaning. Hers are contradictory
words, somewhat mad from the standpoint of
reason, inaudible for whoever listens to them with
ready-made grids, with a fully elaborated code in
Irigaray identifies this multiplicity as a trait found
exclusively in women, and her profile of a woman here
fits Claire's many moods, especially those verging on
hysteria, which exemplify this agitation and capricious-
ness. Near the height of her madness, Claire even refers
to herself in the plural, as she accuses Tom of trying to
confuse her: "We, are tired, and so we think it's you [that
will help her]" (Verge, 110). The issue of Claire's lan-
guage, and the criticism Glaspell encountered over her
character's unconventional speech, also resonate with this
quotation from lrigaray.
Catherine Clement's study of sorcery and hysteria
adds other dimensions to the interpretation of Claire's
creativity and madness. In her discussion of Michelet's
The Sorceress and Freud's Studies on Hysteria,   l ~ m e n t
Both thought that the repressed past survives in
woman; woman, more than anyone else, is dedi-
cated to reminiscence. The sorceress, who in the
end is able to dream Nature and therefore conceive
it, incarnates the reinscription of the traces of
paganism that triumphant Christianity repressed.
The hysteric, whose body is transformed into a
theater for forgotten scenes, relives the past, bear-
ing witness to a lost childhood that survives in suf-
This passage bears startling, though equally coin-
cidental resemblance to Claire's "voyage out." Not only
does Clement couch her writing in theatrical language, she
also touches upon key aspects of Claire's identity as well
as thematic concerns that pervade the drama. Claire, of
course, is a sorceress, who dreams of new forms of Nature
and brings them to fruition. Yet even her success with
Breath of Life is insufficient, for she wants to do more:
I want to give fragrance to Breath of Life--the
flower I've created that is outside what flowers
have been. What has gone out should bring fra-
grance from what it has left. But no definite fra-
grance, no limiting enclosing thing. I call the fra-
grance I am trying to create--Reminiscence. (Verge,
As Claire moves farther "out" towards insanity, she
becomes childlike, speaking in conceptual, but non-
syntactic phrases which Glaspell describes as "like a
child's pleased surprise" (Verge, 115), which nevertheless
reveal the trauma she has undergone. And perhaps most
significant is Clement's allusion to the sorceress's conflict
with Christianity, the ultimate patriarchal order which
finally defeats Claire, and metaphorically, perhaps
Glaspell herself.
The Freudian connections between Cl€ment's writ-
ing and The Verge may not be as coincidental as they
appear, for Glaspell and her circle were highly conscious
of new discoveries in psychoanalysis. As noted above, her
first dramatic effort was the Freudian spoof, "Suppressed
Desires," and as W. David Sievers has observed in Freud
on Broadway, Glaspell's Act II tower setting "apparently
marks the first expressionistic distortion of scenery in our
theatre for a subjective effect--that of unconscious
'regression to the womb'"1
--referring, I assume, to Claire's
retreat to this space. Overall, he calls The Verge "one of
the truly remarkable pieces of psychological literature of
our time" (Sievers, 70). Interestingly, Sievers's Freudian
reading of the Act II set appears limited to the stage
environment itself, and not the larger structure in which
it is situated. Claire's room, after all, is within a tower,
the symbolic implications of which are self-evident. The
imagery here becomes even more blatant when one real-
izes that Glaspell's creation of the tower setting was facil-
itated by Cook's construction of a dome over the stage,
"the inside of which is used as a reflecting surface to
represent the horizon" (Sarlos, Jig Cook, 126). Just as
Cook earlier built Glaspell an elevator to allow her to
work in her own room upstairs in their Cape Cod home,
he now builds a scenic addition to spur her drama tic
imagination. The room within the becomes the
womb within the phallus, the essential representation of
the relation of Glaspell's writing and Cook.
A psychoanalytic reading of The Verge would
undoubtedly reveal many more insights into theme, action,
and character that go beyond the scope of this study, but
this methodology seems key to the interpretation of
Claire's character at one moment central to the action. In
the middle of Act II, at the structural heart of the play,
Claire is embroiled in conflict with her sister Adelaide,
who stands for traditional, self -sacrificing femininity.
Adelaide cannot fa thorn Claire's lack of interest in her
daughter Elizabeth, whom her mother views as a finished,
unsuccessful experiment like the Edge Vine, which
reverted to its original form. Adelaide wants Claire to be
like herself:
Adelaide: ... it's time for you to call a halt to
this nonsense and be the woman you were meant to
Claire: What inside dope have you on what I
was meant to be?
Adelaide: I know where you came from.
Claire: Well, isn't it about time somebody got
loose from that? What I came from made you.
(Verge, 61)
Adelaide feels Claire's behavior is unnatural, and
thinks she's "never known the faintest stirring of a
mother's love" (Verge, 72). But Harry reveals, "Claire
loved our boy," (Verge, 72) and a few moments later Claire
tells Tom about her baby:
In his short life were many flights. I never told
anyone about the last one. His little bed was by
the window--he wasn't four years old ... He saw
the morning star ... Brighter--stranger--
reminiscent--and a promise. He pointed--"Mother,"
he asked me, "what is there--beyond the stars?" A
baby, a sick baby--the morning star. Next night--
the finger that pointed was . . . (Verge, 80)
In the baby, significantly named David--God's
beloved, and a type for Christ--Claire clearly sees an
image of herself, and the potential for escape, for flight.
Irigaray discusses the significance of the mother-son rela-
tionship for Freud in her essay on psychoanalytic theory:
"Becoming the mother of a son, the woman will be able to
'transfer to her son all the ambition which she has been
obliged to suppress in herself'" (Irigaray, This Sex, 42).
Like the female narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper,"
Claire's hysteria is connected to maternity. It appears
that Claire's loss of her child somehow compelled her to
find another outlet for her "ambition," but her alternate
form of self -expression impinges on the (putatively) male
domain of creativity. A probable autobiographical con-
nection here between Glaspell and her heroine may illu-
minate this section. Within a year of Glaspell's marriage
to Cook, she became pregnant, but lost the child, and was
unable to have another. Glaspell does not dwell on this,
but the depth of its impact on her, and the relation of the
event to her work, is conveyed poignantly in this passage
from The Road to the Temple:
"Another time," we said. "It will be different
another time."
"It's a fibroid tumor," said the doctor in New
York ... "and you'd better just let it alone. You
won't have children while you have it, and you
mustn't have them, with that heart lesion." ... I do
not know how to tell the story of Jig [Cook's nick-
name] without telling this. Women say to one:
"You have your work. Your books are your chil-
dren, aren't they?" And you look at the diapers
airing by the fire, and wonder if they really think
you are like that. .. .
There were other disappointments, and Jig and
I did not have children. Perhaps it is true there
was a greater intensity between us because of this.
Even that, we would have foregone. (Temple, 239)
"I do not know how to tell the story of Jig without
telling this." Her biography of him--as if the only way
she can speak of him is through her loss of rna ternal
power, a loss that cannot be made up for by her writing,
yet without which she could not have written. And the
closeness between them, the result of her loss, is diametri-
cally opposed to her infertility, her inability to create in
the way that is more meaningful, certainly for Cook, and
very possibly for herself as well.
This tension between forms of female
creativity pervades The Verge. Claire, a failed mother,
searches desperately for alternate modes of expression,
and has particular difficulty with language, which in
turn becomes aligned with her other types of conflict and
production. Early in Act I, Claire's speech is associated
with her attempt to break free of patriarchal constraints.
Her husband remonstrates, "Claire! What language you
use! A person knowing you only by certain moments
could never be made to believe you are a refined woman"
(Verge, 18). Harry, oblivious at this point to Claire's
affair with Dick, tells him shortly thereafter that Claire
studies Latin: "--a woman that reads Latin needn't worry
a husband much .. . . a woman who lives a good deal in
her mind never does have much--well, what you might
call passion" (Verge, 23). Glaspell exposes here the con-
ventional opposition of intellect and emotion, and shows
through Claire that a woman, traditionally only emotional
and not at all intellectual, need not be exclusively one or
the other, but energetically both. That the study of lan-
guage is the image she uses to convey this full humanity
seems particularly apt.
Claire's manipulation of language and knowledge
of its nuances parallels her sensitivity to plant forms.
Indeed, she sees a direct connection between words and
plants, and she identifies herself as both botanist and
poet. Her Act II conflict with Adelaide makes the use of
language metaphorically linked to horticulture:
Adelaide: Come, come, now--lets not juggle
Claire: How dare you say that to me, Adelaide.
You who are such a liar and thief and whore
with words!
Adelaide: How dare you--. ..
Claire: Yes, I do dare. I'm tired of what you
do--you and all of you. Life--experience--values--
calm--sensitive words which raise their heads as
indications. And you pull them up--to decorate
your stagnant little minds. (Verge, 69)
Glaspell manipulates Claire's speech to demonstrate
her rational and hysteric phases. Claire, always reaching
toward escape from form, finds herself in "a prison house
of language," as she discovers words cannot permanently
transcend form any more than Breath of Life can. Claire
breaks away from sentences into verse, in the hope that
that will be closer to what she wants to express, but she
finds poetry equally confining:
Let me tell you how it is with me.
I do not want to work,
I want to be;
Do not want to make a rose or make a poem--
Want to lie upon the earth and know.
Stop doing that!--words going into patterns;
They do it sometimes when I let come what's
Thoughts take pattern--then the pattern is the
thing. (Verge, 82)
Glaspell fills Claire's dialogue with dashes and
syntactic gaps, illustrating both her mental distress and
her recognition that language is yet another patriarchal
structure that she   u s ~ deconstruct to make her own.
Like Virginia Woolf's contrast of her own writing to that
of a man's: his "neatest abstracts" vs. her "wildest scribble
of contradictory jottings,"
Glaspell recognizes the tradi-
tional orderliness and structure of drama tic writing, and
experiments tentatively with a new dramaturgy, one that
more closely represents the female expression she is trying
to convey.
Glaspell links Claire's struggle with language to the
Christian symbolism which pervades the drama. Midway
through Act I, Harry remarks:
Harry: It'll do Claire good . .. [t]o get down to
brass tacks and actually say what she's driving at.
Claire: Oh""Harry. But yes--1 will try. [Does
try, but no words come. Laughs.] When you come
to say it it's not--One would rather not nail it to a
cross of words--[Laughs again.] with brass tacks.
(Verge, 51)
Everyday, conventional, and therefore masculine
language becomes a cross for Claire to bear, but at this
early point in the play Glaspell does not yet link Claire's
Christian imagery with patriarchal symbols; indeed, they
seem opposed in this passage. The figure of the cross has
already been associated with Claire's botanical work, for
in the opening stage directions, Glaspell notes:
At the back [of the greenhouse] grows a strange
vine [we learn later this is the Edge Vine]. It is
arresting rather than beautiful. It creeps along the
low wall, and one branch gets a little way up the
glass. You might see the form of a cross in it, if
you happened to think it that way. (Verge,- 2)
But later in the play, when Claire realizes the
experimental vine, which was to have transcended its ini-
tial genetic structure, has reverted to its original form,
she destroys the plant, uprooting it and flinging it at her
daughter Elizabeth, another failed experiment. At this
moment, this "crisis in faith," the Christian symbolism
connected with the plant becomes more problematic.
Christianity, patriarchy, and conventional womanhood all
intersect, and Claire realizes she must reject each of these
related structures if she is to be free. Her helper
Anthony remonstrates:
Anthony: Miss Claire! Miss Claire! The work
of years!
Claire: May only make a prison! You think I
too will die on the edge? Why did I make you? To
get past you! Oh yes, I know you have thorns! The
Edge Vine should have thorns. (Verge, 55-56)
Yet the cross and thorns and Claire's intimation
that she will "die on the edge" suggest Claire sees herself
as a Christ type, a sacrificial victim of the established
ruling order. Thus Glaspell lays the groundwork for the
troubling conclusion of the play. Despite Claire's
understanding of the confining nature of Christianity, she
cannot transcend its imagery in her self -conception. Just
as her avocation, botany, affiliates her with the masculine
scientific realm, so her religious identification ultimately
traps her in its patriarchal structure.
Fittingly, the climax of the play is Claire's
ultimate struggle with Tom, her platonic lover whom she
sees as closest to herself. Glaspell has Claire see Tom as
something like her androgynous double, as both are
explorers, and masculine and feminine imagery are associ-
ated with both. Glaspell conveys this intuitive sympathy
by their ability to communicate without words, but as
Tom ultimately tries to reason with Claire verbally--tries
to keep her from the edge of madness--she finds he, too, is
trying to fix her in a form, in the image he has of her
beauty and his ability to protect her by holding her
within himself. Realizing Tom, her last hope for help
towards independence, represents yet another kind of
male betrayal, she gives in to her sense of desperation.
Tom's last name, Edgeworth y, now takes on ironic
resonance with the Edge Vine, which Claire also feels
betrayed her in its reversion to conventionality. As the
couple embrace, she strangles him, cutting off breath and
words, which she deems her gift, her Breath of Life.
After the murder, she fires off Harry's gun, indicating
her paradoxical triumph by association with the phallic
symbol of power. She has silenced Tom and her feminist,
independent self, and she can only murmur, "Out, out" in
response to others' questions about her action. Claire then
starts singing the first verse of the hymn which serves as
a leitmotif for her throughout the play:
Nearer my God, to Thee
Nearer to Thee,
E'en tho' it be a cross
That raises me;
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee
Nearer to Thee. (Verge, 116)
Although Glaspell presents Claire as the Christ fig-
ure here, seemingly finally escaping all social bonds, the
locus of that liberation is ironically problematic.
Glaspell's climax permanently reinscribes her heroine in
the ultimate patriarchal structure, as Claire embraces
emblems of the Protestant Church and all it historically
represented for women. Rather than a release, this ending
marks Claire's failure to achieve an independent feminist
identity--her ultimate recognition of the inescapability of
the patriarchy.
One possible interpretation of this ending is to see
it as a projection of Glaspell's own conflicts about her
writing. Indebted to Cook, in many ways the product of
Cook, Glaspell nevertheless was clearly trying, in this play
in particular, to move beyond the stylistic and thematic
structures and strictures of "socio-historical . .. realism
and naturalism" (Bach, "Susan Glaspell," 35) that Cook
championed. If the strangulation of Tom is an image of
Glaspell's own feeling of being choked, then Claire's mad
embracing of God the Father may also be her ultimate
recognition of patriarchal control, not only over her own
life, but also over her literary style and techniques. She
seems to have realized that her reliance on men for guid-
ance and dramatic inspiration ultimately constrained her
ability for feminist expression and stylistic independence.
For several years prior to the writing of The Verge,
Cook had been telling Glaspell that they would soon move
permanently to Greece, to fulfill his lifelong ambition of
communing with the roots of civilization and culture. At
the end of the 1921-22 season, after the relatively success-
ful production of The Verge, and after his Nietzschean
drama, The Spring, had met with critical disfavor, Cook
announced it was "time to go to Greece" (Temple, 311).
Just as Glaspell was beginning to come into her own as a
woman dramatist, she gave up her room and her stage.
Cook died in Greece only a few years later, and Glaspell
returned to America, but like her Edge Vine, her writing
reverted to its original form. She wrote several other
short and full-length dramas, one of which, Allison's
House, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1931. But these plays are
more conventional, both in theme and structure, than the
writing she produced at the time of The Verge. Glaspell's
career is markedly like the fate of Catherine Cl€ment's
. the hysteric, following where the sorceress
leads, is split between man and woman ... She is
between the family walls, which she does not leave,
and a jeune naissance (a new young birth), the I-
nnascence that is not yet accomplished. ("Guilty,"
1£arlier versions of certain sections of this paper
were delivered at the following conferences: "Women, the
Arts and Society" (Susquehana University, Nov. 1988),
American Society for Theatre Research (Nov. 1988),
Modern Language Association (Dec. 1988). I am grateful
to my colleagues at these conferences and elsewhere for
the many helpful comments and suggestions I received.
2Susan Glaspell, The Road to the Temple (New York:
Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1927), 305. All subsequent
references are to this edition and will be cited textually
as Temple.
8Gerhard Bach, "Susan Glaspell--Provincetown
Playwright," Great Lakes Review 4 (Winter 1978): 36. All
subsequent references will be cited textually.
Linda Ben-Zvi, "Susan Glaspell and Eugene
O'Neill," Eugene O'Neill Newsletter 6 (Summer-Fall 1982):
27. All subsequent references will be cited textually.
Susan Glaspell, The Verge (Boston: Small, Maynard
& Company, 1922), 2. All subsequent references are to
this edition and will be cited textually.
Richard Sennett, "Plate Glass," Raritan 6 (Spring
1987): 2.
7Robert Karoly Sarl6s, Jig Cook and the Provin-
cetown Players (Amherst: University of Massachusetts
Press, 1982), 9. All subsequent references will be cited
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper,"
The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, eds. Sandra
M Gilbert and Susan Gubar (New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, 1985), 1148-1161.
Floyd Dell, Women as World Builders (Chicago:
Forbes and Company, 1913).
Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady (New York:
Penguin Books, 1987).
11Arthur Waterman, Susan Glaspell (New York:
Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1966), 82. I am grateful to Dr.
Charles Gainor for his explanation of the botanical and
genetic implications of DeVries's research, particularly
the addition of information on the medium for experi-
mentation, the flower the Evening Primrose, which makes
the connection to Claire's work much more compelling.
12For a discussion of this "genericizing" of Claire's
male companions, see Julie Holledge, Innocent Flowers:
Women in the Edwardian Theatre (London: Virago, 1981 ).
Millay's Aria Da Capo, produced the preceding
season, has been identified as absurdist, and may thus
have influenced Glaspell tonally as well as stylistically
(Bach, "Susan Glaspell," 36).
Simone de Beauvoir, Introduction to The Second
Sex, trans. H.M. Parshley, in New French Feminisms, eds.
Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivon (New York:
Schocken Books, 1981 ), 44.
15 Alice Jardine, "Gynesis," in Critical Theory Since
1965, eds. Hazard· Adams and Leroy Searle (Tallahassee:
Florida State University Press, 1986), 565.
Luce lrigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans.
Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985),
28-29. All subsequent references will be cited textually.
17Catherine Cl€ment, "The Guilty One," in
Cixous and Catherine   The Newly Born Woman,
trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1986), 5. All subsequent references will be cited
18W. David Sievers, Freud on Broadway (New York:
Hermitage House, 1955), 71. All subsequent references
will be cited textually.
19Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (San Diego:
Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1957), 84-85.
WALTER J. MESERVE, Distinguished Professor of
Theatre and English at the Graduate School, CUNY, is
preparing volume three, Echoes of the Public Voice: the
Drama of the American People, 1859 to 1889, of his six-
volume history of American dramatic literature.
STANLEY KAUFFMANN is the film critic of the New
Republic, and teaches in the Theatre Program of the Grad-
uate School of the City University of New York.
GERALD WEALES, Professor Emeritus of the English
Department, University of Pennsylvania, reviews plays
for Commonweal and the Georgia Review. Among hi s
books are American Drama Since World War II and The
Jumping-Off Place: American Drama in the 1960's. The
present essay was written for Critical Essays on Tennessee
Williams, Robert Martin, ed., to be published by G.K. Hall.
DON B. WILMETH, Professor of Theatre and English at
Brown University, is a member of the advisory editorial
board for the The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre (1988)
and author of the award-winning George Frederick Cooke:
Machiavel of the Stage (1980). His present essay was writ-
ten for Splintered Images: Dramatic Visions of the West,
Krystan Douglas, ed., to be published by the University of
Mexico Press. A companion checklist of Indian plays will
appear in the Fall 1989 issue of JADT.
J. ELLEN GAINOR, Assistant Professor of Theatre,
Cornell University, is currently at work on a critical
study of the plays of Susan Glaspell.
For your subscription to JADT (three issues), please com-
plete the form below and mail it, along with your pay-
ment of $12.00, to:
Journal of American Drama and Theatre
CUNY Graduate Center
33 W. 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
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