Volume IV
Spring 1992
Vera Mowry Roberts-
Joel Berkowitz
CUNY Graduate Schoo
Managing Editor
Edwin Wilson
Assistant Editors
CASTA Copyright 1992
Walter J. Meserve
James Masters
The Journal of American Drama and Theatre (ISSN 1044-937X) is
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University of California,
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College of WHiiam and Mary
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University of California,
Don B. Wilmeth
Brown University
Volume IV
Mark Fearnow
John W. Frick
John V. Antush
Anne Stavney
Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix
Table of Contents
Spring 1992 Number2
Chaos and Cruelty In the
Theatrical Space: Horse Eats Hat,
Hellzapoppin', and the Pleasure of
Farce in Depression America ............ 5
•He Drank From the Poisoned Cup•:
Theatre, Culture and
Temperance In
Antebellum America ......................... 21
Roberto Rodrrguez Suarez:
Transcultural Catalyst of
Puerto Rican Drama ........................ 42
Reverence and Repugnance:
Willy Loman's Sentiments
Toward His Son Bitt ......................... 54
Katharine Corcoran and
Margaret Fleming: Exploring
The Feminist Dynamic ..................... 63
Contributors ......................................................................................... 82
Manuscripts should be prepared In conformity with The Chicago
Manual of Style, 13th eel., 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 wHI constitute the jury of selection. Address editorial Inquiries
and manuscript submissions to the Editors, Journal of American
Drama and Theatre, Ph. D. Program In Theatre, CUNY Graduate
Center, 33 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036.
CAST A Publications are supported by generous grants from the
Lucille Lortel Chair In Theatre and the Sidney E. Cohn Chair In
Theatre Studies In the Ph.D. Program in Theatre at the City University
of New York.
Mark Fearnow
Swing music is dangerously hypnotic. [ltl is cunningly
devised to a faster tempo than the human pulse and tends to
break down conventions.
-Psychologist to The New York Times, 1936
Mfhe Dipsy Doodle,• "Tutti Fruitl," "Flat Foot Aoogie with the
Floy Aoy"
-Three of the top hit songs of 1937
FIBBER: Gosh darn it, I'll fix it myself. Where's my hammer?
Oh, it's in the closet.
MOLLY: (in alarm) Don't open that door, McGee!
--From Fibber McGee and Molly, radio's most
popular program for much of the Thirties
Hurry, please. The wortd is coming to an end and I have a
lot to do.
-New York woman to bus station operator upon
hearing Orson Welles's War of the Worlds
broadcast, October 29, 1938. 1
In 1931, Robert E. Sherwood proclaimed that Depression culture
was rich with evidence of the "anarchistic impulse . . . to be drunk
and disorderty, to smash laws and ikons, to draw a mustache and
beard on the Mona Lisa, to be a hurler of bombs and monkey wren-
ches. • For him, this turn toward anarchy was a manifestation of
people's desperate desire to express their individuality in the face of
a •revealed future• of totalitarian government, enforced uniformity,
and the technological manipulation of human reproduction and
Certainly the combined factors of economic collapse,
threatening world war, the rise of dictatorships, and the rapid
encroachment of technology into everyday life spawned in many the
dark dread that civilization as they knew it was approaching its •end
times." Every day the newspaper seemed to bring word of new inter-
national and domestic disasters: Invasions In Europe and East Asia,
rampant unemployment, violent strikes, kidnapplngs, and the
notorious exploits of organized crime. Even nature seemed out of
balance, as a devastating drought lingered In the Midwest and Plains
and a hurricane of unprecedented violence killed thousands In
Rhode Island and Connecticut. 'What a hell of a time we are facing, •
Faulkner wrote to a friend. The world that would be left, he wrote,
'would certainly not be worth living for. • Still, he had a great desire to·
keep working, •to scratch the face of the supreme Obliteration and
leave a decipherable scar of some sort. •3
The grotesque Inevitably comes Into play when artists engage In
the oxymoronic feat of giving ,orm• to •anarchy." Faulkner's own
work of the Depression Is full of examples of desecration, of the
"smashing of ikons:• the calamitous gangster funeral in Sanctuary, in
which the coffin spills its contents onto the floor amidst a general
melee; the Inchoate, fractured, frustratingly comic story-telling of
Quentin Compson in Absalom, Absalom!; the convict's absurd
adventures floating atop assorted buildings in the flood of The Wild
Palms. In every case, this attempt to depict chaos took the form of
Eric Bentley has pointed out the vast possibilities of farce to enact
aggression against convention, calling farce "a veritable structure of
absurdities. •
With Its rapid pace and surprising turn-abouts, farce
has the greatest potential of any form to "capture• chaos In an
aesthetic object. Farce tends naturally toward the grotesque, as it
places characters In perilous situations (threatened with discovery,
injury, or even death) that exist In a ridiculous world. Thus, farce
leads the audience to laugh at the character's persistent misfortunes
and suffering, the comic life preserved by the peculiar dreamlike
quality of the action. This ·dream contract" allows the audience to
laugh at events that, if they were to occur in a melodrama, would
provoke empathy and commiseration. •Farce deals with the unreal,"
writes Albert Bermel, -with the worst one can dream or dread. Farce
is cruel, often brutal, even murderous."5
To be sure, the popularity achieved by farce In the Depression
was not a novel phenomenon. Farces had proven themselves to be
money-makers throughout the history of the American theatre. Such
plays as Up in Mabel's Room and the record-setting Abie's Irish
Rose had dominated the American commercial stage of the 1920s, a
decade that also witnessed the rise of the Marx Brothers, George S.
Kaufman, and Mae West as theatrical sensations. The Thirties saw a
continuation of the tradition as such plays as Three Men on A Horse
(1935-1938), Boy Meets Girl (1935-1938), Separate Rooms (1940-
1943), Brother Rat (1936-1939), What A Life! (1938-1941), and Room
Service (1937-1939) were among the seventeen productions that ran
on Broadway for more than five-hundred performances. These
plays, all of them but Separate Rooms being George Abbott
products, exhibited the breakneck pace, Improbable narratives, and
pressing circumstances that most people associate with farce. The
physical and verbal attacks upon authority figures that the
protagonists are allowed to enjoy in these plays certainly offered
Depression audiences considerable Freudian pleasure and con-
tributed to making farce the leading form In the commercial theatre.
Still, these plays were mild In their effects when compared with two
others from the period, productions that tapped an energy peculiar
to the American scene in the 1930s.
Orson Welles's production of Horse Eats Hat and the Olsen and
Johnson "scream-lined revue, • Hellzapoppin', exceeded the tradi-
tional boundaries of farce by raising the level of danger In the per-
formance to new heights and by extending the disorder of the narra-
tive into the audience's half of the theatre space. These violations of
convention enhanced the antic release typical of farce, producing
performances variously described as "mad, • "chaotic, • and
"orgiastic.• The levels of frenzy and release in these performances
corresponded to the high level of cultural tension in the 1930s.
These performances exploited and then surpassed the conventions
of farce, becoming powerful enactments of the "anarchistic Impulse,"
and making the farces of Abbott and Kaufman look tame and literary
by comparison.
Horse Eats Hat did not achieve the kind of long run enjoyed by
the other plays mentioned here. It opened as the first production of
Orson Welles's and John Houseman's W.P.A. "Project 891" in late
September, 1936, and ran for only sixty-one performances. Yet the
production did have a cult following among certain segments of the
population. On the evening of its closing, only people who had seen
the production at least twice were allowed to enter, and the audience
was said to include a number of people who had seen the production
as many as twenty times. 6 Though the later performances are
described as festive occasions of much cheering and hilarity, the
audience response in the early weeks was said to be more silent
shock than amusement. Marc Connelly described one performance
in which he and John Dos Passos "screamed with laughter"
throughout the evening, while the rest of the audience sat in a state
of •general apathy."
Richard Watts of the Herald-Tribune was not
alone in giving the play a negative review at its opening. He
described feeling "that dismal embarrassment which comes to one
when actors are indulging in a grim determination to be high-spirited
and there Is nothing to be high-spirited about. •8
The audience's alienation in the early performances can be
explained by the machinelike quality that Welles instilled in the pro-
duction. As In his other work for the theatre, he directed the play as
a puppeteer, moving actors and scenery around the stage and
auditorium with a mechanical adroitness. The script was developed
by Welles with the translator Edwin Denby from Eugene Labiche's Un
chapeau de pallle d'ltalie (1851). Though Welles maintained the
basic plot and comic tensions of the original play (near-discoveries,
mistaken Identities, disguise), his version contained .fewer scenes,
focusing the action more tightly on the central character (Freddie) In
his single-minded pursuit of a hat and leaving the audience to fill in
many gaps in the narrative. The adaptation selected only the scenes
  to the one comic action, beginning by dramatizing the
scene of the horse eating the hat (which was related through
dialogue in the original) and ending with the frantic celebration of the
wedding party when the hat had been found. While the overall action
was simpler than In Labiche, Welles expanded the comic life of the
scenes, drawing them out In length and Interjecting problems of the
theatre into them. Freddie does not just have to find a certain hat
somewhere In Paris while being closely pursued by his wedding
party. He also has to cope with the fact that he is acting in a compli-
cated play in which things keep going wrong, and in which fellow
characters wander into the •other world .. of the auditorium.
Throughout its length, the new version displayed Welles's attrac-
tion to a literal enactment of a Bergsonian notion of humor. Welles
consistently constructed scenes in which characters behave in the
manner of mechanical toys, their energies wound up and then
released. In one scene, the hero is attempting to explain to his fian-
cee why he must, for the protection of a married woman's reputation,
find a particular kind of woman's hat:
TIWE: Freddie, if you ever lie to me, there is nothing I
wouldn't stop at. NOTHING! I might act pretty rash.
(SHE slaps him on L. cheek, HE turns head front slowly.
FREDDIE slaps her on L. cheek, and SHE turns front
slowly. Arm in arm, THEY walk down and stop In front
of chairs. Pause, then slap EACH OTHER.)
Now sit down and tell me all about it. 9
This mechanical sort of choreography appears in the stage direc-
tions throughout the play. In other scenes, characters are described
as taking •3 large steps" or two characters in tandem are directed to
take a •step A. .. after each line (11-19). Freddie and Gustave engage
in a protracted •contest• of heel-clicking and bowing (111-3). Later,
Gustave •responds to each phrase with an Oh, each growing in
Intensity and the last one continues into a laugh• (111-4). Other
characters are described as holding their hands in specific positions,
jumping backward before speaking each word in a phrase, suddenly
choking one another, or entering in the •wrong• scene and being
directed by the •prompter• to •GET OUT!• (Ill, 4-14). In the last
instance, Welles adds to the joke of this revelation of the theatre
machine by having Freddie, now uncertain of what to say next as this
scene from his life has been disrupted, turn front and shout the old
vaudeville line, ·save the furniture! . .. Save the furniture!· The
"prompter" restores the mechanical works by feeding Freddie his cue
(111-14). Similar meta-theatrical jokes occurred when scenery fell
down to reveal seemingly surprised actors in little clothing or in vari-
ous compromising positions.10
The machinelike functioning of the production reached its :peak in
the last scene of Act Ill, a scene that Houseman describes as •one of
the most extravagant accumulations of farcical horror ever
assembled behind the proscenium arch of a respectable American
theatre-not excluding Hellzapoppin'. •11 He found It so uncomfort-
able to watch the scene that he usually left the theatre just before it
reached its climax:
I can still see Joe Cotten, wearing his bright yellow leather
gloves, with the coveted straw hat grasped firmly between
his teeth, caught between the Countess' indignant guests
[each of whom produced and began to fire a pistol] and the
vengeful pursuit of the wedding party, leaping from sofa to
table to chandelier which, at that Instant, started to rise like a
great golden bird, carrying him upward into a wild, forty-foot
flight into the fly-loft, while a three-tiered fountain flung a
giant jet upward at the seat of his pants and Cotten himself,
clinging to the rising chandelier with one hand and grasping
a siphon in the other, squirted streams of soda water over
the madly whirling crowds below. As he rose, scenery
moved erratically up and down; props seized with a sudden
life of their own, were seen to fly off suddenly in various
directions and a huge ·Paris-by-night• backdrop came crash-
ing down onto the stage floor, narrowly missing a platoon of
stagehands--one of them in red flannel underwear--who had
chosen this moment to carry a thirty-two foot ladder slowly,
horizontally and imperturbably across the stage. 12
Just after this frantic scene, before the audience could leave the
theatre for intermission, a woman dressed as a hussar appeared in
the right mezzanine box and played two trumpet solos. During the
applause for her performance, a player piano began to play ·sweet
Rosie O'Grady• in the left upper box as a drunken member of the
wedding party stumbled into view. Feeling trapped in the box, he
climbed over the railing,
. . . then, with a great cry, he slipped and fell and remained
hanging, head down, with one foot caught In the railing,
swinging like an erratic pendulum over the heads of the
audience while the mechanical piano switched to Llszt's
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.13
Houseman's anxieties about this part of the performance must have
seemed validated when, late in the run; the actor slipped while climb-
Ing over the railing, fell into the auditorium, and broke his leg In
several places.
It Is unlikely that the attacks on the production by the Hearst
newspapers were In response only to the rather tame sexual
references It contained or to the expense of so massive a
government-financed production. In addition to these more obvious
factors, there Is the question of the play's psychic liberation of its
audience. Welles's production was a battering ram for smashing
through conventions, both social and aesthetic. It did the usual job
of farce in •desecrating the household gods• (Bentley) of marriage,
respect for parents, respect for the law, and then went on to bring
desecration to the subject of performance itself. The production
showed an undeniable extravagance in threatening the audience,
first by pulling down the conventions of performance at will (the fall-
ing scenery, the fake miscues) and then by placing actors in posi-
tions of actual physical peril.
John Houseman's Impulse to leave the theatre before the
dangerous scene of Joseph Cotten's sudden flight Into the loft and
Bill Baird's suspension from the railing of the upper box was proba-
bly shared by many in the audience. Not only is there actual danger
in staging such scenes, no matter how well rehearsed they may be,
but Welles also deliberately constructed these moments to make
them look as dangerous as they were. In the flying scene, the sud-
den, chaotic changing of scenery and the introduction of the ladder-
bearing stagehand into the theatrical world creates a feeling of dis-
order In the performance itself, urging the spectator to engage in the
thought that something has gone wrong. At the same time, one
would tell oneself that "It's all part of the play,• but the doubt has
been firmly planted, and the tension would not be relieved until the
scene had ended. But it was not clear when the scene was over;
Welles kept prolonging the tension. Richard France, who Interviewed
Welles, Houseman, and actors involved in the production,
reconstructs the moment after Cotten's ascent:
The entire scene becomes chaotic; even the setting seems
to be out of control. Back drapes go up. The front curtain
tumbles to the floor. Prop men pick their way through the
debris trying to save what they can. . . . Finally six butlers in
livery pick their way to the footlights and announce, "Supper
is served!" The curtain falls.15
But the scene Is still not over. As the houselights go on, the
trumpeter begins her playing, followed by the piano and the meta-
theatrical episode of the drunken guest. The act was not really over
until. Baird had completed his "controlled fall" onto a mattress in the
orchestra pit and the audience could make its way safely Into the
The point here is that Welles's accentuation of both the machinery
of the theatre and the physical endangerment of the actors con-
tributed to a shattering,_ thrilling theatrical event that provided some
of its audience members a secret, terrible pleasure. Uke spectators
at an auto race or a tight-rope exhibition, they were allowed to enjoy
seeing another person in a situation of grave risk. The ,easing• that
Welles engaged In by exposing the workings of the theatre machine
heightened this experience by removing from it some of the security
that one feels In the safety of a performance. Those repeated meta-
theatrical jokes prevented people from saying to themselves with
complete confidence, "It's all part of the play.• Welles presented a
theatre machine in which things seem to go wrong, in which the
machine itself at times seemed to seize the controls, In which human
beings had but an insecure charge of the theatrical world. The result
was a theatre piece that offered the pleasure of extreme violations,
that toyed not just with the usual "pretend" danger of the discovery of
an amorous couple by a jealous husband, but with the physical
safety of the actors themselves In a mad, Irrational world. Those who
found the play hilarious, who joined into this unusually dangerous
festival spirit, were enjoying the explosion of reality's rules--a comic
apocalypse, a taunting of physics, phenomenology, and the oppres-
sive logic of history. Here, the seeming inevitability of civilization's
doom, the pressing relationship of events and their consequences, of
economic disaster and war, were suspended and ridiculed. One
"world" could at any moment collapse and show itself to be a sham
constructed by another "world. • The audience could enjoy a
vicarious liberation from the pressures of the age through the magi-
cal possibilities of Welles' well-timed fate-machine, a psychic partici-
pation in the hero's escape from the mob on a cooperative and flying
The question must Inevitably arise as to why, if Horse Eats Hat
was so powerful in its effects, it left many audience members cold
and unlaughing. Connelly described these people as 'Watching it,
rather than sharing in it;" they seemed, he said, "not attuned to the
play."16 In many ways, the production was typical of pieces that
have tended to attract "cult" rather than "mass" audiences. Like The
Rocky Horror Picture Show or the plays of Charles Ludlum, the pro-
duction plied a brand of the grotesque that appealed to a passionate
minority with specific sensitivities. The consistent attack of Horse
Eats Hat--the destruction of the Image of the theatre as metaphor for
a rational world-seems to have been especially attractive to artists
and intellectuals. In addition to the story of Connelly and Dos Passos
laughing "like hyenas" in the midst of a stone-faced audience, there is
Martin   statement that "the fine arts world-the opera buffs
and curators-many of them adored it. •1
As In any manifestation of
the grotesque, a portion of the audience was likely to have been
merely puzzled or even bored by spectacle. As with certain other
twentieth-century examples of the grotesque composed by highly
self-conscious artists-such as the Surrealists and Futurists-Welles's
production did not prove accessible to a mass audience. The per-
formance worked Its particular liberation only for a coterie •attuned"
to Welles's personal comic vision. The mass of theatre-goers were
left to seek escape in entertainments with lower thresholds and
•lower" jokes.
If Orson Welles experimented with extending the chaos of farce
into the auditorium In Horse Eats Hat, Olsen and Johnson expanded
and exploited this maneuver to its utmost in the massively popular
Hellzapoppln'. Here, the narrative pretense of a "revue" was con-
stantly interrupted by staged incidents in the auditorium that Included
various forms of physical attacks on the audience. For three hours,
the audience was tricked, showered with beans, blasted with air
hoses, accosted by actors costumed as gorUias and clowns, fired
upon with blank charges, and--finally--thrown out of the theatre by
male and female "cleaning women... Olsen and Johnson pretended
to struggle throughout the evening to get the revue back on track by
moving from one "legitimate" vaudeville act to the next: but the hosts
seemed to find themselves perpetually overwhelmed by insanity,
their own and that of the multitude of audience "plants.· Though
most critics at its opening found Hellzapoppin' to be excessively loud
and vulgar (Burns Mantle called It •a noisy and irresponsible riot"),
the show quickly began playing to near-capacity audiences In New
York and In tours across the country. The production was a
phenomenon of environmental absurdity that has not been repeated
in the American commercial theatre.18
Hellzapoppin' opened In New York at the Forty-sixth Street
Theatre In September, 1938, but soon moved to the larger Winter
Garden. The production was assembled by Ole Olsen and Chic
Johnson, vaudeville "headliners" for over twenty-five years, who
created the piece from gags that they had used on a smaller scale for
years in their tours of the fading vaudeville circuit. With the addition
of original music by Sammy Fain and the Insertion of a dozen "real"
variety acts, Olsen and Johnson created a spectacle that ran on
Broadway for 1,404 performances. During the New York run and as
late as 1943, two touring companies played versions of the show in
cities across the country, with Olsen and Johnson's roles taken first
by Billy House and Eddie Garr (fresh from his performance as Jeeter
in Tobacco Road), and later by Lew Parker and an almost unknown
young comedian named Jackie Gleason.
9 After 1940, the show was
called The New Hellzapoppin ', but the framework and most of the
gags remained the same. A largely unsuccessful attempt to adapt
the "accidental" and meta-theatrical effects of the live performance to
the medium of film was produced by Mayfair and released by
Universal Pictures In 1941.20 Olsen and Johnson attempted to revive
the show in London in 1948, but it ran for only a short time. Unblush-
ing in their attempts to capitalize on their single Broadway success,
Olsen and Johnson again •revived" the piece as part of a water show
in Flushing Meadow, Queens, in 1959. The event was titled Hellz-a-
splashin': An Aqua-cade.21
The original Hellzapoppin' was by no means a traditional, in the
sense of narrative, farce. Reviewers struggled to define a genre for
the production, choosing words ranging from "musical comedy" to
"vaudeville" and "circus." Brooks Atkinson avoided the problem
altogether by warning in the opening line, "Folks, it's going to be a
little difficult to describe this one .. and then referring to the production
throughout the review simply as "it. "22 But the piece did have much
in common with farce, both in the loose narrative of two comics put-
ting on a show that keeps getting out of control and In its character-
istic effects of comic violence and desecration of moral and aesthetic
Much of an evening of Hellzapoppin' was enveloped in the
grotesque, as various acts of violence and mutilation were carried
out with comic exuberance. Between the "legitimate" acts (which
included two vocal quartets, a magician, a comic dancer, several
large musical numbers with a female chorus), and often in competi-
tion with them, a large cast of "stooges" disrupted the "official .. per-
formance with their own, often violent, activities: A seemingly nude
woman mounted on a white horse enters an upper box, proclaims
herself to be Lady Godiva, and remains there, with the horse,
throughout the performance; a man who has been wandering the
aisles calling out desperately for •Lena" is eventually shot by Olsen
and his body dragged off stage; vendors move frequently through
the auditorium selling snacks, balloons, razor blades; a man hawks
tickets for Abe Lincoln in Illinois, a competing show on Broadway;
during a total black-out, an amplified voice describes the millions of
spiders and snakes that have escaped into the theatre; at the same
time, technicians clad In black move through the theatre, tossing
small beans down people's necks, shooting compressed air at their
feet, and tickling their heads and necks with stringy 'easers• on long
poles; an actor dressed as a gorilla enters a box and removes a
screaming young woman as her •date• cowers In fear; a woman In
the orchestra seating repeatedly shushes her screaming •baby-
which, after a gunshot during a black-out, is heard no more; a •music
lover- in the balcony repeatedly calls out for the orchestra to play his
favorite pieces; •Lena• enters and wanders the aisles calling out for
"Oscar-; not finding him, she commits suicide in the orchestra; actors
shave, wash clothes, and make sounds on various unusual musical
instruments from the boxes; a woman makes her way noisily from
the middle of the orchestra section to the aisle and then announces
that she Is not leaving, but is only going to the "ladies room•; a silent
and annoying clown wanders the aisles with a perpetual look of sad-
ness and gloom, soliciting hand-outs and sympathy; the clown is
eventually placed In a cannon and seemingly fired through the roof; a
delivery boy attempts throughout the performance to detiver a plant
to a •Mrs. Jones"; the plant grows larger with each entrance and, by
the end of the performance, he is found seated in its branches in the
lobby, still calling out for •Mrs. Jones. "23
The "official" performance itself was grotesque enough. The eve-
ning began with a •newsreel" featuring footage of Adolf Hitler, Mus-
solini, -Winston Churchill, Roosevelt, and LaGuardia, all of them
speaking with incongruous ethnic accents and all in praise of the
show that was about to begin; Hitler spoke with a thick Yiddish
accent. After the entrance of Johnson and Olsen in a car pulling a
trailer, an "escape artist" was introduced and, with a drum-roll
accompaniment, he attempted to free himself from a straight-jacket
in the promised thirty seconds. Unable to free himself, and growing
ever more frantic, the man was dragged off-stage, only to reappear--
still struggling and flopping on the floor--at unexpected moments
throughout the evening. "Barto and Mann" was a vaudeville team
notable for the two men's great difference in height: Barto was over
seven feet tall and Mann less than five. Part of their act consisted of
an absurd "ballroom" dance, with Barto In "drag, .. throwing Mann
around the stage and performing highly athletic leaps from off the
smaller man's bent leg.
4 In another sketch, Mann played a father
attempting to discipline his enormous child, who continually
pounded his father on the head. A later act featured a woman
named Shirley Wayne, described by Atkinson as looking "as though
she were just on the point of frying a mess of doughnuts," who
played poorly on the violin. Near the end of the evening, after vari-
ous musical acts and chorus numbers, Olsen and Johnson held a
"raffle" in which they gave away various large items to members of
the audience: a six-foot wooden stepladder, a mop, a child's toilet
chair, a twenty-five pound bag of flour, a live chicken, a twenty-
pound block of Ice. Olsen and Johnson forced resistant audience
members to accept the "prizes." One moment featured In a maga-
zine spread shows a man explaining that he doesn't need the ice
because he has a refrigerator, while Johnson Insists, "You'll take it
and like it!"25
Hellzapoppin' offered a superlative example of Bentley's notion of
farce as "hostility enjoying itself. • Here, for a few hours, every
violence was possible without risk. Beatings, murder, suicide,
attacks on every kind of authority were carried out in a context of fun.
The show's expression of hostility toward authority was not limited to
the grotesque imagejvoice manipulations of the opening "newsreel."
Olsen and Johnson brought the aggression into the theatre itself
when they directed a comic anger toward the New York critics. On
the opening night of The New Hellzapoppin' in December, 1939, the
critics were singled out of the audience for abuse. As the evening
progressed, they were the special targets for lobbed bananas, beans,
and hard-boiled eggs; in addition, the "raffle" was rigged so that the
critics were presented with all of the prizes. Olsen and Johnson
wrote a special sketch for the occasion, in which actors portrayed
the eight members of the New York Critics Circle meeting to discuss
their failure to close Hellzapoppin' and so further their goal of a world
with "no actors, no plays, no theatres; nothing but critics.· At one
moment in the short sketch, Arthur Pollock challenged the chair,
John Anderson, and the exchange ended In a concise statement of
Olsen and Johnson's explanation for the popularity of their show:
POLLOCK: I saw Hellzapoppin' and I thought it was kinda
ANDERSON: (bangs gavel on Pollock's hand; picks up selt
zer bottle and squirts him in the face with it) I suppose
you think that's funny?
POLLOCK: Yes. It has an element of surprise.
ANDERSON: (Picks up pie and socks Pollock in the face
with it) Do you mean to tell me this Is funny?
POLLOCK: It's primitive, but there's a certain public demand
for it.26
The "public demand" for the comic belittlement of authority was at
the core of Olsen and Johnson's attacks on the critics. They defined
the critics as representatives of "official" taste, and so the attacks on
them became a part of the more general inversion of values.
When asked by a columnist to define what Hellzapoppin' really
was, Olsen responded:
What is it? Just a lot of fun. We think people want fun these
days. No, we don't say It is necessarily comedy. It's fun
when everybody has a part in it, when the audience feels that
it is a part of the show. It's fun when you laugh with it. It's
comedy when you laugh at it. 27
What Olsen says about fun being the dominant mode of the show
resonates with Bentley's idea of fun as the •ordering principle• of the
universe of farce:
In farce chance ceases to seem chance, and mischief has
method in its madness. One final effect of farce is that mis-
chief, fun, misrule seem an equivalent of fate, a force not our-
selves making, neither for righteousness nor for catastrophe,
but for aggression without risk. 28
Fun made Hellzapoppin' the ultimate escapist theatre experience
of the Great Depression. In a position of actual safety. Its audiences
could play at participating in every kind of desecration Imaginable,
and all of it controlled by a principle of fun--and so beyond their per-
sonal or social responsibility. The very title, Hellzapoppin', implied
the temporary but unstoppable reign of a dark and mischievous
force. Audiences, bombarded on every side by shocks and explo-
sions, could experience the overturning of conventional notions of
"the good• without themselves taking on any guilt for the con-
sequences. Even Olsen and Johnson played at being innocent vic-
tims of· this invertive power, struggling to put on a "real" show, but
finding disorder at every turn.
The creators of Hellzapoppin' were conscious of the relation of
the production to the present moment, finding a correlation between
the seeming madness of the cultural moment and the antic pleasures
offered by the show. A letter written by Olsen and Johnson to the
columnist John Anderson resembles nothing so much as the
manifestoes of the French Surrealists in the Teens and Twenties, as
they urged a kind of art adequate to the terrific energies of their
Dear John Anderson::::
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Bang! Bang! Bang!
. . . Like you, we are slightly confused ourselves--what with
Charlie McCarthys--Snow Whites and the Seven Dwarfs--
Radio singers being elected governors--guys crossing the
Atlantic in $900 crates--Princeton defeated by Rutgers--
LaFollette defeated In Wisconsin--Welles scaring Hell out of
the Country with a Bogey Man Broadcast--and 'Hellzapop-
pin' a Hit! We don't blame you for suggesting that the
country is 'NUTS.'
--but THAT is the trend of our present National Emotional
Mood, and as has always been our theory: "Give the PUBUC
what they THINK they want when they want it .. .!"
ANENT England and 'Hellzapoppin'!!!.29
Olsen and Johnson were surely right in the connection they saw
between the disorder of the moment and the "fixing" of disorder In
Hellzapoppln'. But the salutary effect of the production had another,
and more subtle, dimension as well : It offered a liberation from
morality. The need for this kind of temporary escape from "good-
ness .. was especially keen in the Depression years. It was a time of
great social consciousness. Popular culture was filled with mes-
sages of social responsibility and personal integrity.30 Almost every
mode of communication, from Roosevelt's speeches to Hollywood
musicals, called for social discipline and self-sacrifice to face the
desperate times. Roosevelt called for "social justice through social
action• and asked Americans to hold themselves, each one, to
demanding standards of courage, cooperation, and generosity.
Popular culture echoed these social values. Dale Carnegie's How to
Win Friends and Influence People (1937) defined a new way for suc-
cess: through cooperation rather than competition. Shirley Temple's
perpetual screen self was persistently forced to suffer deprivation
and heartbreak, but eventually found happiness through her kind-
ness to others. Dorothy Gale achieved her own wish, not by pursu-
ing it at the expense of her fellows, but by sacrificing her own desires
in order to help her friends. Her reward was the discovery of the
companionship and love that she had been looking for from the start.
In the world of Hellzapoppln', Dorothy and Shirley would be
revealed as sickening brats and some comic disaster would surely
befall them. The show offered three hours of abandon, a vacation
from the Depression demands on the audience member's social and
personal conscience. The audience's secret, hostile desires were
acted out among them and, through their laughter, they enjoyed a
vicarious participation in the violence. Even the most horrible,
demonic desires were enacted in the ·safe inversion" of the world of
Hellzapoppin': Here, annoying people met a violent end, the pious
clown was fired through the roof, and someone finally shut up that
squalling brat.
Artaud praised the early Marx Brothers films as .. hymns to anarchy
and rebellion," a statement that could as well be applied to Horse
Eats Hat and Hellzapoppin'. In fact, In their chaotic dramatic worlds,
both plays bear certain resembtances to the work of the Surrealists
with which Artaud had once associated himself. Still, while farce may
be the most violent form of art, it Is perhaps the least ideologically
disruptive. By offering their audiences so much pleasure and
release, these productions tended to dispel resentments, to some
extent reconciling audiences to injustices that may have been
represented In the course of the narratives.
These productions are examples of the containment of the
grotesque. Grotesque effects were employed throughout both pro-
ductions, but-at least for those •attuned" to the performances--the
disturbance provoked by these Incongruities was dispelled through
laughter. Artaud is right in calling farces "hymns to anarchy and
rebellion. • They are enactments of social and moral revolutions: but
the anarchy is contained within the performance and not carried into
the street. Unlike the related form of melodrama, used to con-
siderable effect in the Thirties to "stir up• political feeling (Krutch
came out of Stevedore "ready to hit somebody with a stick"), farce
provides a personal liberation rather than a public disturbance.3
Audiences who emerged from the theatre having laughed for three
hours at Horse Eats Hat or Hellzapoppin' would have felt terrific, pos-
sessors of a new sense of freedom and even confidence in the face
of tremendous social doubt. They had joined in the "hymns to anar-
chy," yes, but the theatre was for them as much a kind of hospital as
it was a kind of church.
1 Psychologist quote: 5 July 1936; songs listed in William
Manchester, The Glory and the Dream (Boston: Little, Brown and
Company, 1973), 150; Fibber McGee and Molly quote from Man-
chester montage, 123; "Hurry please" quote from Manchester, 194.
2Robert Sherwood, Preface to Reunion in Vienna (New York:
Random House, 1931): xiv-xv.
3Faulkner letter to Robert Haas, in Selected Letters of Wil-
liam Faulkner, Joseph Blotner, ed., (New York, 1977), 125.
Eric Bentley, The Life of the Drama (New York: Atheneum,
1964), 244.
Aibert Bermel, Farce New York: Simon and Schuster,
1982), 21.
ssee Richard France, The Theatre of Orson Welles (Lewis-
burg: Bucknell University Press, 1977), 88; and John Houseman,
Run-Through (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 223.
Connelly quoted in Free, Adult, and Uncensored: The
Living History of the Federal Theatre Project (London: Methuen,
1980), 43.
swans quoted in Samuel L Leiter, The Encyclopedia of the
New York Stage (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989), 340.
90rson Welles and Edwin Denby, Horse Eats Hat, playscript
collection of the Federal Theatre Project archives, George Mason
University, 11-8.
10Leiter, 339.
11 Houseman, 221 .
12Houseman, 222.
13Houseman, 222.
14Houseman, 222.
15France, 83.
6France, 88.
France, 88.
181nterestingly, Edward Albee, with his well -known admira-
tion for the European "Absurdists,• has said that Hellzapoppin' was
his ,avorite play- as a boy and that he went to see It "several times. •
From an Informal conversation with Mr. Albee, 8 February 1990, at
Hanover College in Indiana.
9Factual information about the production is available in
Leiter, 321-322; and in the files of clippings and programs in the Billy
Rose Collection of the New York Public Library, Lincoln Center, New
York. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the clippings from this era
were not identified by date or even by newspaper.
20See Hellzapoppin' in The New York Times Film Reviews for
26 December 1941.
21This ''aqua" production had Olsen and Johnson sharing the
bill with various divers, swimmers, and nightclub entertainers. See
program file In Billy Rose Collection, Lincoln Center, New York Public
22Brooks Atkinson, "Hellzapoppin'," The New York Times, 23
September 1938.
3This summary of disruptions was gleaned from reviews
and, especially, from a graphic illustration of the events of the eve-
ning and their locations that appeared in the New York Herald
Tribune, 26 March 1939.
24See the photograph file in the Billy Rose Collection, New
York Public Library at Lincoln Center.
5The source of this photo spread is not identified in the clip-
ping file of the Billy Rose Collection, New York Public Library at Lin-
coln Center.
26From a clipping titled "Murder in 46th Street, • source
unidentified, Billy Rose Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln
0ie Olson, interview with Jack Gould, "Two Swedes
Explode on Broadway," newspaper and date unidentified, Billy Rose
Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.
28Bentley, 245.
29• 'Hellzapoppin's' Stars (S)chatter a Column: Or, Critic
Prints Bang-Up Letter, • undated John Anderson column from the
New York Journal that appears in the clipping file for Hellzapoppin',
Billy Rose Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.
30Robert S. McEivaine offers a convincing story of the
Thirties as a time of personal and social redemption in The Great
Depression: America, 1929-1941 (New York: Time Books, 1984).
31Joseph Wood Krutch, The American Drama Since 1918:
An Informal History (New York: George Braziller, 1939, rev. ed.
1957), 254.
John W. Frick
During the first half of the nineteenth century, no single Issue-
not even the abolition of slavery--had a greater capacity for
the American passion than did the cause of temperance.
Throughout the country, in cities and in rural areas alike, people
listened to their ministers vehemently denounce the evils of
intemperance from the pulpit; enthusiastically attended meetings of
the Washingtonians, the Rechabites, the Good Templars and the
Sons of Temperance; eager1y signed the pledge; and endeavored in
their private lives to obtain what Jed Dannenbaum calls •worldly
redemption" through abstinence from alcoholic beverages. Viewed
from current historical perspective, the temperance movement in
antebellum America was the first true mass reform movement of the
nineteenth century, one which represented a •struggle for purity at
[both] the individual and societal levels, • and an issue deeply
"embedded in the struggle . . . of the middle classes to enunciate the
dominant life style in America. "2
Although presently acknowledged as a foundation of all
nineteenth-century reform, as recently as twenty years ago antebel-
lum temperance agitation was conventionally considered little more
than the self-Interested maneuverings of a fanatical minority
obsessed with moral perfectionism, doctrinaire Puritanism, and con-
servative repressiveness--a marginal movement and hence not an
especially attractive subject for concerted scholarly attention. Not
surprisingly, in this climate of relative neglect, few scholars have
focused upon the myriad temperance-related entertainments and
recreational activities which introduced and disseminated the anti-
liquor message to a significant proportion of an eager and receptiVe
public. Yet, nowhere was the fervor of temperance agitation and the
persistence and pervasiveness of the issue more evident than in
these activities which ranged from parades and picnics aimed at
attracting large numbers of workers and their families, to concerts
and lectures provided for a more exclusive, upwardly-mobile, middle-
class audience, as well as a plethora of theatrical activities intended
for a cross-section -of the populace.
Temperance entertainment was strictly a nineteenth-century
phenomenon and Its rise in popularity and importance was linked
proportionately to the Increase In temperance agitation during the
century. Prior to 1800, however, there was no perceived need for
such reform nor for the activities which disseminated the temperance
message. In Colonial and early republican society, the consumption
of alcohol was pervasive, respectable and deeply ingrained, crossing
regional, gender and class lines, and drinking was generally
regarded as essential to routine social and political intercourse. Uq-
uor played an equally important role In America's daily commercial
life. In an era before distinct delineations between work-time and
leisure-time and when work was still task-oriented, rather than time-
oriented, it was considered •traditional• to Imbibe during breaks, a
practice reinforced by the common belief that alcohol was a stimulus
to labor and a means of reviving strength after exertion.
The cultural centrality of liquor was reflected In the prominent
stature afforded the tavern or public house whose significance,
according to social historian lan Tyrrell, •1ay in its service as a utility
institution in a society lacking a complex structure of more special-
ized institutions.•3 The tavern served, not only as a center of com-
merce and the village's principal conduit to the outside world, but as
a polling place, the site for town meetings and militia musters, and an
entertainment center where boxing matches, bear baiting, and cock-
fighting could be staged. Further, because all men were believed to
be "equal before the bottle" and because taverns had traditionally
served as informal headquarters and staging grounds for rebellion,
the public house became a symbol of the egalitarianism Americans
prized so highly. Understandably, within a hierarchical social struc-
ture, established elites were quick to recognize the potential for
social chaos should the taverns slip beyond their control, and con-
sequently all public houses were required to be licensed.
Compared to the class tensions generated by the temperance
activism and the angry division of antebellum society into lower-class
"wets" and middle-class "drys• which characterized alcohol reform of
the nineteenth century, Colonial and early republican attitudes
toward drinking were for the most part laissez-faire, hence less con-
frontational, with efforts to control the consumption of alcohol
restricted to the licensing of taverns. Accepting the orthodoxy of the
era that opinions travel upwards, manners downward, America's
elites viewed themselves as ,he central point of departure for the dif-
fusion of improvement in both Ideas and behaviof and consequently
presumed that paternalistically projecting a public image of modera-
tion would serve as an adequate substitute for more formal con-
straints on the liquor consumption of both their peers and their
During the first decades of the Republ ic, however, traditional
norms governing alcohol consumption came under siege. Spurred
by a whiskey glut in the 1820s which brought the price of distilled
beverages within reach of every American, tacitly condoned by the
laissez-faire attitudes of the aristocracy, and unchecked by social
controls, per capita whiskey consumption skyrocketed In the second
quarter of the nineteenth century to over five gallons per year, and
the United States easily justified its European reputation as a "Nation
of Drunkards. • Simultaneously, the growing association of drunken-
ness with disorder and crime caused Americans to perceive
Intemperance as a serious social problem and a significant threat to
public order. As temperance pioneer Dr. Benjamin Rush had
prophesied in 1784, by the early decades of the nineteenth century,
intemperance had become the major cause of the country's "poverty
and misery, crimes and infamy, diseases and death. •s
Intemperance, however, was more than a simple threat to the
existing public order; at a time when the country was In the midst of
both social and economic upheaval, it was seen as a major impedi-
ment to progress and modernization--to the transformation from a
rural, cooperative, agrarian society to an urban, industrialized, com-
petitive one--and to the emergence and cultural advancement of the
middle-class. According to reformers and entrepreneurs alike, such
progress demanded the adoption of an entirely new complex of
values--one which stressed self-mastery, industry, thrift, self-denial
and sobriety--as well as the eradication of traditional attitudes and
behavior patterns that might be construed as obstacles to change.
Heading the list of obstacles to economic prosperity and social pro-
gress was the widespread public drunkenness which threatened to
subvert the moral integrity and internal disciplines of the middle-class
world and to stifle the economic expansion which, at the time,
seemed imminent.6 In this context, it requires no •great unmasking,•
as Sean WHentz argues, to discover the self-interest associated with
the entrepreneurial class's attraction to temperance reform. 7
The dominance of middle-class norms governing drinking
became more apparent as the century progressed and increasingly
the degree of alcohol consumption became identified with social
status. The term •wets• and the negative moral connotations which
accompanied it, for example, became associated with the working
class; while "drys" was a label most often applied to someone
respectable and middle-class. As Christine Stansell observes in City
of Women: Sex and Class in New York 1789-1860, "the language of
virtue and vice, traditionally laden with social connotations, became
for [middle-class temperance advocates] a code of class, which
described their own mission of social domination in the language of
ethical mandate. •8 Having begun early in the century as a "vague
impatience" with the intractable crudities and excesses of the
working-class, the efforts of mid-century middle-class temperance
advocates to reform those beneath them ultimately grew into a full-
fledged assault on the mores of working people and immigrants.
As a consequence, before mid-century the goals of some
temperance proponents shifted from preserving the temperate
middle-class to reforming the Intemperate working-class. Beginning
with the founding of the Washingtonians in 1840 by six Baltimore
artisans, temperance reform moved toward increased demo-
cratization and became, for the first time, open to those who needed
it most--diehard drunkards. Throughout the 1840s, despite con-
siderable resistance from lower-class "roughs" and the liquor
Industry, temperance activity proliferated among groups previously
excluded with the result that thousands of artisans and craftsmen
joined the Washingtonians and other fraternal societies; Irish,
German, and African-American temperance societies were estab-
lished; and the role of women in temperance reform was expanded.
By the end of the decade, the anti-liquor ranks included members of
all classes, genders, and major ethnic groups, and temperance
reform could be classified, for the first time, as a movement of the
To disseminate their message to a mass audience and attract
potential converts to the cause, temperance reformers produced or
endorsed an astonishing variety of activities--conventions, dances,
meetings (many reflecting the evangelical roots of the movement),
picnics, concerts, balls, boating excursions, festivals, lectures, recita-
tions, and tent shows-and phrased their imperatives in a wide range
of vehicles. These included temperance articles, pamphlets, poems,
novels, "illustrated temperance cards," short stories, minstrel
sketches, dialogues, drawings (some, like Currier and lves "The
Drunkard's Progress" and George Cruikshank's "The Bottle" and "The
Drunkard's Children," in the serial-graphic mode), plays, skits,
"illustrated juvenile tracts" (comic books), songs, and broadsides all
designed to convey temperance ideology. In addition to these "com-
mon" vehicles, there were unique, Isolated forms such as
temperance flags which graphically depicted the drunkard's final trip
to the poorhouse, a temperance version of the Star-Spangled Ban-
ner, and later in the century, more complex forms--a magic lantern
depiction of Timothy Shay Arthur's novel Ten Nights in a Bar-room
that travelled the Chautauqua circuit in the 1880s and 1890s to
accompany readings of the novel, and various "transmogrified" ver-
sions of The Drunkard. The latter included one production in which
"a parade of a thousand children [marched] across the stage singing
temperance songs; another featured a quadrille of forty-eight dan-
cers; and [a third] in California . .. exhibited a panorama covering
3,000 square feet of canvas . ..g
Of all the weapons In the temperance arsenal, however, none
was more potent than the drama which was unrivaled in its capacity
to "touch the feelings with electric quickness," to intensify identifica-
tion between fictional characters and spectators, and to graphicai!Y
depict the horrors and degradation of Intemperance in a style one
critic dubbed "lurid waxworks realism.•
0 Prior to its Introduction into
their tacticaJ lexicon, temperance advocates had been forced to rely
heavily upon the written word (treatises, pamphlets, tracts, broad-
sides), as well as upon lectures and sermons to small assemblages.
Following the advent of the Washingtonians and the expansion of
their target audience, however, reformers were forced to reassess
their methods for mobilizing public opinion and to reshape their
strategies in order to confront the realities of a mass and multicultural
society. According to temperance historian Joseph Gusfield, the
search for new techniques of mass communication led temperance
· activists to experiment with the use of music and theatre as organs of
While in actual practice the temperance drama exhibited a
wide range of variations (The Drama of the Earth is patterned upon
an epic poem, The Poisoned Darkys resembles a minstrel hall
sketch, and The Drunkard's Daughter is little more than a static
dialogue between participants), the vehicle of choice of most
temperance playwrights was the conventional nineteenth-century
domestic melodrama already popular on American stages.
emerged shortly after the French Revolution as a medium for the pro-
gressive social ideals of the era (democracy, the rights of man, Rous-
seauism), the melodrama "provided an emotional equivalent to the
'common sense' philosophy of the period. •12 In the hands of
antebellum temperance writers, the melodrama continued to serve
as a progressive genre for a progressive ideology.
Philosophically, the appropriation of the domestic melodrama
for the advancement of the temperance cause was predicated upon
the belief that the theatre, by presumably holding "a mirror up to
nature," could serve instructive purposes and hence Inculcate a par-
ticular complex of values. Such didactic use of the stage was far
from revolutionary, for, as Russell Nye aptly observes, "despite their
prejudices, even the Calvinist colonists were willing to use [the
theatre] for moral purposes, the model ... being that 'great expositor
of human nature' and 'virtue's friend', William Shakespeare. •13 As
the nineteenth century progressed, the idea of "theatre as a moral
educator" acquired influential proponents: playwright and theatre
manager William Dunlap sought, both through his writings and his
practices, to transform the stage into "a great engine for social
good"; Walt Whitman postulated that everyone could profit morally
from a visit to a .. well-regulated" theatre; and Mark Twain, in a more
whimsical vein, quipped that nine-tenths of the population learned
morality in the nation's theatres, not its churches.
These senti-
ments (and rhetoric) were echoed In other sectors of society by the
Honorable Mr. Park, who characterized The Drunkard as that "great
moral engine, which has been the means of adding thousands to the
ranks of reformed men• In an address to the Massachusetts Senate
in 1844, and by the nation's temperance societies themselves.
Melodrama, however, offered temperance reformers more
than simply Its relentless brand of didacticism. Faced with the chal-
lenge of creating a robust and vivid means of communicating with a
mass audience, a significant percentage of which was Ullterate and
Ignorant of artistic conventions, temperance activists heeded the
words of the Reverend John Marsh, who staunchly maintained that
intemperance had •no rational defense and [would] not be reasoned
with. It must be met by a different weapon.•15 With Marsh's and
similar statements ringing In their ears and disturbed by audiences
that sat impassively through lectures, sermons, and other logical
arguments, temperance advocates of the 1840s chose to substitute
emotional and psychological appeals for the rational arguments
stressed by earlier generations of reformers. To many, this meant
adopting the kind of message-bearing Instrument that •spoke to the
heart•: the domestic melodrama.
Melodrama achieved much of Its emotional Impact by Intro-
ducing audience members to characters who were similar to them-
selves, whose daily lives mirrored theirs, whose aspirations and fears
resembled theirs, and whose plight, given one imprudent decision,
might conceivably become theirs. When mechanic Richard Thornley
in T. P. Taylor's The Bottle, for example, took his -.atal first drink" and
then forced his wife to join him, working class men at the Bowery
Theatre in 1850 may well have recalled a similar scenario in their own
pasts or at least envisioned themselves committing the same acts.
And when the Thornley family was evicted because the principal
provider had been fired and couldn't pay the rent, when Thornley's
son Joe was apprenticed to a life of crime to support his father's
habit, when Thornley In "a state of furious drunkenness, kill[ed] his
wife with the instrument of all their misery,• an empty liquor bottle,
and was exiled to an asylum to die an agonizing death, the same
men were presumably forced to envision the eventual and, according
to the temperance notion of causality, inevitable consequences of
their own intemperance.
While such plays as The Bottle, Hot Corn, Three Years in a
Man-Trap, and Another Glass featured a predominantly working-
class dramatis personae and were directed at an audience of
mechanics and artisans, middle-class, moderate drinkers were by no
means spared the temperance message. Given the dual goals of the
temperance reform in the 1840s--preserving abstinence among the
middle and upper classes as well as seeking converts from among
workers--the depiction of the "fall of a noble house" was as common
on stage as the destruction of a working-class family, and the setting
of a temperance melodrama was as likely to be the drawing room of
a brownstone on Union Square as a two-room apartment on the
Bowery. Thus, while Thornley and his family were perishing at the
Bowery, patrons of the nation's lecture halls and museums witnessed
the decline of college-educated Edward Middleton from the position
of a respected land owner to lowly drunkard wandering through New
York's notorious Five Points district In The Drunkard, or they
accompanied Vernon, the aristocratic alcoholic of Douglas Jerrold's
Fifteen Years of a Drunkard's Life, on a boozy fifteen-year odyssey
during which he gambled away his savings, his home, and his wife's
Temperance playwrights strengthened their case by parading
across America's stages an endless series of pathetic visual images
designed to stir audience compassion and, hopefully, action. Spec-
tators at performances of J. B. Johnstone's The Drunkard's Daughter
were subjected to the vision of Mary Reckless, unable to live with the
stigma of her father's •crime, • committing •self-murder- by jumping
from London bridge; at the end of Edwin Tardy's drama, Saved, or a
Woman's Influence, they encountered a once-respected intellectual
lying in the mud after a prolonged bender, reduced, in his own
words, to "a common street loafer - a gutter drunkard - a mark for the
,ribald jest of each passer by"; while at Three Years in a Man-trap they
looked on in horror as Maggie Uoyd, driven to madness by the guilt
caused by her father's rum selling, ran into the cold, damp streets to
catch pneumonia and die. 17
For their most poignant and evocative images, however,
temperance dramatists invariably turned to the most Innocent and
vulnerable victims of the bottle--small children. While an occasional
reformer may have claimed that "little can be known of the suffering
and mortification of the children of Intemperate parents, • most
temperance playwrights knew and were more than willing to Ulustrate
that suffering and mortification on the stage. Invariably, the
drunkard's child was shown, emaciated and dressed in rags, waiting
in a squalid apartment for his or her drunkard father to return home
\Marna, will father soon be home?") or quaking in fear and anticipa-
tion of the beating and verbal abuse that would certainly be
forthcoming upon the drunkard's return rmy father's a drunkard and
beat me today").18
The plight of the temperance child was perhaps best
exemplified by Charles W. Taylor's Little Katy, or the Hot Corn Girl,
one of the most popular plays of the 1850s. Originating in 1853 as a
serialized expose of New York slum life in Horace Greeley's New
York Tribune and published as a novel the following year by Solon
Robinson, author of the original Tribune articles and a temperance
activist, Hot Corn told the story of a "poor and miserable" corn seller
on the Bowery, who fell asleep on the street; was robbed while she
slept; upon her return home, was severely beaten by her drunkard
mother for not having sold all of her corn; and subsequently died
from the injuries Inflicted by her mother. While the social issues of
poverty, alcoholism, and child abuse were pushed to the foreground
by the play's "documentary" style, Little Katy herself served as the
archetypal temperance child who, despite her own suffering,
endeavored through personal purity and force of character to
redeem an alcoholic parent. Faced with Imminent death, Katy
forgave her mother for her cruelty and Issued a final for her
redemption, Imploring "mother- don't- drink- anymore- mother-
good b .• The stage directions that followed stated simply, "but
before the word was finished, there was another angel added to the
heavenly host. • As testimony to both the power of Robinson's story
and of the temperance message it contained, during the 1853-1854
season, three separate versions of the play were mounted in New
York, where they rivaled Uncle Tom's Cabin In popularity, and the
death scene of the National Theatre production of Hot Corn, with
Cordelia Howard In the title role, was as gut-wrenching as Its
counterpart in the George Aiken stage adaptation of the Harriet
Beecher Stowe classic.
As effective as pathetic images like Little Katy's death scene
may have been, seldom did they equal the raw Intensity of the
delirium   scene, the temperance melodrama's obligatory
"sensation scene. • As described by social scientists, delirium tremens
or the DTs, a disorder which afflicts heavy drinkers following a binge,
"begins with a period of Irritation and anxiety, frequently
accompanied by muscle spasms called 'the shakes.' There ensues a
period of paranoid hallucination, during which the subject reports
being chased by people or anirnals.•
9 In one documented account
of the DTs, the drinker reported that
the road appeared to be full of serpents of all sorts and sizes;
some of them were very large and appeared to be thirty feet
or more in length. . . . I took pains to stamp on some of the
largest, when I heard a multitude of voices saying, 'Damn the
creature, see, he stamps on us, kill him, damn him, kill him'
and I soon found that they were not confined to a very slow
motion for Instead of crawling along the ground they were
now all flying about in every direction. 20
Not surprisingly, given the emotional extremes Inherent in such "a
terrifying testimonial to the hellish darkness of intemperance," the
theatrical potential of delirium tremens proved irresistible to
playwrights who sought spectacular effects that would frighten the
intemperate into abstinence. When performed to its fullest by actors
the caliber of C. W. "Drunkard" Clarke or E. W. Wynkoop, a former
bartender who presumably had ample personal experience with the
phenomenon, the delirium tremens scene probably convinced more
people to sign the pledge than did all of the temperance tracts ever
In its theatricalization of delirium tremens and other alcohol
related traumas, the temperance melodrama was actually presaged
In the early 1840s by the Washingtonian •experience• speech, • the
nineteenth century equivalent of today' s Alcoholics Anonymous
•confession• speech. A product of British working-class teetotalism
of the 1830s, the experience speech presented the spectacle of a
lone speaker, a reformed drunkard, on stage narrating the events of
his individual odyssey from debauchery to sobriety and relating his
personal feelings about his ordeal. Lacking In subtleties, often
blasphemous and almost always grossly exaggerated, "the polarities
of [the] before-and-after stories were stark, following the
melodramatic conventions of the day, contrasting the shadow of
inebriation with the sunshine of sobriety. •
Lack of polish not with-
standing, when compared to the printed literature which had been
the principal means of publicizing temperance ideology prior to 1840
and which had unavoidably distanced temperance spokesmen from
their audience, the experience speech carried tremendous dramatic
force and presented in "theatrical• terms a cogent argument in favor
of abstinence.
If the "confessional" nature of the experience speech was
recognizable in temperance melodrama, so too was the structural
similarity between the experience speech and the drama. While the
plots of a small percentage of temperance dramas (Fifteen Years of a
Drunkard's Life, The Drunkard's Children, and The Bottle among
them) were essentially linear, proceeding Inexorably from the ,lrst
glass of that fatal poison• to catastrophic conclusions in which entire
families were obliterated, the majority, like the experience speeches
which pre-dated them, were circular In structure. Uke The Drunkard,
which pictured Mary and Edward Middleton In "peace, purity and
happiness• following their nuptials and before "that horrid drink had
done its work,· most temperance melodramas began with scenes of
domestic tranquility and well-being, visually illustrating how much the
protagonist risked sacrificing because of his Intemperance. Follow-
ing the introduction of the bottle or the revelation of the protagonist's
intemperance, frequently a focal point of the first act, the drunkard
began a downward spiral during which he was "ripe for any deed,
however wild." In the scenes that followed, the drunkard, unable to
hold a job and economically disenfranchised, was pictured gam-
bling, embezzling, stealing from his former employer, swearing,
and/or brutalizing his family, all unmistakable signs of the drunkard's
moral deterioration and activities guaranteed to further divorce him
from respectable society.
The drunkard's personal nadir was usually signalled by a crisis
in which he contemplated suicide, experienced the death of a loved
one or had a premonition of their death, and I or experienced the DTs.
It was generally at this point In the action that the temperance
spokesman was Introduced. Occasionally, the temperance repre-
sentative was a close friend of the protagonist or a co-worker who
had been present since the beginning of the drama; but, more fre-
quently, the reformer was a stranger Introduced Into the plot at the
last minute to effect a solution, much In the manner of the classic
deus ex machina. In the denouement, the drunkard, with the guid-
ance of the temperance spokesman, finally recognized the ramifica-
tions of his drinking, signed the pledge and, In the final moments of
the drama, was •reconciled to sobriety. • The immediate benefits of
signing the pledge were visually reinforced by picturing the reformed
drunkard restored to health, surrounded by his loving family and
often materially rewarded by promotion at work or increased public
recognition and status.
By the 1850s, the Impetus for playwrights to restore the
drunkard to sobriety proved so strong that even malefactors as
dastardly as Little Katy's mother were eligible for redemption and
reinstatement Into society, if they were willing to sign the pledge.
Politically, such redemptionist tendencies positioned the temperance
melodrama squarely in the mainstream of assimilative temperance
reform and aligned it with the dominant recruitment strategy of the
1840s, moral suasion. Rather than viewing the drinker as someone
who had rejected hegemonic middle-class values and an intractable
deviant to be punished, reformers considered the drunkard •one of
them to be reclaimed, • someone who knew and accepted the estab-
lished public morality, and who felt guilty about breaching it. Com-
pared to the more coercive, ·outer-directed• strategies of
temperance agitation which emerged in the mid-1840s and later
manifested themselves in The Maine Law (passed by the Maine legis-
lature in 1851 at the urging of prohibitionist Neal Dow) and Prohibi-
tion, assimilative reform phrased its appeals more as Invitations than
as threats.
If assimilation was the goal of most antebellum reformers, '1he
favored instrument of reform was a sentimental 'moral suasion' that
appealed to the drinker's spiritual, domestic, and economic self-
interest. •22 In the early 1840s, temperance leaders (especially the
Washingtonians) remained convinced that if the habitual drinker were
approached with sympathy rather than with moral Indignation, and, if
he were presented a model for his life that was both attainable and
attractive, he could be rescued. In this context, the temperance
melodrama, which projected an ideal wortd where characters forged
their own destinies and where the distribution of rewards and punish-
ments was governed by a strict code of poetic justice, illustrated
what •could be,• if only the drinker would give up the bottle, and what
•ought to be, .. as long as the teetotaler remained abstinent. 23
As both an instructive Instrument in its own lifetime and a
cultural record in ours, the temperance melodrama was (and is) an
extremely valuable document. Functioning as a •social barometer,•
the genre refteeted and enunciated, not only the dominant values of
the era, but the tensions, cultural ambiguities, and fears which
plagued Americans In the decades Immediately preceding the Civil
War. In the midst of the social and economic chaos of antebellum
America, fear for the integrity of the nuclear family was especially
prominent on reformers' lists of concerns. As the ideology of sepa-
rate spheres for men and women gained ascendance, especially In
America's cities, men of all classes were encouraged to seek recrea-
tion outside of the home and, in the process, were increasingly
drawn to the entertainments and male companionship offered by the
myriad saloons that dotted the urban landscape. For temperance
leaders, the prospect of males spending a greater percentage of their
leisure time in saloons created a disturbing domestic scenario for If,
as reformers predicted, the family provider were to spend more of his
weeldy earnings for liquor and bar-room entertainments, the family in
tum would be deprived of the money which -was increasingly neces-
sary for survival in a commodity economy-; and if, they maintained,
fathers continued to be lured out of the home to the local bar, chil-
dren would be deprived of the parental support and guidance to
which they were naturally entitled. 24 More serious than the Issues of
poverty and neglect, however, was the likelihood that If the hus-
band/father were to return home in a drunken state, wife beating,
family desertion, and assaults on children would ensue.
Confronted with a problem of growing proportions and poten-
tially catastrophic consequences, temperance playwrights
responded to the perceived crisis by dramatically representing the
threat •on the boards, • characterizing intemperance as the ,iendish
destroyer of the American family- and portraying liquor as the princi-
pal competitor for the weekty paycheck. Through their efforts, count-
less Americans were introduced to the neglected, battered,
abandoned and murdered families of drunkards, and the plaintive
question, •Mama, will father soon be home?• became the most fre-
quently heard line on the nation's stages. On rare occasions, such
as in the final scene of Three Years in a Man-trap, following the
drunkard's reclamation, the answer was ·ves, darling. It is nearly
seven o'clock and he is never late now•; but more frequently, the
reply was a quiet, resigned •No, dear. I'm afraid not.• Considering
the frequency of the latter response, it is little wonder that children
like Mary Morgan in Ten Nights in a Bar-room felt it necessary to fol-
low their fathers to the saloon and to plead with them to return home.
The urgency and the desperation of an entire generation of American
children can be heard in Mary's pleas.
MARY. [Outside R.] Father! Father! where is my father? [Enter
MARY A.--runs to MORGAN.) Oh! I've found you at last!
Now won't you come home with me?
MORGAN. Blessings on thee, my little one! Darkly shadowed is
the sky that hangs gloomUy over thy young head.
MARY. Come, father, mother has been waiting a long time, and I
left her crying so sadly. Now do come home, and make us
all so happy. [The well-known song, •father, dear Father,
Come Home with Me Now, • may be introduced with effect]25
Although few historians would dispute the fact that during the first
half of the nineteenth century countless families were decimated by
alcoholism, the true Import of the threat to America's families and to
its youth, according to social historian Karen Halttunen, has been
drastically understated. During the first decades of the century, the
country, in Halttunen's opinion, was in the midst of a •critical period
when its character was not yet formed• and was experiencing severe
anxieties about its future. Faced with what they perceived as serious
threats to the republican experiment and to the ultimate survival of
the nation, •Americans came to believe that (their] only chance for
survival lay In the character of the rising generation. • As a result,
Increased attention was paid to the raising of the young; the country
was flooded with conduct manuals written expressly to advise the
nation's youth how to best safeguard their moral character; and
Americans in general became more vigilant in their efforts to protect
the next generation, and, In their minds, the country's future. In this
context, the threat which intemperance posed to children trans-
cended the status of a common social ill and became a •symbolic
expression of deeper fears about the direction of American
In both the nineteenth century temperance drama and the
wor1d which it mirrored, whenever children were victimized by ,he
curse of drink: invariably their mothers were victimized as well.
Although, during the 1840s and 1850s, small vocal bands of women,
distressed by the widespread suffering caused by male
intemperance became politically active, joining the Martha Washing-
tons (the female branch of the Washingtonians), participating in ear1y
prohibition efforts, staging sexual boycotts, and engaging in isolated
vigilante attacks on saloons, the majority of American wives
remained silent--totally dependent upon their husbands for their wel-
fare, their security, and for economic support. Common law granted
the husband the sole right to all family income, including his wife's,
and placed all property rights in his hands, while inheritance prac-
tices dictated that properties be routinely transferred to male heirs
rather than to widows. To complicate matters, in an era when legal
divorce was available in only a few states, when occupational
opportunities for women outside the home were practically nonexist-
ent, and when desertion was unthinkable, wives were virtually
trapped In marriage unless they were wUiing to risk social stigma and
economic ruin. Bound by such grim economic realities and social
constrictions, antebellum drunkards' wives •were expected to bear
their lot, and to use the superior moral influence that the culture
attributed to women to try to reform the drinking husband. •27
Reflecting this pattern, the dramatic literature of the era written by
both men and women was filled with sUent, suffering wives who, like
Mary Middleton in The Drunkard, did menial work to support their
families while they patiently awaited their husbands' reformation, or
like Nettle Glenn In Three Years in a Man-trap, attempted ,o reason
with him when he [was] sober ... to be all smiles and cheerfulness,
to make his little home so bright that he will find himself happier there
than in the false glitter of the bar-room.· Women's suffering, In reality
and on the stage, however, was by no means restricted to waiting
patiently for their men to return from the grog shop. In countless
plays they were subjected to vicious beatings by their drunken hus-
bands, and In two cases (The Bottle and Fifteen Years of a
Drunkard's Life) they were murdered. With few exceptions, dramatic
literature reinforced one message: a lone woman whose sole
weapon was her "moral authority" was virtually power1ess against the
combined forces of the liquor industry, her husband's coterie of bar-
room companions, and the intractable drunkard himself.
From its Inception, temperance literature identified one addi-
tional victim of alcohol abuse, the drinker himself. Following the lead
of Benjamin Rush, who believed that distilled spirits were habit-
forming for certain weak-willed Individuals, the more progressive
reformers in the 1820s and 1830s began to acknowledge liquor's
addictive power and to characterize alcoholism as a "disease" which
the drinker was unable to control . These reformers, while they still
maintained that drinkers remained morally responsible for their deci-
sions and held that drunkenness was a sin against both God and
society, nevertheless, recognized that although a man may be moral
and well-intentioned, human will-power was frequently frail and often
insufficient protection against the temptations to which man was
exposed. The danger of drinking, reformers theorized, arose at the
point when the weak were paired with the "poison" which they were
Incapable of resisting and which had the power to "enslave" them.
Beginning in the 1840s, temperance drama actively promoted
this conception of alcoholism by commonly depicting the drunkard
as a man of moral, albeit weak, character. In their before-the-bottle
scenes, playwrights were careful to stress that, except for the
predisposition to drink, the protagonist was "an "honest, Industrious
fellow" who was "full of good qualities. • The Drunkard, for example,
contains an entire scene devoted exclusively to demonstrating
Edward Middleton's moral attributes. In rebuttal to Lawyer Cribbs'
suggestion that he evict an aged widow and her daughter from Mid-
dleton property, Edward responded
Mr. Cribbs, I cannot think of depriving them of a home, dear
to them as the apple of their eyes - to send them forth from
the flowers which they have reared, the vines which they
have trained In their course - a place endeared to them by
tender domestic recollections, and past remembrances of
purity and religion.
Presumably, the playwrights hoped that the audience would retain a
favorable opinion of Edward's overall character and, despite his
having deserted his family and having degenerated to an "enslaved
and wretched state,• would ultimately judge him to be •a weak man
to be pitied rather than a bad man to be detestect:28 Tactically, such
an ethic, avoiding as it did the moral damnation of the intemperate,
reinforced and promoted the Washingtonian brand of assimilative
reform which permitted and encouraged the reclamation of
By characterizing drunkards as "voluntary slaves• and
admonishing the temperate and the intemperate alike that drunken-
ness led inevitably to a loss of personal autonomy, antebellum
temperance reformers gave added resonance to the temperance
appeal of the 1820s and 1830s.29 Not only did the various tracts, cir-
culars and orations resound with warnings about loss of Independ-
ence, but popular entertainments and other mass temperance
activities publicized the admonition as well. It was a common prac-
tice, for example, to refer to the abstinence pledge as a second
Declaration of Independence, to substitute "Prince Alcohol" for
George Ill in versions of the Declaration intended for public reading,
or to stage mass signlngs of the pledge as part of Fourth of July
celebrations. To historians, the symbolism inherent in linking these
events is obvious: antebellum reformers viewed the wars against
Intemperance and against the British as analogous and envisioned
the battle against intemperance as requiring as much courage and
virtue as the Revolution.
For their part, temperance dramatists stressed the theme of
voluntary slavery in practically every script they wrote. Typical of this
tendency, playwright Nellie Bradley, in the first act of Marry No Man if
He Drinks, declared through her raisonneurs, Laura and Nellie, that
all of the "young men" In the play, although moderate drinkers at the
time, were In
imminent danger, for this insidious habit (drinking) will
increase and become more powerful, until Its victims are
drawn down Into a vortex of degradation and shame, bring-
Ing ruin on themselves, and sorrow and misery to kindred
and friends. 30
When, by the middle acts, the men had still not reformed, Laura
grimly concluded that they were •addicted to habits, which, unless
abandoned, would make slaves of them all: This sequence alluded,
not only to the addictive powers reformers ascribed to liquor, but to
the progressive nature of the disease which If left unchecked,
according to nineteenth century thinking, led directly from the ,lrst
sip of that fatal substance• at a social gathering or at home to the
eventual discovery of the drunkard's bloated body floating face down
in the river.
Capitalizing upon Americans' paranoiac fear of enslavement,
zealous antebellum temperance leaders began to speak and write In
apocalyptic terms of Intemperance toppling ,he temple of cMI and
political freedom• and bringing •destruction and misery ... on the
land: and to brand liquor interests as •highly conspiratorial• with their
"tentacles• In every American household. Similar strains of paranoia
in antebellum society have been Identified (in separate studies) by
Richard Hofstadter, Bruce McConachie, Karen Halttunen, and Judith
McArthur in cultural phenomena as varied as advice manuals for
youth, apocalyptic melodramas, the spread of slavery and
mainstream politics. Described by Hofstadter, the central image In
the "paranoid style" of thinking Is
a vast and sinister conspiracy, a gigantic and yet subtle
machinery of influence set In motion to undermine and
destroy ... a nation, a culture, a way of life. . . . The enemy
is clearly delineated; he is a perfect model of malice, a kind
of amoral superman: sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel ...
(and) since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and
totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated.3
In its scope, intent, and degree of danger, the coalition of liquor
manufacturers and their distributors was characterized by reformers
as just such •a perfect model of malice,"--conspirators who, for per-
sonal gain, were bent upon robbing men of their personal liberties
and, in the process, subverting the republican experiment.
Temperance leaders, while they may have disagreed upon
goals and strategies, were therefore in full agreement upon the cen-
tral figures in their demonology, which included the distiller, the
saloon owner, the bartender, even the corner grocer who sold liquor
to his neighbors. Although reformers held all liquor manufacturers
and distributors equally culpable in theory, temperance literature
(particularly the drama) concentrated upon the most accessible con-
spirator, the local bar-owner, who was branded a ,rafficer In human
souls and blood· by the American Temperance Society and singled
out as a target for reformers' wrath. The bar-owner was regarded as
especially insidious because, like Simon Slade, a former mill owner
and landlord of the Sickle and Sheaf Inn In Ten Nights in a Bar-room,
and entrepreneur Tom Uoyd, the saloon owner In Three Years In a
Man-trap, he lent an aura of middle-class respectabUity to the sale of
alcohol, steadfastly maintaining that he was guilty of nothing more
than being a hardworking businessman. Given his prominent posi-
tion In temperance demonology, It Is little wonder that, in keeping
with the melodramatic convention of poetic justice (and temperance
notions of vengeance), the saloon-owner suffered a punishment
commensurate with his crime; Glum, a bar-owner In Three Years in a
Man-trap was viciously beaten to death by an old drunkard who had
been patronizing his bar for years; Slade was clubbed into oblivion
with a whiskey bottle by his own son; and, Uoyd began to drink, his
business failed, he was Imprisoned for a variety of crimes, and died
in his cell during a siege of the DTs.
As effective as such propaganda may have been in focusing
public attention on the social consequences of intemperance and the
evils of the liquor Industry, activists learned quickly that proselytizing
and sermonizing were not sufficient to •penetrate the lives• of
drinkers or to effect significant changes in Americans' use of leisure
time, nor was temperance propaganda wholly effective in breaking
the ties between traditional forms of recreation and drinking. Since
colonial times, grog shops had served as social centers for local
males, providing not only liquor, but facilities and opportunities for
gambling, singing, cockfighting, boxing, and other sports. As Jon
Kingsdale notes, many men
thought of and treated the corner saloon as their own private
club rather than as a public institution. They used it as a
mailing address; leaving and picking up messages, and
meeting friends there; depositing money with, or borrowing
from, the saloon-keeper. [They] played cards, musical
instruments and games, ate, sang and even slept there. 32
Later recreation centers--theatres, bowling alleys, billiard parlors--
likewise served liquor and cultivated a •clubhouse• atmosphere, often
becoming recognized more for the quality of their bars than for the
principal entertainments or sporting facilities they advertised. In an
era before organized sports and city parks, these institutions served
as the hubs of male recreation.
Since early temperance activists had little direct exposure to
the tavern, the bowling alley or the billiard room, they remained
largely unaware of the central position these institutions occupied in
the antebellum •bachelor subculture• nor could they envision how
men, once they had signed the pledge, might survive In a culture In
which drinking and recreation were closely Interrelated. It was the
Washingtonians who, having emerged themselves from the saloons,
were the first to suggest •suitable means of enjoyment and Improve-
ment of the leisure hours. • Rather than suppress amusements, the
Washingtonians proposed Instead an •alternative world of recrea-
tion, • a system of alternate amusements by which they attempted to
either recreate or supplant tavern life. Their earty attempts at provid-
Ing .. rational recreation• resulted first in the creation of reading rooms
and the sponsorship of hymn sings and poetry readings, all aimed at
•the improvement of mental culture• and all described as rather
•dour• endeavors; but, evidently aware that more •exuberant•
entertainments would be required to keep the temperate Interested,
temperance balls, concerts, parades, theatricals and Fourth of July
celebrations were added to the list of amusements •divorced from
drink.• By the end of their second year of existence, Washingtonian
alternate amusements, such as a temperance concert In New York In
December 1842, were attracting audiences In the thousands and
were successfully competing with those associated with •King
During the 1840s, singing added a major new attraction to the
temperance movement. Next to melodramas, few temperance
vehicles were more effective than the vast array of songs advising
women to use their Innate moral influence to save their families from
the ravages of intemperance, admonishing them to •beware the man
who drinks, • or urging men to sign the pledge for the sake of their
children. Bearing plaintive titles like •Dear Father, Drink No More, •
.. Oh! Help Little Mary, the Drunkard's Poor Child: and •Father's a
Drunkard and Mother Is Dead, • these songs, like temperance
melodramas, were designed to appeal directly to the sentiments of
the listener and were frequently written to be sung by a child. Some,
like those contained in The Variety Theatre Songster, which Included
one of the many versions of "The Drunkard's Child, • were written for
the theatre and were sung In New York's variety halls; but the vast
majority--those included in Bugle Notes for the Temperance Army
and similar publications--were written expressly for use by organiza-
tions like the children's Cold Water Army, the Daughters of
Temperance, and the 13th Ward Temperance Society. The
temperance song proved so successful that collections of teetotal
melodies became the most profitable item for Washingtonian pub-
lishers, and temperance singers like Ossian E. Dodge and Chaney
White (later a famous minstrel entertainer) were able to earn in
excess of $10,000 per year playing teetotalers' halls.33
Temperance dramas were likewise written for venues other
than commercial theatres. Of the hundreds of temperance dramas
written before the Civil War, less than a dozen (The Drunkard, Ten
Nights In a Bar-room, The Bottle, Hot Corn among them) succeeded
on Broadway, the Bowery, or In the major museums. The remainder,
like George M. Baker's The Temperance Drama: A Series of Dramas,
Comedies and Farces for Temperance Exhibitions and Home and
School Entertainment, were created expressly for groups like ·oivi-
sions of the Sons of Temperance, Good Templar Lodges, Sections of
Cadets, Bands of Hope and other Temperance Societies· who met
In temperance halls, church basements, or •temperate theatres.·
Still others like Effie W. Merriman's The Drunkard's Family were writ-
ten to be •acted by children• in school, at home, or in Sunday
School. Thus, whUe companies of The Drunkard and Ten Nights in a
Bar-room, were competing with city saloons and persuading thou-
sands In major urban centers to sign the pledge, temperance plays
were serving additional thousands as alternate amusements in the
nation's small towns.
Evolving as they did in the early 1840s at the height of
Washingtonian activity and the democratization of alcohol reform,
temperance entertainments proved the ideal means of communicat-
ing the temperance message of abstinence and hope to a mass
audience. Using forms appropriated from the commercial stage and
the saloons themselves, antebellum reformers created a network of
entertainments that not only legitimated the ascendant middle-class
life-style based upon self-control and self-denial, but disseminated
this ideology In a language that was engaging, attractive, and acces-
sible to •the people. • Seldom brilliant, often crude, antebellum
temperance entertainments nevertheless encouraged generations of
Americans to ·shake off the chains of intoxication, • to join the sub-
stitutive culture of teetotalism, and to live a life •unclouded by the
demon alcohol, beneath the free banner of [temperance]. •
Research for this article was conducted with a grant from the
National Endowment for the Humanities.
1 Although historians routinely refer to nineteenth-century
temperance reform as if it were a monolithic, unified, and continuous
movement, temperance agitation was, more precisely, a series of
related, interlocking movements often with different motives and
often radically different cultural missions.
Jed Dannenbaum, Drink and Disorder: Temperance
Reform in Cincinnati from the Washingtonian Revival to the W.C. T.U.
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 32-42; Susan Davis,
Parades and Power: Street Theatre in Nineteenth-Century Philadel-
phia (Philadelphia: Temple University Pres·s, 1986), 147-53; Joseph
R. Gusfleld, •status Conflicts and the Changing Ideologies of the
American Temperance Movement, • Society, Culture and Drinking
Patterns, David J. Pittman and Charles R. Snyder, eds. (New York:
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1962), 115-6; JackS. Blocker, American
Temperance Movements: Cycles of Reform (Boston: Twayne Pub-
lishers, 1989) XI-XVI; Paul Johnson, •Drinking. Temperance and the
Construction of Identity In 19th Century America, • Social Science
Information 25 (1986}, 521-30.
31an A. Tyrrell, Sobering Up: From Temperance to Prohibi-
tion in Ante-bellum America, 1800-1860 (Westport: Greenwood
Press, 1979), 21.
Peter Bailey, Leisure and Class In Victorian England:
Rational Recreation and the Contest for Control, 1830-1885 (London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), 39-40; W.J. Rorabaugh, The
Alcoholic Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979}, 25-
57; Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the
American Temperance Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 1986), 13-35.
5Benjamin Rush, An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits
Upon the Human Body and Mind (1784); Rorabaugh, Alcoholic
Republic, 89.
6For over a century, temperance reformers were portrayed,
in Blocker's words, as ,earful conservatives disoriented by the rapid
pace of social change In nineteenth-century America.• More
recently, however, through the vigorous rebuttals of Blocker, Tyrrell,
Gusfleld, and others, a different perception has been created. As
these historians emphasize, temperance reform from Its Inception
attracted ambitious, progressive, upwardly mobUe men and women
who maintained a stake in America's future, welcomed cultural
change, and were likely to be actively Involved in other reform move-
ments (abolitionism. women's rights, prison reform, improved treat-
ment of the insane). See tan R. Tyrrell, -remperance and Economic
Change in the Antebellum North, .. Alcohol, Reform and Society: The
Liquor Issue in Social Context, Jack S. Blocker, ed. (Westport:
Greenwood Press, 1979), 45-63.
Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City and the
Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850 (New York, 1884},
8Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New
York 1789-1860 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 66.
9George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1927-1941) 600, 602, 678-9, 696,
vol 4; 322-3, vol5; Davis, Parades and Power, 147-53; Russell Nye,
The Unembarassed Muse (New York; The Dial Press, 1970), 153-40;
Martin Meisel, Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in
Nineteenth-century England (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1983), 124-41; William M. Clark, •Ten Nights in a Bar-room,•
American Heritage 15 (June 1964), 14-7.
10Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade, 46-7; Walter J. Meserve,
Heralds of Promise: The Drama of the American People in the Age of
Jackson, 1829-1849 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press,
1986), 151-54; Michael R. Booth, .. The Drunkard's Progress:
Nineteenth-century Temperance Drama," Dalhousie Review 44
(1964-1965), 205-12.
11John Kidder, The Drama of the Earth (New York: Adolphus
Ranney, 1857); H. Elliot McBride, The Poisoned Darkeys (New York:
Wehman Bros .• 1877); J. E. McConaughy, The Drunkard's Daughter
in S. Hammond, A Collection of Temperance Dialogues for Divisions
of Sons, Good Templar Lodges and other Temperance Societies
(np, 1869).
12Daniel C. Gerould, American Melodrama (New York: Per-
forming Arts Journal Publications, 1983), . 8; David Grimsted,
Melodrama Unveiled: American Theatre & Culture, 1800-1850
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 291.
13Nye, Unembarassed Muse, 153.
14Grimsted, Melodrama Unveiled, 2, 33, 35.
15Journal of the American Temperance Union 6 (September
1842), 138.
16f. P. Taylor, The Bottle (London: Thomas Hailes Lacy, nd);
Solon Robinson, Hot Corn, or Life Scenes in New York Illustrated,
Prompt Script (New York: Samuel French, 1856); Charles H. Morton,
Three Years in a Man-Trap (Camden, NJ: New Republic Print, nd);
Thomas Morton, Another Glass (Boston: Walter H. Baker Co, nd); W.
H. Smith, The Drunkard, in Richard Moody, ed., Dramas from the
American Theatre, 1762-1909 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,
1966), 281-307; Douglas Jerrold, Fifteen Years of a Drunkard's Life
(New York: Samuel French, nd).
17 J. B. Johnstone, The Drunkard's Daughter (London:
Samuel French, 1848); Edwin Tardy, Saved, or a Woman's Influence
(Clyde, Ohio: A. D. Ames. Publisher, nd); Morton. Man-Trap.
18AJthough ample evidence exists to indicate that women as
well as men were intemperate, temperance propaganda routinely
assigned the role of drunkard to the male and portrayed alcoholism
in terms of a power struggle between the sexes. According to
Blocker, ,or men the problem was first of all self-control; for women
the p r i n   i ~ l problem was controUing the behavior of men ... .
Rorabaugh, Alcoholic Republic, 169-70.
20Meade Minnigerode, The Fabulous Forties (New York: G.
P. Putnam's Sons, 1924), 113.
21 Wilentz, Chants Democratic, 309.
Johnson, •Drinking, Temperance and the Construction of
Identity,• 524.
23Rosemarie K. Bank, •Melodrama as a Social Document:
Social Factors In the American Frontier Play, • Theatre Studies 22
(1975/76), 42-49; Grimstad, Melodrama Unveiled, 222-6; Gerould,
American Melodrama, 9; Judith N. McArthur, •Demon Rum on the
Boards: Temperance Melodrama and the Tradition of Antebellum
Reform,• Journal of the Early Republic 9 (Winter 1989), 517-40.
Biocker, American Temperance Movements, 10.
25William W. Pratt, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room (New York:
Samuel French, 1856), 13.
26AU of the citations in this paragraph are from Karen Halt-
tunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-
class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1982), 9-10.
27McArthur, "Demon Rum on the Boards,· 535.
28Moody, Dramas, 283; Grimstad, Melodrama Unveiled, 181.
29Biocker, American Temperance Movements, 17-18.
30Nellie Bradley, Marry No Man if He Drinks (J. N. Stearns,
Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American
Politics and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 29-32;
Bruce A. McConachie, "'The Theatre of the Mob': Apocalyptic
Melodrama and Preindustrial Riots in Antebellum New York,• Theatre
for Working-class Audiences in the United States, 1830-1980, ed.
Bruce A McConachie and Daniel Friedman (Westport, Connecticut:
Greenwood Press, 1985), 26.
32Jon M. Kingsdale, "The 'Poor Man's Club': Social Func-
tions of the Urban Working-class Saloon,.. American Quarterly 25
(October 1973), 76.
33Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Research Notes for
"Temperance Hymns and Prohibition Parodies,• Exhibition, Library
and Museum of the Performing Arts, New York Public Library, 20
February 1990-28 April 1990; Wilentz, Chants Democratic, 308-11.
John V. Antush
The golden age of New York's Hispanic theatre came during the
twenties and the thirties when It was predominantly Spanish and a
vital part of the International cultural life of the City. The Spanish ClvU
War dissipated much of that cultural Impact and the Second World
War almost snuffed out any cultural exchange between Spain and
the United States for a time. Meanwhile, during the forties one of the
most elaborate and sophisticated national theatres in all of Latin
America was developing in Puerto R·ico. When large numbers of
Puerto Ricans migrated to the mainland In the late forties and fifties,
they brought with them the seeds of a theatre that would blossom in
the sixties and dominate Hispanic theatre In New York City. This first
generation of the new wave of Puerto Rican playwrights was divided
Into two groups.
The members of the first group were already renowned
playwrights in Puerto Rico when they found a new venue for their
plays in New York among the Puerto Ricans of the diaspora. This
group Included Luis Rechani Agrait, Estrella Artau, Manuel Mendez
Ballester, Jaime Carrero, Victor Fragoso, Joseph Lizardi, Rene Mar-
q u   s ~ Jacobo Morales, Toni Mulett, Luis Rafael sanchez, Pedro Juan
Soto, Ann Lydia Vega, and others. These dramatists visited New
York for a short time and gave their support to the burgeoning
theatre movement there before returning to Puerto Rico. The second
group of playwrights migrated to New York with no fanfare, little or
no theatre training, but a determination to make their careers on the
mainland. Men like Miguel Algarrn, Oscar Col6n, Roberto Ramirez,
Roberto Rodriguez Suarez, Tato Laviere started as something else--
actors, directors, educators, poets--but they all contributed plays and
prepared the way for the next generation of playwrights. These
playwrights wrote about Puerto Rican life in New York City from the
more intimate knowledge of having been formed largely by the life of
the City.
The two most Important figures of each group--Rene Marques and
Roberto Rodrfguez Suarez--are inextricably linked in the develop-
ment of Puerto Rican drama on the mainland. Marques had already
written three plays before he wrote La carreta in 1951 , but only one
of his plays had actually been produced. His reputation as an
essayist and fiction writer greatly overshadowed what little reputation
he had as a dramatist. Despite the year he spent studying playwrit-
ing at Columbia University and at Plscator's Drama Workshop in
1949, Marques at this stage In his career had little working knowl-
edge of the practical demands of the theatre. The original version of
La carreta would take almost five hours to perform; It was virtually
unstageable as written. Marques toyed with the Idea of a trUogy, of
staging each act as a separate play; but that would have cut down
the panoramic sweep of the whole migratory movement.
When Rodriguez Suarez decided to launch his directing career
with the world premiere of La carreta at San Sebastian's Church, he
brought acclaim to both himself and the playwright first In New York
and then in Puerto Rico. Rodrfguez Suarez pruned the long
monologues, reduced the repetition, and eliminated the •dead•
scenes, but he managed to retain Marques' basic vision. Why would
Marques, who would not let anyone else touch one comma of his
writings, allow Rodrfguez Suarez to make such large-scale changes?
Because by cutting almost two hours out of the play, Rodriguez Sua-
rez made La carreta theatrically viable. Later on, Marques com-
plained bitterly that the Spanish director and censors had
•butchered" his play in Madrid, but he praised Rodrfguez Suarez's
version and was very pleased with the theatrical result. 1 When
Charles Pilditch translated the play into English at the author's
request for its· record-breaking run at the Greenwich Mews Theatre in
1966, he used the Rodrfguez Suarez production version. Thus the
play that launched the modern Puerto Rican Theatre in New York
was a collaboration of many people--actors, directors, translators
among others-but in a fundamental way it was a Marques-Rodrfguez
Suarez collaboration.
Born In Naguabo, Puerto Rico in 1923, Roberto Rodrfguez
Suarez attended the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, before
returning to Naguabo to teach, first in the elementary school then in
the junior high school where he also served as assistant principal.
His first theatrical opportunity came when he wrote and directed a
play, Pobre Puerto Rico (•Poor Puerto Rico" or "Poor Rich Port") for
his students. The whole town turned out with people filling the
theatre, sitting on the edge of the stage, and spilling out onto the
front steps of the school. Loudspeakers broadcast the performance
In the town square. For the most part, the audience had never seen
a play; they had nothing to compare the play to, except their own
sense of life.2 They were spellbound by what they saw and heard;
their enthusiasm for the play was overwhelming. The next day
Rodrfguez Suarez was a famous man In his hometown. The die had
been cast for his career In the theatre.
The next fateful move came in 1949 when his sister fell ill during a
two-week Christmas holiday in New York. Rodrfguez Suarez went to
care for her and fell in love with New York City. After returning to
Puerto Rico to finish the school year, he migrated to New York on 4
November 1950, more or less for good. He took jobs In factories to
support himself and joined the premiere Hispanic repertory company
of the time, La Farandula Panamerlcana. These seasoned theatre
professionals put on about four productions a year, renting either the
Masters Theatre on 103rd Street and Riverside Drive or the Belasco
Theatre on 48th and Broadway. They welcomed Rodriguez Suarez
and named him one of their directors; they never asked him about
previous experience. The company Itself became his training
ground. The rest Is, as they say, history. Rodrfguez Suarez went on
to become one of the pre-eminent directors and teachers In the
Hispanic theatre of New York City.
Roberto Rodriguez Suarez marks the break with the first group of
new wave playwrights because unlike them he really •began• In New
York where he established a permanent residence and became a
highly visible contributor to the artistic and Intellectual life of the City.
He directed more than forty-seven plays, most of them In New York.
He founded the first Puerto Rican Theatre repertory company -with a
root,• the first permanent Hispanic theatre on the East Coast. The
Nuevo Cfrculo Dramatico flourished for five years (1955-1960) and
with it a school for aspiring actors, directors, and other theatre
professionals. His reputation as an acute and sensitive teacher
brought him to Middlebury College, where he taught and directed for
six summers. Occasionally, he lectured at Barnard College and
Columbia University. He also taught at the Bilingual Performing Arts
Center, the Multi-Media Theatre Arts Center, and the Spanish-English
Arts School. His acting credits include several Off-Broadway produc-
tions independent of his own theatre and more than thirty television
shows like The Armstrong Circle Theatre, The Kraft Theatre, Naked
City, Robert Montgomery Presents, Omnibus, Studio One, and
others. He had small parts in three feature films, The Power and the
Glory, Men In White, and Crowded Paradise. As a producer, direc-
tor, teacher, theatre manager, Rodrfguez Suarez contributed greatly
to the careers of many theatre people. Although he would not take
credit for their success, he creatively influenced the lives of his stu-
dents, such renowned theatre personalities as Enrique G6mez,
Miriam Col6n, Miriam Cruz, Dean Zayas, James Victor, lraida
Polanco, Dr. Getsy Cordova Ferrer and, to a lesser extent, his posi-
tive support touched the careers of many others, such as Sandia
Rivera, Ester Sandoval, and Miguel Angel Suarez. New York's
Hispanic theatre really belonged to Rodrfguez Suarez in the fifties;
his presence was the most dominant and pervasive force In that
decade of consolidation. For his efforts as director, teacher, and
founder, Oscar Col6n called him "the Lee Strasberg of Puerto Rican
These activities suggest the scope of Rodrfguez Suarez's
influence on the New York theatre, but they do not Include his most
enduring contribution-his writings. His prolific outpouring of writings
have earned him rightful recognition In the pantheon of Puerto Rican
authors. He has written a dozen short stories, four major teleplays,
over twenty television dramas for the NYC Dept. of Corrections,
numerous journalistic pieces to El Diario and La Pensa In New York
and to El Mundo and The San Juan Star In Puerto Rico and In other
newspapers. Over the years he made many contributions to the
Children's Television Workshop, producers of Sesame Street, .The
Electric Company, and Feeling Good. Finally, his most Important
writings for our purposes are his eight plays: six full-length dramas
and two one-act plays.
The first three plays comprise a loose trilogy about Puerto Ricans
staying on the Island, migrating to the mainland, and returning In tri-
umph to Puerto Rico. The first play, The Betrothal, presents a vivid
picture of an almost completely un-Amerlcanlzed rural Puerto Rico.
Set In the small fishing village, La Playa de Naguabo, the play
delineates some of the tensions among four kinds of people: the vU-
Iage people who love the sea, the mountain folk, those who yearn for
the stimulation and larger possibilities of San Juan, and those who
see more opportunity in New York. The second play, Windows, a
classic of the migratory experience, is the confrontation in New York
of three generations of Puerto Ricans: the reluctant old people,
newty-arrived, who long to return to Puerto Rico; the transitional gen-
eration, also older, who have become accustomed to New York City
but not acculturated; and finally the Nuyoricans, raised in New York
City, who cannot understand ·au the fuss about the Island• (99).3
Both plays capture the variety and rich diversity among Puerto
Ricans In the fifties; both plays end with a sharp sense of the con-
straints of the human condition, especially those manifested in the
Puerto Rican experience.
The third play, In the White House, is a farce about the tri-
umphant return from New York of two well-to-do women who left
Naguabo years ear1ier under a cloud of criticism. Both married suc-
cessful men but they lived a simple life by New York standards, and
both maintained their friendly down-to-earth attitudes toward others.
However, when they return, they change. Determined to Impress
their old friends and to get revenge on their old enemies, they
become obnoxiously class-conscious and take on all the phony trap-
pings of a meretricious elegance. The play leaves open the question:
what has caused this change for the worse? The influence of New
York? Their own weakness, a universal trait of humanity? Or both?
All three of these plays lay claim to a social and political conscious-
ness that is their distinguishing characteristic. However, the charac-
ters are as much the victims of their own necessary dreams and
spiritual aspirations as of the implacable force of the real limitations
of time and place and the unforgiving rhythms of modernity.
The Betrothal concerns the plight of Marla Elena, engaged from
childhood to Alejito, a young man from the mountains where her
family used to live, but Involved with Manuel, the town dandy who
now lives next door. Marla Elena does not want to marry either one.
She neither loves Alejito nor can she stand the thought of living Iso-
lated in the mountains where Alejito and his mother own a farm and a
small grocery store. Although she likes Manuel, she finds the sleepy
little fishing vUiage too confining, too boring, too unsatisfying for her
restless spirit. Her mother's lover, Carmela, deserted the family
when she was at a very impressionable age. Her mother's, Dona
Lola's, bickering with Carmela and then her mother's sense of loss
have made her distrustful of men and have soured her on marriage
altogether. She Is determined to move to San Juan, where she
thinks she wUI find the Independence, the intellectual and aesthetic
stimulation, the challenges necessary for her full development as a
woman. Her older brother, Juancho, on the other hand, loves the
sea and loves fishing. He has a strong aversion to field work on the
farm and to factory work In the city. However, there Is not enough
work for him on the local boats; his enforced idleness is eating away
at him. He wants Maria Elena to marry Alejito who will then help him
to buy his own boat. The oldest, Carmen Gloria, is more flexible.
She is willing to move to New York City with the man she loves, Gil-
berta, but he leaves her behind. When Maria Elena turns down
Alejito, Carmen is willing to marry him and tend the grocery store in
the mountains, but Alejito wants only Maria Elena. Carmen Gloria
accepts life's conditions and makes the most of them. She wants to
be the savior of her family, to marry, to have children, to work hard,
to make enough money to help everyone. Whereas Carmen Gloria
feels only a sense of solidarity with her family, Maria Elena defines
herself as different from them. She will go to any lengths to escape
the confinement of the family and the town. She begs her brother,
Juancho, In vain to accompany her to San Juan. A little neighbor
girl, Pepita, has caused a stir in the countryside by her •visions• of
the Virgin.
One night in extreme frustration Maria Elena cries aloud to the
Virgin for help. Carmen Gloria mistakenly thinks that Maria Elena has
also had a vision. Maria Elena lets the whole town believe it and tells
them that the Virgin told her that they would all be happy, that
Carmela would return to her mother, and that she herself should go
to San Juan. However, the early symptoms of pregnancy have
already begun and her lie is discovered almost immediately. A
sympathetic neighbor, Juana, tries to explain it as another •virgin
birth, • but Manuel comes forth to claim his baby. Trapped by
geography and biology, Maria Elena tries to throw herself into the
sea, but Manuel saves her. At the end of the play, everyone must go
on living with a diminished sense of life's possibilities. The mother
must face the facts that Carmela will not return and that Maria Elena
will not be \Yell-married• and •save• the family {23). Carmen Gloria
has lost two opportunities for marriage and may not get another.
Juancho has lost the chance to get his own boat and he Is drowning
in alchohol. Maria Elena wUI probably never get to San Juan. The
personal struggles of the characters are elevated to existential
paradigm In the assertion of a value beyond the apparent meaning-
lessness of their efforts. The play concedes a kind of heroism to
people who face their Inescapable fate with honesty and dignity.
Windows picks up the theme of star-crossed dreams In El Barrio,
the heart of the Puerto Rican community in Manhattan. Juanita and
his wife, Lolita, have brought his father, Don Juan, from Puerto Rico
to share their modest apartment with them and their new baby. Don
Juan's wife has just died and they do· not want the old man to be
alone. They bought new furniture for him and fixed up the apartment
with loving care. However, everything they do to cheer up Don Juan
fails. He feels sorrow and guUt for having left his wife alone with no
one to pray for her. •1 know, • he says, •she would not have done
such a thing If I had died before her- {24). His younger sister, Tfa
Marcola, who is about his age but who has lived in New York for
twenty years, scolds him. • All that mourning for years and years ...
that old fashioned thing of crying day after day, day after day, day
after day ... ? That is something of the past.• When Don Juan's
younger son replies •1n Puerto Rico no, Tfa ... , • she retorts, WWell
. .. that just proves how behind the times they are .. {83). Don Juan's
emotions are so strongly tied to customs that he has lived with all his
life that he cannot control his feelings. His deepest spiritual need at
this time Is to return to Puerto Rico to be with his wife, but his chil-
dren do not recognize it. They try to •Americanize" him. Juanito tries
to persuade him to put the past behind him and to go on with his life.
Both sons want him to be proud of their new American life. The sons
are very respectful and obedient, but Lolita Is beginning to lose
patience. She expresses the gap in understanding when, forgetting
her husband practically kidnapped his father, she says, WWhy do they
come here if they suffer so much away from the homeland• {99)?
For his part, Don Juan interferes in the family life. He will not allow
music or dancing while they are in mourning. He accidentally inter-
rupts Juanita and Lolita as they are preparing to make love. He
criticizes they way Lolita cares for the baby. When his younger son,
Cipriano, gets married, he casts a pall over the wedding. As
Christmas approaches, he has no money for gifts; he misses the
aguinaldas and the customary celebrations on the island. He grows
more depressed. In a desperate act he •steals" Juanita's new radio
and phonograph to buy a plane ticket. The police catch him and
bring him back In handcuffs in front of the whole neighborhood.
HumUiated, he realizes he has brought disgrace on his family and the
whole community. "My God, • he thinks, "what am I doing to my
sons?" Sympathetic neighbors get together and buy Don Juan a
ticket to Puerto Rico. He cannot say goodbye to his sons because
they would stop him. Don Juan leaves the apartment to meet the
neighbor who will drive him to the airport. At the last minute he
changes his mind. He realizes that his family does need him and he
needs them. He asks his wife's forgiveness. With the ticket In his
pocket he is no longer a prisoner; he now has the freedom to stay or,
if absolutely necessary, to go.
Don Juan is symbolic of Puerto Rico Itself. Abducted by his own
children he Is held hostage against their future. Everything they do·
for him is done with love, respect, affection. But he lives by the old
values of close famUy solidarity that the children only half understand
and are beginning to lose. Toward the end of the play, sensing the
old man's profound unhappiness with them, Juanito and Lolita sug-
gest that he move to a vacant apartment across the street. Ironically,
these same values prevent Don Juan from escaping when he gets
the chance. Although his wife Is very much "alive" to him, he must
choose between his dead wife and his living sons. He makes the
tough decision to support the spiritual needs of his sons. Among
other things this play is about how much pain we can inflict on one
another out of love. Don Juan's destiny is the agony of a prisoner
who cannot escape because he loves his children.
In the White House moves further Into the political issue of the
clash between North American and Puerto Rican cultures. Set in the
thirties toward the end of Prohibition when bootlegging was becom-
ing widely regarded as public service rather than a crime in Itself, the
play focuses on two women, significantly named America G6mez
and Libertad Garcfa y de Ia Cueva, who return to Naguabo after
having lived for many years in Brooklyn. In Brooklyn they were com-
mon middle-class people, but In Puerto Rico they pose as social
aristocrats. America hires a maid who teaches them how to smoke,
how to talk, how to walk in the exaggerated style of the Puerto Rican
upper classes. To get more money to flaunt before the townspeople,
the two women go into the bootlegging business for themselves
without telling their husbands. They plan a whole campaign of
attending civic functions, donating to fashionable charities, attending
Mass on Sundays lavishly dressed, going to bridge and bingo
parties, and so on. The dramatic foil to these two women Is
Libertad's mother, Dona Aurora, an unpretentious, cigar-smoking,
tough-talking woman who loves animals and children. Upon her
arrival at her daughter's mansion, called "the white house," Dona
Aurora assures the others that everything will be all right as long as
"we live as we used to before our trip to Brooklyn" (35). Libertad, of
course, does not listen to her mother.
The standard against which the whole farce is played can be
found at the beginning of Act II In the letter Dona Aurora Is writing to
her friend back In Brooklyn.
Dear Nina, Do you remember my daughter? The way she
behaved In Brooklyn? Well, now she's different. Now she
thinks she's society lady. Know what I mean? Rich lady? Do
you know, dear Nina, the things she do to me? She doesn't
let me go visit my old friends, the friends I left behind when I
went to live In Brooklyn. And you know why, dear Nina?
Because she say they are Inferior class. Can you Imagine,
Nina? I have told Alfonso many times to take her to a doctor
who could rattle her brains back in place . . . And my dear
Nina, I am telling you the truth. I am a prisoner In my own
house here In Puerto Rico {64-65).
The theme of one culture imprisoned within another, only Implied by
Images and symbols In Windows, Is stated explicitly here. Windows
ends on this theme and the final Image of Don Juan Imprisoned by
love has a strong impact on the audience. In the White House opens
with this theme and develops it further but then dissipates its Impact
with the happy ending of the farce. In Act Ill at the .. Inauguration of
the White House, .. all pretensions are exposed, all is forgiven, and the
town admits the two women probably did marry better in the United
States {for love and money). Everyone Is happy to be together again
not as they once were {at odds) but In a new spirit of understanding
each others' weaknesses. The ending asserts the Puerto Rican
genius for assimilating other cultures into Its own unique blend of
common humanity and broad humor.
Among their other distinctions, these three plays offer progressive
variations, and a critique of, the Puerto Rican American dream, a
vague concept that has different meanings for different people.
Originally, of course, the American dream was the European dream
of America as a place where the human spirit might find fulfillment.
Some sought that fulfillment In religious freedom or political freedom,
or in freedom from poverty and from repression of all kinds; others
more aggressively pursued their happiness in wealth or pleasure.
The former sometimes escaped one form of intolerance and tyranny
in Europe only to create another version of it in the New World. The
latter likewise often fled their own economic exploitation only to
exploit the natural resources and their fellow human beings in the
Americas. But the dream, the dream of possibility, has always
remained alive despite its tragic misconceptions and misapplications.
Puerto Rico itself was once the American dream of Columbus and
the Spaniards, as well as of the Dutch, the English, and the French.
These three plays merge the Puerto Rican dream with the North
American dream. In Betrothal, the Puerto Rican dream of North
America Is represented by Gilberta, the young man who deserts
Carmen Gloria early In the play to seek his fortunes In the South
Bronx. Carmen Gloria Is a very fecund young woman who would
make a perfect wife for someone who could recognize and
appreciate her good qualities. GUberto, however, cannot relate to her
as a husband. Gllberto knows almost nothing about the United
States except that it offers him the promise of full employment and
more money. He works In the cane fields around Naguabo for only
about six months of the year. He feels wasted and his energies
unused. When his brother sends him a plane ticket and assures him
full-time work in a factory, he cannot refuse. Whatever the difficulties
there, he thinks, the Bronx has to be better than this. His departure
Is psychologically necessary but it carries with it the ominous over-
tones of Man's fall from Eden. In Windows the reality of Don Juan's
experience In New York turns out to be a fallen world where,
deprived of many of the physical and emotional comforts of home,
he must work out his salvation In a different challenge to the spirit.
He can no longer Indulge In automatic responses to cultural stimuli;
now he must make careful discriminations of judgment about what is
right for himself and for his children. His unfamiliar physical sur-
roundings carry him into a new moral terrain of the spirit.
In the White House is the fairytale fantasy that delineates the
boundaries between the illusions and the substance of the American
dream without examining their relationships very closely. The
"Inauguration Ball• of the last act Is an orgy of glamour and con-
spicuous consumption that Is finally exposed as the fraud of any
worthwhile satisfaction. The scene Is reminiscent of a colossal Hol-
lywood movie set where the destructive reality of such corrupt
extravagance is always kept at bay. The gross luxuriance of that
artificial posturing collapses under its own weight as the paint begins
to crack and the insincere smiles begin to fade. The moment of
epiphany comes when all the bootleggers (four groups) and their
clients are exposed for what they are--cheap vulgarians in search of
a social grace that will connect them to a spiritual grace. The experi-
ence of the play Is the characters' baptism of desire for a human
mutuality that satisfies both their individual spirit and their yearning
for transcendence. The two women, as well as the others, arrive at
this insight without any moral struggle and without having to pay the
terrible price of an Oedipus or Lear for their acquired wisdom. Like
Cinderella whose abused childhood exacted no toll on her psyche,
America and Libertad, the mythic representations of the United
States and Puerto Rico respectively, live happily ever after in perfect
harmony with their environment and their fellow man. For the
audience, the Puerto Rican American dream of universal dignity and
mutuality where the human spirit can find the full stretch of its pos-
sibility, remains just that, a dream whose achievement remains stub-
bomly out of sight In the half-glimpsed reality of a Platonic Ideal.
These plays represent the solid achievement of a major
playwright, but they are not the complete oewre. The other plays of
Roberto Rodriguez Suarez range from the deeply moving, realistic
play about AIDS, The Story, to the poetic play, Bird Adrift, based on
the life of the Puerto Rican composer, Sylvia Rexach, to the very
experimental plays, The Penitents, and The Almost Little Tragedy of
Lillie XIV, to the absurdlst play, The Ostriches' Halloween. In the last
play, The Ostriches' Halloween, Rodrrguez Suarez begins to move
away from the North American-Puerto Rican entanglement Into a
broader vision of the multicultural makeup of American society as a
blend of all Its ethnic personalities in unendurable but endured pain
with one another. The patrons of an upper Eastside New York bar-
Scandinavian, Italian, Russian, French, Jewish, Japanese, Hungarian,
Irish, German, African-American, Puerto Rican--live in an equUibrium
of ethnic Insult and self-loathing until they decide to start all over
again. The result is absurd. These plays and his other contributions
make him one of the most complete theatre personages of his day.
He contributed as an actor to all the media: stage, film, and televi-
sion. As a director he broke new ground and opened theatre com-
merce between the island and the mainland in a radically meaningful
way. His own writings dramatize the values and achievements of the
men and women of his generation and guarantee that he will live on
in the lives and works of future generations.
Ren6 Marques gave an elaborate description of his reaction
to the opening of La carreta in New York. He caught a plane on the
day of the performance. The director held the curtain for almost an
hour waiting for Marques to arrive by taxi from the airport. Among
the deeply felt comments he makes about the experience, Marques
says the following about Roberto Rodrigues Suarez.
·con amor y pasl6n diriji6 Roberto Rodrrguez Suarez mi
'Carreta.' Pero nl el amor ni Ia pasi6n lo cegaron. Su direcci6n
demuestra claramente una comprensi6n total del texto tanto en su
letra como en su esprritu. La certera elecci6n de tipos cre6 en ens-
cena una illusi6n perfects de vida y sentir puertorriqueno. Es asom-
brosa Ia identificaci6n de autor y director entre dos seres que s61o se
conocleran por una mete6rica correspondencia de algunas
semanas. Pero el caso es que Roberto dirigi6 mi obra como yo Ia
hubiese dirigido. •
(Roberto Rodrrguez Suarez directed my ·oxcart• with love
and passion. But neither love nor passion blinded him. His direction
clearly demonstrates a total understanding of both the spirit and the
letter of the text. The precise interpretation of the characters and the
scenery created a perfect illusion of Puerto Rican life and feeling.
The identification of author and director, two people who knew each
other only through a meteoric correspondence of a few weeks, was
astonishing. But the fact is that Roberto directed my play exactly as I
myself would have directed it.)
•Mt 'Carreta' In Nueva York,• por Rene Marques In El Diario
de Nueva York, Domingo, 21 de Junto de 1953.
2'fhe theatre in which the play was performed had been built
in 1909 and is now a landmark and national monument as one of the
oldest theatre buildings still standing In Puerto Rico. However, no
plays had been staged In it since 1935 when it was converted to a
movie theatre.
3fhese plays have not yet been published. All the page
references are to the unpublished English text of these plays. Copies
of the plays can be obtained from Roberto Rodrfguez Suarez, 1611
Second Avenue, New York, New York 10028.
Anne Stavney
In the opening scene of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Willy
Loman complains to his wife Unda about their son Biff: "The trouble
is he's lazy, goddammit! .. . a lazy bum!" (Miller, 16). In Willy's eyes,
Biff at thirty-four has spent too many years wandering about, has
never made good money, has never stayed long enough at one job
to get •somewhere• or be ·somebody.• To Willy, Biff is a disgrace.
Yet moments later in his conversation with Linda, Willy states
emphatically: "There's one thing about Biff--he's not lazy" (Miller, 16).
Flatly contradicting himself, Willy expresses an underlying
ambivalence in his relationship with Biff. Indeed, throughout the play
Willy vacillates between love and jealousy, between friendship and
envy, between attraction and repulsion. Willy's feelings are deeply
conflicted--for Biff is both his Idol and his curse.
Despite the confusion and seeming contradiction in Willy's senti-
ments toward Biff, the dynamics of the father-son relationship
become much clearer when considered within Rene Girard's frame-
work of triangular desire. Girard's triangle functions as a systematic
metaphor; the triangular structure cannot be localized, for It is a
model that explains an lntersubjective relationship rather than a
physical phenomenon.
According to Girard, no desire is unmediated. That is, all desire--
every human inkling, impulse or passion--is generated within a tri-
angle of desire. In Girard's formulation, there is a ·subject, • an
"object,• and a "mediator," which occupy three points on an isosceles
triangle. Although the distance between the subject and the
mediator often varies and can be ever-changing, because they
occupy the positions at the foot of the triangle and the object is
located at the point, such changes do not destroy the identity of the
figure (Girard, 2).
The central Implication of Girard's model is that desire does
not originate within, although human subjects like to believe that it
does. According to Girard, human subjects borrow their desires
from the Other (the mediator) in a "movement which is so fundamen-
tal and primitive that they completely confuse it with the will to be
Oneself" (Girard, 4). Rather than being self-chosen, human behav-
iors are based on the perceived desires of the mediator; accor-
dingly, they are not acts but reactions to the mediator's desires. The
theological paradigm for such mediation is the Christian desire for
salvation, which is mediated by Christ and is expressed In the sub-
ject's imitation of Christ's life.
Certain aspects of triangular desire remain true for all characters.
An impulse toward the object--whether it be salvation, chivalry, the
governorship of an island or the American Dream--Is ultimately an
impulse toward the mediator. The mediator Is all that the subject
desires to be; the mediator possesses all that the subject wants. Yet
the subject also sees that the model has put a mechanical obstacle
In his way: himself. In the disciple's eyes, that Is proof of the Ul wUI
the model has for the disciple. The result Is a feeling of both
reverence and repugnance for the mediator.
The choice of a model Is a response to the human tendency to
compare oneself with others. It is no coincidence that certain
people seem to have so many rivals, so many obstacles in their way,
so many fluky accidents. Such people have an irresistible Impulse to
desire what Others desire; Willy Loman of Death of a Salesman is
such a person. His life is lived in response to others. AJways wanting
something more, something different, something better than what he
has, Willy's desires are borrowed from those around him. He is
caught up in the American Dream of success.
The reality on which Willy has buHt his life is competition. He
thinks only in terms of working his way up, of always trying 'o get
ahead of the next fella" (Miller, 22). And as a victim of triangular
desire, Irresistibly wanting what others have, W111y encounters many
rivals and obstacles. If it's not the "goddam Studebaker,• or the
"goddam Chevrolet, • it's the "stink" from the neighboring apartment
houses, his "goddam arch supports,• or the "son-of-a-bitch" math
teacher. WUiy and Linda bought the refrigerator with the "biggest
ads, • but because Charley bought a General Electric refrigerator
that's ~   n t y years old and it's still good, • he too Is a "son-of-a-
bitch." Willy channels much of his anger at the faulty carburetor, the
leaky roof, the broken fan belt, as if these trivial problems alone have
impeded his success--problems that In Willy's mind others do not
have to face. But what Willy cannot see is that his desire for a 11ice
car, a solid house, and a new refrigerator does not originate within.
To Willy, his decision to stay In Boston and to be a salesman
rather than a carpenter Is rooted in himself. Willy believes in what
Girard terms the "iUusion of autonomy to which modern man is
devoted" (Girard, 16). But WUiy's choices are actually an imitation of
the desires that he ascribes to others. If Dave Singleman has
achieved the American Dream of success, then Willy wants to be like
him; he wants to have endless contacts, be well-known and •well-
liked," and make a living by just contacting a few people on the
phone from his hotel room bed. Willy holds Dave Singleman In such
high esteem not only because he has "made it," but because he has
done it alone; he is a Single Man. In Willy's eyes, Dave Is the
paragon of self-government and independence. Yet in the very
dependency of his admiration, WUiy disqualifies himself from being a
Single Man.
But the most important mediator of Willy's desire is his son Biff.
The more Willy Is around Biff, the more driven he is in his desire for
money, for fame, for successful sons. for family loyalty. And, of
course, Willy desperately wants to be 'Well-liked. • For Willy, these
are all aspects of the American Dream. Because Willy has elevated
Biff into the quintessential example of the American Dream come
true, Biff serves as his model; WUiy is his son's disciple. Girard does
talk about the notion of •double mediation, • in which two subjects
serve as mediators for each other. At one time, Bitt did indeed model
himself after his father and imitated his father's desires: he tried to
work his way up in a company, he tried to make it big on the football
field, he tried to be 'Well-liked.· And Biff tried very hard to earn his
father's admiration. But this period of "double mediation• came to an
abrupt end when Biff discovered his father with a woman in Boston.
From then on. Bitt saw Willy as a •phoney" and a "fake.•
There has been no similar disillusionment on Willy's part. In
Willy's mind, Bitt is a creation of parental success; Willy perceives Biff
as having all the confidence, ability, and admiration that Willy has
craved his whole life. And the higher Willy elevates Bitt, the better he
can feel about himself as a parent. But Willy also desperately wants
Bitt's love and approval because Willy's life has meaning only in Biff's
response to it. Biff's acceptance will validate Willy's life work.
Biff is all that Willy wanted to be in high school and would like to
be now--even as a grown man. Bitt has friends who admire him so
much that they follow him around after school hoping to be near him,
to talk to him, to have some of his attractiveness rub off on them.
And Bitt is popular with the girts, too. WUly is impressed by his son's
sexual attractiveness: "No kiddin', Bitt, you got a date? Wonderful!•
(Miller, 27). But it is Bitt's athletic prowess that Willy admires most. A
star running back for his high school football team, Biff is always to
be found In the backyard, suited up and throwing a football with his
brother, Happy. Bitt is the tallest on the team, and in Willy's eyes has
"a greatness• in him like no other. Willy buys Bitt a punching bag, is
sure his son knows more about sporting goods than Spaulding, and
on the way to the Ebbets Field game tells him that he will "com[ e)
home this afternoon captain of the All-Scholastic Championship
Team of the City of New York" (Miller, 88). To Willy, Biff is just a step
away from three college football scholarships. And after that, it will
be straight to the pros. Undoubtedly, Willy insists to Charley, Biff will
be another Red Grange.
Yet the terms in which Willy describes his son reveal more than
admiration. Bitt is "[I] ike a young Goo.· and like a •star that ... can
never really fade away!" (Miller, 68). Willy remembers when Biff was
dressed all In gold and came running onto the football field with "the
sun, the sun an around him. • In Willy's eyes Biff Is superhuman,
sanctified, haloed, divine. Comparing Biff to the •anemic• Bernard,
WUiy thanks •Almighty God" that Blff is buUt like Adonis, the god, with
whom both Aphrodite and Persephone fall In love when he is just an
infant (Grimal, 12). To WUiy, Biff is also like Hercules, the Greek hero
fabled for his athletic strength and especially for performing the
twelve labors imposed on him by Hera. In short, Willy ascribes to Blff
godlike qualities. He worships him; he Is his disciple.
Willy is grateful for Biff's tiniest attention, for he perceives himself
as a luckless, craven, Ineffectual man. Biff has buddies crowding
around him, but Willy confesses to Linda that people laugh at him
and ignore him: ·1 don't know the reason for it .. . . I'm not noticed.
(Miller, 36). He berates himself for talking too much, for joking too
much and for not •dressing to advantage.• And Willy lacks Biff's
physical attractiveness and agility; he's fat and •toollsh to look at.•
He hears one of his clients referring to him as a walrus. So the atten-
tion that Willy gets from his son means a great deal. It Is as If Willy Is
one of those high school students whose face lights up when Biff just
gives him a smile.
But because Biff is all that Willy would like to be, Biff is also his
rival. That is, the more friends Biff accumulates and the more college
football scouts who come to watch Biff's games, the less confident
Willy feels about himself. It is Willy's admiration for Biff and his sense
of rivalry and competitiveness with him that account for their
ambivalent relationship. As Willy's mediator, Biff is both a model of
accomplishment and an obstacle on Willy's path to success.
Willy's ambiguous feelings are clearly revealed in his confidences
to Unda and in his conversations with Biff himself. Biff is and is not a
"lazy bum• and •not finding yourself at thirty-four- Is both a disgrace
and a good thing. When Biff writes to say he is coming to visit, Willy
at first is elated, but as the arrival date draws nearer, he becomes
anxious, sullen, depressed. At one moment he will call Biff a -venge-
ful, spiteful mutt!, • then, seconds later, is •astonished• and ·erevated"
when Biff breaks down sobbing in his arms: "Isn't that--isn't that
remarkable? Biff--he likes me!" (Miller, 133). Willy's love for Biff is
tainted with jealousy, his friendship colored with envy, his attraction
vitiated by repulsion. From moment to moment Willy is not sure what
he wants from Biff.
Not surprisingly, given that his devotion is imbued with malice,
Willy also teaches Biff some very destructive habits. Willy mocks the
neighbor boy who works hard In school, calling Bernard a "pest" and
an "anemic, • In front of Biff and Happy. Schoolwork is for sissies,
Willy seems to say; he encourages Biff to copy Bernard's answers on
the State Regents examination. In addition to cheating, Willy also
teaches Biff how to lie. Constantly exaggerating his sales figures,
misrepresenting meetings with customers, overstating his impor-
tance In the company, Willy teaches Biff everything he knows about
puffery, embellishment, and hyperbole. As Biff tells Willy, "We never
told the truth for ten minutes In this house!• (Miller, 131). The most
destructive lesson that WUiy teaches Biff, however, Is how to steal.
One week he sends him to a nearby construction site to take some
sand; another week Biff successfully steals some lumber. Willy
boasts to his brother Ben about what 1eartess characters• his sons
are, bragging that they brought home •[a]t least a dozen six-by-tens
worth all kinds of money- (Miller, 50). Rather than scolding Biff for
taking a football from the school gym, WHiy thinks that the coach will
congratulate him on his •Initiative. • But Biff steals himself out of every
job after he leaves high school and ultimately spends three months in
jail for stealing a suit. Willy is devastated by his son's failure; yet, he
must take much of the blame for it. On the one hand, Willy wants
Biff to succeed and does what he can to encourage him; on the other
hand, he wants to see Biff fall, and he successfully sabotages many
of Biff's efforts.
As the desiring subject, Willy wants to become the mediator while
still being himself. He would like to steal from Biff his status as a
football hero and as a ladies' man. That Is, although Willy would
maintain that his desires antedate Biff, it is clear that Willy's behaviors
are shaped by Bitt's. Willy repeatedly reveals his reactive posture.
When he hears about Biff's success as a football hero, Willy brags
that someday he will have his own business and will be even bigger
than Uncle Charley. And when Linda remarks on the way Biff's bud-
dies obey him, Willy Immediately replies: ·wen, that's training, the
training. I'm tellin' you, I was sellin' thousands and thousands, but I
had to come home• (Miller, 34). Willy is always in competition with
his own son. It is not surprising that Willy chooses the time of Biff's
greatest football triumph to criticize Charley for his Inability to do
physical work and to remind him that he fixed his own ceiling and
rebuilt his own front porch. And when Linda praises Biff, Willy cuts
her off.
Willy competes with his son In the arena of sex, too. It is at the
very height of Biff's football career and at the peak of his high school
popularity that Willy chooses to have an affair with a woman in
Boston. Much like a high school girt, the woman is characterized by
constant laughter, giggling, and silliness. And the woman
emphasizes to Willy that he did not seduce her, but rather she picked
him. Like the high school girls who are willing to pay for Biff, this
woman is so attracted to Willy's good humor and sweetness that she
makes the first move. In imitating his son, Willy puts himself In a
situation where he too can feel irresistible.
He reacts In the same way on the job. On the very day when Biff
goes to ask Oliver for money, Willy chooses to confront his boss,
Howard. Hearing that Biff and Happy are going to •blow him to a big
meat• at Frank's Chop House after Biff makes a deal with Oliver, Willy
tells Unda excitedly: •t•m gonna knock Howard for a loop, kid. I'll get
an advance, and I'll come home with a New York job. Goddammit,
now I'm going to do it!• (Miller, 74). His burst of confidence,
however, couldn't be more unfounded. He leaves Howard's office
without an advance, without a New York job, without any job at all.
So WUiy's rivalry with Biff not only places him In a reactive posture, it
also warps his judgment.
Willy's breakdown is ultimately caused by the warring ideals
within him. Willy perceives himself as a failure H his son Is not a
model of the American Dream come true; but he also perceives him-
self as a faDed father H he Is anything less than his model son.
These deeply conflicted feelings for the mediator and the ardent
desire to change one's very being Is what Girard terms the •curse• of
the hero:
The curse on the hero Is so terrible and total that it extends
to the people and things which come under his influence.
Like a Hindu untouchable the hero contaminates everyone
and everything with which he is in contact. (Girard, 56)
Willy's •curse• does Indeed extend to the people and things around
him. And although he Is upset by the changes In his environment
and by the obsolescence of his appliances, we can see that much of
his dissatisfaction originates within. In fact, the closer things come to
Willy, the more he turns away from them and the more he perceives
flaws and Imperfections. But beyond those things there is an
immense land of happiness, wealth, and passion, that he, the con-
taminator, cannot reach.
Willy contaminates his own family: Biff, Linda, and Happy. Biff
spends the first thirty-four years of his life being unhappy with who he
is, feeling that he can never measure up to his father's expectations.
By the end of the play Biff begins to question these expectations and
to recognize his father's delusions for what they are. Nevertheless,
Biff's new-found wisdom distances him from his mother and brother,
for they subscribe to Willy's dream of success to the bitter end.
Given that Biff ultimately believes that his father •had the wrong
dreams,• he cannot remain with his family. Linda makes it quite
clear that if Biff disrespects his father, then he is also insulting her.
Willy's Influence tears the family apart.
WhUe Biff must go, Unda and Happy are left in Brooklyn to carry
on. Although Linda cries out at Willy's grave, ·we're free and
clear . . . . We're free," she is anything but released from Willy's
memory and his dreams. She Is left wondering why he was so
unhappy, why he killed himself: she doesn't understand. And Happy
pledges to show that Willy Loman •had a good dream. • Thinking in
the same competitive terms as his father, Happy is going to stay In
the city and -win It for [Wiltyr (Miller, 139). Willy keeps contaminat-
Ing his famUy even after he Is gone.
The source of this pollutant is Willy's own self-hatred. As Girard
puts It, ·rhe wish to be absorbed into the substance of the Other
Implies an Insuperable revulsion for one's own substance• (Girard,
54). Hating himself on a very fundamental level, WUiy sees all of his
immediate surroundings as Imperfect. Biff doesn't have a steady job;
Linda doesn't provide enough stimulation or sexual excitement;
Happy Is a little pudgy and will never be the athlete that his brother
was. Because Willy cannot measure up, neither can anyone else.
Yet Willy's self-hatred does not come only from this sense of
Inadequacy. It Is also a result of his having accepted demands from
the outside which he cannot meet from within. He desperately wants
the popularity, fame, and wealth that are part of the American Dream,
but he Is not capable of satisfying these demands. And Willy's career
In sales points out the fact that he has placed his faith outside him-
self. He approaches his clients with only a ,.smile and a shoeshine, •
completely vulnerable and prey to their whims.
Willy wants to appear the self-confident, successful man, but his is
a false pride. And the more he tries to puff himself up and act out the
role that he would like to be playing, the more violent the contrast
within him between what he would be and what he actually is. Con-
stantly shifting between his outward persona of success and his
inward reality of failure, Willy comes to feel ·kind of temporary about
[him)selr (MUier, 51).
Girard comments on the hero's bitter and solitary existence:
Each Individual discovers in the sol itude of his conscious-
ness that the promise is false but no one is able to universal-
ize his experience. The promise remains true for Others . . . .
Everyone thinks that he alone is condemned to hell, and that
Is what makes It hell. (Girard, 57)
This is Willy's plight. He desperately wants to know what the others
know that he doesn't. To him, his brother Ben Is ,he only man he
ever met who knew the answers• (Miller, 45). So he pleads with Ben:
"What's the answer? How did you do it?• (Miller, 47) and confesses
to him, "I don't know what to do,. (Miller, 84). Similarly, he asks of
Chaney's son Bernard: What--what's the secret? . .. How--how did
you?· (Miller, 92). Like the Girardian hero, Willy condemns himself to
his own private hell . He complains to Linda that he has to work ten.
to twelve hours a day to make ends meet, while "Other men--1 don't
know--they do It easier" (emphasis added) (Miller, 37).
But because Willy can't give away his horrible secret to others that
he is neither autonomous nor self-sufficient, he loudly proclaims his
self-sufficiency. When Charley repeatedly offers him a job, Willy feels
Insulted: 'What the hell are you offering me a job for'r (Miller, 43) ...
I don't want your goddam job!• (Miller, 97). Willy's pride survives
only with the help of a lie. He insists to his boys that •the greatest
things can happen!• even though they have never happened to him;
he boasts to his brother, Ben, that •business Is bad, it's murderous.
But not for me, of course: though Willy's business has never been
worse. Although WUiy Is truly the •Low Man• In the system, he Is left
ardently defending it.
Thinking only of what could be rather than what is, WUiy shuns the
present and lives in the brilliant future (Girard, 58). Linda tells Biff
that his father would like to receive a letter from him, •just to know
that there's still a possibility for better things• (Miller, 54). And Willy
says repeatedly •1 can feel it changing, • ever hopeful that things wUI
be different and better. He also begins to enjoy his dream fn
advance, figuring out how they wUI spend the money Blff wUI get from
Oliver and how he wUI spend his days off work. He tells Unda they
will get a place in the country, the boys will both marry and come for
the weekend, and they will buDd a guest house for the boys to stay
ln. The only thing that stands between Willy and his dream is Biff, the
mediator. If Blff were to get the loan from Oliver, It would provide the
money for the dream. But It would also underscore his father's
. impotence.
WUiy's suicide is his final expression of his reverence and repug-
nance for Biff. Determined to leave the Loman household, Blff
comes to say goodbye to his father. Willy will not even shake his
hand. Biff yells at Willy, •Exactly what is It that you want from me?•
and finally breaks down sobbing In Willy's arms. Willy Is astonished
and puzzled: ·what're you doing? What're you doing?• (Miller, 133).
At last, WUiy has the intimacy he has so desperately desired; his son,
the mediator, has shown him his love. Even so, Willy is repelled by
this Intimacy. His sense of rivalry with his mediator is much too
strong to be absolved by a simple gesture of love. Rather, Willy
makes a final move of •one-upmanship•: he kills himself. He wants
Biff to realize once and for all how many people know him and how
far they will come for his funeral, and how much money he is worth.
Girard argues that eventually the object is merely a means of get-
ting to the mediator. That is, the disciple's desire becomes exclu-
sively aimed at the mediator's being (Girard, 53). And this is true for
Willy, too. Obviously, he will not be able to spend the insurance
money or witness the crowd of friends at his funeral. All he wants is
to take Biff's position from him, to show Biff up. He, Willy Loman, will
be the wealthy, popular one. His thinking completely distorted by
this enduring rivalry, Willy kills himself because Biff will ·worship
[him] for it" (Miller, 135).
Sources Cited
Girard, Rene. Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in
Literary Structure. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.
Grlmal, Pierre. The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Trans. A.R.
Maxweii-Hyslop. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. 1949. New York: Penguin,
Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix
Margaret Fleming, by playwright James A. Herne, has long
been heralded by theatre historians as one of the first examples of
dramatic realism on the American stage. This play Is unique within
Herne's canon both for its deviation from melodrama and for its
daring content, which shocked conventional audiences unprepared
for its preoccupation with adultery and disease. In addition to the
drama's ground-breaking style and content, Margaret Fleming has
also been recognized by scholars as containing an early feminist
bent. Hamlin Garland, a novelist, dramatic critic and contemporary
of James and Katharine Herne, said that Margaret Fleming sprang
directly from the Hernes' "radicalism on the woman question. •
In an article written for Boston's The Arena in 1891, Garland
gives evidence of this as he remarks upon the portrayal of Margaret,
in the closing tableau of the play, by Herne's wife, Katharine Cor-
She seems to be all of the woman, and something of the
seer, as she stands there as Margaret whose blindness has
somehow given her inward light, and conviction, and
strength. She seemed to be speaking for all womankind,
whose sorrowful history we are only just beginning to read
truthfully. It is no wonder that Mrs. Herne appealed with
such power to the thinking women of Boston. Never before
has their cause been so stated in America. 3
In addition to nineteenth-century criticism, such contemporary femi-
nist critics/historians as Judith L. Stephens say that "Margaret Flem-
ing is traditionally recognized as a progressive heroine in the
portrayal of women in American drama."
Deborah S. Kolb adds to
this in her article "The Rise and Fall of the New Woman in American
Drama" by saying that the "portrayal of women on the American
stage also struck off in a new direction in 1890, with the production of
Margaret Fleming, and from 1890 to 1930, a surprisingly large num-
ber of plays appeared which seriously treated the 'woman ques-
It is evident, therefore, that this play has been coupled with a
feminist ideology--one, however, that needs to be defined and re-
evaluated. There are many ambiguities that surround the text and
•feminist dynamic .. supposedly apparent in Margaret Fleming, such
as its numerous and predominantly undocumented revision history,
the destruction of all original manuscripts, and the rewrite by
Katharine Corcoran after Herne's death. Such ambiguities cause the
play and its history to take on a dubious cast. The equivocal nature
of this play, both structurally and conceptually, must be addressed.
Most important In this investigation will be an attempt to uncover
Corcoran's involvement with the play, to suggest how her efforts
shaped the text that is now regarded as Margaret Fleming, and to
determine what ramifications Corcoran's involvement had in terms of
the play's supposed feminist dynamic.
Margaret Fleming had its premier on 4 July 1890 at the LyM
Theatre In lynn, Mass. Corcoran starred as Margaret, the wife of mill
owner Philip Fleming, played by James Herne. Although the play
was received favorably by the critics, this praise was in no way mir-
rored at the box office. The content of the play was considered
audacious for audiences whose tastes had been cultivated In dime
museums, burlesque halls and in theatres whose fare never trans-
cended spectacular melodrama. In his biography of James Herne,
John Perry wrote:
A frankness about adultery, alcoholism, delirium tremens,
and illegitimacy were all reasons why Margaret Fleming
shocked starched moralists. Most people clung to tradi-
tional stage values, which meant sugar-coated lies. Daniel
Frohman said that •unless a love story shines like a radiating
sun through a play, that play will die.tt6
The Hernes fought to obtain subsequent hearings for the play,
presenting it in Boston at Chickering Hall on 4 May 1891 for two
weeks and In October 1891 (ironically under the sponsorship of
Syndicate kingpins Klaw and Erlanger) for three. The play then
moved to New York's Palmer's Theater in December, followed by a
nine-day engagement in Chicago at McVicker's Theatre in July 1892.
It was for this production that the play underwent a major revision in
hopes that this would generate a more lucrative run. The only other
productions of the play were in April 1894 at the Fifth Avenue Theatre
in New York, a production in 1907 at the New Theatre in Chicago,
and the 1915 revival of the play at the Keith Bronx Theatre in
Chicago. Except for the production at the New Theatre, Margaret
Fleming never achieved any commercial success, which accounts
for its rather scanty production history.
Many scholars believe that Herne's revision process was
engendered through his desire to advance the "Art for Truth's Sake ..
movement, and while this desire should not be discarded as a con-
tributing factor, a more commanding motive seems to have been
monetary. In accordance with the American aesthetic of which he
was a product, Herne was a businessman before he was an artist,
and the need to make money by far outweighed his lbsenesque lean-
ings. It was for this reason that the play was revised a number of
times by the Hernes in an attempt to mitigate the controversial
material and present the public with something more in tune with
contemporary popular fare. Although the precise number of individ-
ual revisions and when they occurred is not documented,
the exist-
ence of three specific versions is certain: the version first presented
in Lynn, Mass. In 1890, the revision that took place for James
McVicker when the play was done in Chicago in 1892, and the ver-
sion written by Corcoran In 1914 after a fire destroyed all existing
manuscripts of the play in 1909. However, in all three versions of the
play, Act IV was the only portion that underwent significant change
during the second revision. While Acts 1-111 have undoubtedly
undergone subtle change, drastic plot restructuring took place only
with Act IV.
It is the original version of Act IV that contains elements that
critics thought to be representative of .. radicalism .. regarding .. the
woman question, .. for it is in this version that Margaret refuses to
reunite with her husband, Philip, from whom she was separated upon
discovery of his affair with local townswoman Lena Schmidt and the
subsequent birth of their bastard child. Garland describes the effect
that this ending produced:
... the close of the play had a touch of art which up to that
time had never had its equal on our stage. After having
refused reconciliation with her husband, Philip Fleming,
Margaret was left standing in tragic isolation in the middle of
the stage, and as the lights were turned out one by one, her
figure gradually disappeared in blackness, and the heavy,
soft curtains, dropping together noiselessly, shut in the poig-
nant action of the drama and permitted a silent return of the
actual world in which we lived. a
Despite accolades from vanguard thinkers in Boston, such as
Howells, Garland, and B.O. Flower, much of the critical response to
this play was hostile. William Winter, the Clement Scott of American
drama, referred to the play as .. one of those crude and completely
ineffectual pieces of hysterical didacticism which are from time to
time produced on the stage with a view to the dismay of libertines by
an exhibition of some of the evil consequences of licentious con-
A majority of the critics who reviewed the play were particu-
larly offended by Margaret's rejection of Philip--expressing their dis-
belief that she would not accept her husband back after his betrayal.
Edward Dithman of The New York Times said that "the character of
Margaret Is strongly drawn, but, If she is a logical personage, she is
certainly a disagreeable one. Selfishness Is her predominating
tra1t:1o The New York Herald was also put off by this character's
staunch decision to proclaim her independence, calling for a "softer-
Margaret. 11 The reviewer of the Boston Weekly Transcript shared
the sentiments of his fellow journalists by calling the play "crude,
inartistic, and illogical• and saying that there "was something too
much of it a11:12
Despite pressure from other producers to whom Corcoran
appealed to sponsor Margaret Fleming, there are no records Indicat-
Ing that the original version of Act IV was altered until 1892 when the
play was to be produced In a double bill with Herne's successful
Shore Acres at McVicker's theatre in Chicago. (It should be noted
that Corcoran was violently opposed to altering the text in any way
and refused producers who were Interested In presenting the play in
an amended form. In 1891, she received such an offer from the
owner of the Tremont Theatre in Boston, J.B. Schoeffel, and
responded, "Not one line of this play will be changed, Mr. Schoef-
fel. •) 13 McVicker was enthusiastic about the experimental nature of
Margaret Fleming but had no illusions that the play's mounting would
prove profitable. He wrote to Herne, •1 doubt if the play will ever be a
money maker for the reason that it treats of an unpleasant truth.•14
McVIcker suggested many ways to "soften the play,,. which resulted
in the rewrite of Act IV in 1892. Herne and Corcoran, anxious to have
the play professionally produced for a significant run and respecting
McVicker as a "universally admired" man of the theatre, finally sub-
mitted and agreed to the rewrite.
Responding to so many who wished to see Margaret and
Philip reconciled at the end of the play, the Hernes' final version, thus
"softened," suggests a future reunion of husband and wife. Edwards
and Herne note that: "many of Herne's friends regretted the changes
he had made to please McVicker, especially the new ending, and felt
that the earlier tragic ending was the stronger, the more logical, and
the more dramatic of the two."15 This final rewrite of the play makes
a distinct switch from the "radicalism on the woman question" to a
conventional, sentimental viewpoint in which the hint of reunion
between Margaret and Philip assuages images of separation and
declared Independence. It is not surprising, however, that the play
was considerably more successful after the change, achieving an
eighteen-day run in New York in 1894 (its longest to date) and a two-
week engagement in Chicago in 1907 with a proposed extension and
transferal to New York.
Most interesting, however, is the third version of the play, the
one presently in publication and the only extant text. Neither version
of Margaret Fleming had ever undergone publication during Herne's
lifetime and all existing manuscripts of the play were Incinerated In a
fire that destroyed the family home In 1909. Five years after the dis-
aster, Corcoran, upon the request of her daughter, Julie Herne,
reconstructed the play from memory for a revival in 1915 at the Keith
Bronx Theatre, where Julie was to perform the role of Margaret. It
should be mentioned that Corcoran was at this time fifty-eight years
old and had not played the role for twenty years. It should also be
noted that, although Corcoran did, Indeed, appear In the title role
from 1890-1894, the play could only ever have had a maximum of
sixty-six performances In which Corcoran played Margaret, consider-
Ing the production history discussed above (and that is assuming
that all the runs Included a performance every day, which Is possible,
but unlikely). Such tremendous recall seems curious In view of these
facts and brings into question Corcoran's obvious close connection
to the play. Quinn, too, remarks upon this, saying that •Mrs. Heme ..
. raises a final problem which the historian cannot solve--to what
extent the plays as they now exist were the joint product of the
dramatist and the actress to whom Herne has frequently paid his
tribute for her inspiration. •
6 It is important, therefore, to pause here
and reconsider Corcoran's involvement with previous versions of the
Katharine Corcoran was always regarded as having been an
Inspiration to Herne and the model for many of his dramatic
heroines, including Margaret Fleming. She was known to have been
a supporter of the emerging feminist movement in America, as her
previously mentioned sympathy with "the woman question• and her
acquaintanceship with leading feminist figure Lucy Stone suggest.
Perry comments on this:
Boston's feminists, of course, embraced K.C., Inviting her
many places. Mildred Aldrich (Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich)
visited her, and Lucy Stone (who refused to use Henry
Brown Blackwell's name after their marriage) extended a
personal invitation. Others came backstage after perform-
Among the throng that clamored at the stage door were feminists
Annie Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett, who, according to Lillian
Faderman In her book Surpassing the Love of Men, were among the
first nineteenth-century American feminists to have also engaged in a
"Boston Marriage, • a union that has proven significant for lesbian as
well as feminist studies.18
In an article written by Garland titled "Mr. and Mrs. James A.
Herne, • Corcoran emerges as a sort of Renaissance woman,
enlightened and creative, whose library contains many "well-
thumbed" volumes of Spencer, Darwin, Fiske, Carlyle, Ibsen, Valdes,
and Howells. Garland exemplifies this as he proceeds to expand
upon Katharine's charms, saying:
Mrs. Herne Is a woman of extraordinary powers, both of
acquired knowledge and natural Insight, and her suggestions
and criticisms have been of the greatest value to her hus-
band in his writing, and she had a large part in the Inception
as well as the production of Margaret Fleming. Her knowl-
edge of life and books, like that of her husband, is self-
acquired, but I have met few people In any walk of life with
the same wide and thorough range of thought. 19
While Garland simply says that Katharine "had a large part in
the inception ... of Margaret Fleming,• Winter is more bold. Winter
maintained extremely strong opinions regarding Herne's play,
opinions that he published in his biography of David Belasco In 1918.
In this book, he says that "Margaret Fleming is mainly the work of
Mrs. Herne. •20 How the critic would have been privy to this informa-
tion is not certain, for he disclosed no qualifying statement. It is
important to note, however, that Belasco and Herne, once business
partners, suffered an unpleasant parting of the ways. The reason for
this misalliance was a dispute over the piracy of their collaboration
Hearts of Oak; the dispute ultimately resulted in a lawsuit and the dis-
solution of the friendship. Winter, being a Belasco devotee, did not
strive to temper his prejudice toward Herne. Much of Winter' s
criticism of Herne thus betrays a vitriolic viewpoint that Is, seemingly,
more personal than professional.
B.O. Flower and historian Arthur Hobson Quinn also comment
on Corcoran's hand in the evolution of Margaret Fleming. Flower
reflects upon the intellectual camaraderie and inspiration that Mrs.
Herne contributed to her husband both before and after the failure of
Margaret Fleming; Quinn is more specific. In his 1929 introduction to
the anthologized version of the play, he discusses Katharine's revi-
sion of the manuscript after the fire, saying that it was "rendered pos-
sible not only through her acting of Margaret, but also because she
had taken active part in the original creation of the play. •21 In his his-
tory of American drama, he says that "Hamlin Garland, who was in
close contact with Herne, tells me that Mrs. Herne constantly sug-
gested scenes, lines and stage business. ••22
Julie Herne, in a letter to Quinn, says:
Regarding Margaret Fleming, my mother reconstructed the
play from memory in the spring of 1914. . . . She rewrote the
opening scenes of Act I between Philip, Bobby, Foster and
William. From then on the play is substantially as written by
my father, though possibly some lines may be altered or
missing, due to faults of memory and length of time that had
elapsed since my mother acted In the play. 23
Due to an excerpt of the original script In Gar1and's aforementioned
Arena article of 1891, It is possible to compare sections of Act 1--a
comparison that yields very interesting results. It Is Important to
remember that although Act IV went through revisions culminating In
the 1892 manuscript, Acts 1-111, as far as existing documentation
reveals, remained the same. This fact allows one to assume that
Gar1and's account of Act I Is the same one that was extant in the final
version before the fire. Because Corcoran's version of Act I strays In
many Instances from the original, It Is safe to surmise that she has
incorporated new material into the play.2
Garland's excerpt from
the original manuscript depicts the scene between PhUip Fleming
and Doctor Larkin in which they discuss Lena Schmidt's condition:
PHI UP. (His eyes meet those of the Doctor, then drop to the
floor.) How in God's name did they come to send
for you?
DOCTOR. I don't believe she'll ever leave that bed alive.
PHI UP. Well, I've done alii can to--
DOCTOR. Yeh have, eh?
PHI UP. She's had all the money she needed .... If she'd a'
done as I wanted her to, this never'd a' happened. I
tried to get her away six months ago, but she
wouldn't go. She was as obstinate as a mule.
DOCTOR. Strange that she should want to be near you, ain't
it? If she'd got tired of you and wanted to go, you
wouldn't have let her.
PHI UP. (With a sickly smile.) You must think l'm--
DOCTOR. I don't think anything about it. I know just what
such animals as you are.
PHI UP. Why, I haven't seen her for a-
DOCTOR. Haven't yeh! Well, then, suppose you go and see
her to-day.
PHI UP. {Alarmed.) No, I won't. I can't do that!
DOCTOR. You will do just that.
PHIUP. (Showing temper.) I won't go near her.
DOCTOR. (Quietly.) Yes, you will . She shan't lie there and
die like a dog.
PHI UP. You wouldn't dare to tell--
DOCTOR. I want you to go and see this girl! (They face
each other.) Will yeh or won't yeh?
PHI UP. (Alter a pause subdued.) What d'ye want me to say
to her?
The same scene in the version that Katharine rewrote In 1914
Is considerably longer and incorporates piquant new issues.
PHILIP. (Becoming livid with amazement and fear and star-
ing blankly before him, the cigar dropping from his
parting lips) In God's name how did they come to
send for you?
DOCTOR. Doctor Taylor-he called me In consultation. He
was frightened after the girl had been In labor for
thirty-six hours.
PHILIP. (Murmuring to himself) Thirty-six hoursl Good
God! (There is a pause, then he partly recovers
himseff.) I suppose she told you.?
DOCTOR. She told me nothing. It was a lucky thing for you
that I was there. The girl was delirious.
PHIUP. Delirious! Well , I've done alii could for her, doctor.
DOCTOR. Have you? (His tone is full of scorn.)
PHI UP. She's had all the money she wanted.
DOCTOR. Has she? (He speaks in the same tone.)
PHIUP. I tried to get her away months ago, but she wouldn't
do it. She was as stubborn as a mule.
DOCTOR. Strange she should want to remain near the
father of her child, isn't It?
PHIUP. If she'd done as I told her to, this thing would never
have happened.
DOCTOR. You'd have forced some poor devil to run the risk
of state's prison. By God, you're worse than I
thought you were.
PHI UP. Why, doctor, you must think l'm--
DOCTOR. I don't think anything about lt. I know just what
brutes such men as you are.
PHIUP. Well, I'm not wholly to blame. You don't know the
whole story, doctor.
DOCTOR. I don't want to know it. The girl's not to blame.
She's a product of her environment. Under present
social conditions, she'd probably have gone wrong
anyhow. But you! God Almighty! If we can't look
for decency in men like you--representative men,
where in God's name are we to look for it, I'd like to
PHIUP. If my wife hears of this my home will be ruined.
DOCTOR. (Scornfully.) Your home! Your home! It is just
such damn scoundrels as you that make and
destroy homes.
PHIUP. Oh, come now, doctor, aren't you a little severe?
DOCTOR. Severe! Severe! Why, do you realize, if this thing
should become known, It wUI stir up a stench that
will offend the moral sense of every man, woman
and chHd in this community?
PHILIP. Well, after all, I'm no worse than other men. Why, I
haven't seen the girt for months.
DOCTOR. Haven't you? Well, then suppose you go and see
her now.
PHIUP. (He springs to his feet.) I'll do nothing of the sort.
DOCTOR. Yes, you will. She shan't lie there and die like a
PHIUP. (He walks around the room greatly perturbed.) I tell
you I 'II not go!
DOCTOR. Yes, you will.
PHILIP. (He comes over to the Doctor and looks down
upon him.) What'll you do if I don't?
DOCTOR. I don't know, but you'd best go and see that girt.
PHIUP. (He turns away.) Well, what do you want me to say
to her?26
Many variant elements are revealed in this comparison, the
most n o t   b l ~ being the introduction of the abortion issue in Cor-
coran's version. In the original script, Philip says: •It she'd a' done
as I wanted her to, this never'd a' happened. I tried to get her away
six months ago, but she wouldn't go. • It is clear from these lines that
what Philip wanted Lena to do was to leave town before her preg-
nancy became physically apparent, thus reducing public dissent and
gossip while also preserving his reputation. In Corcoran's rewrite,
the treatment of this passage is very different. She separates the two
sentences so that Philip Initially says that he has tried to get Lena out
of town. His next point concerns Lena not having •done as [he] told
her• and it Is clear that he does not simply mean that she should
leave, because he has already established this point. His meaning
implies abortion, a topic not found in the previous manuscript. It is
certain that this reference to abortion was not present in any of the
eartier scripts before the fire, as it surely would have been remarked
upon by the press and was not.
The doctor's response suggests that abortion, as it existed in
1914, was a dangerous affair--although it Is Interesting that the doc-
tor's concern is not primarily for Lena's health but for the legal
penalties that the male doctor would face if he had been caught per-
forming what surely would have been a back-alley abortion. G.J.
Saker-Benfield, in her book The Horrors of the Half-Known Life:
Male Attitudes Toward Women and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century
America, discusses nineteenth-century attitudes perpetuated by the
influential Reverend John Todd, who said that •abortions were fear-
fully common ... [and] merely to associate with women who had
had abortions was dangerous, and he asserted that seventy-five per
cent of all the abortions produced are caused and effected by
females. •2
Corcoran seems to show the reversal of this assertion,
for in the rewrite, Lena is pressured by Philip to have an abortion and
Although Corcoran's exact feelings regarding abortion are
unknown, it seems evident that she Is implying either one of two
things: that if abortions were •sate and legal• no •poor devil• would
have to run the risk of the state prison nor Lena Schmidt the threat to
her life, or that men use abortion as an excuse, a way to exonerate
themselves from their actions (I.e., no baby, no crime). By present-
ing this Issue In this way, Corcoran reaffirms an original •radicalism
on the woman question. •
Another Interesting departure from the previous version of the
play dwells in Doctor Larkin's line,
The girl's not to blame. She's a product of her environment.
Under present social conditions, she'd probably have gone
wrong anyhow. But you! God Almighty! If we can't look for
decency In men like you--representative men, where in
God's name are we to look for it, I'd like to know?
This addition of Corcoran's does more than simply betray a famil-
iarity with Zola. There seems to be an indictment here reminiscent of
Bernard Shaw's •prays unpleasanr in which not only the individual
but all of society is included--a patriarchal society whose •representa-
tive men• give genesis to decay and thus human corruption.
The rest of Herne's canon, however, is bereft of such radi-
calism, which Is significant In that it mirrors Corcoran's lack of
involvement with these plays aside from her ubiquitous •inspiration•
and assumption of the title roles. A brief look at the way in which
Herne treats women in his other plays is important to a study of
Margaret Fleming in that it both frames Margaret as a progressive
heroine while also displaying the baggage of stereotype and limita-
tion that this emerging ·New Woman• carries with her.
In her article •The Second Face of the Idol : Women in
Melodrama, • Rosemarie K. Bank discusses the way in which scholars
have perceived female characters in nineteenth-century melodrama.
Although the purpose of her essay is to dispute traditional sentiments
regarding this portrayal of women, the following description proves
helpful in illuminating certain aspects of the melodramatic heroine.
American Melodrama presented female characters of home
and family, charitable servant and defender of the weak and
downtrodden, loving wife, sister, sweetheart, and mother,
loyal friend, and the cornerstone of a stable, productive, and
. decent society. This image of women supported cherished
preferences for certain kinds of female behavior, behavior
which was rewarded by idolizing women as kindhearted and
morally superior to men, albeit thereby more naive and
dependent, less rational and self-motivated, and unfit for the
world of making and doing. 28
Just as Herne cannot be denied a position among nineteenth-century
melodramatists, neither can his female characters escape Bank's
nomenclature. Aside from the brief flirtation with realism that
Margaret Fleming represents, Herne's strength as both an actor and
playwright lay In melodrama and his representations of women are
indicative of this. Although the scope of this paper does not allow for
an extensive analysis of the treatment of women in all of Herne's
plays, three will be considered: Drifting Apart {1988) and Shore
Acres (1892) because they chronologically frame Margaret Fleming,
and Sag Harbor (1899) because of Its frequent acknowledgment as a
play that deals with the changing status of women.
The heroine of Drifting Apart, Mary Miller, fits Bank's descrip-
tion perfectly, for she emerges as a domestic angel and upholds all
the "cardinal virtues of True Womanhood--piety, purity, submissive-
ness, and domesticity. "29 In the. first scene of the play, Mary
expresses her life's dream
to be a fisherman's wife, true and ·loyal, to make his home
bright and happy with my smiles and cheer him with my
love--to bid him godspeed on his departure and welcome
home on his return. Perhaps one day to place within his
arms a fragile image of himself, to kneel with him and thank
the giver of all good for the boon of his bestowal--the
greatest in his gifts, the blessing of motherhood. 30
In addition to his advocacy of the tenets of True Womanhood, Herne,
through Mary Miller, also reaffirms what Stephens refers to as
"dominant gender ideology" in his reverent representation of mother-
hood, for no Madonna would be complete without her child. This is
not the only role that signifies Mary, however, for as her husband
Jack, the fisherman, abandons her by drowning himself in his whisky
bottle, Mary's esteemed position as "angel of the house" dissolves.
The absence of one husband forces her to quickly find another. But
Mary's second union to Percy Seward is not a legal one nor does it
contain either love or respect. Recognizing that she has sOld herself,
Mary tells Percy, "I am but your--."3
Thus Herne's heroine does not
transcend the shackles of the MadonnajWhore syndrome regardless
of the fact that Mary's nightmarish liaison with Percy proves to be
just that, a dream. Indeed, Acts II, Ill, and IV all prove to be a dream,
Jack's dream. Not only, therefore, Is the character of Mary Miller
. represented according to stereotyped nineteenth-century Images of
women encrusted upon her by the dramatist, but she Is also pre-
sented through the additional filter of Jack's subconscious. Although
Mary Miller is, according to the world of the play, a redeeming
character, she does not prove meritorious as a progressive heroine.
The other female character in Drifting Apart who deserves
mention is Hester Barton. She is obviously the comic foH for Mary
and Is described as •stage struck, want[lng] patronage and endorse-
ment. •32 Although it Is true that a career In acting in the nineteenth
century was sometimes considered one of few channels that allowed
women to achieve independence--as it offered autonomy, freedom
from domesticity, and sometimes considerable wealth-Hester seems
bent only on glory. Still dependent on a male savior to realize this
goal, Hester says, •1 wish some rich man would fall in love with me
and put me on the stage. •33 In Drifting Apart, therefore, Herne seems
to perpetuate conventional perceptions of women. Although Mary
and Hester are engaging, neither furthers the action of the plot,
makes decisions crucial to the outcome of the play, or embodies any
radically Innovative aspects of character that would typify a progres-
sive heroine.
In her article, Kolb says,
James Herne depicts in his work the growing tension
between image and actuality. As a transitional figure, Herne
reveals a great admiration for the traditional ideal of feminine
domesticity, while simultaneously he sympathizes with the
desire of many young women of his day for independ-
Kolb's statement seems especially true In light of the play that follows
Margaret Fleming in Herne's canon, Shore Acres. In this play, the
main female characters are the quintessential matriarch Ann Berry
and her daughter Helen. Herne describes Ann in his stage directions
in Act 1:
To her, home is the most desirable place in the world, and
she rules it with all the skill and love of a typical American
housewife. Her manner is pleasant and happy. She is
always smiling and always sees the best side of everything.
Nothing disturbs her; she meets all the problems of her daily
life with a quiet and unobtrusive efficiency.35
Although some historians of the nineteenth century, such as Daniel
Scott Smith, would deem Ann Berry's situation as representative of
"domestic feminism," for "within her sphere, it seems, [she] may have
reigned triumphant, •36 there is no denying that this sphere was quite
narrow. Historian Mary Ryan concludes that the opportunity for
·societal power- and •positive freedom• within the confines of the
woman's domestic sphere in the nineteenth century were •Jess than
ever before. •3
Ann Berry's domesticity is juxtaposed, however,with her
daughter Helen's •modernism. • In Act II, Helen repudiates her
father's choice for her husband and, according to Herne, journeys
almost beyond the pale in confronting him. Heme explains In a stage
Helen, during this scene, shows she is the modern girt, and
has the temper inherited from her father. Mrs. Berry Is the
old-fashioned, submissive wife, awed and frightened at
Helen's daring to oppose her father.38
Helen, however, Is Independent only In the fact that she speaks out
against her father--her primary motivation being simply to carve out a
domestic nest of her own choosing. She flees from the domestic
sphere of Ann to the domestic sphere of Helen as she marries Sam
Warren, the intellectual, doctor and supporter.
Sag Harbor differs from these two plays in that it has been
considered by contemporary feminist critics of the drama as having
feminist threads. The heroine of the play, Martha Reese, who must
choose between love offered by two brothers, Initially seems very
similar to Mary Miller. (A comparison can also be made between
Martha Reese's situation with Ben and Frank Turner and three of the
principle characters in Shore Acres; Ann Berry also proves to be at
the pinnacle of a love triangle Involving brothers Martin Berry and
·uncle" Nat Berry.) It is interesting that both of these women were
orphans and thus dependent, obsequious, and grateful to the men
who took them In when they were children and whom they sub-
sequently married--Jack Hepburn in Drifting Apart and Ben Turner in
Sag Harbor. In an article re-assessing Herne, Patti Gillespie sug-
gests that Martha displays traces of the "New Woman. •
Martha moves beyond a saccharine heroine determined to
do her duty at the expense of her love, to become a strong
woman who makes a rational rather than an emotional deci-
sion. In times of stress, far from fainting, Martha takes com-
mand: ·1·11 go with you to the lawyer tomorrow, and you
make the business over to me .. . . I'm not going to sit down
here and eat my heart out because my husband doesn't
choose to live with me. I've got a child to bring up and edu-
cate, and I'm going to do it ... _-39
In an article that discusses Sag Harbor, "Gender Ideology and
Dramatic Convention In Progressive Era Plays, 1890-1920, • Judith
Stephens gives quite a different view of Martha. In remarking upon
Martha and motherhood, Stephens says,
the play espouses the "modern woman's" argument that said
motherhood fostered independence and assertiveness in
women instead of a need for protection, but on the other
hand, It reestablishes the conventional boundaries within
which these qualities can be displayed. Martha's startling
scene of independence permanently ends the rivalry
between the two brothers, and It becomes unnecessary for
her to carry out her threat. 40
Martha, despite her resolve, remains •an elevated figure who knows
what Is 'best' for everyone concerned" and thus, according to
Stephens, reasserts a patriarchal status quo. 41
If Drifting Apart, Shore Acres, and Sag Harbor do not Intro-
duce a progressive heroine, why does Margaret Fleming? And Is this
heroine indeed an example of the New Woman, or does she retain
any of the stigma of past images? Last, what is the significance of
Corcoran's role in shaping this so-called feminist text? Kolb, who
holds that Margaret Is one of the first examples of the emerging New
Woman in Progressive Era drama relates the answer to social
change. She says, "Together with Increased opportunities for
women, a tremendous rise In the divorce rate In America Influenced
the treatment of women on stage from the 1890s to the 1920s. •
The treatment of women on stage changed from the melodramatic
ingenues as described by Banks to the New Woman who sought
moral equality, increased autonomy, higher education for women
and economic freedom. Although Kolb admits that "Herne does not
argue for Increased participation by women in the economic or politi-
cal realm, • she does argue that Margaret Fleming addresses the first
issue faced by the New Woman on stage, that of the double
standard. Kolb goes on to say,
The first step towards the New Woman was not, then, far
from the traditional path. Woman was still considered
morally superior, for she was expected to "check the increas-
ing degradation of manhood." The difference is that she now
demanded the right not to forgive. The opinion that "true
women enjoy sacrificing themselves· was threatened by
Margaret Fleming's attitude, and this was one reason for the
play's early failure.43
It would seem that If Margaret Fleming Is an example of the
emerging New Woman, as Kolb is convinced she is--the only exam-
ple of a New Woman thus far observed in representative plays of
Herne' s--it would make sense that Corcoran, whose feminist orienta-
tion and involvement in the shaping of the play has been established,
was Influential In the creation of this distinct heroine. What Is
troublesome about this assertion, however, Is that in many ways
Margaret Fleming defies Its feminist reputation. Margaret, like Mary
Miller, Ann Berry, and Martha Reese, is placed upon the domestic
pedestal, enshrined by fresh flowers, babies and sunlight. In addition
to her certain holdings as a domestic feminist, Margaret Is depicted
as a moral icon and, like her prototypes, deifies motherhood. Was
the influence that Corcoran must have exerted in shaping Margaret
Fleming so indoctrinated in staid notions of nineteenth-century femi-
ninity that Margaret was doomed to drag the same ball and chain as
Miller and Berry? Stephens seems to think that the blame need not
fall on the dramatist but on dramatic convention.
In her article, Stephens uses two processes, •compensation•
and •recuperation, • to provide a framework for what she claims to be
•a materialist feminist analysis of the play. 11414
Since compensation refers to the presentation of imagery
and ideas that tend to elevate the •moral value• of femininity
and recuperation refers to the process of negating and
defusing challenges to the historically dominant meaning of
gender in particular periods, Progressive era dramas, which
characteristically adhered to the conventional belief · in the
moral superiority of females while simultaneously addressing
issues arising from women's changing position in society,
can be newly appreciated as a site of struggle over the
meaning of gender. 45
Through an application of the devices of compensation and
recuperation to Margaret Fleming, Stephens disputes Margaret's
traditional position as feminist spokeswoman. She argues that com-
pensation is employed, for in making the most moral decision at the
end of the play, Margaret Is presented as possessing an important
source of power.46 To the contrary, however, in addition to being
unable to divorce Philip at the end of the play for fear of social
castigation, Margaret's blindness renders her physically powerless
and therefore dependent, because she is unable solely to care for
herself, her child, or the illegitimate issue created through Philip's
affair. Margaret, therefore, regardless of any moral power that she
may hold, is physically, socially, and domestically trapped.
Recuperation occurs, Stephens argues, for the play appears to pre-
sent challenges to a patriarchal status quo and yet succeeds only in
perpetuating dominant gender ideology. As Stephens points out,
Margaret appeared to be a new type of heroine because her
character seemed to determine the events of the play
instead of being manipulated by the plot, but by confining
her power to moral influence, the drama reinforces dominant
gender i d e   l ~ ¥ and takes away with one hand what it gives
with the other.
Crucial to this argument is Stephens' point that the blame
must not fall entirely upon the author and any inherent prejudices but
on dramatic conventions. Stephens makes it clear that •the
dominant theory of the drama joined with the prevailing belief in
women's moral superiority to exert a strong influence in determining
the bounds with which the meaning o_!Jender was constructed and
negotiated In Progressive era drama. Because the drama at the
time was wholly committed to conveying a doctrine rich in moral
didacticism, it is not surprising that emerging New Women such as
Margaret Fleming carried with them a good deal of restrictive bag-
gage. It Is Important, therefore, to separate attempted feminist striv-
ings from established boundaries of gender representation pres-
cribed according to existing dramatic convention and theory.
It is evident, therefore, that while Margaret Fleming by no
means makes ground-breaking strides as far as the -woman ques-
tion" is concerned, some advance is made in terms of the
appearance of a new kind of heroine. Certainly, the creative forces
that contribute to Margaret Fleming were not distinct from prevailing
conventions, and yet issues of content would seem to change
according to the balance of authorship--Heme, a melodramatist and
possibly something of a Philistine, coupled with Corcoran, who, if
what the critics say is true, seemed quite progressive. Although it
has not yet been established how much influence either Heme or his
wife had in shaping the play, the fact that Corcoran was deeply
involved can not be refuted.
Just how much influence Corcoran exerted and to what extent
this Influence shaped the three versions of the play probably will
never by revealed. Theories regarding her involvement, however,
can prove enlightening. Perhaps Corcoran proved not only an
inspiration to her husband but actually co-authored the play--her aim
in this partnership being to make a statement about the double
standard, an issue that seemed to be in the foreground of the early
feminist movement. If so, it was unfortunate that in an attempt to
secure a commercial success these elements were mitigated most
specifically in the drastic changes made to Act IV, which suggest
conventional reunion instead of autonomy. However, it is possible
that after the fire, Corcoran--faced with the opportunity to rewrite the
play after twenty years of separation from acting the title role and five
years of separation from the text-Incorporated back Into the script
subtle feminist elements, including the mention of abortion in Act I, to
atone for what had been lost in the initial revision process. Such a
plan would have succeeded in breathing some of the original spirit
back into a play that had become homogenized in order to prosper
financially, yet without changing the commercially successful for-
Regardless, however, of a definitive authorship, Margaret
Fleming stUI emerges as a play that, despite markings of nineteenth-
century prejudice, suggests the initial stages of the representation of
a more progressive heroine on the American stage. Also crucial to
an understanding of this play and its position in American theatre his-
tory is a previously unrecognized acknowledgement of Corcoran in
shaping Margaret Fleming and the ramifications that her input pre-
sent; for to read this text as if written by a woman adds a startling
new dimension to a play long shrouded In mystery.
1Hamlin Garland, "Mr. and Mrs. James A. Herne, .. The Arena
(1891), 553.
Katharine Corcoran Herne will hitherto be referred to as
Katharine Corcoran to avoid confusion with James Herne and
because she used this as her stage name after her marriage to Herne
and during the first part of her career.
3Garland, 559.
Judith L. Stephens, •Gender Ideology and Dramatic Con-
vention in Progressive Era Plays, 1890-1920, • Performing Feminism:
Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, ed. Sue-Ellen Case (Baltimore:
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 288 n.18.
5Deborah S. Kolb, .. The Rise and Fall of the New Woman In
American Drama,• Educational Theatre Journal27 (May 1975), 149.
6John Perry, James A. Herne: The American Ibsen (Chicago:
Nelson-Hall, 1978), 163.
7William Coyle and Harvey G. Damster report that Herne
made revisions between 1890-1894. Coyle and Damster, eds., Six
Early America Plays: 1798-1890 (Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Pub-
lishing Co., 1968), 269.
8Gartand, 543.
9William Winter, The Life of David Belasco: Volume One
(New York: Moffat, Yard and Co.), 199.
10John M. Brown and Montrose J. Moses, ed., The American
Theatre As Seen By Its Critics: 1752- 1934 (New York: W. W. Norton
and Company, Inc., 1934), 146.
11The New York Herald, 10 December 1891, p. 8.
12Dorothy S. Bucks and Arthur H. Nethercot, •Ibsen and
Herne's Margaret Fleming: A Study of the Earty Ibsen Movement In
America,• American Literature, 17 (1946), 324.
13Herbert Edwards and Julie A. Heme, James A. Heme: The
Rise of Realism In America (Orono: University of Maine Press,
1964), 64.
14Edwards and Herne, 70.
15Edwards and Herne, 72.
16Arthur Hobson Quinn, A History of the American Drama
From the Civil War to the Present Day (New York: Appleton-Century-
Crofts, Inc., 1936), 161.
Perry, 161.
18Unda Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic
Friendship and Love Between Women From the Renaissance to the
Present (New York: WUiiam Morrow and Co., 1981).
19Garland, 550-51.
20'v'Vinter, 119.
21 Arthur Hobson Quinn, Representative American Plays:
From 1767 to the Present Day (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts
Inc., 1957), 516.
22Quinn, History, 161 n. 1. It Is important to note that Quinn
does not qualify this comment, therefore making it Impossible to dis-
cern whether Mrs. Herne suggested •scenes, lines, and stage busi-
ness• in general or whether this was a practice reserved for specific
plays. This ambiguity does not, however, detract from the fact that
she was, according to Gartand, actively involved in Herne's playwrit-
Ing process.
23Arthur Hobson Quinn, •Ibsen and Herne--Theory and
Facts,• American Literature, 19 (1948), 172-73.
24Aithough Julie Herne recalls that her mother's rewrite of
Act I only involved scenes including •Philip, Bobby, Foster and Wil-
liam, • the differences between the excerpt of the original script
preserved by Garland and the one reconstructed by Corcoran prove
that Julie's mother's version is more extensive than she remembers,
suggesting that not only Corcoran suffered from ,aults of memory. •
5Garland, 558-560. This excerpt from The Arena has been
reprinted both in Barnard Hewitt's Theatre U.S.A. and Bucks and
Nethercot's article cited above. Although Bucks and Nethercot
remark in this article that •the difference In tone of much of this
dialogue and that in Mrs. Herne's revision Is striking" (315), they do
not compare segments from the two plays nor do they make any
reference to the fact that Corcoran's version mentions abortion and
the original does not. Hewitt does not even mention Corcoran's ver-
26James A. Herne, Margaret Fleming in Nineteenth Century
American Plays, ed. Myron Matlaw (New York: Applause, 1967):
G.J. Barker-Benfield, Horrors of the Half-Known Life: Male
Attitudes Toward Women and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century
America (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), 202.
28Rosernarie K. Bank, -rhe Second Face of the Idol: Women
in Melodrama, • Women in American Theatre, eds. Helen Kirch
Chinoy and Unda Walsh Jenkins (New York: Theatre Communica-
tions Group Inc., 1987), 240.
29-rhe Cult of True Womanhooct•--a phrase coined by Bar-
bara Welter-is discussed in The American Family in Social-Historical
Perspective, ed. Michael Gordon (New York: St. Martins Press,
1978), 313-33.
30James A. Herne, Drifting Apart In The Early Plays of James
A Herne, ed. Arthur Hobson Quinn (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1940), 107.
31 Heme, Drifting Apart, 123.
32Herne, Drifting Apart, 1 03.
33Herne, Drifting Apart, 123.
34Kolb, 151.
35James A. Herne, Shore Acres In Shore Acres and Other
Plays, ed. Mrs. James A. Herne (New York: Samuel French, 1928),
36Mary P. Ryan, Womanhood in America (New York:
Franklin Watts, 1983), 149.
Ryan, 150.
38Herne, Shore Acres, 73.
39Patti P. Gillespie, • James A. Herne: A Re-Assessment, •
Players Magazine, 51:2 (December-January 1976), 68.
40Stephens, 289.
Stephens, 289.
2Kolb, 152.
43Kolb, 153.
44Stephens, 283.
45Stephens, 283.
46Stephens, 287.
Stephens, 288.
48Stephens, 286.
MARK FEARNOW is Assistant Professor In the Department of Theatre
Arts at Pennsylvania State University.
JOHN W. FRICK is Assistant Professor In the Department of Drama
of the University of Virginia.
JOHN V. ANTUSH is Associate Professor In the Department of
English of Fordham University.
ANNE STAVNEY is a graduate student in the Ph.D. program of the
Department of English at the University of Washington.
EUZABETH REITZ MULLENIX Is a Ph.D. student in theatre history at
the University .of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.