Category: Research Team Stories

Shakespeare, the USA, and the First World War

By Monika Smialkowska

The United States of America maintained neutrality in the First World War for nearly 3 years, from the conflict’s outbreak on 28th July 1914 until 6th April 1917. However, this position was ms1debated on both sides of the Atlantic, especially after the sinking of the British liner Lusitania, with 128 American passengers on board, by a German U-boat in 1915. Interestingly, both anti-war and pro-war campaigners enlisted a somewhat unlikely ally to help them make their case: one William Shakespeare. Shakespearean texts and adaptations (sometimes the same ones) were used during WWI for both pacifist and militaristic purposes, depending on the precise historical moment and political climate.

A particularly striking case in point is Percy MacKaye’s Caliban by the Yellow Sands, based very loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was a mammoth outdoors show (involving over 1500 performers and seen by tens of thousands of spectators), written for the American celebrations of the three-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916. It was first staged at New York Lewisohn Stadium between 24th May and 5th June 1916. It was so well liked that the second production was mounted at Boston Harvard Stadium a year later, between 2nd and 21st July 1917. Both renderings had roughly the same plot and structure, charting Prospero, Miranda, and Ariel’s efforts to civilise Caliban and turn him away from his initial brutish violence towards self-control and enlightenment. This plot was distinctly pacifist, casting War as one of the villains who had to be defeated in order for Caliban to progress in his development. However, the circumstances of the two performances differed dramatically: during the New York run, the US was still maintaining its neutrality in the First World War, while the Boston show occurred shortly after the country joined the conflict on 6th April 1917. Because of these changed circumstances, the Boston production became something very different from the earlier version of the show.

The New York production of Caliban was clearly intended to promote peace and harmony. In the preface to the printed text of the show, the author lamented the fact that in Europe the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was greeted by ‘the choral hymns of cannon’ and singled out the neutral US as the only place where his memory could be suitably honoured, creating ‘new splendid symbols for peace through harmonious international expression.’[1] Local newspapers commented that New Yorkers of different ethnic origins – among them English, French, and German – co-operated in the performance, united in their love of Shakespeare and community spirit. The purpose of the show was non-partisan, and any potential income was to go towards cultural aims: the erection of Shakespeare’s statue and thms2e Actors’ Fund of America (see New York Sun, 17 Sept. 1915).

By the time of the Boston performance, things changed dramatically. It was decided that the proceeds of this show would go to war-related (though partly humanitarian) causes: the American Red Cross and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Harvard. Moreover, participation in the production was now advertised in patriotic terms, as a ‘display of loyal helpfulness’, ‘aiding the State and the nation,’ and ‘doing [your] bit for Uncle Sam’ (Boston Post, 8th April 1917). Some newspapers went even further, inviting their readers to ‘See “Caliban” and Aid U. S. in the War’ (Boston American, 1st July 1917), and calling the show ‘a Bumper Patriotic Pleasure’ (Boston Daily Globe, 4th July 1917).

Besides this kind of newspaper coverage, the Boston show acquired extra features which made it not only patriotic, but distinctly pro-war. While the plot of the main performance remained the same as the year befor

e, the organisers introduced somewhat unexpected pre- and post-performance additions. They invited military units, naval officers and war veterans to make public appearances and to march around the stadium to the sound of an army band. Patriotic speeches were made, military drills performed, flags waved, and ‘Star Spangled Banner’ sung. Moreover, the shows were now used explicitly to promote recruitment to the armed forces and to emphasise solidarity among the Allied powers. On 12th July, the special guests were ‘the British officers in charge of the recruiting of British subjects in Boston’ (Boston Daily Globe, 12th July 1917), and the performance on 14th July, attended by the representatives of the British, French, and American armies, was described as ‘Truly a big brilliant Allied night’ (Boston Daily Globe, 14th July 1917).

In the space of a year, Caliban was thus transformed from a celebration of peace, harmony, and neutrality, into an expression of aggressive patriotism and militarism. The show’s focus shifted from US domestic policy (using theatrical art to unify disparate immigrant groups in early twentieth-century New York) to intervening in the global arena and forging alliances with Britain and France. And Shakespeare proved flexible enough to be used for both purposes.

The 1915-17 newspaper articles quoted here are available as cuttings in Caliban scrapbooks in the ‘Papers of MacKaye Family’ collection at the Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College. Sincere thanks to Dartmouth College Library for their courtesy in allowing me to use these materials.


Image Credit:

Image 1: the cover of the New York Caliban programme; image 2: the Boston Caliban poster. Courtesy of Dartmouth College Library.

Further reading:

For a more detailed discussion of the topic, see Monika Smialkowska, ‘Conscripting Caliban: Shakespeare, America, and the Great War’, Shakespeare, 7:2 (2011), 192-207

[1] Percy MacKaye, Caliban by the Yellow Sands (Garden City and New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1916), p. xiii.


Frank Warrington Dawson: Confederate, Newspaperman, Englishman

By David Gleeson

In Frank DawsonNovember 1861 young Austin Reeks presented himself to Captain Peagram of the CSS (Confederate States Service) Nashville for service at the port in Southampton as Francis Warrington Dawson. The young Reeks came from a distinguished old English Catholic family, but his father had fallen on hard times, placing Austin and his siblings firmly in the lower-middle class. Austin wanted more and found that opportunity in his embrace of the Confederacy. Despite widespread opposition to slavery in England, many felt sympathy for the South, including Reeks. His parents, however, were not pleased that their twenty-year-old son wanted to join the Confederate navy and so he changed his name, choosing his favourite saint (Francis of Assisi), distinguished ancestors (the Warrens of Warrington), and an Uncle who had served with distinction in the British Army (Dawson).

Frank Dawson found naval life not to his liking because, among other things, it did not give much opportunity for glory, and he transferred to the army taking part in the major battles around the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, in the summer of 1862. He impressed his comrades with his enthusiasm and efficiency and received a commission as Lieutenant and eventually captain. His Englishness definitely helped him succeed as it naturally impressed native Confederates that this Englishman would join their cause. His articulate defence of the Confederacy gained him a lot of prominent friends.

He served with distinction until the end of the War and he used personal Confederate contacts to gain a position as a journalist on a Richmond newspaper. Partnering with an Irish American he moved to Charleston and bought the Charleston News and made it an instant success eventually taking over its main rival the Charleston Courier. Dawson made the new News and Courier one of the most important papers in the post-War South. He did it by endorsing what became known as the ‘New South’ philosophy, which while respecting the Confederate past, advocated the region embrace an industrial and urban future. The role model was the England of the late nineteenth century not the pastoral one of the seventeenth which many southern nationalists had advocated during the Civil War. Dawson also argued for cooperation with some of those ‘reconstructing’ the South in the North’s image. Though a supporter of white supremacy he did not, for example, believe that African Americans should be disfranchised.

This latter stance annoyed many South Carolinians including some of his admirers who put his naiveté on race down to his English background. His English ethnicity would cost him his life too. In March 1889 he went to the home of a neighbour who had been ‘interfering’ with an au pair in his household. Confronting this married man for his dishonourable behaviour; Dawson got into a fight with him and reportedly struck him. The neighbour responded with gunfire killing Dawson. In the murder trial that followed the assailant was acquitted ostensibly because Dawson had entered the man’s property and attacked him. To many in Charleston it was another sign of Dawson’s naiveté. In the South, as historian Stephanie McCurry has clearly shown, the property line was sacrosanct, and any man who crossed it without permission could expect violence. Despite his embrace of the South and his work to create a newer version then he forgot the values of the ‘Old South’ still held sway for many. Elements of these values were of the middle ages and not the modern industrial age he advocated. Dawson, it seems, no matter how hard he tried, could not escape his English origins.


Francis Warrington Dawson Family Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

Stephanie, McCurry. Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Giselle Roberts, ed. The Correspondence of Sarah Morgan and Francis Warrington Dawson. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004.

The Americanisation of the English Church in the nineteenth-century United States

By Joe Hardwick

Nineteenth-century white Americans appear to have had an ambiguous and changeable attitude towards England and the English. On the one hand nineteenth-century America showed signs of being an Anglophobic society founded on the idea that monarchical England was everything that the young republic was not. More than one nineteenth-century English traveller complained about the vitriolic anti-Englishness that seemed to pervade American society.[1] But on the 217px-Shield_of_the_US_Episcopal_Church_svgother hand we have examples of nineteenth-century Americans consuming, appropriating and then naturalising symbols and institutions that, in origin at least, were English. Perhaps the most notable symbol – certainly it is the one that has attracted the most modern scholarship – was William Shakespeare. Early nineteenth-century Americans, so the argument goes, saw Shakespeare as familiar, local and relevant: Americans apparently spoke the ‘pure’ form of English found in Shakespeare, and the bard’s plays carried themes about the fate of tyrants that took easy root in republican America.[2]

It is not surprising that Shakespeare should have flourished in a society that spoke English and in which notions of ‘Anglo-Saxonism’ were important building-blocks of a nativist identity. What is more surprising is that the Anglican Church – perhaps the most ‘English’ of all English institutions – should have, like Shakespeare, survived and prospered in post-Revolution America. This is not to say that the institution that became known as the Episcopal Church of the United States was massively popular or of great social or political significance. It was not. Later American Episcopal bishops recognised that their Church struggled to keep its head above ‘nonconformist’ evangelicalism, and the proportion of Episcopalians in America as a whole declined as Irish and German immigration took hold from the 1840s onwards (by the twentieth century Episcopalians were not even in the ascendancy in its old Virginia stronghold).[3]

But the very fact that the Episcopal Church had survived in the United States would have been remarkable to those Anglican clergymen who were among the tens of thousands of loyalists who were evacuated from American ports during the American Revolution (around 60,000 left for new lives in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Florida, the West Indies and Britain itself).[4] For loyalist clergymen like Charles Inglis, the future bishop of Nova Scotia, the Church of England seemed to have little future in an America that had always been resistant to Anglican claims. It was true that not every loyalist was an Anglican, and it was also true that revolutionaries could be churchmen; but undoubtedly it was the case that the Church was widely associated in the popular mind with the forces of imperial control. The fact that the America lost roughly half its Anglican clergy between 1774 and 1785 (some died, but most of those who left were loyalist refugees) could only further damage the Church’s image as a conservative, loyalist and anti-republican institution.

The drain of clergy from Revolutionary America was just one element in the wider Anglican crisis: prominent lay people joined the loyalist exodus; the Church lost its established status in five southern states; in Virginia its property was sold off; and, perhaps most damagingly of all, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel – a British institution that had funded new churches and clergy in the American colonies – refused to send any money to the newly independent, post-Revolutionary Church in America. In spite of these hammer blows, Episcopalians bounced back; within less than a decade America’s remaining Anglicans showed that an apparently conservative and reactionary institution was able to acculturate itself to the new environment of republican America. Native-born clergy were recruited and ordained by newly-elected American bishops; individual congregations turned themselves into self-funding voluntary associations; and, most importantly of all, Episcopalians put together a system of Church government that seemed to pull off the impossible – reconciling a hierarchical and ostensibly non-democratic institution, episcopacy, to the climate and temper of a modern, democratic, republic.

This reorganisation and adaptation of the American Church began before formal independence came in 1783. In 1782 William White, the future bishop of Pennsylvania, penned a treatise – The Case of the Protestant Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered – that laid out a model of a unified and independent American Church governed by a ‘General Convention’ in which representatives of the clergy and laity elected ministers and voted on measures effecting the administration of the Church. This republican model of Episcopal government – a model that owed a considerable amount to the systems of secular government that were being developed contemporaneously at the level of the state and nation – was the one that was adopted when two bishops and twenty clergy ratified a constitution at the General Convention in October 1789.[5]

Yet Episcopalianism’s American transformation did not mean that the old metropolitan heritage was completely lost sight of – though there were those like John Henry Hobart, the third bishop of New York, who wanted to push the American Church as far away as possible from any association with an English past.[6] One problem, however, was that there were different British Anglican traditions on which American clergymen could draw. While White’s Pennsylvania followers maintained that the Church had to maintain the liturgy of the English Church, other Anglicans – a particularly important grouping were in Connecticut – looked to the more catholic and high church Episcopal Church in Scotland for inspiration. These connections between Scottish and American Anglicans were ancient (many of the clergy of the colonial period had Scottish backgrounds), but they also became more important after the Connecticut clergyman Samuel Seabury was consecrated as America’s first bishop in November 1784. Seabury would ordain a small number of men from Scotland into his diocese, and in 1789 he was successful in including a communion service that closely followed the communion service in the Scottish Church’s prayer book (the so-called ‘Scottish Office’), as opposed to that contained in the 1662 English prayer book.

But while the Episcopal Church could claim a Scottish foundation, the following decades saw American churchmen develop much closer links with the English church. English-born clergymen started taking up posts in the American Church very quickly after 1783 (and would continue to do so throughout the nineteenth century); American bishops undertook fund-raising missions in England from the early 1820s; and from the 1830s onwards American churchmen would keep a close eye on ecclesiastical movements in the mother country, such as the high church Tractarianism that came out of Oxford colleges in the 1830s. American interest in the revival of the cathedral in the second half of the nineteenth century, was, for instance, closely linked to the earlier revival of dioceses and cathedrals in the English Church.[7] The growing accord between the English and American churches – something that benefited from more positive perceptions of England in America – was reflected in the fact that references to the Episcopal Church as an ‘Anglo-American Church’ began to appear from the 1860s.[8] From the 1840s we can find American clergy, some with English backgrounds, others not, playing very active roles in English cultural events and monarchical celebrations in American cities.

Therefore by mid-century American churchmen appeared to have found a way to reconcile a set of seemingly competing heritages and identities. An institution that was attuned to the American landscape had found a way to display and celebrate their attachments to both England past and present. That Bishop Doane of New Jersey chose to deliver a panegyric on the unity of American and British civilisation on the Fourth of July 1848 vividly demonstrated how the Episcopal Church was able to retain and celebrate both its Englishness and Americaness at one and the same time. But what is important to recognise, is that while the American Church was discovering, or rediscovering its English heritage, British churchmen were discovering and learning from the American Church.[9] Bishop White’s model of a self-governing Church – one in which ministers were elected and the clergy and laity shared a voice in the running of the Church – was one that would eventually be rolled out in Britain’s empire of white settlement in the decades after 1850. So while America’s Church came to celebrate its English roots, British clergymen were finding out that America’s Church offered models for how the Church could survive in modern democracies.

[1] I. Fidler, Observations on Professions, Literature, Manners and Emigration, in the United States and Canada (New York: J. And J. Harper, 1833), pp. 37-8.

[2] Kim Sturgess, Shakespeare and the American Nation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), chs 4 and 6.

[3] E. S. Gaustad, ‘The Geography of American Religion’, Journal of Bible and Religion, 30:1 (1962), p. 44.

[4] M. Jasanoff, Liberties Exiles: The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire (London: Harper Press, 2011).

[5] For this adaptation, see Frederick V. Mills, ‘The Protestant Episcopal Churches in the United States 1783-1789: Suspended Animation or Remarkable Recovery?’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church (1977), pp. 151-70.

[6] R. B. Mullin, Episcopal Vision / American Reality: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 196.

[7] James M. Woolworth, The Cathedral in the American Church (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1883).

[8] Recent Recollections of the Anglo-American Church in the United States: By an English Layman, 2 vols. (London: Rivingtons, 1861).

[9] George Washington Doane, America and Great Britain: The Address, at Burlington College, on the Seventy-First Anniversary of American Independence (Burlington: Edmund Morris, 1848).