Tag: USA

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.

Sources:

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.

Looking Forward to the Past

By Mike Sutton

image003Nostalgia for an idealized vision of the past has been a potent cultural force for centuries. It drives many communities to   celebrate their history (or an imaginative reconstruction of it) by re-enacting past events or ancient rituals. These performances often arouse intense passions locally – as happens with the Palio in Siena, or Bonfire Night in Lewes. Early settlers in the New World also felt this impulse. In Massachusetts, on May Day 1627, Thomas Morton organised “revels and merriment after the old English custom” to encourage solidarity among the colonists and promote better relations with local natives.

Having brewed “a barrel of excellent beer” and provided “a case of bottles to be spent, with other good cheer, for all comers of that day” the revellers erected their May Pole – “a goodly pine tree of 80 foot long … with a pair of buck’s horns nailed on somewhat near unto the top of it.” According to Morton’s account of the event in his New English Canaan (1637) a good time was had by all – except the local Puritans.

The setting up of this Maypole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise Separatists that lived at New Plimouth. They termed it an Idol; yea, they called it the Calf of Horeb and stood in defiance at the place, naming it Mount Dagon…

Morton later claimed that the colony’s ruling elite had used this incident as a pretext to shut down his business, and gain a monopoly of the lucrative beaver pelt trade. Till then, Morton had been prospering as an independent trader, possibly due to his amicable relations with the Native Americans. Whatever their real motives were, by September 1628 the Puritans had expelled him from the colony and destroyed his maypole.

Despite this inauspicious precedent, historical pageants, re-enactments and festivities have long remained popular recreational activities in the USA. Mediaeval tournaments, Renaissance fairs, May Day revels, Dickensian Christmas feasts and Jane Austen-themed formal balls are now a significant sector of the leisure industry. Meanwhile, persons of a belligerent disposition re-enact battles from a wide variety of historical periods – including conflicts from America’s own Revolutionary and Civil Wars, sometimes on their original sites.

Voluntary associations promote and co-ordinate historical re-enactment events all over the USA. One of the largest is the Society for Creative Anachronism, founded in Berkeley, California in 1966, which now has active groups in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in most regions of the US and Canada. The SCA boasts around 30,000 full members, and a similar number of non-members also participate in its activities. Their main focus is the celebration of Medieval and Renaissance European culture, though many individual members also venture into other periods.

While visiting Californian friends in April 2013, I met some SCA members who share a particular interest in historic dances – amongst numerous other enthusiasms. The introduction came through Karen, a long-time SCA member who specialises in traditional calligraphy. Her husband Chaz (a professional author, and a frequent guest speaker at science fiction and fantasy conventions) is also deeply interested in things historical. This is not an unusual combination – many American historical re-enactors are also SF and fantasy fans, with Doctor Who and Harry Potter pimage005articular favourites.

Early one Wednesday evening, we drove from Chaz and Karen’s home in Sunnyvale to the dance group’s weekly practice in San José. In a spacious suburban lounge they were put through their paces by Matt, their instructor, assisted by Elizabeth on the violin. The dances – mostly taken from John Playford’s English Dancing Master (1651) or the Orchésographie of Thonoit Arbeau (1589) – were performed energetically, but very tidily.

Cyn, our hostess for the evening, offered beverages and banter during breaks in the action, but although the atmosphere was light-hearted, the dances were clearly being taken seriously by all participants. They encouraged me to join in some of them, and as a thank-you I taught them a Northumbrian-style step-hop dance, which they picked rapidly. When the practice ended, everyone migrated to a nearby pizzeria and bar.

Some wanted a full meal, having come directly to the meeting from work, but the evening’s exertions had left the rest of us eager for drinks, snacks and gossip. Everyone around the table was keen to volunteer information about their engagement with the SCA. Several of them also had experience of re-enactments from outside the SCA’s chronological remit – including World War Two and American Civil War battles, and Dickens and Austen themed events.

They agreed that a minority treated these events simply as opportunities to dress up, fire off blank cartridges, and then socialise over a few drinks. But they also stressed that for most participants (and spectators) re-enactments are a valuable aid to understanding their own history – and other people’s too. I was assured that while many Asian-Americans attend Regency costume balls, quite a few Anglo-Americans enjoy dressing up as Samurai or Geishas, and a number of African-Americans participate enthusiastically in Viking battles.

There was a strong consensus that whatever else you hope to achieve in this activity, it ought to be fun – and general agreement that while striving for authenticity is a good thing, it can sometimes be overdone. On the one hand, they said, you shouldn’t turn up to a Regency assembly in tennis shoes. But on the other hand, infecting yourself with dysentery before re-enacting a Civil War battle takes ‘sharing the experience’ a little too far!

Nevertheless, when re-enactments are run as commercial enterprises, there is considerable pressure to maintain the illusion of a fully revived past. One female SCA member who had worked at the Williamsburg heritage site recalled that there “you don’t step out of period unless your hair is on fire”. But although they mocked fanatics who pursue authenticity to absurd extremes, all of them were committed to reproducing the relevant details of dress, deportment, music and dance as accurately as possible – within reason.

Most voices around the table were optimistic about the current state of the historical re-enactment movement. However, there were a few complaints about the excessive commercialisation of some events. Massive ‘craft fairs’ are often attached to them, and there is sometimes a rather heavy-handed emphasis on boosting local tourism. But throughout the evening the mood of the discussion seemed very positive, and the enthusiasm (and expertise) of the participants was obvious.

When Karen, Chaz and I had to leave for home, the party was still going on, and the reckoning as yet unpaid. As we exchaimage001nged farewells, I offered a contribution towards the bill, but was told “don’t worry about that – Karen will explain”. In the car, she told me: “They all have pretty good jobs, so every week one them just picks up the check – for them, it’s no big deal.” The cost of beer, wine, pizzas and snacks for the table (plus tax and tips) must have come to around 200 dollars. If that was no big deal for them, Silicon Valley’s re-enactors are clearly doing well.

Karen drove us back to Sunnyvale along El Camino Real, which follows the route of the Royal Highway established when California still belonged to Spain. Its significance as a transport artery has declined recently, as a nearby modern freeway now takes most of the through traffic. Instead, El Camino has become a monster strip-mall, with mile after mile of neon-lit bars, restaurants and stores – everything from massive car dealerships and furniture emporia to tiny fast-food outlets.

Several ethnic communities cluster along it, and Karen warned me to look out for ‘Little Korea’, and ‘Little India’. Spotting them was not difficult. Most of their shop and restaurant signs were bi-lingual – chunky Korean ideograms in one case, and curly Indian scripts in the other. I wondered idly if any of their staff (or customers) were interested in historical re-enactments, and if so, what kind they preferred.

At home, Karen used a tablet computer to show me a sample of her own craft work. It was a beautiful piece of calligraphy, done as a wedding gift for a couple of friends. She had prepared the ink and the parchment using traditional methods, and cut a suitable feather to make a quill pen for the job. After gazing admiringly but uncomprehendingly at the beautiful lettering, I confessed that the language and the script were unfamiliar to me. Karen replied: “It’s the Lord’s Prayer – in Klingon.”

California, I love you!

 

Further Information

Murphy, Edith, entry ‘Morton, Thomas’ in New Dictionary of National Biography, OUP, ongoing

Rubin, Rachel Lee, Well Met: Renaissance faires and the American counter-culture, New York University Press, 2013

Web Site: Society for Creative Anachronism