"A democratic art at a democratic price”: The American Celebrations of the Shakespeare Tercentenary, 1916

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This article looks beyond Percy MacKaye’s Caliban by the Yellow Sands – the best known American contribution to the Shakespeare Tercentenary of 1916 – to reconsider the nature and the functions of the Tercentenary commemorations in the U.S.A. The recent, almost exclusive, critical focus on MacKaye’s New York centrepiece has produced a view of the jubilee as participating in “an internal or domestic colonizing venture that seeks to enlist the consent and participation of the masses in their enforced acculturation” (Cartelli, 1999:75). However, the celebrations throughout the U.S.A. were too widespread and popular to be dismissed offhand as an affair staged by the members of the elite in order to force the masses to accept their vision of culture. A stunning range of large and small-scale Tercentenary projects were carried out across the country, including plays, masques, pageants, festivals, musical and dance tributes, lectures, sermons, exhibitions, courses, tableaux, planting of trees, and developing of Shakespeare gardens. This article demonstrates that public interest and participation extended beyond the narrow circles of Anglo-Protestant elites. Moreover, most American Tercentenary initiatives did not originate from governmental institutions and bodies, but rather from the grassroots: members of the public, clubs and associations, individual educationalists, churches, schools and colleges. Consequently, the American Tercentenary celebrations acquired a strong local focus, engendering communal involvement and civic pride, rather than becoming a state-sponsored affair, an official “diet” of Shakespeare fed to the populace by the central government.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2010


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