Patchwork Shakespeare: Community Events at the American Shakespeare Tercentenary (1916)

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Abstract

This paper explores the ways in which the American celebrations of the three-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916 drew on and combined a range of cultural practices across different genres and media. While the Tercentenary was marked by some traditional theatrical productions, the majority of American commemorative activities were of a different nature: they involved active participation of local communities in the production of original, multi-media (and often multicultural) events. These ranged from tree-planting and wreath-laying (accompanied by speeches and recitations), through festivals, pageants, masques, dances, tableaux, to such unusual tributes as a Shakespearean circus. Many of these events belonged to the category of ‘community drama’, a cultural phenomenon which enjoyed immense popularity in the US at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the words of one of its key advocates, Percy MacKaye, community drama was conceived as a “drama of democracy” – “a drama of and by the people, not merely for the people” (MacKaye 1916, p. xviii). Masques and pageants, the common types of community drama, combined theatrical elements (dialogue and character), visual effects (floats, processions, dressing up), music (both instrumental and vocal), and dancing. Moreover, they aimed to create cultural cohesion among their participants, who often came from different ethnic or social backgrounds. Thus, MacKaye’s Tercentenary masque Caliban by the Yellow Sands brought together representatives of large sections of the heterogeneous urban population of New York by making them represent – through pantomime, dance, chorus, and dialogue – the development of the theatre across different ages and cultures. This paper will examine a number of community events produced for the Shakespeare Tercentenary, in order to assess how this participatory, multimedia and multicultural approach to Shakespeare contributed to debates concerning the nature of American culture and identity at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOuterSpeares: Shakespeare, Intermedia, and the Limits of Adaptation
EditorsDaniel Fischlin
Place of PublicationToronto
PublisherUniversity of Toronto Press
Pages321-346
ISBN (Print)9781442615939
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014

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