Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!


In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there was no American Aeschylus and when they went to the theater they went to be entertained. Whatever moral improvements they needed to hear were proclaimed from the pulpit – or if there was a failed divine in need of work – from the soapbox. Abraham Lincoln was shot while watching a comedy – on Good Friday!

I think there are several reasons for the love of comedy. First of all life was hard. They were engaged in the business of creating a new nation and extending it across a continent. For the man in the arena there was never enough of what he needed and almost nothing by way of leisure, let alone luxury. There was no market for tales of anguish and angst – those emotions could and probably would get you killed. What they really wanted was a smile, a chuckle or the gift of laughter.

With this book you may give up Oliver Stone and his pretensions to history, you may leave Jane Fonda and Sean Penn to proclaim their moral superiority[sic] and you may forget the darkness of Wes Craven and enjoy a tale of the forebearer of Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy and maybe even Brendan Fraser. Like Robert Louis Stevenson you may smile well content, and to this childish task, around the fire, address your evening hours.

The man who was Rip van Winkle : Joseph Jefferson and nineteenth-century American theatre New Haven : Yale University Press, c 2007      Benjamin McArthur Theater  United States  History  19th century, Actors  United States  Biography, Jefferson, Joseph, 1829-1905 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing.     xvii, 438 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.     Includes bibliographical references (p. 357-422) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

The most beloved American comedic actor of the nineteenth century, Joseph Jefferson made his name as Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle. In this book, a compelling blend of biography and theatrical and cultural history, Benjamin McArthur chronicles Jefferson’s remarkable career and offers a lively and original account of the heroic age of the American theatre.

Joe Jefferson’s entire life was spent on the stage, from the age of Jackson to the dawn of motion pictures. He extensively toured the United States as well as Australia and Great Britain. An ever-successful career (including acclaim as painter and memoirist) put him in the company of the great actors, artists, and writers of the day, including Edwin Forrest, Edwin Booth, John Singer Sargent, and William Dean Howells. This book rescues a brilliant figure and places him, appropriately enough, on center stage of a pivotal time for American theatre. McArthur explores the personalities of the period, the changing theatrical styles and their audiences, the touring life, and the wide and varied culture of theatre. Through the life of Jefferson, McArthur is able to illuminate an era.

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