Out of the Forrest and Into the Booth: Performance of Masculinity on the American Stage, 1828-1865
Kippola, Karl M.
Nathans, Heather S
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My dissertation seeks to understand how and why the performance of American masculinity changed so dramatically from 1828 to 1865 and the gradual process of transition from Edwin Forrest's rugged masculinity to Edwin Booth's almost effete intellectualism. Within the scope of my dissertation, I seek not merely to construct an isolated theatrical history but rather a history of cultural formations inextricably linked to the dynamic political, cultural, and social changes of this period. In Chapter One, I examine evolutions in manly rhetoric and oratory, and a brief survey of nineteenth-century advice literature, to better understand the performance of masculinity in the public sphere. In the second chapter, I investigate the masculine performance of Edwin Forrest (America's first great actor) on- and off-stage and examine his adaptation of Robert T. Conrad's Jack Cade as an example of his consciously constructed manly identity. In Chapter Three, I explore the wide range and variety of actors between Forrest and Booth (artistically and chronologically), as well as performances and representations of immigrant, Indian, Black, and working-class males as alternate visions of masculinity. In Chapter Four, I look at the Astor Place Riot (May 19, 1849) as a theatrical and political spectacle that suggests the incompatability of working-class individualism and the gentility of the emerging middle class and elite. In the final chapter, I explore Booth's restrained image of masculinity and passive acceptance of personal tragedies as a reflection of the "invisible," middle-class performance of ideal manhood. In the forty-year period that marked the complex evolution from Forrest's debut to Booth's triumph as Hamlet, the American definition of masculinity fragmented along lines of class, race, and politics. I suggest that the national stage not only mirrored but magnified this process through the creation of physical characters upon which contemporary ideals of masculinity could be inscribed. Each splintered group demanded the reflection of their own values and models of behavior unique to their respective situations, and each searched for a sense of masculine, communal belonging.