Early American Drama

Jason Shaffer

in The Oxford Handbook of Early American Literature

Published in print March 2008 | ISBN: 9780195187274
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Early American Drama

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)


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Drama in early America forms the basis of this article. The phrase “early American drama” is open to different interpretations. A modern theatergoer could be forgiven for assuming “American drama” began in the second decade of the twentieth century with the emergence of Eugene O'Neill. This article focuses on dramatic texts written in America between the era of colonial settlement and Royall Tyler's The Contrast (1787), a play written by an American author with a setting in the United States and a cast of exclusively American characters, whose prologue declares that it is a study of “native themes”. The article traces the early colonial development of drama followed by the emergence of satire. Works of famous American playwrights such as Eugene O'Neill, Thomas Godfrey, Mercy Watis Warren, and others are covered also. Although these players spent much of the first post-Revolutionary decade struggling to reestablish the professional theater and its predominantly British repertoire, early American drama continued to evolve.

Keywords: drama; American forms; native themes; professional theater; British repertoire

Article.  11528 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)

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