Chapter

The Kentucky Tragedy

Matthew G. Schoenbachler

in Murder and Madness

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780813125664
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135373 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5810/kentucky/9780813125664.003.0011
The Kentucky Tragedy

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Most people have been introduced to the Kentucky Tragedy by literature. Novelists, playwrights, and purveyors of folklore have shaped the memory of the episode and have given it meaning. The murder of Solomon Sharp was easily one of the most enduring episodes in America's collective memory. It was the Beauchamps who shaped the perceptions, arranged the memory, and controlled the meaning of the Kentucky Tragedy. For seven years after the deaths of Sharp and the Beauchamps, rumors swirled of impending dramatizations. If plays were the medium of choice for the earliest dramatists of the Kentucky Tragedy, prose narratives soon came to dominate the genre. Yet human nature tends to abhor a vacuum of significance, and thus the events were given meaning—or, rather, America lazily adopted the meaning assigned by the Beauchamps. Maybe that is the significance of the Kentucky Tragedy: Anna and Jereboam had a better story than the truth. That was what the people wanted to hear; that was how the Beauchamps, in the end, got away with murder; and that is how, for generations of Americans, madness was made beautiful.

Keywords: Kentucky Tragedy; Jereboam Beauchamp; Solomon Sharp; Anna Cooke; madness; murder

Chapter.  22180 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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