Plays

The American Antiquarian Society's collections include over 2,000 plays published before 1876 in what became the United States. These plays provide a window into America's ambivalent relationship towards the theater, and document the development of a native dramatic voice. The earliest play printed in American in the AAS collections is a collegiate production: The Military Glory of Great-Britain, an Entertainment, Given by the Late Candidates for Bachelor's Degree, at the Close of the Anniversary Commencement, Held in Nassau-Hall New-Jersey September 29th, 1762 (Philadelphia: William Bradford, 1762). The Society holds a first edition of The Prince of Parthia (1767) by Thomas Godfrey, the first play by an American author to be performed by a professional theatrical company in America.

In 1774 the Continental Congress passed a resolution discouraging all forms of public entertainment. Plays were still published, notably such patriotic efforts as Mercy Otis Warren's The Group; as Lately Acted, and to be Re-acted to the Wonder of All Superior Intelligences, nigh Head-quarters at Amboyne (Boston: Edes and Gill, 1775) and John Leacock's The Fall of British Tyranny, or, American Liberty Triumphant, of which the Society holds copies printed in Philadelphia, Boston and Providence in 1776. Following the Revolution the theater began to gain wide popularity and acceptance, in spite of a lingering reputation for impropriety, with the final anti-theatrical statute in Boston being allowed to expire in 1792. The earliest dramatic works for children held by the Society date from this period: two works translated from the French of the Countess de Genlis and printed by Isaiah Thomas in Worcester in 1785.

Access

The collection of nearly 2,000 plays is fully cataloged online in the General Catalog.

Additional plays and related material may be found in the General Catalog by searching for the AAS call number "G330 and G331."

Resources

Plays are also selectively annotated in Frank Pierce Hill's American Plays Printed 1714-1830 (New York, 1970) and Oscar Wegelin's Early American Plays 1714-1830 (New York, 1905).

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