The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

II. The Early Drama, 1756–1860.

§ 6. William Dunlap.

Important historically as Tyler was, this period is dominated by the personality of William Dunlap, whose first acted play, The Father, performed in New York on 7 September, 1789, was a comedy of manners inspired by the success of The Contrast. The success of this play and that of his drama Leicester, the second American tragedy, played first under the title of The Fatal Deception, on 24 April, 1794, inspired him to go on. According to his own statement he wrote fifty plays  10  “and other pieces unpublished,” most of which were acted successfully. These include tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, opera, and interlude. He is especially significant as an adaptor of German and French plays, and it was through him that Kotzebue was introduced to the American stage. His first adaptation from Kotzebue, The Stranger, played on 10 December, 1798, was from an English version, but the success of this led him to study German, and he adapted and produced at least thirteen plays of Kotzebue, the most significant being False Shame, played in 1799, and The Virgin of the Sun and Fraternal Discord, both acted in 1800. He also adapted Zschokke’s Abaellino in 1801 with great success, while his earlier adaptation of Schiller’s Don Carlos in 1799 had been a failure. He did not neglect American themes, however, and one of his most popular plays, Andrè (1798), afterwards rewritten as The Glory of Columbia (1803), represents the Revolutionary period. His career as manager of the American Company from 1796 to 1805 and the influence he had upon the development of the stage at that time make it fitting to close this period with the date at which financial difficulty forced him to shut his doors. He became connected with the theatre again from 1810 to 1811 and wrote even after that, but his later contribution was comparatively unimportant. This period is noteworthy also for the beginning of organized dramatic criticism in New York in the work of a group headed by Peter Irving and Charles Adams, who met after the play, wrote critiques in common, and secured their publication.   10

Note 10. A complete bibliography of Dunlap records sixty-five plays. See Bibliography. [ back ]