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Codifying the National Self

Spectators, Actors and the American Dramatic Text

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Edited By Barbara Ozieblo and María Dolores Narbona-Carrión

Theater has always been the site of visionary hopes for a reformed national future and a space for propagating ideas, both cultural and political, and such a conceptualization of the histrionic art is all the more valuable in the post-9/11 era. The essays in this volume address the concept of «Americanness» and the perceptions of the «alien» – as ethnic, class or gendered minorities – as dealt with in the work of American playwrights from Anna Cora Mowatt, through Rachel Crothers or Susan Glaspell, and on to Sam Shepard, David Mamet, Nilo Cruz or Wallace Shawn. The authors of the essays come from a multi-national university background that includes the United States, the United Arab Emirates and various countries of the European Community. In recognition of the multiple components of drama, the essays for the volume were selected in order to exemplify different aspects and theories of theater studies: the playwright, the play, the audience and the actor are all examined as part of the theatrical experience that serves to formulate American national identity.

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Reading Drama. Plays in American Periodicals 1890-1918 39

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Reading Drama Plays in American Periodicals 1890-1918 Susan HARRIS SMITH University of Pittsburgh In The Long Revolution, Raymond Williams reminds us that the most difficult thing to get a hold of, in studying any particular period, is the felt sense of the quality of life at a particular place and time, a sense of the ways in which particular activities combined into a way of thinking and living. The “felt sense of life” I want to recover is that of America at the turn of the last century, from 1890-1918, a time at which a new social order, managed by the growing middle class, a professional- managerial class, engaged in the project of achieving a “modern” cul- tured status through the activity of reading which, I am not the first to argue, was a consumer activity. The consumption of culture encouraged and enabled the reader-consumer to bask in an expanded world of goods to be purchased and lands to be claimed. The new American national identity, fed by mass culture, mass advertising, and mass anxiety was one of patriotic material advancement at home and rationalized right- eous expansionism abroad. At the turn of the century, the cultural milieu encouraged the middle class to self-improve as both readers and consumers, to participate in and contribute to an America that was presented to them as a cultural and political success dependent upon their full co-operation and adher- ence to a narrowly circumscribed national norm. “Nation,” as defined by Benedict Anderson, is “an...

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