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Codifying the National Self

Spectators, Actors and the American Dramatic Text


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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Anna Cora Mowatt. Player and Playwright 55


Anna Cora Mowatt Player and Playwright Wendy RIPLEY Columbia Union College In an article in the 1857 Brooklyn Daily Times, Walt Whitman sum- marized the prevailing thought about women who wrote. “The majority of people,” he states, “do not want their daughters trained to become authoresses and poets” (qtd. in Showalter 18). Even fewer people wan- ted their daughters trained to become actors. Anna Cora Mowatt, born in 1819, was both. Placed against the background of individual and histori- cal circumstances, Mowatt’s writing reveals the ways she constructed her career as both a player and a writer of plays. Centering on Mowatt’s professional strategies, this essay emphasizes the parts of her life that shaped her career as a writer and actor and describes how she defined and achieved her own authorship, ultimately expanding the professional boundaries for women playwrights by consciously and carefully using pseudonym choice and region. Writing, in the nineteenth century, was first accepted as a profession in part because it was done in the home, in private. While it was consid- ered private work done within the confines of the home, nineteenth- century women writers also distinguished it as a public gesture. When women began appearing in public (action), however, writing as a pro- fession became more culturally problematic. When a woman chose to publish, she was viewed by the culture as exposing herself as if on a public stage – participating in a kind of literary performance or drama, and becoming, at least in part, public property....

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