Seeing the Yankee Jonathan's challenges to democracy on the early American stage

View Full Record
Description: "Seeing the Yankee" is a sustained critical examination of the Yankee stock character in four early American plays often cited as worthy representations of his attributes: Royall Tyler's The Contrast (1787); Samuel Woodworth's The Forest Rose (1825); and Joseph Stevens Jones's The People's Lawyer (1839) and The Silver Spoon (1852). While the Yankee character, often named Jonathan, has been dismissed by the majority of scholars as a peripheral figure detached from the play's action and serving primarily as light comic relief, a closer reading of these important early plays reveals Jonathan's role as a reflection of, and a challenge to, the ideals of early American democracy. As a childlike figure who makes snap judgments based on little more than what he sees, Jonathan is a disquieting character who causes those surrounding him on the stage to forcefully extract his opinions while simultaneously shrinking from his view and obstructing his eyesight. And as unsettling as he is within the play, audiences viewing him are likewise forced to confront disturbing elements within themselves---race relations, class politics, power disparities between ages and genders, and other tensions that present a challenge to the principles of equality that formed the basis of early American democracy. This makes Jonathan an even more compelling subject to read today, far removed from the animated colloquialisms and mannerisms that made him such a popular theatrical fixture.
Language: English
Format: Degree Work