Poe and early (un)American drama

Amy C. Branam, Marquette University


This study explores what "American drama" signifies during the period after the Revolution. Traditionally, this category refers to plays set in America, which focus on American issues and/or person, and are written by American citizens. However, the dominance of such European dramatic genres of the sentimental, melodramatic, Gothic, and Romantic on American stages indicates that "American drama" also indicts foreign drama. In order to illustrate the complexity of pinpointing those elements that comprise antebellum American drama, three variations of Poe's Politian (1835) serve as case studies. Because Poe's play incorporates elements of these genres, it helps to delineate the conventions unique to each type while also revealing how many of the same devices are shared by these genres. These similarities have often led to conflation of these genres. Through consideration of America's reception and implementation of these genres, however, a culture's ability to manipulate these genres in ways that promote its norms becomes readily apparent--whether this culture is French, German, English, the American North, or the American South. A combination of reconstructive, genre, and textual criticism structure this study. It assumes the importance of learning about a period's historical, literary, political, and social forces in order to gain a better appreciation of literary works. Also, this type of reconstruction aids in analyzing genre. Using Frederic Jameson's work in genre studies, this analysis accepts the premise that, in addition to a list of conventions, linking a genre to the influences that led to its creation and subsequent popularity are necessary in order to determine how to classify a work. These critical approaches elucidate how necessary it is to recognize that plays should not be considered in isolation from their cultural moments. The elements that a playwright elects to include and the revisions that he or she incorporates into later drafts reflect a dialagical process between the author and the audience. In the case of Poe's play in particular, his three versions not only address how European dramatic genres persisted in America but also how plays performed in America resonated with the country's cultural concerns.

Recommended Citation

Branam, Amy C., "Poe and early (un)American drama" (2005). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3172507.