Dunlap, William

1766-1839

 


Dramatic Works (comedies only)

The Father; Or, American Shandyism. A Comedy (1788)dunlap-_half-length-portrait-process-print-from-an-engraving-from-university-of-illinois-theatrical-print-collection-portraits-of-actors-1720-19

Darby’s Return. A Comic Sketch (1789)

Tell Truth and Shame the Devil (1797)

The Italian father: a comedy, in five acts (1810)



The Father; Or, American Shandyism. A Comedy (1788)


Production & Reception History

Production History: First performed at the New-York Theatre by the Old American Company (1789)

Reception History: In Dunlap’s note “To the Reader,” which was published in the author’s collection The Dramatic Works of William Dunlap (1806), the playwright comments on the first production of his comedy at the New-York Theatre in 1789. He emphasizes the “flattering reception” of the performance of his play, as well as the comedy’s exceptional status as “the first and only play that had come from the American press” at the time of its publication. (n.p.) In A History, Dunlap also praises the 1789 production of The Father, arguing that it was “played correctly, and received with great applause by the citizens” (80).

Print & Publication History

Printed by Hodge, Allen & Campbell, New York (1789)

Published under two different titles: The Father; Or, American Shandyism. A Comedy [1788, original] and The Father of an Only Child. A Comedy [1806 edition].

In A History of the American Theater (1832), Dunlap argues that the comedy “was the first drama which issued from the press after the revolution – the first American play printed that had been performed in a regular theatre – and the first performed of the many afterwards written by its author” (80).

Genre & Structure

  • Comedy in five acts
  • Prefatory material
    • Prologue (“By the Author of the Comedy, 1789. Spoken by Mr. Wignell.”)
    • Epilogue 1789 (“Written by the Author of the Comedy, 1789. Spoken by Mrs. Henry”)
    • Epilogue 1806 (“Written by the author of the comedy. To be spoken by the actress who plays Caroline.”)

Additional Information

A History of the American Theater, published in 1832, is William Dunlap’s account of the development of theater in America “from Its Origins to 1832.” It is the first chronicle of early American theater and dramatic writing and offers intriguing insights into a variety of theater-related subjects including the trades of acting and playwriting, different theater companies, censorship, and the contested position of theater in American society.

Availability

Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800

Dunlap, William. The Dramatic Works of William Dunlap. Vol. 1. Philadelphia: Printed by T. and G. Palmer, 1806. 7-83.

Secondary Sources

Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre. New York: J. & J. Harper, 1832. 80-81.



Darby’s Return. A Comic Sketch (1789)


Production & Reception History

Production History: Performed at the New York Theatre, 24 November 1789 (for the Benefit or Mr. Wignell).

Print & Publication History

Printed by Hodge, Allen, and Campbell, New-York, 1789

Published under two different subtitles: Darby’s Return. A Comic Sketch [New York: Hodge et. al., 1789] and Darby’s Return. An Interlude [New York: David Longworth, 1807].

Genre & Structure

  • Comic Sketch (including songs; rhyme)
  • Prefatory material
    • “To the Public” (1789): an apology for lacking dramatic genius; disclaimer that the play is merely a hastily written “dramatic trifle” which was not meant for publication; including notes on textual changes made for the New York production of the comic sketch
    • “To the Reader” (1806): a praise of Wignell (at the time of the play’s first publication “the favourite comedian of the American stage”) and George Washington (“that truly great man, General Washington, then newly elected president of the United States”)

Key Words & Themes

Travelling; Ireland; stage Irishmen (fools, drunkards etc.); national stereotyping; ignorance; New York;

 

Availability

Evans Early American Imprint Collection

Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819

Secondary Sources

Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre. New York: J. & J. Harper, 1832. 84-85.



 

Tell Truth and Shame the Devil (1797)


Production & Reception History

Production History: Performed by the Old American Company, New York, 9 January, 1797.

Reception History: According to Dunlap, “it was played a few times and forgotten” (A History 157).

Print & Publication History

Printed by T. and J. Swords, New-York, 1797

Genre & Structure

  • Comedy in two acts
  • Prefatory and paratextual material
    • A short note concerning the originality of the play written by Dunlap (“Those who are curious to know how far this Comedy is original or how far borrowed, will be satisfied by consulting a French dramatic proverb, of one act, called Jerome Pointu.”)
    • An epilogue, spoken by the servant girl Susan, who leaves her role to steps in front of the audience as an actress to defend the play and the theater industry. She brazenly questions the moral platitudes spoken by Tom at the end of the comedy (“I should sum up all in the old adage, ‘Honesty is the best policy,’ and advise all within hearing, in the words of Hotspur [Sir Henry Percy], to ‘tell truth and shame the devil – ever, while you live, guardy, tell the truth and shame the devil.’”), openly dismisses truth telling as dull and “quite a hum-drum thing,” and instead praises ‘spirit’ as the key to a pleasant life. Through the popular metaphor of the world as a theater within which life is performed as a play, she successfully links the audience’s reality and that of theater: “What a dull thing this play of life would prove, / Without disguise or plot our mirth to move? / Without inventions, counterplots and shamming, / I believe t’would meet a very hearty damning.” The object of the epilogue is clarified in its final line: “If you agree – of course our play you’ll spare.”
    • Errata:  a glossary of typographical errors in the print edition of the play; it is added as an appendix at the end of the 1797 edition and includes ‘instructions’ such as “Page 10, 16th line from the top, for ‘frugality’ read ‘regularity’” (46)

Gender Relevance

Male centered (three male characters; one female servant, female heroine absent from stage); appropriate and inappropriate male conduct; young (men) versus old (men); male vices (impersonated mainly by Semblance: dishonesty; greed; secrecy; disguise; self-centeredness; hypocrisy); ambiguous male habits: gaming, wine, and women; male virtues (impersonated by Whitely & Tom: honesty, sense of justice, benevolence); bad role models; father-daughter relationship; absent daughter (country boarding-school); sexual assault (master(s) – servant girl); vulnerability and dependence of young orphaned women; ‘fine women’ as passive objects to be looked at; conduct advice for girls (“Beware of young men”)

Key Words & Themes

Law; justice system; disguise; masking / unmasking; disguise; deceit; honestly; plotting; orphanhood; master-servant relations; age; generational differences: old versus new customs, hierarchies, and ideals; conduct advice

Additional Information

Source & Originality: In A History, Dunlap elaborates on the originality of his play. He repeats the play’s links to the French dramatic proverb Jerome Pointu, yet emphasizes that “[s]o little of the French proverb was retained, that it [Tell Truth and Shame the Devil] may be considered as original” (157).

Availability

Evans Early American Imprint Collection

Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800

Secondary Sources

Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre. New York: J. & J. Harper, 1832. 157.



The Italian father: a comedy, in five acts (1810)


Production & Reception History

Production History: First performed anonymously at the New-York Theatre, 15 April 1799

Reception History: According to Dunlap, the comedy “was announced without mentioning any author or any birthplace” and was thus “supposed to be one of Kotzebue’s [play], though nothing was said to mislead the public or the performers, it was received with great applause, and extolled by many as the best of the great German dramatist’s productions” (A History, 265-6). In A History, Dunlap further insists that The Italian Father “is considered by the author as the best of the many he has written” and the New York production “was played spiritedly, and the play was received with enthusiasm” (266).

Print & Publication History

Published eleven years after the first production by D. Longworth, New York, May 1810

Genre & Structure

  • Comedy in five acts
  • Prefatory material
    • Copyright note (signed “Charles Clinton. Clerk of the District of New-York”)
    • “To the Public” (13 April 1810): comments on the reception of the 1799 New York production of the play (it “was received with flattering attention and applause”); information on the originality of the play (“[t]hose who are well versed in old english [sic] dramatic literature, will perceive that the author has enriched his work from those obsolete sources without forfeiting his claim to originality in the composition”); commendation of the play’s (didactic) qualities and specification of its target audience (“to the perusal of every father, husband, wife and daughter”)

Availability

Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819

Secondary Sources

Dunlap, William. A History of the American Theatre. New York: J. & J. Harper, 1832. 265-66.