Murray, Judith Sargent

1751 – 1820

judith_sargent_murray_wiki-commons


Dramatic Works

Virtue Triumphant (1795)
The Traveller Returned (1796)



Virtue Triumphant  (1795)


Production & Reception History

Production History: Performed once at the Federal Street Theatre in Boston, March 3, 1795. It was the first play by an American-born author to be performed at the theater and the first play by an American-born woman to receive a professional production. Murray declined a second performance due to poor critical responses. The original cast list is available in Seilhamer’s History of the American Theatre.

Reception History: Under cover of her persona ‘Philo Americanus,’ Murray comments on the poor reception of her play in an introductory letter published in The Gleaner (“Philo Americanus’s Letter to the Gleaner”). She praises the play’s qualities and explains why the production was an ill success (“the production has never been brought to the test; it was performed but once; the players were generally deficient”)

Print & Publication History

Published anonymously in 1798 in Murray’s three-volume collection The Gleaner

Genre & Structure

  • Comedy in five acts
  • Prefatory material
    • “Philo Americanus’s Letter to the Gleaner”

Gender Relevance

Complex, educated and assertive female characters; strong friendship bonds & solidarity between female characters; an unmarried & economically independent but highly respectable female character; ‘fallen woman’ redeeming her happiness by making amends for her past errors

Key Words & Themes

Intergenerational strife; allegorical names;  comic villains; virtue; vice; strong female characters

Additional Information

Authorship: The authorship was unknown at the time. Robert Treat Paine, Jr. attributed the piece to Judith Sargent Murray’s husband, Rev. John Murray in his newspaper the Federal Orrery; in History of the American Theatre, Seilhamer attributed the play to Royall Tyler

Murray & American Drama: Murray was a great advocate of the theater in America. In “Panegyric on the Drama” and in her essay “Observations on the Tragedies of Mrs. Warren” – both published in The Gleaner – she  praises the utility of a ‘well regulated stage’ for the early American Republic and its citizens. Above all, Murray encourage American drama and dramatic talent. “The stage is undoubtedly a very powerful engine in forming the opinions and manners of a people. Is it not then of importance to supply the American stage with American scenes?” (“Observations on the Tragedies of Mrs. Warren”).

Availability

Murray, Judith Sargent. The Gleaner. 1798. Schenectady, NY: Union College Press, 1992.

Secondary Sources

Baym, Nina. Introduction. The Gleaner. 1798. Judith Sargent Murray. Schenectady, NY: Union College Press, 1992. iii-xx. Print.

Calderón-López, Isabel. “Judith Sargent Murray Triumphant: The Medium as Rational Entertainment.” Old Stories, New Readings: The Transforming Power of American Drama. Eds. Miriam López-Rodriguez et. al. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015. 1-18. Print.

Field, Vena Bernadette. “Dramatic Works.” Constantia: A Study of the Life and Works of Judith Sargent Murray. Orono: UP Maine, 1931. 72-85. Print.

Harris, Sharon M., Ed. Introduction. Selected Writing of Judith Sargent Murray. NY, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. xv-xliv. Print.

Kritzer, Amelia Howe. Introduction. Plays by Early American Women, 1775-1850. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2009. 1-28. Print.

Seilhamer, George O. “The Boston Theatre, 1794-5.” History of the American Theatre: New Foundations. Philadelphia: Globe Printing House, 1891. 227-252. Print.



The Traveller Returned  (1796)


Production & Reception History

Production History: Performed twice at the Federal Street Theatre in Boston, March 9 & 11, 1796 (anonymously) According to Seilhamer, it was performed a third time on May 13, 1796, “for the benefit of the widows and orphans of Boston” (303)

Reception History: Paine published a review of the play’s first production in his newspaper Federal Orrery which sparked a heated debate between him and Murray’s advocates, especially her husband Rev. John Murray whom Paine believed to be the author of the play. “As an American production it met with a very favorable reception. The author, we think, possesses a dramatic talent which is capable of improvement. But experience is necessary to theatrical effect; […] The tedium of uninteresting solemnity constitutes the principal defect in the ‘Traveller Returned.’ […] the author seems not to be aware that novelty of incident, picturesque situation and brilliancy of dialogue are cardinal requisites in a genteel comedy. […].” (Paine quoted in Seilhammer, 304)

Print & Publication History

Published anonymously in 1798 in Murray’s three-volume collection The Gleaner

Genre & Structure

  • Comedy in five acts
  • Prefatory material
    • short poem
    • letter recommending the play signed by Murray’s persona ‘Philo Americanus,’ addressed to “the Author of the Gleaner”

Gender Relevance

Female ‘rake reformed;’ female education; favorable representation of male emotionality; strong female characters

Key Words & Themes

Patriotism; Americanness; female education (encouraging prudence & sensibility “in female bosoms”); virtue; vice; female ‘rake reformed;’ stage Irishman; wide range of characters (different social classes and nationalities); immigration

Additional Information

Authorship: Robert Treat Paine, Jr. attributed the play to Murray’s husband, Rev. John Murray

Availability

Murray, Judith Sargent. The Gleaner. 1798. Schenectady, NY: Union College Press, 1992.

Kritzer, Amelia Howe, ed. Plays by Early American Women, 1775-1850. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Harris, Sharon M., Ed. Selected Writings of Judith Sargent Murray. NY, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.

Secondary Sources

Baym, Nina. Introduction. The Gleaner. 1798. Judith Sargent Murray. Schenectady, NY: Union College Press, 1992. iii-xx.

Field, Vena Bernadette. “Dramatic Works.” Constantia: A Study of the Life and Works of Judith Sargent Murray. Orono: UP Maine, 1931. 72-85.

Harris, Sharon M., Ed. Introduction. Selected Writing of Judith Sargent Murray. NY, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. xv-xliv.

Kritzer, Amelia Howe. Introduction. Plays by Early American Women, 1775-1850. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2009. 1-28.

Kritzer, Amelia Howe. “Playing with Republican Motherhood: Self-Representation in Plays by Susanna Haswell Rowson and Judith Sargent Murray.” Early American Literature 31.2 (1996): 150-66.

Richards, Jeffrey H. “American Author, British Source: Writing Revolution in Murray’s Traveller Returned.” Drama, Theatre, and Identity in the American New Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. 85-104.

Seilhamer, George O. “The Boston Theatre, 1796.” History of the American Theatre: New Foundations. Philadelphia: Globe Printing House, 1891. 297-313.