Warren, Mercy Otis

1728 – 1814


Dramatic Works

The Adulateur (1772/3)

The Defeat (1773)

The Group (1775)

The Motley Assembly (1779, authorship uncertain)



The Adulateur (1772/3)


Production & Reception History

unknown, but reference to real life events: “As it is now acted in Upper Servia” (pamphlet), and “To be exhibited for the entertainment of the public, at the grand parade in Upper Servia” (March 26, Massachusetts Spy)

Print & Publication History

Two excerpts published in the Boston Newspaper The Massachusetts Spy, March 26 (Vol. II., Numb. 56, p.15), and April 23 (Vol. II., Numb. 61, p.32), 1772: “The Massachusetts Spy: A Weekly, Political, and Commercial PAPER:–Open to ALL Parties, but Influenced by None. Published by I. Thomas, near the Mill-Bridge, BOSTON.”

Pamphlet version published in 1773: “BOSTON: Printed and sold at the New Printing-Office, Near Concert-Hall. MDCCLXXIII.” 32 pp.

Warren explicitly denied authorship of the pamphlet version, calling it a “plagiary” (qtd. in Richards, Mercy Otis Warren 86)

Genre & Structure

  • newspaper excerpt (“advertisement”), political satire
  • propaganda “play” (Patriot)
  • soliloquy and dialogues with omissions, stage directions, and dramatis personae
  • pamphlet version: “A Tragedy”, political satire in 5 acts (with scene divisions)

Gender Relevance

female authorship; Warren as a political figure who was influential in the propaganda “wars” of the Revolutionary period, despite her nominal powerlessness as a woman;

Key Words & Themes

Thomas Hutchinson, Boston Massacre, duplicity, Revolutionary War; Whigs v. Tories

Additional Information

The Adulateur satirizes Thomas Hutchinson, Crown governor of Massachusetts, and his followers; accuses him of despotic rule (there is also a biographical background of a family feud between the Warrens and the Hutchinsons);
the play uses local politicians as characters (using pseudonyms); the “virtuous” Patriots get noble Roman names (“Brutus”, “Cassius”), whereas the “evil” Loyalists get speaking names like “Rapatio” or “Gripeall;”
the pamphlet version is considerably longer and includes scenes that refer to the 1770 Boston Massacre;
the newspaper version refers more specifically to the (accidental) shooting of a 12-year old (who was in a mob in front of Richardson’s house) by Hutchinson supporter Ebenezer Richardson, who was convicted by the courts but released from prison in early 1772 (see Sarkela)

Availability

newspaper: Massachusetts Spy (March 26, April 23, 1772) available in Early American Newspapers, Series 2

pamphlet: Early American Imprints, Series 1, no. 13063

Secondary Sources

Discussed at length in:

Cima, Gay Gibson. Early American Women Critics: Performance, Religion, Race. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 107-148.

Sarkela, Sandra J. “Freedom’s Call: The Persuasive Power of Mercy Otis Warren’s Dramatic Sketches, 1772-1775.” Early American Literature 44.3 (2009): 541-68.

Castronovo, Russ. Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 117-150.

Briefly referenced in:

Brown, Jared. The Theatre in America During the Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 13-15.

Richards, Jeffrey H. Mercy Otis Warren. New York: Twayne, 1995. 86-89.

Richardson, Gary A. American Drama from the Colonial Period through World War I: A Critical History. New York: Twayne, 1993. 32-33.

Saxon, Theresa. American Theatre: History, Context, Form. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011. 98-99.

Shaffer, Jason. Performing Patriotism: National Identity in the Colonial and Revolutionary American Theater. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. 53.

Stuart, Nancy Rubin. The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008. 48-51.

Wilmer, S. E. Theatre, Society and the Nation: Staging American Identities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 38-40.

Zagarri, Rosemarie. A Woman’s Dilemma: Mercy Otis Warren and the American Revolution. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. 57-60.



The Defeat (1773)


Production & Reception History

unknown, but reference to real-life enactment: “a Dramatic Performance lately exhibited”

Print & Publication History

Two excerpts published in The Boston-Gazette, May 24, and July 19, 1773: “The Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. Containing the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic.”

Genre & Structure

  • Newspaper “extracts,” political satire
  • “propaganda play” (Patriot)
  • 3 acts with scene divisions, but as there are only extracts, the structure is quite arbitrary
  • dramatis personae in the first excerpt (May 24)
  • stage directions throughout

Gender Relevance

female authorship; Warren as a political figure who was influential in the propaganda “wars” of the Revolutionary period, despite her nominal powerlessness as a woman;

Key Words & Themes

Thomas Hutchinson, interception of letters, duplicity, Revolutionary War; Whigs v. Tories

Additional Information

the play satirizes Massachusetts Crown Governor Thomas Hutchinson and his followers; references to the interception and subsequent publication of Hutchinson’s private letters (and the “revelation” of his true intents); the play imagines the “defeat” of Hutchinson and his followers; the play uses local politicians as characters (using pseudonyms): the “virtuous” Patriots get noble Roman names (“Honestus”, “Hortensius”), whereas the “evil” Loyalists get speaking names like “Rapatio” or “Limpit”

Availability

Boston-Gazette (May 24, July 19, 1773) available in Early American Newspapers, Series 2

Full text of the play, typewritten, in Hayes, Edmund M. “Mercy Otis Warren: The Defeat.” New England Quarterly 49.3 (1976): 440-458.

Secondary Sources

Discussed at length in:

Cima, Gay Gibson. Early American Women Critics: Performance, Religion, Race. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 107-148.

Hayes, Edmund M. “Mercy Otis Warren: The Defeat.” New England Quarterly 49.3 (1976): 440-458.

Hynes, Sandra Sarkela. “Dramatic Propaganda: Mercy Otis Warren’s “The Defeat,” 1773.” Today’s Speech 23.4 (1975): 21-27.

Sarkela, Sandra J. “Freedom’s Call: The Persuasive Power of Mercy Otis Warren’s Dramatic Sketches, 1772-1775.” Early American Literature 44.3 (2009): 541-68.

Castronovo, Russ. Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 117-150.

Briefly mentioned in:

Brown, Jared. The Theatre in America During the Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 14.

Richards, Jeffrey H. Mercy Otis Warren. New York: Twayne, 1995. 89-93.

Richardson, Gary A. American Drama from the Colonial Period through World War I: A Critical History. New York: Twayne, 1993. 33.

Stuart, Nancy Rubin. The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008. 51-52.

Wilmer, S. E. Theatre, Society and the Nation: Staging American Identities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 40-43.

Zagarri, Rosemarie. A Woman’s Dilemma: Mercy Otis Warren and the American Revolution. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. 60-61.



The Group  (1775)


Production & Reception History

unknown, but reference to “real-life” events: “As lately acted, and to be re-acted, and to be re-acted to the wonder of all superior intelligences, nigh head-quarters at Amboyne.

Print & Publication History

A substantial segment published in The Boston-Gazette, January 23, 1775: “The Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. Containing the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic.”

An extended version published as pamphlet in Boston: “BOSTON: Pinrted and Sold by EDES and GILL, in Queen-Street, 1775.” 22 pp.

A short version (roughly the Boston-Gazette version) published as pamphlet in New York: “New-York: Printed by John Anderson, at Beeckman’s-Slip.” [1775]. 15 pp.

A short version (roughly the Boston-Gazette version, and supposedly a re-print from the lost Jamaica version) published in Philadelphia: “Jamaica, Printed; Philadelphia, Re-printed; By James Humphreys, junior, in Front-street. M.DCC.LXXV” [1775]. 16 pp.

Genre & Structure

  • “a farce,” political satire in 2 acts (with scene division)
  • “propaganda play” (Patriot)
  • written in iambic pentameter
  • Prefatory material
    • dramatis personae
    • prologue and epilogue (the latter spoken by a lady, the only woman character in Warren’s early plays)

Gender Relevance

female authorship; Warren as a political figure who was influential in the propaganda “wars” of the Revolutionary period, despite her nominal powerlessness as a woman; in the epilogue, a “lady” appears and mourns for early war casualties; the ruthlessness of the Tory characters is conveyed by how they treat their wives: Simple Sapling, for instance, claims that his wife Silvia “no doubt will yield” (15, Boston pamphlet) and Hateall admits to beating his wife with a “willow twig”, if she dares “oppose her lord’s superior will” (15);

Key Words & Themes

Thomas Hutchinson, Mandamus Council, united American continent, duplicity, Revolutionary War; Whigs v. Tories

Additional Information

the play satirizes the Mandamus Council, installed by British Parliament in 1774 in Massachusetts (replacing the elected colonial assembly), after Crown governor Thomas Hutchinson has left the country; the play already rouses Patriots for war, speaking of a “mighty continent” (19) that can defeat the British;

Availability

Boston-Gazette (Jan. 23, 1775) available in Early American Newspapers, Series 2

Early American Imprints, Series 1, nos. 14611 (Boston), 14612 (New York), 14613 (Philadelphia)

Evans Early American Imprint Collection, http://name.umdl.umich.edu/N11561.0001.001 (Boston), http://name.umdl.umich.edu/N11563.0001.001 (Philadelphia)

An edited version can be found in: Kritzer, Amelia Howe, ed. Plays by Early American women, 1775-1850. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 29-54.

Secondary Sources

Discussed at length in:

Cima, Gay Gibson. Early American Women Critics: Performance, Religion, Race. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 107-148.

Sarkela, Sandra J. “Freedom’s Call: The Persuasive Power of Mercy Otis Warren’s Dramatic Sketches, 1772-1775.” Early American Literature 44.3 (2009): 541-68.

Castronovo, Russ. Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 117-150.

Briefly mentioned in:

Brown, Jared. The Theatre in America During the Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 14-17.

Richards, Jeffrey H. Mercy Otis Warren. New York: Twayne, 1995. 93-102.

Richardson, Gary A. American Drama from the Colonial Period through World War I: A Critical History. New York: Twayne, 1993. 34.

Stuart, Nancy Rubin. The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008. 67-71.

Wilmer, S. E. Theatre, Society and the Nation: Staging American Identities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 44-47.

Zagarri, Rosemarie. A Woman’s Dilemma: Mercy Otis Warren and the American Revolution. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. 68-70.



The Motley Assembly (1779, authorship uncertain)


Production & Reception History

unknown

Print & Publication History

“Boston: Printed and Sold by Nathaniel Coverly, in Marlborough-Street. M,DCC,LXXIX.” [1779].

Genre & Structure

  • “a farce,” political satire
  • collection of scenes with no act divisions
  • Prefatory material
    • dramatis personae
    • “advertisement” claiming the authenticity of character rendition

Gender Relevance

social comedy with many female characters (Mrs. and Miss) who socialize and talk about “taste and fashion” (11) rather than politics;

Key Words & Themes

Tory v. Whig; social distinctions; patriotism vs. British amusements

Additional Information

authorship uncertain; in the opening “advertisement,” the author uses the masculine pronoun to refer to himself; the play ridicules the complacency of Boston colonists during the Revolutionary War; lambasts the “Turncoats,” as one character is called, who do not have political principles but merely want to be entertained;

Availability

Early American Imprints, Series 1, no. 49367

Evans Early American Imprint Collection, http://name.umdl.umich.edu/N13183.0001.001

Secondary Sources

Brown, Jared. The Theatre in America During the Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 83-84.

Richards, Jeffrey H. Mercy Otis Warren. New York: Twayne, 1995. 104-106.

Richardson, Gary A. American Drama from the Colonial Period through World War I: A Critical History. New York: Twayne, 1993. 35-36.

Stuart, Nancy Rubin. The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008. 137.

Zagarri, Rosemarie. A Woman’s Dilemma: Mercy Otis Warren and the American Revolution. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. 68-70.

(only brief references, no in-depth treatment available)