There might not be a more (terrifyingly) apt moment to talk about Dixon’s 1905 play, which provided the basis for D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation. There’s a legend surrounding a presidential endorsement of the film: after the viewing of the movie, President Wilson supposedly declared that it was “like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” And, of course, the Ku Klux Klan endorsed the person being sworn into the office of the presidency today. There has been a lot of talk about how we cannot – must not – normalize white supremacy: but the KKK has been normalized – even romanticized – in popular culture since its founding in the Reconstruction period – and Dixon’s play is certainly an instance of this.… Read more
Hello again, intrepid fans of bad plays! This week, I’m looking at a professional melodrama set during the war: William Haworth’s The Ensign (1892).
To my knowledge, the copy I got from the Sherman Collection at Southern Illinois University might be the only extant copy of the play. But it seems that a lot of unpublished typescripts are squirreled away in odd places/papers, or haven’t been catalogued, or the finding aids aren’t digital/online, so I could be wrong on this front (please contact me if you know of any other copies out there!).
Anyways, actor/playwright/director William Haworth chose a rather unexpected location for the start of his play (at least, unexpected compared to many other popular Civil War melodramas).… Read more
Welcome to the Bad Play Friday series!
Each week, I will share some quick thoughts on a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century US play. This series is really a way of keeping me honest as I work through my monograph on Civil War memories; because it is monograph-related, the play will somehow touch upon the war, slavery, or Reconstruction. I’ll be revisiting some plays I’ve already read/written about, but many will be texts I just recently acquired, thanks to a generous PSC-CUNY grant. The grant sent me to the Sherman Theatre archive, part of the Morris Library Special Collections at Southern Illinois University this past February.… Read more
I had a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment while reflecting on my teaching over this “break”. The moment mostly involved our second level composition class – ENG 102, “Writing Through Literature.” It is also kind of an intro to lit class, but not really a hardcore lit survey – or not in my hands, anyway. It’s more like “flirting with literature” in my rendering of the thing. So I have been running ENG 102 primarily as a writing class, usually focused around a particular theme (my last few sections used post-apocalyptic and dystopian works), in which students also encounter literature (there should be three genres included, poetry and drama are mandatory among those three), and begin to learn how to analyze and write about literature. … Read more