The Contrast: Manners, Morals, and Authority in the Early American Republic / Edition 1

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“The Contrast“, which premiered at New York City's John Street Theater in 1787, was the first American play performed in public by a professional theater company. The play, written by New England-born, Harvard-educated, Royall Tyler was timely, funny, and extremely popular. When the play appeared in print in 1790, George Washington himself appeared at the head of its list of hundreds of subscribers.

Reprinted here with annotated footnotes by historian Cynthia A. Kierner, Tyler’s play explores the debate over manners, morals, and cultural authority in the decades following American Revolution. Did the American colonists' rejection of monarchy in 1776 mean they should abolish all European social traditions and hierarchies? What sorts of etiquette, amusements, and fashions were appropriate and beneficial? Most important, to be a nation, did Americans need to distinguish themselves from Europeans—and, if so, how?

Tyler was not the only American pondering these questions, and Kierner situates the play in its broader historical and cultural contexts. An extensive introduction provides readers with a background on life and politics in the United States in 1787, when Americans were in the midst of nation-building. The book also features a section with selections from contemporary letters, essays, novels, conduct books, and public documents, which debate issues of the era.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This powerful and lively package of primary materials and historical context will demonstrate how historical ‘forces’ play themselves out on the ground. Kierner’s collection offers a fresh lens on a new world struggling into being and will inspire teachers and students of all ages alike.”
-Catherine Allgor,author of A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation

“The Contrast makes a real contribution to the existing scholarship on this period, it has great appeal for classroom use, and it puts back in print an amusing play that is instrumental in understanding critical issues in the new nation. The play The Contrast centers on gender roles, relations, and expectations, mocking the gender stereotypes of the day and is a rich source for understanding a host of political and social issues in the Early Republic. It is funnyeven to a modern audienceand replete with literary references.”
-Charlene M. Boyer Lewis,author of Ladies and Gentlemen on Display: Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790-1860

“I can think of no other text of the period that lays out the drive toward transparency more clearly or denigrates coquettes and libertines more entertainingly. The play is a pivotal piece of American cultural history. ”
-Norma Basch,author of Framing American Divorce: From the Revolutionary Generation to the Victorians

&“Kierner’s new edition of this play should win it a much wider modern audience. Kierner highlights the many historical themes of the play with a fine introduction and facilitates deeper understanding of those issues with a wonderfully chosen set of additional primary documents. The resulting book could be used with profit in any early American history course.”
-The North Carolina Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814747933
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 147
  • Sales rank: 891,077
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Cynthia A. Kierner is professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is the author of Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America and Revolutionary America: Sources and Interpretation.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     vii
Preface     ix
Introduction     1
The Contrast   Royall Tyler     35
Primary Documents     101
Arts and Literature in Post-Revolutionary America     101
The Former, Present, and Future Prospects of America (1786)     101
The Dabblers (1788)     102
Discussion Questions     103
Virtues and Vices of the Theater     104
Effects of the Stage on the Manners of a People (1792)     104
Anti-Theater Petition (1793)     106
Discussion Questions     108
Lord Chesterfield and His Critics     109
The Art of Pleasing Men and Women (1747)     109
Mercy Otis Warren on Chesterfield's Letters (1779)     110
Discussion Questions     113
The Follies of Fashion     114
For the Females (1787)     114
Fantastical, Preposterous Fashions [of] Gentlemen (1787)     116
Discussion Questions     118
The Ideal Wife     118
On Matrimonial Obedience (1792)     119
Proper Conduct of the Wife Towards Her Husband (1804)     120
Discussion Questions     122
The Ideal Husband     123
Panegyric on the Marriage State (1786)     123
How to Prolong the Happiness of the Marriage Union (1787)     124
Discussion Questions     125
Educating American Youth     126
Plan for the Establishment of Public Schools (1786)     126
The Progress of a Countryman (1787)     129
Discussion Questions     130
The Meaning of Equality     131
The Will of the People (1792)     131
The Natural Aristocracy (1813)     135
Discussion Questions     137
Suggested Reading     139
Index     143
About the Author     147
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