Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Do you know Shakespeare’s American career?

By Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan


Although England had colonies in Virginia and Bermuda before William Shakespeare died in 1616, he never came to America. But no Englishman ever had such a triumphant posthumous migration to America as did Shakespeare: in books (by him and about him), in performances of his dramas on virtually every stage from coast to coast, in school and college curricula from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first, in Broadway musicals, in “blackface” minstrel shows, in summer festivals, in stuffed dolls, trinkets, key rings, and tea cups. Shakespeare in America is multifaceted and ubiquitous.

How well do you know Shakespeare’s American career?


The first known production of a Shakespeare play took place in New York in 1730. What was the play?
(a) Romeo and Juliet
(b) As You Like It
(c) Hamlet
(d) Much Ado About Nothing

Which statesman took a break from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to attend an operatic performance of The Tempest?
(a) Benjamin Franklin
(b) George Washington
(c) John Adams
(d) James Madison

Which American Founding Father was conspicuous for quoting Shakespeare in his public and private writings?
(a) Alexander Hamilton
(b) Thomas Jefferson
(c) Robert Morris
(d) John Adams

When prominent English actors toured America in the early nineteenth century, which role did most of them choose to open their tour?
(a) Richard III
(b) Petruchio (in The Taming of the Shrew)
(c) MacBeth
(d) Hamlet

When the three eminent Booth brothers performed Julius Caesar in 1864, which role did John Wilkes Booth play?
(a) Julius Caesar
(b) Marcus Brutus
(c) Mark Antony
(d) Cassius

Which great American entertainer in 1943-44 dazzled audiences in Othello?
(a) Stepin Fetchit
(b) Harry Belafonte
(c) Paul Robeson
(d) Bill “Bojangles” Robinson

Which American library houses the world’s largest collection of the first folio edition (1623) of Shakespeare’s works?
(a) The Morgan Library
(b) The Folger Shakespeare Library
(c) The Horace Howard Furness Shakespeare Library
(d) The Birmingham Shakespeare Library

Which American showman tried to buy Shakespeare’s birthplace and ship it to New York?
(a) William Randolph Hearst
(b) D.W. Griffiths
(c) Mark Twain
(d) P.T. Barnum

Which New York theatre in 1849 was seriously damaged by rioters and the star performer forced to flee for his life because the supporters of a rival actor took umbrage at British theatrical style?
(a) Astor Place Opera House
(b) Music Hall (now Carnegie Hall)
(c) Cherry Lane Theatre
(d) The Sniffen Court Players Club

Which American musical is based on Romeo and Juliet?
(a) Porgy & Bess
(b) State Fair
(c) Westside Story
(d) Easter Parade

While you can find the answers below, Shakespeare in America raises and answers many, many more. The authors — a historian of early America and a Renaissance literature specialist — tell the story of Shakespeare’s American reception from the first arrival of his plays and poems in the English colonies until the present. Along the way, the reader encounters actors like Edwin Booth, Charlotte Cushman, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Paul Robeson, Marlon Brando, and Raul Julia; political figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ignatius Donnelly, and Abraham Lincoln; literary figures like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and James Russell Lowell; educators like William Holmes McGuffey and George Lyman Kittredge, entrepreneurs like Augustin Daly and Joseph Papp; and many relatively obscure men and women who helped in a variety of ways to make Shakespeare hugely successful in America. Although enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s works has surged and waned over the centuries, it has been a vital part of American culture since the mid-eighteenth century. And now the answers…

How well do you know Shakespeare’s American career?


The first known production of a Shakespeare play took place in New York in 1730. What was the play?
(a) Romeo and Juliet

Which statesman took a break from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to attend an operatic performance of The Tempest?
(b) George Washington

Which American Founding Father was conspicuous for quoting Shakespeare in his public and private writings?
(d) John Adams

When prominent English actors toured America in the early nineteenth century, which role did most of them choose to open their tour?
(a) Richard III

When the three eminent Booth brothers performed Julius Caesar in 1864, which role did John Wilkes Booth play?
(c) Mark Antony

Which great American entertainer in 1943-44 dazzled audiences in Othello?
(c) Paul Robeson

Which American library houses the world’s largest collection of the first folio edition (1623) of Shakespeare’s works?
(b) The Folger Shakespeare Library

Which American showman tried to buy Shakespeare’s birthplace and ship it to New York?
(d) P.T. Barnum

Which New York theatre in 1849 was seriously damaged by rioters and the star performer forced to flee for his life because the supporters of a rival actor took umbrage at British theatrical style?
(a) Astor Place Opera House

Which American musical is based on Romeo and Juliet?
(c) Westside Story

Alden T. Vaughan is professor emeritus of history at Columbia University. His publications include American Genesis: Captain John Smith and the Founding of Virginia; Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain, 1500-1776; and Roots of American Racism a collection of his essays on Europeans, Indians, and Africans in early America. Virginia Mason Vaughan is professor of English at Clark University, Worcester, MA. Her books include Othello, A Contextual History; Performing Blackness on English Stages, 1500-1800 ; and a volume in the “Shakespeare in Performance” series on The Tempest. Together the Vaughans wrote Shakespeare in America, Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural History, and edited The Tempest in the third Arden series.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only literature articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
View more about this book on the

Recent Comments

  1. [...] in world literature; for on that day, two giants of Renaissance letters died. Poet and playwright William Shakespeare died in his home at Stratford-upon-Avon. Farther south, Spanish poet, playwright, and novelist [...]

  2. [...] property (take note plagiarists and book thieves!); the Death day of both the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, and el manco de Lepanto, Miguel de Cervantes, in 1616; the probable Birthday of William [...]

  3. [...] or indeed divinely inspired. As I began, so I end with the Bard. Laurence Olivier described Shakespeare as “the nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God.” Perhaps it could be said that [...]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *