From Publishers Weekly
A dispute over Shakespeare resulted in a deadly riot on May 10, 1849, at New York City's Astor Place Theatre, where armed militiamen clashed with theatergoers, gangsters and bystanders. In the melee, some 50 soldiers and 50 civilians were wounded and more than 20 civilians killed. Cliff, a former theater and film critic for the London Times,
sees the riot as symbolic of a young America trying to find its cultural voice and resentful of what some saw as British cultural imperialism. The fatal dispute was between two Shakespearean actors, the intellectual Englishman William Charles Macready and American working-class hero Edwin Forrest and began when Forrest hissed at Macready's performance of Hamlet
in Edinburgh. This book ranges widely, from the 1809 riots at a Macbeth
performance at London's Covent Garden to Shakespeare's popularity on the American frontier, where his plays helped pioneers wrestle with fundamental questions about human nature, and America's old and new money classes as immigrants flooded into the country. Nicely illustrated with contemporary photos and cartoons, Cliff's informative, engrossing if somewhat scattered debut recreates a time when the Bard inflamed passions in lower classes and gentry alike, and when America's theaters "were a crossroads of a whole society." (Apr. 17)
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During the evening of May 10, 1849, a massive riot broke out in Astor Place in New York City, involving at least 20,000rioters, causing scores of fatalities, and leading to the use of the military in quelling the violence. But this was no typical street quarrel between ethnic gangs, and it certainly wasn't a case of have-nots driven to rage by their poverty. Rather, the rival gangs were fighting on behalf of two unlikely antagonists, both of them prominent Shakespearean actors. William Macready was an aristocratic, foppish actor acclaimed by elites in New York and London; Edwin Forrest was the darling of working-class theater fans. Cliff, the former film and theater critic for The Times
of London, tells their story and the story of their followers with considerable verve and a consistent sense of irony. He supplies a wonderful portrait of mid-nineteenth-century New York as an emerging metropolis, and the tale set there is an enjoyable but unsettling mixture of farce and tragedy. Both general readers and those with a special interest in the period will find much to enjoy here. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved