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Nelson Barre

National University of Ireland, Galway
Human Palimpsests and Layered Storytelling: Ritual, Memory, and Oral Stratification in Enda Walsh’s The Small Things
In 1828, the American actor Edwin Forrest announced a playwriting competition for a $500 prize, "of which the hero, or principle character, shall be an aboriginal of this country." The winning entry was John Augustus Stone's METAMORA; OR, THE LAST OF THE WAMPANOGS, first performed in 1829. The play was a hit and prompted a surge of Indian dramas in the 1830s and 40s, including John Brougham's burlesque METAMORA; OR, THE LAST OF THE POLLYWOGS (1847). Stone's play became a staple of Forrest's repertory until the actor's death in 1872, and was the most theatrically successful of the Indian dramas written during the nineteenth century. From the heights of fame and influence, METAMORA plunged to obscurity after Forrest's death. The full text of the play was not reassembled and published until the 1960s and its reception in the last half-century has not authorized its view of the "aboriginal(s) of this country" or led to performances of the play, while, at the same time, METAMORA has become part of the nineteenth-century American dramatic "canon." The paper I propose for the 2014 meeting of the Theatre Historiography Working Group will examine the "canonical" status accorded Stone's and Forrest's METAMORA since the 1960s. Why has this popular theatre piece emerged as part of the dramatic canon, indeed, how has the nineteenth-century American dramatic canon been formed? What masters of social stratification does that formation serve, with respect to American cultural history? How, on the other hand, has METAMORA come to represent the views and values of nineteenth-century Americans, whether "white" or "aboriginal," that is, how has this play canonized a particular view of American history in the nineteenth century?