Last modified on 23 February 2014, at 16:33

History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/American Realist

Among American melodramas of the late 19th century, akin to the boulevard theatre of France, James A. Herne (1839-1901) is notable for "Margaret Fleming" (1890) and "Shore Acres" (1893), Augustin Daly for "Under the gaslight" (1867), Steele MacKaye (1842-1894) for "Hazel Kirke" (1880), and Alice Emma Ives (1874-1930) and Jerome H. Eddy (1834-1918) for "The village postmaster" (1894).

"Hazel Kirke" resembles George Eliot's novel, "The mill on the Floss" in that in both works a miller's daughter is prevented from marrying the man she loves because of her father's financial situation.

James A. Herne was the leading playwright of late 19th century American theatre

"Margaret Fleming"Edit

"Margaret Fleming". Time: 1890. Place: Canton, Massachusetts, USA.

"Margaret Fleming" text at ?

Called for a consultation during Lena's childbirth, Doctor Larkin discovers that the father of the illegitimate baby is Philip Fleming, who explains he suggested to the girl an abortion and offered to pay her way out of town, but she declined both. A contrite Philip opens a bank account to his wife, Margaret, for the sum of $5,000 and to his baby girl a further $20,000 when she comes of age. He also gives his puzzled wife the deed to the house and land. Still full of guilt, Philip tells Larkin he intends to confess to his wife in a few years, but the doctor does not recommend it, because Margaret suffers from glaucoma, which may lead to blindness should she suffer under a powerful emotion. The Flemings' nurse-maid, Maria, tells Margaret that her sister, Lena, is dying of childbirth and requests to see her. When Margaret arrives, Lena is already dead. A distraught Maria discovers the father's identity by means of Lena's letter addressed to her mistress and shows it to her. Maria then waves a gun and threatens to shoot Philip, but is disarmed by Margaret. Against the doctor's advice, Margaret sends a message to her husband to come over and see the baby boy, and, taking pity on his lack of nourishment, she gives him her breast to suck. A distressed Philip leaves for Boston for a week and throws himself into the river, but is picked up in time and nursed at a local hospital. Meanwhile, Margaret loses her sight. Philip returns and is stunned on discovering his wife's blindness. He asks her whether she can forgive him. Margaret says she can, but when he touches her, she draws back. "The wife-heart has gone out of me," she admits. A despairing Philip proposes to move away, but Margaret convinces him to remain, confident that the two will eventually work it out.

"Shore Acres"Edit

"Shore Acres". Time: . Place: USA.

"Shore Acres" text at ?

Augustin Daly showed that life under the gaslight is disconcerting

"Under the gaslight"Edit

"Under the gaslight". Time: 1870s. Place: New York and surroundings, USA.

"Under the gaslight" text at

Ray is engaged to be married to Laura. One evening, they receive a visit from Byke, introduced as Laura's music teacher, who requests a meeting with her. To Ray's surprise, she accepts to see him. Though known to everyone as her cousin, Pearl, in love with Ray herself, reveals to him that Laura is not her cousin, but was picked up by her parents from the streets as a child thief. Ray is stunned, starts to write a letter to Laura, then hesitates, and says little. At a social ball, Mrs Van Dam notices letters dropped from Ray's overcoat pocket, including one, unsealed and addressed to Laura, which, out of curiosity, she reads aloud to her friends, revealing Laura's origins. Instead of advancing towards Laura, Ray joins his friends. Laura must now work for her living. She finds a job consisting of touching up photographs. When the remorseful Ray returns to say he still loves her, Laura retorts: "I know how to construe the love which you deny in the face of society, to offer me behind its back." Yet she agrees to go with him and see Pearl and her mother again. While Ray goes out for a carriage, Byke enters, reveals he is her father, and forces her to come with him to a police court, where he pleads his case before a judge. He explains that Laura was taken from him by rich people and now he wants her back, as "the prop of my declining days," he says. Though Laura resists, challenging him to describe her clothing when she was found, he passes the test. He and his woman-accomplice, Judas, plan to keep Laura and blackmail Pearl once she marries Ray, but their plan is upset when the latter convinces the police patrol to seize them on a pier when about to enter a boat. As the police officers close in, Judas pushes Laura into the water, but she is rescued by Ray. Near Shrewsbury among his friends at Courtland's cottage, Ray lies despondent. Despite having asked to marry Pearl and been accepted, he has not forgotten Laura, who wants him to forget her. Worried about being found out again by the blackmailers, Laura leaves the party to sleep at the signal shed of a train station, where Ray's messenger-friend, Snorkey, is captured by Byke, tied up, and laid across the tracks while she is locked inside. Snorkey has found out that Byke and Judas intend to rob at the cottage. She at last finds an axe and cuts the wooodwork of the shed as his neck tingles above the tracks because of the arriving train, saving him just in time. While Pearl sleeps on a divan, Byke steals bracelets and diamonds at her house. She wakes up and screams, at which point Ray and Laura, informed by Snorkey, enter running to intercept the thief. Snorkey takes hold of him. Yet Byke, undeterred, threatens to expose Pearl as Judas' substituted child. Because of this disclosure, Pearl releases Ray from his marriage vow. Byke rejoices when they release him but is prevented from any further attempt at blackmail on learning of Judas' death in a road accident.

Steele Mackaye portrayed how the determination to marry sometimes ends in happiness

"Hazel Kirke"Edit

"Hazel Kirke". Time: 1880s. Place: Blackburn, Lancashire, England.

"Hazel Kirke" text at

Seven years ago, Dunstan Kirke, a miller, was saved from financial ruin by Squire Aaron Rodney. In return, Dunstan encouraged his 14-year-old daughter, Hazel, to plight her troth to him, which she did. Aaron paid for her education so that she may do him honor as the lady of Rodney Hall. One day, Dunstan saves Arthur Carringford from drowning near his mill. Unknown to everyone, Arthur is a lord. After his accident, he is nursed back to health by Hazel. To Aaron's grief, a romantic attachment develops between the two. While Hazel distributes flowers to Arthur and a friend, Aaron stares inside her basket and utters: "Emblems of my hopes; nothing but leaves, dead and withered leaves." When Dunstan's wife, Mercy, discovers this attachment, she asks her to forget him, but Aaron, staggering towards a chair, interrupts them: "I know that you love her- that she loves you! Nay, ye need not be afeer'd, lass: I'm not the man to rail at or curse ye-I shall only-". He is more coherent when confronting Arthur: "I have written to your mother, Mr. Carringford, begging her to call you away from here- I know the pride o' your race, sir. Your mother will never consent to your marriage with Hazel, and I warn ye- if ye seek to dishonor her, there is no living power will prevent me from murdering ye." When Dunstan discovers that Hazel wants to marry Arthur instead of Aaron, he disavows her. Hazel marries Arthur in Scotland, or so they think before Arthur's servant discloses that the Scottish ceremony occurred on English ground and is thereby void. While Arthur attempts to set this matter right, his dying mother, Lady Danvers, discovering her son's illegal marriage, implores Hazel to forget Arthur. "My husband had a ward (Lady Maud), whose fortune he wrongfully used and lost," she informs her. "Upon his dying bed, he confessed this to me, and made me promise to hide his shame by marrying our only son to that ward." Feeling betrayed by Arthur, Hazel leaves abruptly. Lady Danvers dies. Because of his daughter's treachery, Dunstan is forced to abandon his mill to Aaron to pay for his debts. Worse news yet: he catches a fever in the midst of this unhappiness and after it goes away, he loses his sight. When Aaron beholds Hazel seeking to return to her parents, he shows that he still wants her. "Keep the old promise- become my wife," he pleads. She accepts provided her father consents, but the resentful man does not. In despair, Hazel throws herself in the water but is rescued by Arthur. He later reveals his wish to do everything he can to make the marriage possible. "Well, I ordered my solicitor to settle my estate and satisfy every claim of Lady Maud's against my grandfather if it took the last penny he had in the world," he reveals. Poor but at least together, Arthur and Hazel prepare to marry again, this time with Dunstan's consent, but this becomes unnecessary because the servant was mistaken as to where the marriage occurred and it is therefore legal after all.

"The village postmaster"Edit

"The village postmaster". Time: 1852. Bridgewater, New Hampshire, USA.

"The village postmaster" text at

A United States postmaster of the 1860s

The village postmaster, Seth, has nothing against John, the Methodist parson's son, as a son-in-law for his daughter, Miranda, except he has not proven himself and he aims higher for her. "I've spent a sight eddicatin' thet girl, an' the man thet marries Mirandy Huggins hez got to be somebody. He's got to be a good clus communion Baptist, too," he concludes. In contrast, when asked by Ben, a lawyer, he shows no objection of his courting her. Ben specifies that a man should court one woman at a time and John has been seen with Mary, a seamstress. Ben also has been courting Mary, but, in view of his improved prospects, he tells her he wants to break off their relations. Mary answers bitterly and pleadingly: "As fer the love that ken stand one side for money, it's a poor sort thet I wouldn't own to. It ain't the sort I had for you, Ben. Ye know that well." When John approaches Miranda, she shows no sign of being interested in him, thinking he loves Hattie, though their engagement was broken off. John is easily discouraged, all the more so in thinking Miranda loves Ben. At Seth's farmyard, John tries out an invention of his: a feeder to a threshing machine while Seth's sister, Samantha, is being courted by the shy sexton, Ebenezer. Out of mischief, Seth's young son, Tom, throws apples on his head in the midst of his difficulties, then does the same to his aunt, till, bearing too heavily on the tree-limb in his eagerness to listen, he loses his balance and hangs on dangling between the two. Samantha grabs him by the collar and walks him in the house, but the interruption is enough to discompose Ebenezer. To be rid of Mary, Ben pretends to want to marry her out of town and offers her money to travel. Overjoyed, she believes him and takes the money. When John mentions to Miranda news of Hattie's marriage, she is surprised at his cheerful voice, till, to her contentment, he explains he does not love her. Discouraged at his inability to get anywhere with Miranda, Ben tries to push John in the threshing machine, but is knocked down by him. John then leaves town for several months to perfect his invention. When he returns, Ben is about to marry Miranda, who has had no word from John throughout this period, the same as he. Aiming to avenge herself on her forsworn lover, Mary explains to John that while Seth was ill, Ben replaced him at the post-office, insinuating he may have intercepted their letters. When this is found to be true, Seth announces to John with Miranda consenting: "Take her with my blessin'." .