While battling negative stereotypes, American Jews carved out new roles for themselves within the first theatrical entertainments in America. Jewish citizens were active as performers, playwrights, critics, managers, and theatrical shareholders, and often tied their involvement in these endeavors to the patriotic rhetoric of the young republic as they struggled to establish themselves in the new nation. Examining play texts, theatrical reviews, political discourse, and public performances of Jewish rights and rituals, Hideous Characters and Beautiful Pagans argues that Jewish stage types shed light on our understanding of the status of Jewish Americans during a critical historical period.
Using an eclectic range of sources including theatrical reviews, diaries, letters, cartoons, portraiture, tax records, rumors flying around the tavern, and more, Heather S. Nathans has listened for the echoes of vanished audiences who witnessed and responded to these stereotypes onstage, from the earliest appearance of Shylock on an American stage in 1752 to Jewish theater artists on the eve of the Civil War. The book integrates social, political, and cultural histories, with an examination of those texts (both dramatic and literary) that shaped the stage Jew.
“A formidable study, based upon a prodigious amount of research, for which the author is to be heartily commended. The breadth of archival coverage and the wide array of primary sources she has identified and consulted is exemplary.”
— Eli Faber, John Jay College
“A seminal study that will influence our continuing efforts to understand the 19th century American theatre. Nathans has pulled together various strands of Jewish history—religious, secular, theatrical—to weave a convincing pattern about the way Jewish plays and characters changed as the culture changed. This book has set a high bar for research in 19th century American theatre.”
— Tice Miller, University of Nebraska