Here in this Island We Arrived: Shakespeare and Belonging in Immigrant New York

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Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019 - History - 200 pages

In this book, Elisabeth H. Kinsley weaves the stories of racially and ethnically distinct Shakespeare theatre scenes in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Manhattan into a single cultural history, revealing how these communities interacted with one another and how their work influenced ideas about race and belonging in the United States during a time of unprecedented immigration.

As Progressive Era reformers touted the works of Shakespeare as an "antidote" to the linguistic and cultural mixing of American society, and some reformers attempted to use the Bard's plays to "Americanize" immigrant groups on Manhattan's Lower East Side, immigrants from across Europe appropriated Shakespeare for their own ends. Kinsley uses archival material such as reform-era handbooks, theatre posters, playbills, programs, sheet music, and reviews to demonstrate how, in addition to being a source of cultural capital, authority, and resistance for these communities, Shakespeare's plays were also a site of cultural exchange. Performances of Shakespeare occasioned nuanced social encounters between New York's empowered and marginalized groups and influenced sociocultural ideas about what Shakespeare, race, and national belonging should and could mean for Americans.

Timely and immensely readable, this book explains how ideas about cultural belonging formed and transformed within a particular human community at a time of heightened demographic change. Kinsley's work will be welcomed by anyone interested in the formation of national identity, immigrant communities, and the history of the theatre scene in New York and the rest of the United States.

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About the author (2019)

Elisabeth H. Kinsley is an instructor and administrator at Northwestern University.