Published in 1999. Shakespeare is ‘the great author of America’ declared James Fenimore Cooper in 1828. The ambiguous resonance of this claim is fully borne out in this collection of writings on Shakespeare by over forty prominent Americans, spanning the period between the War of independence and the outbreak of the First World War. Featured writers include: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain.
The essays, many of which are reprinted here for the first time, are arranged in chronological order and provide a fascinating conspectus of American attitudes to Shakespeare, from Revolutionary and Transcendentalist approaches through to the influential interventions of professional American critics in the early twentieth century. The extraordinary and bizarre contribution to the Shakespeare debut by Delia Bacon is exemplified by the inclusion of her 1856 article which is reprinted in its entirety.
Americans on Shakespeare charts the emergence of an American literary tradition, and the gradual appropriation of Shakespeare as part of the American search for cultural identity; an identity whose domination is set to continue into the twenty-first century.