On 2 June 1752 the Charming Sally arrived in the harbour near Yorktown, Virginia, carrying among its passengers twelve adult actors and three of their children. Organised in London by William Hallam, the erstwhile proprietor of a minor London theatre, the New Wells, and led by his brother Lewis, the company was drawn in the main from the ranks of metropolitan and provincial players of modest accomplishment. After an interval of three months, during the course of which the company awaited official permission to perform and worked to refurbish the primitive playhouse in nearby Williamsburg, they commenced their season with The Merchant of Venice on 15 September – an event generally considered to be the first significant professional staging of Shakespeare in America.
For a number of years after the arrival of the Hallams, theatre in America, and the smaller world of the Shakespeare theatre within, was a distant colonial extension of English culture. The actors who came were largely those whose opportunities for advancement were limited in their homeland; for the first half-century of American Shakespeare performance and beyond, sophisticated observers in London would likely have viewed the theatrical emigrés who journeyed to America’s shores as being no less marooned than Prospero on his distant isle.
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