Fragmentary records show that the first copies of Shakespeare’s works found their way into the libraries of a few wealthy settlers in the New World between about 1675 and 1720. An early performance of Romeo and Juliet may have been played in New York in 1730, but it was not until 1750 that we have definite information of a Shakespearian play actually produced in America. On 5 March of that year Richard III was advertised in the New York Weekly Post Boy to be played ‘in be played ‘in the theatre in Nassau St.’—a building identified as the old Rip Van Dam house where rooms were fitted up as an improvised stage. The players may have been the Murray-Kean group which, along with the Hallam company, toured American cities in the early 1750’s. Prices for Richard III were advertised at 5s. for ‘the Pitt’ and 3s. for ‘the Gallery’. The play was described as ‘Wrote originally by Shakespeare | And altered by Colley Cibber Esqr.’. Cibber’s stagey alteration with invented scenes and borrowed lines had been popular at Drury Lane in the 1740’s, played by Garrick, and emphasizing spectacular episodes: ‘the death of Henry 6th; the artful acquisition of the crown by King Richard; the murder of the princes in the Tower’. In the twenty-five years between this first performance and the closing of the theatres by edict during the war against England, fifteen different Shakespearian plays were played on colonial stages in Charleston, Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, and New York, but Cibber’s Richard seems to have been the favourite in America well down into the nineteenth century.
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