By Alexander Nemerov
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Extra resources for Acting in the Night: Macbeth and the Places of the Civil War
Interior of Music Hall, Boston, Centennial Year, 1876. The Bostonian Society Library and Special Collections. 65 Cushman, reciting Fields’s “Dedication Ode,” stood as a national ﬁgure. She was not just the localized expositor of a subjective viewpoint but an impersonal spokeswoman, a broadcaster almost, of a message larger than any one person. 68 In Washington some two weeks earlier, Cushman had no such grand sound-making device. But she had her formidable voice and presence, delivering Shakespeare’s vast play on a gigantic scale to aid the Union cause to an audience of government notables including Lincoln himself.
And expressed her determination to present her inimitable delineation of Lady Macbeth at Ford’s, for the beneﬁt of the Sanitary Commission, some time this week. ”40 Whether or not she sent this message to the rival theater owner Leonard Grover, challenging him to top the facilities at Ford’s and to oªer a professional actor to play Macbeth, Cushman liked to create some of the sensations she read about. The telegraph was also a part of this newly vast world. Samuel Morse’s invention of 1844 allowing for the quick distribution of thoughts across vast distances was faster than letters and a staple of newspaper coverage.
The key, however—to both the artistic power of Cushman’s acting and the melodramatic sculpture related to it—is that she was doomed to fail in her souvenir hunting. It was a question of gesture. Nineteenth-century melodrama, the literary critic Peter Brooks writes, tried to spread out and give meaning to the vast and newly empty postrevolutionary world through gesture. Where was cosmological order in a world without gods and kings? It would have to be searched for—in extravagant tones and movements.
Acting in the Night: Macbeth and the Places of the Civil War by Alexander Nemerov