Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Theatre & Dance

First Advisor

Beth Osnes

Second Advisor

Merrill Lessley

Third Advisor

Oliver Gerland


America saw much of the drunkard on stage during the nineteenth century, and our perceptions about who he was, what drove his actions, and what the inevitable consequences of his drinking would be, were well established in the American imagination by the turn of the century. Thus, it was during these years, and through depictions in melodramatic temperance plays that the characterization of the stereotypical American drunkard came to live in our collective psyche. The typical alcoholic, inevitably male, had failing ethics and morals, and was a victim of his own weak will. This project examines how the development of an ideological and religious view of excessive drinking, and the staging of that view, codified the characteristics of alcoholism through examinations of the alcoholic character, the alcoholism narrative and the ideological messages about alcoholism as depicted in seven plays produced between 1844 and 1888. Patterns found in staged depictions placed in the American consciousness an image of the alcoholic that continues to shape public understanding of excessive drinking. This project defines and examines the components of that stereotype through the examination of representative plays taken from popular temperance drama, professional theater, and amateur plays performed in small towns and large cities across the country.