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  • Acts of Manhood: The Performance of Masculinity on the American Stage, 1828–1865 by Karl M. Kippola
  • Francisco Costa
Acts of Manhood: The Performance of Masculinity on the American Stage, 1828–1865. By Karl M. Kippola. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 272 pp. + 19 illustrations. $98.00 cloth, $85.95 paper.

In Acts of Manhood: The Performance of Masculinity on the American Stage, 1828–1865, Karl M. Kippola examines thoroughly how and why nineteenth-century theatre audiences and artists, in particular Edwin Forrest (1806–1872) and Edwin Booth (1833–1893), replicated and manipulated idealized manly models. Along with his exploration of antebellum America through analyses of “dramatic, literary, and instructional” texts that produced and reproduced the American man in this period, Kippola also considers in his book “archival materials, political cartoons, popular novels, portraiture, conduct manuals, melodramas, and burlesques to trace the shifting meanings and signifiers of manhood” (7). To redress a dearth of book-length work on the dynamics of white masculinities on the antebellum American stage, Kippola thoroughly reconstructs Forrest’s and Booth’s lives and works, situating them within their historical, political, and social contexts, and linking their masculinities and identities to issues of nationality, race, culture, class, gender, and education.

In the introduction, “A New Race of Men,” Kippola provides a brief examination of pre-1828 dramatic and performance practices, surveying the influences of John Philip Kemble’s (1757–1823) and Edmund Kean’s (1789–1833) acting styles as well as the dominance of British actors on the American stage, such as Thomas Abthorpe Cooper (1776–1849), George Frederick Cooke (1756–1812), William Charles Macready (1793–1873), and Edwin Booth’s father, Junius [End Page 263] Brutus Booth (1796–1852). As context for the rest of the study, and drawing from Judith Butler’s and Michael Kimmel’s theoretical debates on the “multiplicities of masculinities” (2), Kippola also establishes in the introduction that “far from being stable and fixed, masculinities are man-made, fluid constructs, which are continually adjusting to evolving expectations and demands” (2), and that his book focuses primarily on two conflicting constructions and representations of masculinity: “intellectual self-control and passionate action” (3). Throughout the book, Kippola argues convincingly that Forrest’s “rugged individualism” and Booth’s “effete intellectualism” (5) represent these two opposed strains of manhood.

The book is organized into five chapters designed to map these different representations of white manhood. In the book’s first chapter, “Act Like a Man: Images and Rhetoric of Reconstructed Manhood,” Kippola examines how public figures adapted their performance of gender to meet the changing needs of the country. Addressing a wide range of contributing factors—from rhetorical style to political cartoons and portraiture—for understanding the antebellum masculine performance, Kippola looks into the performance of masculinity of the “most visible and influential figures of the period” (22) from John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) to Andrew Jackson (1767–1845). The book’s first chapter establishes a context for examining the relation between the performance of manhood in the public sphere and that represented on the American stage.

In the following three chapters, “‘A Glorious Image of Unperverted Manhood’: Edwin Forrest as Masculine Ideal,” “A Masculine Identity Worth Dying For: The Astor Place Riot,” and “Decorum and Delicacy: The Feminized Manliness of Edwin Booth,” Kippola investigates Forrest’s and Booth’s opposing strains of masculinity on and off the stage. Kippola introduces Forrest as America’s most popular American-born actor from 1828 to the late 1850s, resulting from his appeal to working-class audiences and the staging of works that promoted nationalism and represented distinctively American masculine characters. To support his analysis, Kippola examines Robert T. Conrad’s Jack Cade (1835), staged by Forrest in 1841, and focuses on how Forrest’s manly model inspired emulation by his audience. Kippola also investigates Forrest’s personal life, including the tensions between Forrest and William Charles Macready that led to the Astor Place Riot, “both a political and theatrical spectacle…of nineteenth century masculinity” (92). Contrastingly, Kippola studies Booth “both as a ‘feminine’ and a ‘masculine’ figure” (117), who, in the late 1850s, eventually supplanted Forrest’s popularity as the country’s most renowned actor...


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pp. 263-265
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