Why did Metamora by John Augustus Stone win the playwriting contest?

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Aside from the fact that Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags, by John Augustus Stone, fulfilled the stated requirements of the playwriting contest—that the play be a "tragedy, in five acts, of which the hero, or principal character, shall be an aboriginal of this country"—it also fulfilled the unstated requirements of the sponsor of the contest, American actor Edwin Forrest.

Forrest began his acting career in 1820, when he was fourteen years old, at a time when the American stage was dominated by English actors. The United States itself was little more than forty years old and was still trying to find its cultural identity, independent of the still-considerable influence of Great Britain.

In 1826, Forrest had his first real success when he played Othello at the Bowery Theatre in New York City. By 1828, when the contest was announced, Forrest's reputation as an actor had grown considerably, but Forrest was still looking for a "star" acting vehicle which would give him the kind of success that other actors enjoyed, particularly English actors.

The contest was a masterstroke of self-promotion. Forrest tapped into the growing literary Romanticism movement in the United States. He tapped into "the Indian problem" in the United States and into the theatre-going public's interest in "Indian plays." He also tapped into growing American nationalism.

Forrest enlisted William Cullen Bryant, a renowned poet and soon-to-be editor of the New York Evening Post, to head the award committee and to add prestige, respectability, and free publicity in the Post to the contest.

The 1828 contest that was won by Stone's play, Metamora, was the first of several such contests that Forrest sponsored, and it proved to be one of the most successful. Metamora was an instant theatrical success when it was produced in 1829 and provided Forrest with a "star" acting vehicle to which he returned to time and again for the next forty years of his career. Future contests produced The Gladiator by Robert Montgomery Bird and Jack Cade by Robert T. Conrad, which also became mainstays of Forrest's acting repertoire.

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Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags is a play that was written by John Augustus Stone (an American playwright and actor) in 1829 in response to a contest funded by actor Edwin Forrest. 

Forrest outlined his criteria for the competition in The New York Critic, writing that he would award  500 dollars to "the best tragedy, in five acts, of which the hero, or principal character, shall be an aboriginal of this country." The Committee of Award, which was led by William Cullen Bryant, selected Metamora out of the fourteen plays submitted to the contest. 

Metamora was, thus, likely chosen because it perfectly fit Forrest's aforementioned criteria; the play in five acts follows the conflict between the titular Metamora (a Wampanoag hero) and the Puritans who tried to settle New England in the 1600s. The play ends in tragedy, with Metamora stabbing his beloved wife, Nehmeokee, to death in order to prevent the "palefaces" from slaying her. Metamora is immediately thereafter killed by the arriving soldiers, and he dies cursing the white men and calling out the name of his wife.

This "romantic" ending was also probably attractive to the contest's judge, since its dramatic nature was in in line with the particular talents of Forrest, who got his start playing Othello (another non-white "outsider" character who causes the death of both himself and his wife) in New York. Without a doubt, choosing Metamora as the winner was smart: both the play and Forrest were greeted with immense success, bringing in record profits and sparking a trend of sentimental "Indian" dramas in the theatre world.

(A note on the source used to answer this question: all of this information is readily available in the introductory comments that preface the play!)

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