Bronson Howard was the son of Charles Howard, a merchant in Detroit, Michigan, whose grandfather, Seabury Howard, fought for the English in the French and Indian War and against them in the American Revolution. After a public school education in Detroit, Howard attended an eastern preparatory school, intending to go on to Yale University. Instead, after suffering from eye problems, he returned to Detroit, where he began his writing career with a series of humorous sketches for the Detroit Free Press. In 1864, the Detroit Free Press published his first play, Fantine, a dramatization of a portion of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862; English translation, 1862).
Howard’s interest in writing plays made him aware of the need to know and to understand the commercial theater, and he moved to New York in 1865. Although he continued to write plays, his innocence of the demands of his chosen profession rendered his early efforts fit only for the fireplace. He persisted, however, until he learned the accepted theater conventions of his day, eventually evolving his own principles of dramaturgy. As he studied his craft, he attended theatrical performances, observed the society around him in New York, and made his living by writing for the New York Tribune and Evening Post.
One of the major problems facing American dramatists of this period was the dual demand placed on them: to satisfy the immediate theater audience while also providing dialogue that could be enjoyed by a literate public. Before Howard, American literary dramatists had generally eschewed the theatrical techniques that brought people into the theaters, while the actor-playwrights gave little thought to anything but the action on the stage. As a consequence of this split, there were few fully satisfactory American plays. Although Howard started as a journalist writing plays, he soon learned that plays were to be seen and must present interesting spectacles to the eye. At...
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