Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Many of William Dunlap’s nondramatic works have earned for him solid status among students of literature and visual art. His biography of his contemporary Charles Brockden Brown, America’s first major gothic novelist, remains a standard reference tool. Dunlap’s other biographical works—a shorter piece on Brown, sketches of Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Abthorpe Cooper, and a book on George Frederick Cooke—are valuable portraits by one who was on the scene for many of the events presented. Because of his career as a painter, Dunlap’s A History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (1834) also remains a work worth consulting for this aspect of the early cultural history of the United States.

Still more important is A History of American Theatre (1832). Dunlap’s account of the American theater from the 1790’s through the first third of the nineteenth century is at times blurred by faulty memory. Nevertheless, before the work of George O. Seilhamer, George C. D. Odell, Arthur Hornblow, and Arthur Hobson Quinn, Dunlap offered a rich history of American drama. His firsthand account also furnishes an autobiography of its author, and altogether, it remains a classic in the annals of the American stage.

Dunlap also wrote verse, and several of his short stories, published in periodicals during the final decade of his life, merit critical attention. Many of his periodical pieces were unsigned, making definite attribution difficult. Dunlap intended to bring out a collected edition of his plays, in ten volumes. Only three volumes of The Dramatic Works of William Dunlap appeared, however, the first in 1806, the following two in 1816.