Although both the size of the audience and the number of plays have increased prodigiously in the United States over the past forty years, most of the population is still extremely reluctant to participate in this kind of amusement....-Alexis deTocqueville, Democracy in America (1840).
The Puritans, who founded the American republics, were not only enemies of pleasure but professed a special abhorrence of the theater. They looked upon it as an abominable diversion, and as long as their spirit reigned uncontested, dramatic performances remained wholly unknown. The views of the founding fathers of the colonies on this subject left a deep imprint on the minds of their descendants.
Furthermore, the extreme regularity of habit and the great rigidity of mores that one finds in the United States have thus far done little to encourage the development of dramatic art.
Drama wants for subjects in a country that has never witnessed a great political catastrophe and in which love always leads directly and easily to marriage. People who spend every weekday making their fortunes and every Sunday in prayer do not lend themselves to the comic muse.
one fact by itself is enough to show how unpopular the theater is in the United States. Americans, whose laws authorize freedom and even license of speech in all matters, have nevertheless imposed a kind of censorship on dramatic authors. Plays can be performed only when town officials allow. This shows clearly that peoples are like individuals. They indulge their principal passions to the hilt and then take care lest they yield more than they should to tastes they do not possess.
Included in the new Library of America volume, The American Stage: Writing on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner.
Ah Alexis, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, n'est-ce pas?