This is a reader’s theater performance of a scene from George Aiken’s 19th-century dramatization of the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In this scene, the escaped slave Eliza reunites with her husband George and their friend Phineas. She recounts how she crossed the Ohio River with their child while escaping from slave hunters. Phineas warns them that the hunters are still in pursuit. Their exaggerated language and performance are characteristic of melodramas, which were popular at the time.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century—both praised for its anti-slavery stance and criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes. It is considered one of the most powerful literary works of the 19th-century abolitionist movement.
Given the lax copyright laws of the time, stage plays based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin—“Tom Shows”—began to appear while the story was still being serialized. These plays varied tremendously in their politics; some faithfully reflected Stowe’s sentimentalized antislavery politics, while others were more moderate or even pro-slavery.
George Aiken’s 1853 melodrama based on Stowe’s novel gained widespread popularity and continued to tour the United States for decades after its original release. It was said to be the first play offered on Broadway as an entire evening without any other entertainment. This melodrama was released just a few months after the novel was published and played a major role in the abolitionist movement. Aiken takes most of the dialogue straight from Stowe’s novel, thus it is a good representation of the novel. The melodrama includes four musical numbers by George C. Howard, the play’s producer. Aiken appealed to audiences emotionally by focusing on the bleak and despairing situations of his characters. By combining this melodramatic approach with Stowe’s novel, Aiken depicted a powerful indictment against the institution of slavery.
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