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Friday, July 17, 2009

Our American Cousin

Our American Cousin is an 1858 play by British playwright Tom Taylor (1817-80). Though best known today as the play President Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre, the play was very popular in England and America when it debuted. Taylor had a interest in dialects and the inspiration for the play came from American visitors during the Great Exhibition of 1851. One of the main features of the play is the use of American words and phrases by Asa Trenchard, the titular figure, and the British dialect of Lord Dundreary.

The play opens in England at Trenchard Manor, the home of Sir Edward. Asa Trenchard, a representative of the American branch of the family, arrives in England to accept an inheritance left to him by his uncle. The family agent, Mr. Coyle, arrives to tell Sir Edward of the latter's impending financial ruin, but a plot is discovered in which Coyle has lied to Sir Edward in order to secure Edward's daughter Florence as his wife. Florence, however, has her sights set on Harry Vernon, whom she cannot marry until he gets a sailor position.

Meanwhile, Florence introduces Asa to his cousin Mary, the rightful heir to his uncle's fortune, which he releases to her control. Asa falls for Mary, proposes to her, and helps to expose Coyle, while Lord Dundreary helps Harry secure a position. In the end, everyone is happy and the Trenchards avoid financial ruin.

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