Monday, January 25th, 2016...12:47 pm

“You seem as dull as… a Yale man”

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2015T-37 (36)In April of 1892, Harvard sophomore George Doane Wells along with fellow members of the D.K.E. or “Dickey” Theatricals, wrote and produced an original comedic opera, Antony and Cleopatra, or, The Sinner, the Siren, and the Snake. The Dickey Theatricals were part of the Institute of 1770, a social club for Harvard sophomores which eventually merged with the Hasty Pudding Club in 1924. The Dickeys’ burlesque vision of Antony and Cleopatra borrowed from Shakespeare’s play as well as Victorien Sardou’s 1890 opera. It is an exemplary specimen of 19th-century college humor. The obscure in-jokes are there, along with familiar and perennial undergraduate gripes over curfew hours and the Harvard-Yale football rivalry.

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This copy of the libretto was originally owned by Wells and is now part of the Harvard Theatre Collection (2015T-37 (36)). It displays hand-written additions, cuts, and other evidence of production. Most remarkably, it was recently found to include thirty-five albumen photographs from the production. That’s Wells as Antony, opposite John Dana Hubbell’s beguiling Cleopatra.

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Most of those associated with the production graduated Harvard in 1894, some going on to distinguished careers. A. L. Conger, who composed the music, became a military historian and biographer of Grant and Lincoln. Wells became a Boston book dealer, while co-author Eliot Tuckerman rose from “Egyptian chorus girl” to noted New York estate lawyer and opponent of the 18th Amendment (alcohol prohibition).

One of the photographs is currently featured in Shakespeare: His Collected Works, a major Houghton Library exhibition to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The exhibition will be on view until April 23rd 2016; for details please consult the library website.

[Thanks to Noah Sheola, Bibliographic Assistant, for contributing this post.]

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