New York’s Shakespeare Riot

As hard as it may be for us in 2016 to imagine people rioting over who was the best Shakespearean actor, that’s what happened in New York City on May 10, 1849 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astor_Place_Riot ), known to history as the Astor Place Riot, named after the theater where it started.

Twenty-five people were killed in the riot and 120 injured, plus quite a lot of property damage.

The riot did not decide who was the best Shakespearean actor in New York.

It strikes us as absurd, but to the people living in New York at the time, it was anything but trivial. The riot pitted class against class, immigrant against native-born, and launched the very long career of dime novelist Ned Buntline, best known as the not entirely trustworthy co-author of Wyatt Earp’s autobiography. A famous gun used by Earp, the Buntline Special, was named for him.

The Shakespeare riot is more than just a curiosity of history.

It is a warning to us against how easily things can get out of hand.

2 comments on “New York’s Shakespeare Riot

  1. Things haven’t really changed much. We think were smarter and better than our backward ancestors, but we still do the same exact things. Human nature never changes.

  2. Back when the Irish were coming over due to the potato famine, Kensington and Allegheny Avenue intersection was the site where the Irish immigrants rioted because no one would hire them. Help wanted signs did hang in windows but often the signage continued with “Irish need not apply.” The blood poured as the fighting went on and on. The term, “Paddy Wagon” came into use from the many police vans coming on the scene and hauling off the Irish. I forget when this all happened but when I was a kid, my neighborhood was full of Irish descendants.

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