Skip to main content
Shakespeare & Beyond

Caliban by the Yellow Sands: Shakespeare and immigrant communities in New York - Excerpt: Here in This Island We Arrived


book cover with Statue of LibertyHere in This Island We Arrived: Shakespeare and Belonging in Immigrant New York is a 2019 book from Elisabeth H. Kinsley that explores Shakespeare performance in late 19th- and early 20-century Manhattan during a time of profound demographic change, when New York City’s foreign-born population grew from under half a million in 1880 to almost 2 million by 1910.

The book’s title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the excerpt below from the book’s conclusion examines a Tempest-inspired “community masque” in 1916 called Caliban by the Yellow Sands.

For New York’s part, the city sustained a yearlong Shakespeare Tercentenary Celebration that encompassed thousands of commemorative events and culminated in a sweeping “community masque” titled Caliban by the Yellow Sands, written and directed by playwright Percy MacKaye. The spectacle premiered at the Stadium of the College of the City of New York, convening thirty speaking actors and more than two thousand chorus members, dancers, and artists from civic and ethnic groups across the city in an effort to fulfill “the desire . . . of democracy consistently to seek expression through a drama of and by the people,” as MacKaye framed it. Translated into Yiddish, German, and Italian, the Tempest-inspired masque represented the theme “of Caliban attempting to learn the art of Prospero—‘the slow education of mankind through the influence of cooperative art.’” Given its occurrence at the close of the Progressive Era, its proximity to a period of radical immigration restriction, and its resonance with the four-hundredth Shakespeare anniversary celebrations that overlapped with my work on this book a century later, MacKaye’s masque also offers a fitting culmination to Here in This Island We Arrived. Indeed, the masque beautifully figures how Shakespeare linked different social groups from around the city in a scene of social exchange.