Let’s do this. I give you Shakespeare & James Fenimore Cooper.

Time to get this blog rolling! Here’s a paper I wrote for one of my MA classes. It needs more work to be publishable by an academic journal, but the scope of my research as an independent scholar doesn’t include Shakespeare in America or 18th century politics. (Apologies for any strange formatting. I’m still trying to figure out the mechanics of WordPress.)

Shakespeare and American Citizenship in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans

     Throughout The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper weaves ideas and situations associated with the works of William Shakespeare into the text, adding unexpected complexity. Cooper begins twenty of the novel’s thirty-three chapters with epigraphs from Shakespeare, referencing eleven different plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, Richard II, Twelfth Night, Henry V, and Henry VI, Part 1.[1] This alone is reason enough for a thorough investigation of Cooper’s appropriation of Shakespeare’s works. Such an examination becomes even more imperative, however, with the realization that Merchant and Dream lead the count with five mentions each.[2] (Next comes the interestingly named but unrelated The Bard by Thomas Gray III, standing at three.) At first glance, Merchant and Dream seem unlikely selections; aside from Dream’s lovers in a forest, there appears to be no real confluence with Mohicans. Why then, of all the works Cooper chose, do these two plays hold such preference?

Shakespeare’s importance to early America is well known and well documented, making Cooper’s incorporation of the poet not entirely surprising. There is evidence in Mohicans, however, of a resonance between plays and novel running much deeper than simply plot line and characterization. This makes the Shakespeare verses more than merely introductions to and reflections of the action in Cooper’s tale of the American frontier; his interweaving these works, familiar to those living in the new Republic, encourages a closer and more thoughtful consideration of both novel and purpose. The epigraphs and references direct the reader to ideals and concepts blended throughout Cooper’s narrative, subtly highlighting what are possibly his own beliefs regarding the structuring of the new nation and who should constitute its citizenry.

At the time Cooper wrote Mohicans in the 1820s, ideas of citizenship and what it meant to be fully American were only starting to form. Nationalism, born of the feelings of patriotism that fired the American Revolution, was beginning its slow transition into the kind of movement needed to unite and strengthen the young country. In this paper, I discuss how Cooper’s references to Shakespeare inform and reflect ideas of American citizenship during this period. In particular, I argue Cooper’s allusions to The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream do more than simply incorporate familiar plots and characters: they address topics of concern regarding citizenship and provide clues as to Cooper’s thoughts on the matter. Examination of Cooper’s use of Merchant and Dream encourages a discussion concerning the type of individual he considered an ideal candidate for citizenship and that individual’s particular qualifications. This, in turn, invites a closer look at the process of inclusion and exclusion that ultimately decided who was acceptable and who was Other,[3] as well as an exploration of the controversy regarding Native American peoples, their lands, and early conversations about citizenship, birthright, and immigration — concerns and disputes both historic and timely.

At their most basic level, Cooper’s verse epigraphs introduce the action associated with each chapter. The novel opens with a quote from Richard II, “Mine ear is open, and my heart prepared…” (Mohicans 45; RII 3.2.93), situating the story as one requiring both close attention and a desire to understand.[4] Chapter 1.10 begins with “I fear we shall outsleep the coming morn, / As much as we this night have overwatched” (Mohicans 127; MSND 5.1.359-60), lines from Dream that help Cooper depict the wary travelers keeping alert and awake for fear they may be discovered by their hostile pursuers. Chapters 2.5, 2.8, and 2.9, in which Hawk-Eye and his companions disguise themselves in order to rescue Alice and Cora, are all ushered in by lines from the “rude mechanicals” of Dream rehearsing their play for the Duke. Cooper’s epigraphs also offer hints and insight on a specific character: “Sola, sola, wo ha, ho, sola!” opens Mohicans 1.2 (55; Merchant 5.1.39), a line from Merchant’s clown figure Launcelot Gobbo as he arrives with news. In Cooper’s chapter, his own clown figure David Gamut gallops up to join the traveling group and features in several paragraphs, giving the reader time and information enough to realize he is not to be taken seriously (58-62).

     Shakespeare’s characters, as well as his plot lines, would have been familiar to Cooper’s readers, since as historian Lawrence W. Levine puts it, nineteenth-century American culture “swallowed Shakespeare, digested him and his plays, and made them part of the cultural body” (1988, 24). Levine, whose studies endeavor to incorporate the experience of the Other, acknowledges the poet’s influence on American statesmen and the education of schoolchildren. He notes “[t]he affinity between Shakespeare and the American people…extended to the basic ideological underpinnings” (40) of the young Republic, but he does not in any definite way discuss the poet’s influence on developing ideas of citizenship. Indeed, American citizenship was not universally defined in the years after the Revolution, with the individual states making their own choices as to the matter (Kettner 1978, 219). In the decade preceding Mohicans, questions as to the definition of “natural-born citizen” remained, yet “[t]he Indians were perhaps the most easily isolated group excluded from the privileges and immunities of citizenship” (287, 288). Clearly, even though the lawmakers of the new Republic were still uncertain as to who did naturally fit into the category of American Citizen, they had decided who did not. Although during the 1800s citizenship and land grants were at times offered to Native Americans, abandoning their tribal affiliation in exchange for the boon was a requirement. An entire tribe becoming citizens therefore “generally entailed the destruction of the tribal organization and government” (292, 293). It is evident then, fluid as they were, ideas of American citizenship during these years were not conducive to welcoming those perceived as Other, irrespective of concerns for the rights of the individual and the greater good (Cananau 2015, 147). Interestingly enough, however, those deemed different or alien remained of great importance for the crafting of the framework of American citizenship. A necessary evil, they became the boundaries and margins defining areas of inclusion and exclusion.


     In Merchant, notions of alterity are central. Even though the Jewish Shylock’s lending of money plays an important role in Venice’s economy, he is reviled and vilified: “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, / And spet upon my Jewish gabardine, /…You that did void your rheum upon my beard, / And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur / Over your threshold” (1.3.109-110, 115-117). These lines reveal Shylock’s place as a hated outsider, and describe an absolute difference similarly found in Mohicans’ portrayal of Native Americans. Not only are words such as “savage” and “barbarous” used liberally and repeatedly to refer to the hostile tribes, they are even at times associated with Hawk-eye’s friends Chingachgook and Uncas (Mohicans 91, 151). Deirdre Dallas Hall’s compelling argument that Mohicans character David Gamut is “a hybridized construction around which signs not only of the Puritan but also of the Indian and the Jew gather” establishes a further correspondence with Merchant (2012, 38). In her opinion, with Gamut, Cooper pushes the envelope as to “the limits of our race” and “demands that we consider the ‘ordinary limits’ not only of humanity in general but also of whiteness in particular (emphasis added)” (40). Hall’s paper theorizes that ideas of Otherness found in Mohicans reflect nineteenth-century concerns regarding citizenship and nationality, as well as questions regarding acceptable candidates and where associated boundaries and margins should lie.

     Concerns with limits and Otherness incorporate fears of intermarriage and love across racial bounds in both Cooper and Shakespeare. In Merchant, Portia ridicules and mocks the varying ethnicities of her failed suitors with lines such as “Let all of his complexion choose me so” (2.7.79) and “God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man” (1.2.54-55). Her implied concerns as to intermarriage are alleviated when the Venetian Bassanio wins her hand, but the subject is also addressed through Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, eloping with the Christian Lorenzo. This mixed marriage is reconciled through Jessica’s conversion (“I shall be sav’d by my husband, – he hath made me a Christian!” [3.5.18-19]). The happiness and solidity of the union is brought into question, however, in Act 5, Scene 1 as the couple muse on and compare themselves to tragic lovers such as Troilus & Cressida, Thisbe, and Dido. In Mohicans, Cora’s refusal of Magua’s demand of marriage is portrayed as virtuous and righteous, her scornful words worthy of Portia: “He is a savage, a barbarous and ignorant savage, and knows not what he does” (Mohicans 147). Furthermore, Cooper keeps any hint of attraction between Cora and Uncas intentionally vague, with the possibility only fully addressed after their deaths (“A hunter would be her companion, who knew how to provide for her smallest wants…who was able to protect her against every danger” [390]). This device both resolves the problem of intermarriage and serves as a moral admonishment on the mixing of cultures. Only Duncan and Alice, properly vetted and matched in race, are allowed to survive and, it is implied, marry.

     Both Cora, who is of mixed birth (201), and Hawk-eye, who chooses to live with the Native Americans, “signal a progressive degradation of categories” (Hall 2012,  62), representing types of individuals who would have faced careful scrutinization at the time Mohicans was written. With this “degradation of categories” in mind, Cooper’s scenes relating to intermarriage offer subtle commentaries as to desirable candidates for citizenship alongside concerns about keeping citizens of the young nation “without a cross,” and giving this phrase, repeated so many times throughout the novel, much greater import. Hawk-eye, in calling attention to and boasting of his pure blood, blurs lines by living as and with his Native American companions — yet he defines himself by contrasting white and Native identities (116, 117, 228-229, 254).[5] Hawk-eye embodies a type of character held up as evidence of America’s perceived selection, the “frontier hero” (more often than not of Anglo-Saxon descent) bearing “innate national traits” (Sturgess 125). This type of individual both confronts and answers nineteenth-century concerns regarding citizenship. Although by nature separate from the Other, these guardians/heroes retain the capacity to understand and successfully defend against any perceived Outsider aggression.

     Hawk-eye’s initial identification of Magua as a threat helps to solidify him in this particular role. His later offer of his own life in exchange for Cora’s release (Mohicans 76, 362) is therefore completely in character, confirming his status as hero and calling to mind Antonio’s “pound of flesh” bond with Shylock (Merchant 4.1.114-118). Hawk-eye’s offer takes place after Uncas and his companions are brought before Tamenund, the ancient sage and arbiter of Native justice, in Mohicans’ own trial scene. The chapter begins with an epigraph from the trial scene in Merchant: Shylock demands justice from the duke, calling for the pound of flesh he sees as rightfully his (Last 354, MV 4.1.101-103). Cooper echoes this action as Uncas stands before Tamenund (arguably the Duke figure), Magua calling for his death. As Shakespeare’s scene progresses, it appears Shylock may have won the day, and Antonio is told “prepare your bosom for his knife” (4.1.244 – emphasis added). Similarly, in Mohicans, it seems Magua may get his wish, but Uncas is spared when one of his would-be-executioners finds the mark of the tortoise on the young Mohican: “Raising his hand with a slow and regulated motion, he pointed with a finger to the bosom of the captive” (356 – emphasis added). Cooper’s chapter, however, inverts the Shakespeare scene. Tamenund’s justice does not work the way the main characters, and the reader, would like. Magua’s claim to Cora is quietly affirmed by Uncas, and although Hawk-eye offers himself in exchange, Magua’s desire for revenge against Munro is stronger than his hatred of the frontiersman (361). Triumphant, Magua leaves the group, taking Cora — a Shylock absconding with his “pound of flesh…dearly bought” (Merchant 4.1.99-100). Cooper’s reasoning for this inversion may only be posited, but in light of additional hints regarding intermarriage, it is telling that the villain is awarded the mixed-blood girl, with the validity of his claim affirmed by her would-be rescuer.

     The trial scenes are one of the strongest parallels between Merchant and Mohicans, especially in their use of argument and oration. In Mohicans, Magua’s command of rhetoric and ability to speak with the flair and fluidity of a politician are important aspects of his character, allowing him to sway the minds of his people and lead them as he crafts his revenge (144-146, 296-297, 328-329). The root of his enmity is outlined in 1.11, a chapter appropriately headed by an epigraph reiterating Shylock’s deep hatred of Antonio (“cursed be my tribe / If I forgive him” 1.3.48-49 – emphasis added). Prior to making an offer to release Alice, Duncan, and David if Cora will marry him, Magua recounts his fall from grace, blaming this transit and his subsequent humiliation (a beating at the hands of Munro) on the Europeans’ providing him with alcohol (141-142). Magua’s physical attraction to Cora is implied throughout the novel (143, 220, 384, 363), and her disgust for him and complete rejection of his offer is made clear (143, 147-148). For Magua, however, taking Cora as wife is the ultimate revenge. The pain and horror Magua envisions causing Munro, the suffering Munro would endure knowing his daughter is in Magua’s power, are his primary goals. Much like Shylock’s deep-seeded and intense detestation of Antonio, the “ancient grudge” (MV 1.3.45) Magua holds against Munro is all-consuming.

     Magua’s fall from grace is just one way the novel makes clear the Native Americans live in the young country, but are not considered its countrymen. They are a race apart, much as Shylock lives in Venice but is not considered to be of the city. Like the Native tribes, Shylock is portrayed as marginal and not citizen material, and like the tribes, he is treated with distrust and contempt. Shylock’s alien status is invoked repeatedly during the Merchant trial scene: “if thou dost shed / One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods / Are (by the laws of Venice) confiscate” (4.1.307-309), “Now infidel I have you on the hip” (4.1.332), and “If it be proved against an alien, / That by direct, or indirect attempts / He seek the life of any citizen” (4.1.347-349 – all emphasis added). Found guilty of seeking Antonio’s life, Shylock’s money and property is confiscated and divided (with a portion going to the state); he is also forced to convert to Christianity (4.1.368-369, 385). Through this loss of property, belief system, and by extension, loss of self, Shylock’s situation mirrors that of the Native Americans as evolving ideas of American identity shuttled them to the very margins of the defining process.[6] In a surprising example of the correspondence between Merchant and the Native Americans’ situation, during an 1830 hearing regarding Cherokee land US Senator John Forsyth declared “I will have my bond, I will have my pound of flesh” (“Speech of Mr. Sprague,” 1830). While not a direct quote from Merchant (“I would have my bond!” [4.1.87], “The pound of flesh which I demand of him / Is dearly bought, ’tis mine and I will have it” [4.1.99-100]), there is no mistaking the origin and sentiment of the comment. In the heat of the moment, however, Senator Forsyth seems to have overlooked the fact that the lines he crowed belong to Shylock, the hated Outsider.


     The relevance of Merchant to discussions of citizenship and the alien is apparent, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers just as important a contribution. The two plays share certain themes, and Cooper’s interleaving allows further, more subtle, threads to appear. Perhaps the most obvious, the mixing of races (and classes), is gestured to in Dream through the fairy queen Titania’s liaison with Bottom the Weaver (Act 3, Scene 1). Magic, not natural attraction, is the cause of Titania’s passion for the similarly bewitched, donkey-headed weaver (2.1.177-184), and her response when released from the spell is one of disgust (“How came these things to pass? / O how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!” [4.1.77-78]). Dream is arguably best known for this dalliance between Titania and Bottom, and when Cooper’s references to the play are considered in light of Mohicans’ apparent concerns regarding intermarriage and pure blood, the implication is clear: not only is the crossing of races immoral, it is unnatural.

     Additional aspects of Dream encouraging an exploration of Cooper’s thoughts on nineteenth-century citizenship are the characters’ acts of defiance and the assertion of the rights of the individual. In the first scene, Hermia’s declaration that she will not obey her father and marry Demetrius (“My soul consents not to give sovereignty” [1.1.82]), calls to mind the American rebellion against British rule, but here, agency and personal choice are also in play. Both the rights of the individual (ironically, based on English common law) and “representative democracy” are ingrained in the concept of American citizenship (Cananau 2015, 147, 148). Similarly, resistance in the face of tyranny or misguided authority underpins the stories and legends surrounding the fight for independence. Hermia’s act of noncompliance, along with Titania’s refusal to relinquish an Indian boy to her husband and king, Oberon (2.1.137), helps drive the plot in Dream.[7] The refusal of these women to acquiesce to male authority shows a strength of spirit and fortitude that in the early 1800s could only have been acceptable when viewed as a symbol of the new Republic. In light of this, the obedient and shrinking Alice becomes Cooper’s vetted representative of her gender, as she alone survives to marry an appropriate, chosen suitor. Ultimately, however, the strong feminine in Shakespeare’s play undergoes a corrective as Oberon wins the boy from Titania through the use of magic (4.1.45-59), and Hyppolita, an Amazon queen previously mastered by masculine power and superiority, is presented as being wedded to her conqueror. Making her a fitting metaphor for the newly-won Republic and the American frontier, Hyppolita’s groom-to-be Theseus declares “I woo’d thee with my sword, / And won thy love doing thee injuries” (1.1.16-17), both asserting his claim on her as property and justifying the violence committed in the process.

     Cooper gestures to the acts of non-compliance in Dream in his selection of epigraph for 1.4, Oberon’s threat of revenge on Titania: “Well, go thy way; thou shalt not from this grove / Till I torment thee for this injury” (2.1.146-147). In this chapter, the action centers on Magua’s pretense of becoming lost in the forest as he guides the group of travelers, a ruse he hopes will allow him to kidnap Munro’s daughters. Oberon’s words could be those of Magua to Munro; Magua will not cease to work for revenge against Munro as long as the commander is within his reach. The chapter also introduces Hawk-eye into the group, making Cooper’s use of lines from Dream even more apropos. Arguably the novel’s star non-compliant, Hawk-eye’s appearance with the group drives the plot. As it unfolds he becomes a Puck figure, delivering wry commentary and wit while acting as the bridge between two cultures. Much as the character of Magua links to that of Shylock and Merchant, Cooper’s frontiersman becomes an Americanized reflection of the trickster fairy from Dream.

     The surface plot of Shakespeare’s play, with its trickery, disguise, and forest setting, meshes seamlessly with Volume II of Mohicans. Cooper’s four travelers, two women and two men lost in a thickly wooded forest country, are brought sharply up against what is to them a very different world. In order to rescue Cora and Alice, Uncas, Hawk-eye, and Duncan must each pretend to be something they are not. Hawk-eye and Uncas both don the skin of a bear, and Duncan’s face is painted by Chingachgook (Mohicans 304, 319, 275). Hawk-eye, the Puck figure, shows a more light-hearted approach to disguise and has no problem testing the boundaries of reality and fantasy (267, 301, 314-315), much as he inhabits the liminal space between the civilized and the savage. Duncan, arguably Cooper’s ideal citizen by virtue of his gender, whiteness, bravery, and concern for his companions, cannot join Hawk-eye in this space and remain an exemplar. Before he can come face to face with and rescue Alice, Duncan must wash the Indian paint from his face, for “young women of white blood give preference to their own colour” (305) or, to put it plainly, like should be with like. (This is especially interesting when considering the implied attraction between Cora and Uncas.) This rejection of crossed boundaries expands to include dress and outward appearance when David’s captors attempt to disguise him in Native clothing, but fail wretchedly: “Altogether, the appearance of the individual was forlorn and miserable” (266). If Hall’s argument is correct, and Cooper intended David Gamut to be a “pseudo-Jewish character” (2012, 38), the scene becomes decidedly more poignant. Not only considered aberrant and Other from the standpoint of his white companions (Mohicans 51-52), David is considered insane by his captor tribe and made marginal in their camp (270, 313-314). Wholly unable to assimilate, he remains alien and an Outsider.

     Although the disguises and tricks are by and large momentary, the idea of transformation looms large when considering both Mohicans and Dream. In discussions of Shakespeare’s plays, it is sometimes bruited that forests are spaces of transformation and change, and the one in Dream is no exception. Bottom’s experience as the donkey-headed lover of a fairy queen is one he cannot quite grasp or articulate (4.1.199-215); the four lovers separate, exchange partners, but in the end marry appropriately (4.1.174-180). The forest in Mohicans is no different — those who enter are changed forever. By dint of his existing in the liminal space between civilization and savagery, Hawk-eye serves as guide for this transition, which ultimately winnows the group and finds those deemed acceptable for citizenship in the new Republic. Cora, with her mixed blood and attraction to Uncas, does not survive the transformation. It is significant that the fair-skinned Alice does not appear at her sister’s funeral until its end; even then, she is set apart as a non-participant in the blended rites, kept from sight in a curtained litter (Mohicans 395). The Native mourners celebrate Uncas as Cora’s mate and protector in the afterlife much to the chagrin of Hawk-eye, who finds their sentiment misguided and is thankful Duncan and Munro cannot understand their chants (391). Once more, Cooper’s implication is strong: races should not mingle.

     Of the four companions only Duncan and Alice come through the forest transition intact, emerging as perhaps Cooper’s ideal American couple: the brave, adaptable military man and his obedient, child-like wife. It is true the marginal David does weather the transition, but Deirdre Dallas Hall points out that in Cooper’s 1848 novel The Oak Openings, a similarly “hybridized” character does not fare as well, calling this a “clear corrective” (2012, 38). Of Uncas and his father Chingachgook, a pair presented throughout the novel as the last best hope for respectable Native American leaders, only Chingachgook survives. Cooper portrays the other tribes as savage and ignoble, a view echoed in court hearings a few years later, just prior to and at the time of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Native Americans were “of that class who are said by jurists not to be citizens, but perpetual inhabitants, with diminutive rights” and an “inferior race of people, without the privileges of citizens” (Kettner 1978, 295). Cooper supported Andrew Jackson’s policies towards the Native Americans (Mohicans 19), and based on this and his allusions to Merchant, it can be assumed Cooper’s opinion regarding Native Americans becoming citizens was not positive. The evidence indicates he too found them marginal and not acceptable citizen material.

     Cooper’s references to Merchant and Dream imply he also felt the mixing of races to be inconsistent with ideal citizenship. Hawk-eye, the most multi-cultural of the novel’s characters, protests throughout the book to be “without a cross” and makes comments such as “’Twould have been a cruel and an unhuman act for a white-skin; but ‘tis the gift and natur of an Indian, and I suppose it should not be denied!” (Mohicans 177) — in this case speaking of his friend, Chingachgook. Even though Hawk-eye fancies himself assimilated to Native American life, in truth he considers his pure blood to be of the utmost importance. Cooper underscores this prohibition against the crossing of races through the fates of Cora and Uncas, as well as Munro’s first wife (Cora’s deceased mother, who was descended from slaves [201]). A corrective is shown through the survival and vetted marriage of Duncan and Alice. Although Bradley J. Birzer and John Willson remark that Cooper felt “Americanness” to be “based on virtue and merit,” “transcend[ing]…narrow biological categories and confines of race” (Cooper Democrat 2000, xii, xiii), Cooper’s juxtaposition of Merchant and Dream with the novel’s subtle observations on the alien and Outsider suggest differently. Clearly, not only must his ideal citizens be “without a cross,” they should also marry in that fashion.


     The Last of the Mohicans was written and published during a time of discussion and argument over who was, and what it meant to be, an American citizen. Twelve years later, Cooper penned The American Democrat, a work on America and Americans that is now a resource for those looking to intuit the author’s personal thoughts on politics and policy. Political writer and lecturer Iulian Cananau observes that Cooper’s definition of “the word ‘people’ in the Preamble [of the Constitution] actually means a much more restrictive community of citizens, or people vested with political rights” (2015, 105) than generally accepted, and quotes him as saying “All men are not ‘created equal’, in a physical, or even in a moral sense, unless we limit the signification to one of political rights” (107). This suggests that at the time of Democrat, Cooper’s idea of citizenship was not one of inclusion and acceptance, and it can be posited that this was his stance while writing Mohicans. With this supposition in mind, Cooper’s incorporation of The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream informs and enlightens the nineteenth-century discussion regarding American citizenship in a revealing manner, and bears up my assertion that Cooper’s references to Shakespeare’s plays run much deeper than simple plot similarities and attempts at light-hearted humor. Although the two plays seem different in tone, close examination discloses not only their similarities, but also a confluence with the themes of citizenship and ideas of inclusion and exclusion found in Mohicans. This makes clear Cooper found Merchant and Dream strongly resonant with his novel as a whole, and is arguably the very reason for their preference among Mohicans’ epigraphs.

     Allusions and references to Merchant and Dream woven into the fabric of The Last of the Mohicans suggest Cooper considered the process of finding ideal American citizens to be based on more than simply what an individual may have had to offer the young country. The candidate’s race was just as important as survival of the rigorous, demanding, and transforming process of living in an early, evolving America. Perhaps Cooper, like many of his countrymen, saw the demands of being a qualified, appropriate member of the new Republic as daunting, rightly feeling this called for exceptional human beings ready to sacrifice in order to reap the privilege of being part of the new political experiment. Their inability to see the Other as capable of rising to the occasion is an unfortunate and misguided mindset that continues to this day.

     Cooper’s use of Shakespeare plays to illustrate the citizenship process reveals “both an ideal picture of Man and a series of illustrations of what happens when one fails to live up to the proper ideals” (Bristol 1898, 163), a statement which in this case applies to both Selector and Selected. Identifying those qualified to be citizens of the new Republic was surely an exacting task, but more often than not, the apparent choice was simply “a rich, successful, educated man” (Cananau 2015, 148), with the alien or different rejected. Those displaying these difficult traits (such as the Native Americans and David Gamut) were often deemed unsuitable, with any positive strength of purpose or resolve brushed aside or overlooked. These individuals remained of great importance, however, as Outsiders were necessary to the creation of boundaries and demarcation lines for those ultimately found acceptable. Cooper reflects this process in Mohicans; his portrayal of Native Americans, soldiers from a different country, and those of mixed blood as sources of conflict helps him illustrate and define the mettle he felt could uniquely withstand the transformative journey to American citizenship. The final touch, his use of Shakespeare to background the tale, not only gives a feel of familiarity to both characters and plot but also infuses a sense of authenticity and moral value, important for his statement on citizenship to be taken seriously. Through his appropriation of Shakespeare’s plays, James Fenimore Cooper exposes his complex views on the nature of American citizenship: exclusionary, even as it beckons all into its forest of transformation.


Synopsis of action in Mohicans chapters with Merchant and Dream epigraphs (as printed in the Broadview edition). The James Fenimore Cooper Society website indicates Cooper possessed a set of Shakespeare volumes published in 1811 by J. Nichols and Son et al (http://external.oneonta.edu/cooper/writings/epigraphs.html), but it is not known which edition he used for his epigraphs. Line references are from the Arden Shakespeare.

1.2: David Gamut (arguably Cooper’s clown figure) gallops up and joins the travelers MV 5.1.39: Sola, sola, wo ha, ho, sola! (Launcelot [clown figure] arrives at Belmont with news for Lorenzo)
1.4: Magua’s treachery suspected/discovered, he flees the traveling group MSND 2.1.146-147: “Well, go thy way; thou shalt not from this grove, / Till I torment thee for this injury.”
(Oberon declares to torment/seek revenge on Titania)
1.5: The group fears ambush by Magua and his warriors MV 5.1.7-9: –In such a night, / Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew; / And saw the lion’s shadow ere himself.”

(Jessica muses on Thisbe frightened by the lion’s shadow)

1.10: The travelers are captured; they are wary of their situation and watchful for any chance to escape MSND 5.1.359-60: “I fear we shall outsleep the coming morn, / As much as we this night have overwatched!”
(Thesus observes they have stayed awake all night)
1.11: Magua’s plan for vengeance against Munro by marrying Cora MV 1.3.48-49: —“Cursed be my tribe, / If I forgive him.”
(Shylock reiterates his hate for Antonio)
2.2: During discussion and planning of how to rescue Cora, Alice, & David, Uncas scalps an Oneida spy MV 3.1.47-50: Salar. “Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take his flesh; what’s that good for?
Shy. “To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.”(Shylock states a pound of flesh is really of no use to him besides feeding his revenge)
2.5: Hawk-eye et al locate where the captives are held; they begin to devise a rescue that includes disguise and role-playing MSND 3.1.1-3: Bot: “Are we all met?”
Qui: “Pat-pat; and here’s a marvelous
Convenient place for our rehearsal.”(The “rude mechanicals” meet and begin rehearsing their play for the Duke)
2.8: Hawk-eye disguised as bear/Native conjuror MSND 1.2.63-66: Snug. “Have you the lion’s part written? Pray you, if it be, give it me, for I am slow of study.
Quince. You may do it extempore, for it is nothing but roaring.”(“Rude mechanical” Snug asks about his part as the lion)
2.9: Uncas is now disguised as the bear/conjuror in order to escape MSND 1.2.67: Bot. “Let me play the lion too.”

(“Rude mechanical” Bottom asks to play the lion as well)

2.13: Uncas’s trial before Tamenund – Cora is confirmed to be Magua’s prisoner, he will not allow her to be ransomed MV 4.1.101-103: “If you deny me, fie upon your law! / There is no force in the decrees of Venice: / I stand for judgement: answer, shall I have it?”

(Trial scene – Shylock will not bargain or give mercy, demands his judgment/pound of flesh)


[1] Literary critic W. B. Gates acknowledges this and notes that Cooper’s daughter Susan recounted her father’s love of the poet (716-717), but Gates’ paper goes no further than exploring surface parallels.
[2] See the appendix for short summaries of these ten Mohicans chapters and their associated epigraphs.
[3] Throughout, I have employed words such as Other and Otherness to signify individuals or groups whose right to citizenship was questioned, disputed, or denied by government and civilian leaders of the new country. As per OED entry 9b: “A person other than oneself; a person or group that is outside or excluded from one’s own group.” (OED Online. June 2017. Oxford University Press.)
[4] All Mohicans references are from the 2009 Broadview edition, which retains the novel’s original two-volume structure. Shakespeare references are from The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works (2011).
[5] This sort of distinction, important to the creation of a citizenry, was a process seen in the evolution of America following the Revolution (Sturgess 2004, 24).
[6] In another interesting Merchant/Mohicans confluence, during the late sixteenth century there was some belief in a connection between Native Americans and the Lost Tribes of Israel (Hall 2012, 44). It is unknown if Cooper had knowledge of this theory.
[7] In his book Shakespeare and America, published years after Mohicans, Frank Bristol puts forth the argument that this boy is indeed an American Indian, as opposed to one from the east (1898, 38-42). An interesting hypothesis, but one Cooper would not necessarily have known.


Bristol, Frank Milton. 1898. Shakespeare and America. Chicago: Wm. C. Hollister & Bro.
Bristol, Michael D. 1990. Shakespeare’s America, America’s Shakespeare. London and New York: Routledge.
Cananau, Iulian. 2015. Constituting Americanness: A History of the Concept and Its       Representations in Antebellum American Literature.  Frankfurt, GE: Peter Lang GmbH,   Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften.
Cooper, James Fenimore. 2000. The American Democrat and Other Political Writings.         Edited by Bradley J. Birzer and John Willson. Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing,       Inc.
—. The Last of the Mohicans. 2009. Edited by Paul C. Gutjahr. Peterborough, Ontario, CN: Broadview  Editions.
Gates, W.B. 1952. “Cooper’s Indebtedness to Shakespeare.” PMLA 67.5: 716-731.
Hall, Deirdre Dallas. 2012. “Remarkable Particulars: David Gamut and the Alchemy of Race in The Last of the Mohicans.ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 58.1: 36-70.
Kettner, James H. 1978. The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina UP.
Levine, Lawrence W. 1988. Highbrow / Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
Proudfoot, Richard, Ann Thomas, and David Scott Kastan, eds. 2011. The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works. London and New York: Bloomsbury.
“Speech of Mr. Sprague of Maine.” 1830. Cherokee Phoenix and Indian’s Advocate 3.11: Page 1 Col 1a-5b, Page 4 Col. 1a-5b. Available online at:  http://www.wcu.edu/library/DigitalCollections/CherokeePhoenix/Vol3/no11/3no11_p1-c1A.htm  [Accessed 8 Jan. 2017]
Sturgess, Kim C. 2004. Shakespeare and the American Nation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP.


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Shakespeare and early modern drama. MA in English, BA in Liberal Studies. Reader, playgoer, music lover. Twitter: @16thCenturyGirl

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