Theatre Survey

Research Article

Theat-re or Theat-er: Samuel Johnson or Noah/Merriam Webster?

Francis Hodge*

When The New York Times on September 16, 1962 changed its official spelling from theatre to theater, it jumped headlong into a controversy actively alive since Shakespeare's day. On the day before, on Sunday, the Drama section showed a single face to the public as it reported and advertised an institution called theatre, but from the next day forward it looked as if the muse wrote in two languages because both spellings were used. The change was made without editorial comment, without a single letter to the editor, without any indication whatsoever that anyone cared. If a few noticed it, they undoubtedly concluded that The Times had fallen victim to an American spelling rule that must have long plagued its copyreaders and thus forgave the change.


* Francis Hodge is in the Dept. of Drama at the University of Texas, and is presently the editor of The Educational Theatre Journal.