The liberal Protestant influence on the musical plays of Oscar Hammerstein II circa 1943-1959
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This thesis explores the American liberal Protestant religious influences on Oscar Hammerstein II, and investigates how they are manifested in his musical plays written with Richard Rodgers in the period 1943-1959. Identifying these influences, which stem from Hammerstein’s Protestant maternal family and from his attendance during his youth at the prominent Universalist church, The Church of the Divine Paternity, enable a widening of the theological engagement with popular culture to include the neglected realm of musical theatre. Having identified the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical play as a particularly powerful popular art form that explores the existential questions faced by human beings, I investigate the previously unexplored Unitarian and Universalist influences on Oscar Hammerstein II, refuting claims that he was part of the Jewish theatrical community on Broadway. Tracing these influences in Hammerstein’s lyrics and libretti shows his response to these fundamental questions as human beings seek to create meaning and build identity in relation to that which is ‘other’. Within Hammerstein’s personal philosophy I distinguish, the relationship between human beings and God, and the ethical relationships between human beings in community. I begin by exploring the Unitarian moral philosophy and belief in the fatherhood of God found in Carousel, The Sound of Music and Cinderella, and engaging with the Universalist depiction of the restoration period of the soul found in Carousel. Having revealed Hammerstein’s liberal Protestant understanding of this relationship, I turn to his social and political activism connecting it to a social gospel understanding of the brotherhood of man and assertion of human unity. Engaging with his ‘American’ musicals – Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The Sound of Music - and his ‘Asian’ musicals – South Pacific, The King and I, and Flower Drum Song - separately, I question the theological implications of his late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century understanding of human unity have with regard to diversity. Throughout each of his musicals evidence is adduced of an unwavering belief in the progress of humankind onward and upward, as he reveals a significant liberal Protestant understanding of the nature of humanity, the brotherhood of man, and the possibility for human development and change.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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