Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > The American Variety Stage

[Detail] Harry Houdini performs the great milk can escape. 1908.

Arts & Humanities

Using the playscripts and sound recordings in American Variety Stage, 1870-1920, students can practice a wide range of reading, language, writing, and listening skills.

Reading Comprehension

Students can use the playscripts to decipher the meaning of sketches peppered with vernacular, malapropisms, puns, and reversals. Search on pun, malapropisms, and language style to find sketches and monologues employing these devices.

For example, search on malapropisms to find The Shmoosers.


(Again in kinder tones) Will you please be so kind to let me have ten dollars for premilitary expenses (poking Abe).


What's that premilitary expenses?


What, you don't know what is it premilitary expenses? Pre- military expenses is the expenses we have before we go into business.


Don't you understand the English Languages? That's not premilitary, that's premillinery.

The Shmoosers, 1914, p.6, (image 7)

Literary Devices

  • Students can study the playscripts to identify instances of alliteration, assonance, and rhyming. Search on poem or browse through the song titles in the Subject Index to find examples.
  • Students can examine the playscripts to pinpoint rhetorical devices deployed comically through irony, hyperbole, and understatement. Search on slang, dialects, monologue, and speech for examples.

Creative Writing

Themes of heroism, love, honor, courage, pathos, and loyalty can be found in the playscripts, often presented through irony or sentimentality. Using this collection, students can practice creative writing by rewriting scripts. Students might write a modern version of a playscript. For example, they might rewrite a "war between men and women" to reflect gender issues of today.

Search on gender relations and marital relations to find playscripts dealing with the roles of men and women in society.


American Variety Stage, 1870-1920 contains a sampling of sound recordings of both music and dialogue. Students can use the recordings of vaudeville routines and dramatic recitations to hone their listening and comprehension skills.

By browsing the Title List for Sound Recordings, students can find items such as Desperate Desmond, a comic monologue recorded in 1915. (Visit the American Memory Viewer Information page if you need assistance listening to these recordings.)

 Desperate Desmond, Title List of Variety Stage Sound Recordings
WAV format (11876k)