Royall Tyler was born and educated in Boston. His studies at Harvard were often interrupted by the events preceding the American Revolution. Indeed, in 1776, Harvard administered its classes outside of Cambridge in the comparative safety of Concord. Tyler earned his BA that same year then served in the colonial army during the American Revolution. In 1779, he earned his MA and was admitted to the bar the following year. He later served in the army again in the suppression of Shays’ Rebellion (1786– 1787), a Massachusetts uprising against unfair tax and debt collection.
Image 3.23. Royall Tyler
Tyler practiced law in Maine and later in Massachusetts. After 1790, he practiced in Vermont where he was chief justice of the Supreme Court (1807–1813) and professor of jurisprudence at the University of Vermont (1811–1814). Tyler was a prolific author in various genres. He wrote legal papers, poems, and an epistolary travel book. He projected books on cosmography and the nature of religious intolerance. He also wrote plays and a satiric novel, The Algerine Captive (1797).
The work for which he is remembered today is his play The Contrast (1787), the first American comedy produced by a professional company. The Contrast is modeled after Restoration comedies, or comedies of manners, with their topical subject matter and intricate plots. Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s (1751–1816) The School for Scandal, first performed in 1777, likely served as inspiration. The Contrast wittily satirizes hypocrisy and corruption, both of which vices Tyler locates in British culture, a culture that stains the more ethical and upright American culture.