Despite several successes through his career, Dion Boucicault found himself in dire financial straits in 1884. While in London that summer, Boucicault was given a manuscript for a play which had been commissioned for another playwright to produce, but ultimately had been abandoned. Boucicault therefore took the manuscript and rewrote it, and the tale of Robert Emmet, a historic Irish rebel, was born. However, by the time in Boucicault’s career, many of his tried and true stylistic choices were becoming old hat.
On the opening night of the play, in Chicago, it was met with a poor house and poor reception. Some consider the fact that the play opened on November 5th (coinciding with the election of President Grover Cleveland) may have had an effect on the opening night. Nonetheless, Boucicault himself writes that the play was a disaster, with actors coming on and off the stage at the wrong times, cues for gunfire coming at the wrong time, props being missing, and pregnant pauses between scene changes and acts. In the end, Robert Emmet was a financial failure. Upon closer inspection, the writing of the play itself does not seem to be the cause for the failure, but rather a culmination of many external factors which ultimately dealt Boucicault a bad hand.