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Look Inside Performing Blackness on English Stages, 1500–1800

Performing Blackness on English Stages, 1500–1800


  • Date Published: March 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521102261

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About the Authors
  • Performing Blackness on English Stages, 1500–1800 examines early modern English actors' impersonations of black Africans. Those blackface performances established dynamic theatrical conventions that were repeated from play to play, plot to plot, congealing over time and contributing to English audiences' construction of racial difference. Vaughan discusses non-canonical plays, grouping of scenes, and characters that highlight the most important conventions - appearance, linguistic tropes, speech patterns, plot situations, the use of asides and soliloquies, and other dramatic techniques - that shaped the ways black characters were 'read' by white English audiences. In plays attended by thousands of English men and women from the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth, including Titus Andronicus, Othello and Oroonoko, blackface was a polyphonic signifier that disseminated distorted and contradictory, yet compelling, images of black Africans during the period in which England became increasingly involved in the African slave trade.

    • Combines theatre history with an analysis of how racial attitudes were circulated through the theatre
    • Focuses on how black/Moorish characters would have been presented and received on the stage
    • Places dramatic texts and their performances within their historical context
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    Reviews & endorsements

    Review of the hardback: 'Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.' Choice

    Review of the hardback: 'Performing Blackness is a welcome remedy to the relative neglect of English theatrical representations of black skin. … is it not possible for a black actor to perform the part of Othello in a manner that resists racialist assumptions? … this book addresses important issues about the performative nature of blackness and racial representation on the early English stage.' Theatre Survey

    Review of the hardback: '… the gradual increase of the black population in London over the period covered by the book, … is correlated with a steady 'humanising' of black stage characters, but also with an increasing frequency of themes dealing with anxiety regarding miscegenation. … an illuminating survey of the development of theatrical conventions and cultural attitudes which will be pertinent to anybody interested in early modern conceptions of race.' Notes and Queries

    Review of the hardback: '… why, just as chattel slavery takes hold in the colonies, does Restoration theater increasingly depict more humanized Moorish characters in adaptations like Ravenscroft's 1678 production of Titus Andronicus and Behn's 1676 production of Abdelazer: The Moor's Revenge? … [This] book invites us to consider … earlier forms and manifestations and suggests that we still have much to learn about the history of the category of race.' Journal of British Studies

    Review of the hardback: '… [Vaughan] is to be congratulated for her brevity and clarity, and her audience of intellectual and religious historians should benefit from reading this book.' Sixteenth Century Journal

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521102261
    • length: 208 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 12 mm
    • weight: 0.31kg
    • contains: 10 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Preliminaries
    2. Patterns of blackness
    3. Talking devils
    4. Kings and queens
    5. Bedtricksters
    6. Shakespeare's Moor of Venice
    7. Europeans disguised as Moors
    8. Avenging villains
    9. Royal slaves

  • Author

    Virginia Mason Vaughan, Clark University, Massachusetts
    Virginia Mason Vaughan is Professor of English at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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