How Oroonoko became Jim Crow : the black presence on the English stage from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century
Beginning with the seminal drama, Oroonoko (1695), the thesis traces the development of the black image in the theatre up to the mid-nineteenth century.It argues that slavery shaped the image of the black as presented for popular consumption. This image became more degraded from the beginning of the nineteenth century till it became fixed with no redeeming features at all.
The black character initially evoked fear or pathos. Often a figure of vengeance, he became less terrifying as the threat he posed receded; as he did so, the mulatto female avenger briefly appeared in the mid-nineteenth century. There was also a
lesser tradition of the comicaL black servant, who became the vehicle for the fullest degradation of the black figure. This can be dated to the advent on stage of Jim Crow, the first nigger minstrel,in 1836. Crow, the creation of a white, domestically slave-owning society, represented a more virulent form of racial stereotyping than that originally inspired by a slavery practised overseas and mediated by a sense of national self-congratulation over abolition. After the 1830s, it was the grotesque Crow who informed subsequent representations of the black, including a disgust with the supposed sexual appetite
of the bLack woman. Even in the vogue for 'Uncle Tom' plays (1850s), the black Christ figure of the novel becomes a minstrel buffoon. Hence, as black characters became so stereotyped as to be incapable of bearing any serious dramatic weight at a, they lost the potential to feature meaningfully even in dramas on slavery. Only white or near-white characters could now confront the issue. The black characterwas elided even from that which originally defined him - slavery itself.