“Our Turn Next”: Slavery and Freedom on French and American Stages, 1789-99
Author: Heather S. Nathans, Tufts University
Comment: Jeffrey Ravel, MIT
Tuesday 6 October
As the French abolitionist movement gathered momentum alongside the Revolution, Parisians could have seen hundreds of theatrical performances on themes related to race and slavery. By contrast, the American stage grappled with the choice to perpetuate a slave system within a democracy. Some performances hinted at slavery’s cruelty, some depicted newly-freed black characters living happily alongside whites, and others proposed returning blacks to the continent as the solution for a dilemma Thomas Jefferson described as holding “a wolf by the ears.” This paper explores the black revolutionary figure on the U.S. and French stages during the last decade of the eighteenth century, as both nations struggled to put their principles of universal freedom into practice.
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