minstrel plays


Why de dickens?: The Lampooning of African Americans as an American Form of Entertainment

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Included in the second release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900, are several minstrel plays. Developed in the United States beginning in the 1830s, minstrel shows mocked the appearances and language of black characters, reinforcing white views on race for more than a century.  This first example, An Elephant on Ice, is subtitled "An Ethiopian Interlude, in One Scene":

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Costumes

Sam Johnson.—Well worn grey pants and vest, a black patch covering entire seat of pants, with patches on knees; dark back, with huge red patch between the shoulders on vest; fancy striped shirt; large shoes; and battered white hat, high crowned.

Sol Squash.—Dandy dress, wig parted in the middle, silk hat, cane; kid gloves and eye glass.

An example of the dialogue as the play opens:

Scene.—A street in second or third grooves.

Enter Sam Johnson R., carrying a buck and saw on his shoulder.

Why de dickens?: The Lampooning of African Americans as an American Form of Entertainment

Now available for trial! Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900

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The inaugural release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes plays that range over the most popular genres of its 80-year time span. There are comedies and melodramas, Revolutionary and Civil War dramas, plays with all-women and all-black casts, temperance plays, and plays for children for school and home entertainment, as well as many plays written by women. Here are some examples of the diversity of genres and titles now available:

Histories:

  • ‘Pocahontas. A Historical Drama, in Five Acts’ by Robert Dale Owen (1837)
  • ‘The Ku Klux Klan, or, The Carpet-Bagger in New Orleans’ by Elizabeth Avery Meriwether (1877)

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Tragedies:

  • ‘Mohammed, The Arabian Prophet. A Tragedy in Five Acts’ by George Henry Miles (1850)

Comedies:

Now available for trial! Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900

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