Theses Doctoral

Marking Blackness: Embodied Techniques of Racialization in Early Modern European Theatre

Ndiaye, Noémie

This dissertation is a comparative and transnational study of the techniques of racial impersonation used by white performers to represent black Afro-diasporic people in early modern England, Spain, and France. The racialization of blackness that took place in England at the turn of the sixteenth century has been well studied over the course of the last thirty years. This dissertation expands English early modern race scholarship in new directions by revealing the existence of a multi-directional circulation of racial ideas, lexemes, and performance techniques that led to the development of a vivid trans-European stage idiom of blackness across national borders in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. While early modern race scholarship has traditionally focused on the rhetorical and dramatic strategies used by playwrights to create black characters, this dissertation brings to the fore the ideological work inherent in performance. It does so by arguing that the techniques of racial impersonation used in various loci of European performance culture, such as blackface, blackspeak (a comic mock-African accent), and black dances, racialized Afro-diasporic people as they led spectators in a variety of ways to think of those people as belonging naturally at the bottom of any well-constituted social order. This dissertation shows how the hermeneutic configurations and re-configurations of techniques of racial impersonation such as blackface, blackspeak, and black dance responded to social changes, to the development of colonization and color-based slavery, and to changing perceptions of what Afro-diasporic people’s status should be in European and Atlantic societies across the early modern period.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Howard, Jean E.
Hall, Kim F.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 29, 2017