Marking Blackness: Embodied Techniques of Racialization in Seventeenth-Century European Theater


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


English and Comparative Literature


This project dissects the stagecraft used in seventeenth-century theater to represent and racialize Africans and Afro-descendants in England, France, and Spain, three European colonial powers that heavily engaged in color-based slavery in the early modern period. It uses close readings of plays, paratexts, and historical records to reconstruct the way Africans looked, sounded, and moved on European stages, focusing on techniques of embodiment such as blackface, blackspeak, and black dance. It also discusses the effect of those techniques, which circulated among French, English, and Spanish theatrical cultures, on early modern audiences. Because they were embedded in ideological constructs tied to historical, social, and colonial contexts, these theatrical techniques worked differently in England, France, and Spain. However, their racializing effect manifests the emergence of a common Atlantic consciousness of race.