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Article

Brian R. Roberts

diplomat, editor, and author, was born in Manhattan to Henry and Nancy (Collins) Downing. His family operated an oyster business and restaurant, and his uncle was George Thomas Downing, a Rhode Island businessman and civil rights leader. Nothing is known of Henry Downing's education before he entered the U.S. Navy at age eighteen.

Serving from 1864 through 1865 he worked on three vessels, the North Carolina, Pawtuxet, and Winooski. Afterward he traveled widely, spending three years in Liberia, where his cousin, Hilary Johnson, later became president (1884–1892). In Liberia, Downing worked as secretary to the Liberian secretary of state. Upon his return to New York he reenlisted in the navy, serving from 1872 to 1875 on the Hartford in the Pacific.

After his discharge Downing again returned to New York City and married Isadora (maiden name unknown) on 8 ...

Article

Masques  

Jonathan Morley

Pre‐dramatic pageant entertainments, increasing in popularity through the Tudor period, which the poet Ben Jonson developed during the reign of King James I into courtly plays. The masques for Queen Anne's annual festivities cost James up to £3,000 each and lasted for several hours, utilizing the lavish costumes and Italian mechanical stages of Inigo Jones. Traditionally, the masque's transition was from discord to order, though Jonson brought a more complex literary sensibility to his, including many of them in his published Works of 1619, together with notes on the staging. Disagreement with Jones over the relative importance of staging and literary effect would eventually sour relations between the two men.

Their first collaboration, The Masque of Blackness, was performed on Twelfth Night 1605. Jonson would not develop his innovation of the ‘anti‐masque’—chaotic, digressive, and grotesque—until later in his career; instead, Blackness seems to have been an ...

Article

Mungo  

John Gilmore

Black character in the comic opera The Padlock, written by Isaac Bickerstaff (1733–1808?), with music by Charles Dibdin (1745–1814). The Padlock, first performed in 1768, was not an opera in the modern sense, but a play interspersed with songs.

In a plot adapted from a novel by the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616 Mungo helps Leander a student to woo the beautiful young Leonora even though she is kept locked up by her old guardian Mungo s master Diego who plans to marry her himself Even more than Ursula the elderly white woman employed by Diego to guard Leonora Mungo is the type of servant who is expected to be loyal in spite of being overworked beaten and generally mistreated by his master At the end of the play Diego reconciles himself to the marriage of Leander and Leonora to ...

Article

Othello  

Jonathan Morley

The first recorded performance of The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice was in 1604. Shakespeare took the bones of the story from Geraldi Cinthio's 16th‐century collection Hecatommithi, which would have been available in its original Italian or in Gabriel Chappuys's French translation. Taking this cautionary tale of the credulousness and barbarity of Moors, where Othello's and Iago's prototypes plot to kill Desdemona, mutilating her body before they are tortured and executed, Shakespeare expands the cast, using a character of his own invention, the jealous suitor Roderigo, to useful effect, to turn it into a psychological study of the central characters: the black Venetian general Othello and his embittered ‘ensign’ Iago.

The play is set in an outpost of the Venetian empire Cyprus under attack by Turks Othello a Blackamoor who once unflinchingly watched his brother s arm blown off by a cannonball is vital to the ...

Article

David Dabydeen

Elizabethan and Jacobean drama saw the proliferation of African images, contexts, and characters. Contact between Britain and Africa, which began as early as the 14th century, became more prevalent in the 16th century and led to an interest in travel, discovery, and the dramatic representations of ‘Moors’. Before the publication of contemporary travel accounts by sailors and travellers, writers often used Scripture and philosophy to construct ideas of Africa and its people. In the 13th century Roger Bacon utilized this blend to fashion geographical knowledge of Africa. Similarly, Geoffrey Chaucer's interpretation of African contexts was an amalgamation of fact and fantasy. Writers of the 16th century, besides deriving knowledge from travellers' accounts, maintained travel tales of the ancients as one of their prime sources of notions about Africa.

In the second half of the 16th century numerous publications on Africa which ranged from histories to travelogues contributed to the escalating ...

Article

Nadine D. Pederson

playwright, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Juan François Louis Victor Séjour Marcou, owner of a small business, and Eloisa Philippe Ferrand. His father was a black native of the West Indies, and his mother a Creole from New Orleans. Séjour attended an academy in New Orleans for the children of free men of color. As a young man he was an active member of the Artisans, a middle-class Creole society. In 1836 Séjour was sent to Paris to finish his studies. In that same year his short story “Le Mulâtre” was published in La Revue des Colonies (Paris). Another early literary success was a poem, “Le Retour de Napoléon,” first published in Paris (Dauvain et Fontaine, 1841), then in New Orleans (H. Lauve et Compagnie, 1845).

Séjour made his playwriting debut at the Théâtre-Français on 23 July 1844 with Dégarias ...

Article

Jonathan Morley

William Shakespeare's late romance, first produced at the Court of King James I in 1611, and performed for the wedding of the King's daughter Elizabeth with Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, in the winter of 1612.

The play is a charming tale of feud and reconciliation, set on a magical island, and conforming to the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action. A fractious Italian royal wedding party, on its way back to Naples from Tunisia, is shipwrecked on the island fiefdom of a wizard, Prospero, who was usurped as Duke of Milan by two of the party twelve years earlier and cast out to sea. Through magic, Prospero works his revenge, causing confusion and despair among his enemies until, revealing himself, he is able to forgive them, abjure his magic, win back his dukedom, and marry his daughter to the heir of Naples.

Shakespeare modelled ...

Article

Jonathan Morley

Early play by William Shakespeare. Authoritative dating is impossible, but it is widely thought to be among his juvenile work, perhaps adapted from an earlier text in collaboration with George Peele. The first recorded performances were in 1593.

Set in a declining Rome, the play dramatizes conflict between two families, between different forms of imperial power, and, in the central figures of Titus, an ageing soldier, and Aaron, a Moor, psychological conflict between social obedience and anarchy, expressed in images of carnivalesque horror. In the bloodthirsty manner of early contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd, throats are slit, hands are severed, and tongues are cut, two rapists are baked in a pie and served to their mother, and fourteen people are murdered or executed. Revulsion at the play's atrocities provoked outrage in later audiences and it was abandoned between 1734 and 1839 It ...

Article

Eric Gardner

dramatic reader, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her parents' names and specific details of her youth remain unknown, though nineteenth-century accounts spin rich tales of her parentage and childhood. According to her husband Frank Webb, her father was “a Spanish gentleman of wealth” and her mother “a woman of full African blood” who escaped from slavery while pregnant with Mary and later died from anxiety produced by the Fugitive Slave Act. Other sources claim she was the child of a Cuban official, and a letter of introduction written by Harriet Beecher Stowe claims she was sent to Cuba as a child and was educated in a convent. There was even speculation that she was the daughter of the Spanish general and statesman Baldomero Espartero.

In 1845Mary married Frank Johnson Webb and the couple settled in Philadelphia Pennsylvania where they worked in the clothing trade until ...