The Appearance of Blacks on the Early Modern Stage: Love’s Labour’s Lost’s African Connections to Court

Matthieu A Chapman

Abstract


While scholarship is certain that white actors did appear in blackface on the Elizabethan stages, this paper argues for the additional possibility of actual moors and blacks appearing on stage in early modern London. Examining the positive social, political, and economic implications of using in performance these bodies perceived as exotic, I argue for the appearance of blacks in Love’s Labour’s Lost as a display of courtly power in its 1597-8 showing for Elizabeth I. Building on this precedent, Queen Anna’s staging of herself as black in the 1605 Masque of Blackness, I argue, worked to assert the new Jacobean court’s power.

Keywords


masques; Shakespeare; Love's Labour's Lost; Merchant of Venice; Othello; history of black actors; blackface; race; Queen Anna of Denmark; Elizabeth I

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.12745/et.17.2.1206


Matthieu A Chapman
University of California - San Diego

Matthieu Chapman (machapma@ucsd.edu) received his BA in theatre performance from San Diego State University. He then studied Shakespeare and Renaissance literature in performance at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, VA, earning a Master of Letters in dramaturgy and a Master of Fine Arts in acting, where he wrote his thesis arguing for the appearance of actual negroes on the early modern English stage. He is now a third-year PhD student at UC San Diego, and is studying anti-black racism in early modern English drama.