Slavery and Anti-Republicanism in Sir Ralph Freeman’s Imperiale, a tragedy (1639)

  • Ray Bossert Franklin and Marshall College
Keywords: Ralph Freeman, slave, republic, Providence Island, Charles I, seventeenth century, civil war, African, revolt, rebellion, stoicism, Massinger, Bondman, Cartwright, Royal Slave, race, carnival,


In Sir Ralph Freeman’s Imperiale, a tragedy (1639), two African slaves in the Republic of Genoa engage in a brutal, violent revolt against cruel, self-interested, and rival masters. The play critiques rhetoric of political slavery under the alleged tyranny of Charles I, but its depiction of an African slave revolt also resonates with discourse surrounding the 1638 Providence Island rebellion, described by Karen Kupperman as the first African slave revolt in a British New World colony. Thus, Freeman’s play synthesizes domestic and foreign language of slavery, interrogates the ethical superiority of a slave-holding republic, and might even call into question the practice of slavery as an institution.