25 thoughts on “Blog entries on Bradley and Meer, due Feb. 19

  1. Pingback: English 49013: Melodrama, Spring 2019 – Renata Kobetts Miller, Ph.D.

  2. Oliver

    The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault presents an array of complex challenges for modern readers to wrap their heads around. The play clearly contains racists stereotypes and characters. However, the message of the play is decidedly anti-racist. “[T]he melodramatic stage could ironize and complicate racial thinking, even if it also reproduced it” (Meers 202). From a modern perspective, such a notion is not only a contradiction; it is obscure. We are used to being presented and judging issues as a zero-sum game–Something is either racist or it is not. Because The Octoroon is both, one must understand it through a 19th century context. In her essay “Melodrama and Race”, Sarah Meers begins by pointing out that “[t]he heyday of melodrama coincided with the ascent of racial theory” (192). Such theories espoused pseudo-scientific concepts such as the existence of “superior and inferior races” and the linking and equating of “‘physical distinctions’ between people to ‘moral differences’ (192). One needs only to look at the cast of characters to see that The Octoroon was clearly a product of its time. There’s an “Old Uncle,” “Yellow Boy,” “Young Creole,” “Quadroon Slave” and Zoe, the titular “Octoroon.” Notice the characters lacking racial designations. They’re all white. This may be racist from a modern perspective, but it was also reflective of an 1850s society where positions such as auctioneers, landowners, planters and even photographers were not readily open to minorities. The cast of characters was indicative of Theatre’s “long-standing interest in ‘types’. A variety of characters, often comic, [which] typified regional or national characteristics in nineteenth-century drama.” These types were easily identifiable to audiences and “sported distinctive accents, dress and manners, marking type as language and culture.” And types could approximate to what [racial-theorists such as] Knox called races, too” (193). For example, Wahnotee, the Indian Chief is portrayed as a stereotype; a “gentle, honest creature” (Act I) who is later inclined to deal his own tomahawk justice upon M’Closky. But while The Octoroon peddles in such ‘types,’ it also subverts, challenges and questions them. “Shall we have one law for the red-skin and another for the white?” (Act IV) asks Captain Ratts. Scuds espouses the concept of the so-called ‘White Man’s Burden’, saying the “red” and “black” man must be protected, shown gentleness and “taught the difference between the Christian and the Savage.” But it is Pete, a black man, who shows that very distinction in calling for mercy upon M’Closky.
    Of course, it is inherently racist that all of these characters are being played by white actors. But paradoxically, this facet of The Octoroon’s staging created the necessary distance to permit a discussion of such progressive ideas for 19th century audiences. In this way, The Octoroon can be seen as a hugely important and landmark blow (in popular entertainment) against racism, despite its contextual trappings.

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  3. The “Melodrama and Race” section of the book sheds light on the European perception of race and it’s role in the melodramatic genre. Initially, it was interesting to discover how medical writers defined and separated race. To see how it directly affected how European society saw different races then rolled over to the stage. At the time of these plays being produced and performed, slavery was still occurring in America. It was abolished in the United Kindom in 1803 but still occurred illegally. However, British melodrama portrayed race through stereotypes in a comedic fashion. The effects of slavery and perceptions of racial and ethnic groups still shone through. European actors dressed in blackface and performed stereotypes. Knox predicted that “the Saxon race will never…be at peace (with Black races)”. In the case of plays like “Octoroon” where there was an interracial couple at the center of the storyline, the English stage version ended with the interracial couple uniting, where the American version had the tragic ending of Zoe dying via suicide and George kneeling beside her. This showed conflicting ideas of race and interracial relationships between both the UK and America. Although English melodrama portrayed black characters with stereotypes issuing it to be problematic. English melodrama still encouraged interracial relationships seen through plays like “Othello” and “Oroonoko”, where the rebel slave hero was Black and his wife is white. It’s a paradox or maybe a sense of irony, however, reflects how society in England perceived interracial relationships. Ira Aldridge, an African American performer, did get to take on roles as a black character in London and his career lasted for over forty years. Aldridge was still fetishized in the promotion of his performance as Othello. Melodrama, much like the stance on gender, seems to stray away from convention to portray a burgeoning progressive society, yet adhere’s to the sexist, classist, and racist constructs of post-slavery, 19th-century England.

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  4. Randy Morales

    After reading this weeks play “The Octoroon”, one can clearly see the direct racism in the first couple lines. Boucicault purposely made the dark children behave with animalistic characteristics in the beginning of the play. This trope, according to Meer, is quite common in melodrama in the 1800’s. Meer states “ Many race-writers used terms from animal breeding to describe such children” (193). The animal comparison also continue when Pete says “One morning they swarmed on a sassafras tree in de swamp, and I cothed ‘em” (2). The word “swarm” can be seen that those children were considered more like pests than anything else. Starting off the play , the reader is introduced to Grace, where she is chasing the dark skinned children away with a whisk. It is evident that the playwright wrote that part to make an allusion that the children were behaving like animals. The same scene was most likely used for comedic effect in the play, being that the audience of this time period were white rich people, they would’ve found the chasing of dark skinned children funny. The play itself did not have any dark skinned actors portraying those
    What I found interesting was that in Meer explains the scenario where The Octoroon could just be a play going against the social norm of the time. Meer explains that “ The play equivocates about whether race is a merely social or legal construct” (199). The reason behind this can be due to the fact that slavery was considered illegal in England during the time of this play.

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  5. “Melodrama and Race” by Sarah Meer discusses the influence of race and class on melodrama . Meer discusses Robert Knox’s new sense for the term race. “He linked physical distinctions between people to moral differences… they declared that the inventory of physiognomic features establishes the experience of the superior and inferior races” (Meer 192) These writings were used as justification for “imperialism projects” and for the United States to use as a support for slavery and slaughterings of Native Americans. It’s not surprising that making mockery of indigenous people and people of color was used as a tactic to defend America’s deep rooted racism. In her work, Meer also discusses that a distinguishing feature of “race” in melodramatic performance relied on the concept of illusion. White actors would use burnt cork and paint their faces to depict African American individuals. The actors performances relied on blackface but also on their performance of the races they were trying to depict. To ensure believability, white actors would use black face, mock accents and make degrading jokes. Meer notes that these jokes and mockery “made ironic or metatheatrical reference to the blackness of characters” (Meer 195). The same racists aspects that Meer discusses in her work is also found in “The Octoroon”. The children of darker complexion are presented in a way that alludes them to animals. Often these children are seen being chased away, or swatted, similar to the way one would shoo off an animal. I found Meers work incredibly interesting because it draws connections to how society classifies different races and how they presented them on stage.

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  6. Xena Leycea Bruno

    “The melodramatic stage could ironize and complicate racial thinking, even if it also reproduced it” (Meer, 202).
    This quote fully encapsulates what Meer was getting at in her essay. Melodrama criticized yet exploited racial theories and minstrels at the same time. The scene where the Pete begs Ratts to be buy Solon, his son, and his wife and kids is the clearest evidence of Meer’s claim. The scene is ironic because a human being wouldn’t beg to be another’s slave, however, the idea that white people are superior to black people subscribes to the racial thinking of the time. It is even more satirical when Ratts and Jackson are bidding for Solon’s wife and children. Scud. Informs Jackson that by bidding against Ratts, he is bidding to separate a family. Jackson replies, “The devil I am! I’ll take back my bid, Colonel,” (Act III, 70). It is ridiculous that Jackson understands separating a family is cruel however, does not acknowledge that buying another human for free and forced labor is just as cruel.
    Similarly, the many characters “in love” with Zoe proves that melodrama scrutinizes racial thinking. Zoe is in disbelief that George can love her because of the “ineffaceable curse of Cain,” (Act II, 41). Her description if herself is hateful and derives from racial thinking. George’s reaction to her blackness goes against the racial theories that there are physical differences between people of different races. However, M’Closkly takes advantage of the situation because Zoe is an “octoroon” and wasn’t properly freed. The different attitudes these men have on Zoe based on her race create a paradox.

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  7. Sarah Meer’s essay Melodrama and Race calls to attention the correlation between melodrama and racial theory. Meer begins by mentioning that the theatre has always been interested in ‘types’ and that in respect to ‘race’ there has never been any special precaution taken to represent people of different racial backgrounds on the stage. The distinction was made through the use of ‘distinctive accents, dress and manners.’ ‘Type’ and ‘race’ could be interchangeable seeing as they were treated virtually the same. The audience suspended belief when white actors used black face to play black characters. Later on Meer speaks on the the popularity of the ‘Negro Minstrels’ in the 1850’s and says that they were ‘degrading caricatures, even if they testify to an oblique fascination with African American music, dance and humor’.

    Melodramas take on race reminds me of the Parisian Avant –Garde art movement of the 1920’s. They are similar in that they exhaust the black experience and black art in an attempt to be ‘avant-garde’/rebellious. Melodrama was theatre for the poor, it makes perfect sense to me that melodrama incorporated race and politics because the people watching these shows would arguably be the people against the establishment in some way. It makes even more sense to me the Dion Boucicault would write The Octoroon.

    Upon researching the circumstances under which the play was written and learning that the play is based on a novel of similar story but different title -The Quadroon- I questioned Boucicault’s decision the make Zoe an octoroon and not a quadroon. I came to the conclusion that if this play was indeed meant to call out the holes in racial theories, making Zoe an octoroon with so little black blood that she was white passing, would render the arguments against interracial marriages and the inherent inferiority of mixed-raced people, obsolete. Zoe being a white passing octoroon is meant to ‘minimize rather than emphasize [her] otherness’ and thus put into question the legitimacy of racial theories stating that a drop of black blood was somehow poisonous.

    I find it most interesting that there are alternate endings for this play. The one where Zoe kills herself and the one where she and George marry. The latter was shown in England, while the former was shown in the United States so as to not depict an interracial marriage on stage. This proves that, however problematic, theater has always been meant to reflect the times. This mirroring of society through the stage is best depicted in Hamlet’s Speech to the Players:

    ‘the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
    first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
    mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
    scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
    the time his form and pressure.’

    That being said, any critique made unto The Octoroon is a critique of the state of the world in 1859.

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  8. Sarah Meer’s essay Melodrama and Race calls to attention the correlation between melodrama and racial theory. Meer begins by mentioning that the theatre has always been interested in ‘types’ and that in respect to ‘race’ there has never been any special precaution taken to represent people of different racial backgrounds on the stage. The distinction was made through the use of ‘distinctive accents, dress and manners.’ ‘Type’ and ‘race’ could be interchangeable seeing as they were treated virtually the same. The audience suspended belief when white actors used black face to play black characters. Later on Meer speaks on the the popularity of the ‘Negro Minstrels’ in the 1850’s and says that they were ‘degrading caricatures, even if they testify to an oblique fascination with African American music, dance and humor’.

    Melodramas take on race reminds me of the Parisian Avant –Garde art movement of the 1920’s. They are similar in that they exhaust the black experience and black art in an attempt to be ‘avant-garde’/rebellious. Melodrama was theatre for the poor, it makes perfect sense to me that melodrama incorporated race and politics because the people watching these shows would arguably be the people against the establishment in some way. It makes even more sense to me the Dion Boucicault would write The Octoroon.

    Upon researching the circumstances under which the play was written and learning that the play is based on a novel of similar story but different title -The Quadroon- I questioned Boucicault’s decision the make Zoe an octoroon and not a quadroon. I came to the conclusion that if this play was indeed meant to call out the holes in racial theories, making Zoe an octoroon with so little black blood that she was white passing, would render the arguments against interracial marriages, obsolete. Zoe being a white passing octoroon is meant to ‘minimize rather than emphasize [her] otherness’ and thus put into question the legitimacy of racial theories stating that a drop of black blood was somehow poisonous.

    Find it most interesting that there are alternate endings for this play. The one where Zoe kills herself and the one where she and George marry. The latter was shown in England, while the former was shown in the United States so as to not depict an interracial marriage on stage. This proves that, however problematic, theater has always been meant to reflect the times. This mirroring of society through the stage is best depicted in Hamlet’s Speech to the Players:

    ‘the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
    first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
    mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
    scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
    the time his form and pressure.’

    That being said, any critique made unto The Octoroon is a critique of the state of the world in 1859.

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  9. Argenis Santana

    Sarah Meer’s Melodrama and Race focuses on how the theme of race was portrayed in melodramas. The beginning of Meer’s she states the reasoning why some writers of melodrama included race in their plays. Meer states “Such writing was conscripted in Europe to justify imperialist projects, and in the United States to argue for slavery and the slaughter of Native Americans” (Williams 192). Another point Meer brings up is how plays brought up the idea of interracial relationships.
    Meer uses Shakespeare’s play Othello as one of the examples and the way Othello is portrayed on stage. In the portrayal of Othello and other black characters on the stage she brings up how in the nineteenth century white characters would wear black make up and later blackface for the roles. A point that I found interesting that Meer brought up was how the audiences in London received black actors playing Othello for the first time. The first actor she mentioned named Ira Aldridge received mixed reviews for his portrayal of Othello. I found it interesting because it seemed like the audience during that time didn’t understand why it was important for a black actor to play a black role.
    When Meer mentions Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, she brings the significance of the name of the play. She states “Octoroon is itself a name that purports to quantity ancestry in racial terms. It signifies a heritage that is one-eight black it means having one black great-grandparent (and implicitly seven white ones)” (Williams 198). Until I read the play, I hadn’t realized how important the name was. Another piece was information I didn’t know that Meer mentions is that Boucicault changed the ending of the play and it was viewed as a way of going against slavery.

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  10. Rana A alsayegh

    According to Sarah Meer, in 19th century, the theatre had an interest in a variety of characters “types” who represent regional or national characteristics, marking type as language and culture. Society was classified by social and class divisions, and racial theories were preoccupied with marriage between races. The children of such unions were often described as “mulatto.”
    Racial ideas were expressed within the formal constraints of the genre. Novels played a special role in converting ideas of race in the 18th and 19th century, but obviously some stage traditions resisted them. Another distinguishing feature of theatrical “race” was of course performance itself, the construction of theatrical illusion. Although white performers “blacked up” involved in most portrayal of black people, a few black actors did take on roles like Othello and Oroonoko.
    Dion Boucicault’s play “The Octoroon” is a racial melodrama, the name itself was in common usage to refer to someone who was one-eight black. In this case we have Zoe who looks white but technically a slave and therefore she can’t marry white George. Her speech with George holds ideas of race and are seen when Zoe says, “Of the blood that feeds my heart, one drop in eight is black {…} for I’m an unclean thing-forbidden by the laws” (41-42/89). Also, George’s compliment “It’s their beauty” (41/89) to Zoe, reveals that the supposed signs of race are what make Zoe attractive to him. The writer in this play is trying to imply that slave owners at that time used slave women or mulatto as sexual objects that’s why we see Jacob M’closky is willing to lie, cheat and kill in order to buy and win Zoe who will be auctioned when the implantation is sold. Also this play have an interest in a variety of characters “types” — Indian, black and white performers — these types were easy identifiable to audiences because of the way they dress, speak and of course by their manners. As an example, Zoe seemed educated by the way she speaks “Am I late? Ah! Mr. Scudder, good morning” (15/89), in comparison to the black characters in the play.
    Theatrical illusion were present in this play in a way that the audience believed Zoe’s blue marks on her skin were real and that she was an “Octoroon”, they forgot Zoe is an actress (Meer,199).

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  11. Alexandra Turner

    Sarah Meer’s article “Melodrama and Race” is a decidedly interesting article for how it explores how race is represented within 19th century melodramatic plays. Her views on the interconnection between white actors using blackface and the significance of appearance in regard to our concept of race is particularly compelling. She writes in regard to Dion Boucicault’s play The Octoroon “… there was something provocative about declaiming that ‘race’ was a matter of ineradicable signs, when on the stage it was entirely a function of theatrical illusion” (Meer, 199). I find this significant because it suggests that inherently racist melodramatic plays can be in a sense be undermining their own malicious intentions as they, by assigning white actors to play black characters, demonstrate how appearance cannot be a strong enough reason to assign moralistic and hierarchical distinctions. The Octoroon is a play that also struggles with this concept through the character of Zoe, who is an Octoroon girl who ‘passes’ as a white woman and whose lover is a white man. The play attempts to navigate the murky waters of racist ideology and create an anti-racist plotline by making the connection between Zoe’s white complexion, in spite of her African ancestry, with that of her worth, proclaiming that she should not be judged as lesser in spite of her blood. Meer’s points on blackface in the play would reinforce this idea of the play undermining this ideology, however, I feel that the racist themes within the play are too compelling to consider the play anything other than discriminatory. Zoe is only allowed her relationship with George because she is white in appearance. If she had been dark-skinned, she would have never been allowed to be with George, which can be seen through how the play treats the other minority characters such as Solon and Wah-No-Tee, turning them into overexaggerated caricatures of themselves, demeaning in all sense of the word. The play at first glance, appears to push an anti-racist progressive agenda, but like politics in melodramas, in actuality it reinforces traditional conservative ideology.

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  12. “Passing revealed the flimsiness of the boundaries invented by race theorists. Just occasionally, nineteenth-century melodrama did this too” (203). With the addition of the words ‘just occasionally’, I feel that Sarah Meer, in the chapter “Melodrama and Race”, sums up what we have already been discussing in terms of gender and class in melodrama, and adds race to that discussion. ‘Just occasionally’ does melodrama manage to do something slightly progressive or subversive, as opposed to consistently attempting anything radical.
    On the nineteenth century stage, part of the source material for how to treat race came from studies in which people tried to claim that “differences among humans were fixed, biological and consequential”. (192) These studies attempted to validate slavery and imperialism by claiming some inherent biological superiority, and this idea became a part of mid-nineteenth century thinking that also made its way to the stage.
    Meer mentions on page 193 that for melodrama, “Racial ideas were expressed within the formal constraints of the genre.” Melodrama played racial ideas in the form of absurd caricatures that subscribed to the race theories of the time. Almost all plays had white actors play non-white characters, and this black-facing extended into minstrel shows. There were a few black actors, such as Ira Aldridge and Joseph Jenkins, who were able to make it to the stage, but were publicly decried as not belonging on the stage, and were played up as being “exotic”.
    In relation to Boucicault, Meer argues that The Octoroon plays with both “ ancient and modern ideas of race” and that it puts into question whether “race is merely a social or legal construct” (199). I think if Boucicault is trying to take an anti-racist stance with The Octoroon, it is being done in a way that he feels would be most palatable to an audience given their preconceived notions of race, especially considering how many times he changed the ending after the play had opened, and the choice of casting his wife as Zoe and himself as Wahnotee.

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  13. Fariha Wadud

    It is interesting to see the way that racial themes are portrayed in the chapter of the The Cambridge Companion to English Melodrama titled, “Melodrama and Race.” In this chapter, Sarah Meer explains the interest that people have always had in the superiority and inferiority of different races. While many texts have been written to explore the superiority of whites and the inferiority of darker races, melodramas complicate this pattern. This is because they simultaneously yield to certain racial expectations while subverting others. In The Octoroon, for example, Boucicault makes the race of his characters clear through their external traits, but he also reveals the problem with rendering certain races superior over others. Boucicault depicts Wahnotee as a stereotypical Indian by making him an alcoholic who always carries around his tomahawk. He also makes all of the slaves in the play easily recognizable by writing their dialogue based on the way that they pronounce their words rather than by what they actually say. When Pete speaks in the beginning of the play, for example, his dialogue is written as, “Hole yer tongue Dido. Whar’s de coffee,” instead of “Hold your tongue Dido. Where’s the coffee.” This reveals that the characters are representations of their races. In this way, The Octoroon upholds certain expectations of different races, which Meer explains is reflective of melodramas as a whole.

    Additionally, as Meer claims, while melodramatic plays focus on specific “types” of people, they simultaneously subvert other expectations. The Octoroon was controversial when it came out in the United States because it came at a time when the country was torn over the issue of slavery. The play humanizes African Americans throughout its entirety, which is an extremely progressive feat. When Zoe and George express their love to one another in the middle of the play, Zoe says to George, “Look in my eyes; is not the same color in the white?” In turn, George replies, “It is their beauty” (41). This is an extremely bold move for Boucicault to make during a time in which African Americans were considered less than human because Boucicault is essentially claiming that there is beauty in being black. This humanization is seen again at the end, when the play ends with Zoe in George’s arms. By ending on this note, Boucicault reveals that African Americans do not have to be tragic figures and that they, too, can enjoy happiness. In this way, The Octoroon relies on racial archetypes while simultaneously making some extremely progressive strides.

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  14. Tanisah Delvaille

    The use of the sensation scene in melodrama according to Bradley, was to make the audience sit up and gasp, since these types of plays had the appearance of reality.

    Now that melodramas are becoming more popular the play writers and houses needed more to keep the audience entertained. This is where stagecraft, spectacle, and sensation came in. Since spectacle was the perfect stage picture which offered the audience something great to look at while becoming mesmerized by the play, sensation was what united the pictorial elements to create theatrical scenes.

    The use of sensation scenes came from the everyday happenings of the world, because they focused on things like natural disasters like earthquakes and avalanches. For some people they couldn’t experience these things so by going to watch these plays they are able to experience this sensation since it has the appearance of reality.

    With the gradual rise of technology things like horses were starting to become few and far between, since the use of motor cars began to replace them. Things like ships also provided the stages with a dramatic setting for genres such as action. Since an underwater battle was not something a member of the audience would be able to see so easily.

    Sensation scenes addressed matters of daily concern, because with the gradual rise of technology things like motor cars caused a lot of accidents within the community, and with the use of these scenes the audience could see just how dangerous motor cars were.

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  15. Tzipporah Machlah Klapper

    George and Zoe’s relationship in The Octoroon is a different kind of interracial relationship than in Othello in that not only is race seen as a barrier to the relationship, the racial difference is a technicality rather than a reality. Unlike the slaves in the play, Zoe’s dialogue isn’t written in dialect, and she looks white. George doesn’t notice, and even to the extent he does, it’s clear he doesn’t care. It’s Zoe herself who is fixated on her own race, who disdains “the one black drop [which] gives me despair, for I’m an unclean thing.” As Meer notes, “The very existence of women like Zoe challenged the race-theorists’ insistence that some partnerships were biologically aberrant; third-generation descendants of such a union make a mockery of terms like ‘bad breeders’.”

    On the stage itself, of course, all of the racial differences were illusory. Meer points out that “there was something provocative about declaiming that ‘race’ was a matter of ineradicable signs, when on the stage it was entirely a function of theatrical illusion.” Not only are Zoe’s racial differences all in her head, they are all in the audience’s head too.

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  16. When reading Dion Boucicault’s play, “The Octoroon” I instantly fell in love with play and its characters. An Octoroon is a term used at the time to describe a person who is 1/8 African and 7/8 white. The play focuses on the abolitionist of slavery and how love, jealously and politics played a role in the drama to sell the plantation called Terrebonne. The play opened up in 1859 in New York City during a time where racial separation was a serious issue. The play showcased characters from different racial backgrounds, for example Zoe a beautiful young woman who is the child of a late judge and a Quadroon slave. Zoe is loved by many but also hated because of what she is, she’s an Octoroon girl who falls in love with George Petton an educated Europe who just returned home. Throughout the play, George continues to expresses his love to Zoe but racial barriers cause conflict on the planation. In The play Zoe expressed her views to George, “Life hung with passions like dewdrops on the morning flowers; but the one black drop gives me despair, for I’m an unclean thing- forbidden by the law- I’m an Octoroon” (Page 42). She explains to George that the law does not allow a white man to marry an Octoroon, but George admits, “Zoe, I love you none the less; this knowledge brings no revolt to my heart, and I can overcome the obstacle.” The Idea of Race is shown in the perspectives of two different people who see love as deep and passionate but others feel that it is forbidden. Murder, jealously and suicide are depicted in this piece, showing the deep south in the united states plus the troubles that come with it. In Sarah Meer, “Melodrama and Race”, She talks about the new sense of the term Race and how many plays shaped the views of physical and moral differences between races back in the 1850’s and 60’s. Meer points out, “In melodrama, “race” was shaped as much by theatrical traditions, and racial ideas were expressed within the formal constraints of the genre”. Many characters were shaped by genre, I believe Zoe character was shaped to tell a story on mixed races and the racial challenges blacks faces. The Octoroon, did a great job challenging the racial understanding of what’s going on in the society and also shines light on racial identities. Over the years the term Octoroon, turned into Mulatto showing the real-life images of race. Boucicault Melodrama piece shows the anti-miscegenation laws forbidden marriage between blacks and whites and the lurking violence many experienced.

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  17. cherikaferguson

    When reading Dion Boucicault’s play, “The Octoroon” I instantly fell in love with play and its characters. An Octoroon is a term used at the time to describe a person who is 1/8 African and 7/8 white. The play focuses on the abolitionist of slavery and how love, jealously and politics played a role in the drama to sell the plantation called Terrebonne. The play opened up in 1859 in New York City during a time where racial separation was a serious issue. The play showcased characters from different racial backgrounds, for example Zoe a beautiful young woman who is the child of a late judge and a Quadroon slave. Zoe is loved by many but also hated because of what she is, she’s an Octoroon girl who falls in love with George Petton an educated Europe who just returned home. Throughout the play, George continues to expresses his love to Zoe but racial barriers cause conflict on the planation. In The play Zoe expressed her views to George, “Life hung with passions like dewdrops on the morning flowers; but the one black drop gives me despair, for I’m an unclean thing- forbidden by the law- I’m an Octoroon” (Page 42). She explains to George that the law does not allow a white man to marry an Octoroon, but George admits, “Zoe, I love you none the less; this knowledge brings no revolt to my heart, and I can overcome the obstacle.” The Idea of Race is shown in the perspectives of two different people who see love as deep and passionate but others feel that it is forbidden. Murder, jealously and suicide are depicted in this piece, showing the deep south in the united states plus the troubles that come with it. In Sarah Meer, “Melodrama and Race”, She talks about the new sense of the term Race and how many plays shaped the views of physical and moral differences between races back in the 1850’s and 60’s. Meer points out, “In melodrama, “race” was shaped as much by theatrical traditions, and racial ideas were expressed within the formal constraints of the genre”. Many characters were shaped by genre, I believe Zoe character was shaped to tell a story on mixed races and the racial challenges blacks faces. The Octoroon, did a great job challenging the racial understanding of what’s going on in the society and also shines light on racial identities. Over the years the term Octoroon, turned into Mulatto showing the real-life images of race. Boucicault Melodrama piece shows the anti-miscegenation laws forbidden marriage between blacks and whites and the lurking violence many experienced.

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  18. Asia

    In Sarah Meer’s, “Melodrama and Race”, Meer highlighted how race was portrayed in Melodramas. Meer begins by stating how different audiences, attracted wealthier audiences. “In general, West End Theatre attracted wealthier audiences than those in the east of London or south…” (Meer) I enjoyed the fact that Meer discussed Othello and the way Shakespeare showed him during the play. While covering Othello, Meer address the fact that during the “Nineteenth century shared audiences with Othello:they may have influenced each other.”

    I thoroughly enjoyed this reading, it opened my eyes up more to what went on during that time when it came to race and drama. There was a lot of things that “distinguished theatrical “race”, one of them was white actors who wore black makeup. Negro Minstrels were also very popular during the time. “Minstrel shows didn’t only include parodies of Melodramas, but also influenced other kinds of black characters on stage.” Women like Zoe in Octoroon challenged the “race-theorist” during the time.

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  19. Imani Mendoza

    The foundation of Hayley Jayne Bradley’s “Stagecraft, Spectacle, and Sensation” is the identification what she calls the “essential components for ‘good’ spectacular melodrama”: plausible motives, originality, actuality, humanity, and a relevant and credible sensation scene (201)—the function and design of the latter being the primary focus of the piece. The sensation scene is to spectacular melodrama what surprise endings are to O. Henry novels—they are meant to shock, to elicit a visceral response from the audience. As Bradley put it, the sensation scene should “excite, thrill, and enthrall audiences…[it] was ultimately designed to ‘make the audience sit up and gasp’” (198). She then goes on to propose four categories of sensation scenes, by situation/stagecraft: “courtroom/trial, equine business, nature, and the machine” (202). Most notably, these divisions are not strictly defined—scenes may include elements of multiple situations, sometimes even providing multiple scenes per single play.

    It is clear that Dion Boucicault understood the essential components of a good spectacular melodrama—The Octoroon not only contains multiple sensation scenes, but also combines types as well. In Act III, we see elements of the courtroom scene: first, the emergence of the papers regarding Zoe’s freedom are found to be illegitimate (thus making her a slave), then we see the Peyton’s estate and possessions sold off to various characters—with the much coveted Zoe going to the treacherous M’Closky. In this scene Colonel Poindexter sits at the center—gavel in hand and clerk at his feet—serving as the judge figure. Finally, Act IV opens at the Wharf, with a steamer ship (a machine) serving as its situation. The scene employs elements of the courtroom/trial when Wahnotee is spotted and brought to pseudo trial; the scene is quickly reversed when evidence of M’Closky’s crime is brought about by yet another machine—the camera, or what is referred to as the “telescope machine” (80). Faced with his crimes, M’Closky escapes and sets fire to the ship, an event that is alluded to earlier in the act. This is incredibly in-line with Hayley Jayne Bradley’s notes of melodrama: “the dialogue often explicitly acknowledged this origin of the dramatists’s inspiration” (208).

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  20. Camillo Mazzella

    I appreciated reading the play The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault, fore he addresses the issue of racism that I believe was progressive for the time period of this performance. The stigma that the white race was superior has been passed around the world as how does some plague and in result the degradation of other races have been justified. In The Octoroon the play revolves around Zoe who is ⅛ black, though she passes as a white woman. As the play progresses several men wish to woo the lovely Zoe, but according to American law, they are unable to wed her. On several instances Boucicault addressed the issue of racism, but I believe in one instance with such immense spectacle, was while Zoe was being sold off in the slave trade as she stands on the table before all the wealthy white bidders of the town and the slaves who have been there for her upbringing. This scene aesthetically creates a powerful image as, Zoe, being white, stands before the crowd on top of the table sold as property, as white people often aren’t treated. It allows the audience of London to witness how horrifying and the monstrosity of such an act as being sold to the highest bidder is, which I believe is depicted perfectly here. I believe this conveys the feature of “theatrical race”, that Sarah Meer explains as “was of course performance itself, the construction of theatrical illusion. Most Othello and Oroonokos in the nineteenth century were played by white actors in black make-up”, this is one of those instances since the character playing Zoe, is a white woman who is playing a bi-racial woman, who passes as a white woman. This allows Zoe to place the audience in Zoe’s shoes, in a slave person’s shoes, as to how the act of being bought and sold actually feels.

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  21. Boucicault’s ‘The Octoroon’ appeared at a critical moment in the arts, as it was first performed just four days after John Brown’s execution after inciting an anti-slavery rebellion and opened in London amidst tensions over Britain’s stance in the civil war. It forced the audience to face racial tension head-on, with melodrama being the perfect medium to do so due to its rising popularity and open access for audiences. Melodrama also coincided with the ascent of racial theory, in which Robert Knox claimed the “existence of superior and inferior races”.

    This insidious mindset is portrayed clearly through Zoe’s internal identity conflict, where she straddles the line between being a white woman and an enslaved black woman. She refers to her being 1/8 black as the “curse of Cain” or to herself as an “unclean thing”, however, this is done only in response to George’s confession of love. Her race complicates their prospective relationship because interracial marriages are not allowed at the time, however, the viewer finds themselves to be more sympathetic towards their relationship as both she and George prove to be virtuous and likable characters. Their relationship goes directly against the racial theory of natural incompatibility and irreconcilable differences between races.

    Zoe continuously finds herself at the center of the plot as a common love interest for the male characters and as a plot device to drive forward the conflict. M’Closky is determined to win over the plantation as it means that he can essentially own Zoe, as well. He even pits himself as the “rival” of other men for her love. It is also interesting that Zoe is the depiction of race in this play even though she is presumably more white passing than the other slaves on the estate. Her character is widely loved and treated kindly by others, until her freedom as a black woman comes into question. Even then, the audience is much more sympathetic to her character than they would be to any other enslaved person and this is because of her infantilization and ability to pass as white.

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  22. cmazz93

    I appreciated reading the play The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault, fore he addresses the issue of racism that I believe was progressive for the time period of this performance. The stigma that the white race was superior has been passed around the world as how does some plague and in result the degradation of other races have been justified. In The Octoroon the play revolves around Zoe who is ⅛ black, though she passes as a white woman. As the play progresses several men wish to woo the lovely Zoe, but according to American law, they are unable to wed her. On several instances Boucicault addressed the issue of racism, but I believe in one instance with such immense spectacle, was while Zoe was being sold off in the slave trade as she stands on the table before all the wealthy white bidders of the town and the slaves who have been there for her upbringing. This scene aesthetically creates a powerful image as, Zoe, being white, stands before the crowd on top of the table sold as property, as white people often aren’t treated. It allows the audience of London to witness how horrifying and the monstrosity of such an act as being sold to the highest bidder is, which I believe is depicted perfectly here. I believe this conveys the feature of “theatrical race”, that Sarah Meer explains as “was of course performance itself, the construction of theatrical illusion. Most Othello and Oroonokos in the nineteenth century were played by white actors in black make-up”, this is one of those instances since the character playing Zoe, is a white woman who is playing a bi-racial woman, who passes as a white woman. This allows Zoe to place the audience in Zoe’s shoes, in a slave person’s shoes, as to how the act of being bought and sold actually feels.

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  23. Jennifer Hua

    In this week’s discussion, I will be discussing the writing from Hayley Jayne Bradley. This writing was about special effects, the added extra “sensations” within melodramatic plays. An important part that I noticed was the part that she brings up with Michael Booth. “For Michael Booth, spectacles in melodrama functioned to ‘imitate social and urban life on a size and scale appropriate to the magnitude of human and emotion and the conflict between good and evil at the heart of its being, and to express in striking visual terms the sensationalism inherent in its nature’” (Pg. 127). This is interesting because it shows that people were using melodrama to depict real social situations that real life people deal with. Although people deal with these situations in real life, it is not certain that the way melodramas end are how the real life situations end.
    The play, The Octoroon, by Dion Boucicault, is a perfect example of being exaggerated in every which way, as well as putting social standards on display as well. When Zoe is being sold, even though she looks very fair, she is considered a slave because she is 1/8th black. Views of seeing an almost white person being sold is very shocking!
    “ Point. : No. 4, the Octoroon girl, Zoe.
    – Enter Zoe L.U.E., very pale, and stands on table – hitherto M’Closky has taken no interest in the sale, now turns his chair –
    Sunny : (Rising) Gentlemen, we are all acquainted with the circumstances of this girl’s position, and i feel sure that no one here will oppose the family who desires to redeem the child of our esteemed and noble friend, the late Judge Peyton. (Pg. 71).
    The scene continues with different men betting money to buy Zoe, which is inhumane because they are putting a price on a human, however, this is the exaggeration and the battle between good and evil that was brought up in the writing from Bradley. It is obvious that selling people is bad, but I think the point of this scene was to help people watching the play envision what was going on in life realistically. It was shown to them on a scale they would be able to understand so they could sympathize and know how inhumane selling people is.

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  24. Sanam Sheikh

    Sanam Sheikh
    English 49013
    Blog Entry #3

    I am glad to come across Sarah Meer’s chapter regarding “Melodrama and Race.” I find it interesting how race plays a part in the melodramatic experience. It is not something that came to mind when I first learned about this subject. Meer’s says, “In melodrama, ‘race’ was shaped as much by theatrical traditions as by the new theories; racial ideas were expressed within the formal constraints of the genre, with an eye to supplying a particular range of roles – often, even, specific parts for individual actors,” (Meer’s, p. 193). In “The Octoroon,” race is brought up in some way throughout the melodrama. For instance, one of the characters, Zoe says, “Yes, for I’d rather be black then ungrateful! Ah, George, our race has at least one virtue— it knows how to suffer!” (The Octoroon, p. 42/89) this ties into what Meer is saying in the chapter “Melodrama and Race.” She mentions that characters like Zoe challenged the race-theorists. This reminds of a book called ‘The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” written by James Weldon Johnson. The ideas and contractions of race was an aesthetic all across the book and I find this same topic discussed in both “Melodrama and Race,” and “The Octoroon.”

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  25. Danielle Butler

    Danielle Butler

    “Stagecraft, Spectacle, and Sensation by” Hayley Jayne Bradley discusses how the sensation scene is a priority. It takes hard work, sacrifice, money and lots of risk to create something that will leave and impact on the audience. In order for a play to have a long run it requires something that will attract the viewers. A good sensation scene causes people to talk. When the word starts spreading that a show is worth seeing it will create a large demand causing the show to become a big success. The sensation scene is usually related to something that people are currently into so the audience will easily find an interest in. The stagecraft it takes to create a sensation scene worthy to become a spectacle is not an accident. It takes an entire team full of talented people cooperating together to make it all come to life. Creating something that would be appealing to people in all different classes is a challenge. Including issues that might be sensitive and not easy to talk about have to be carefully presented with skill. Including current social issues and topics that the audience might connect to emotionally is a big risk. Melodramas have been used to display some extremely sensitive issues in its time, which causes a reaction from its audience. For a play to become a spectacle it must first contain a sensation scene.

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