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The Darker Face of the Earth - Extra Matter

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DOVE
a?tayoyR|TA
PRAISEFOR
THEDARKERFACEOTTHE EARTH
a celestial
A majorAmericanplay.,.\{ith skill thatapproaches
gift, Doveblendsform, subjectand conterrt.
---TlheMnilTrihtne
[Dovds] first verrtureinto playwriting hasproducedanenormously powerful and beautifulwork. The themesale intricate,the rrain draractersfull-bodiedand the languagHtt
the language-nothing shortof stunning.
-lurtainUp
PlaywrightDovemergesfolklore,voodooritual and biblical
Theactionissuspenseanalorywithbitingsocialcommerrtary.
ful, thedialoguepicturesque.
-Variety
achievement...
oftheEarthmark aconsiderable
TheDarlerFace
Thispowerful explorationof sexualand racialtensionsis assembledin an imaginativerealm,with few technicalrequirements,
-HaruardRniant
Lwhly written, ingeniouslyplotte4 drenchedin antebellum
Tlr DmkerFaceoftheEarffthaslots of soul'
atrnosphere,
-f hcGuardian(England)
Blacktheatretakesa big stepforward.
--The Stage
Sophoclesand slavery come together with bitter poignancy..
By connecting the issue of slavery to one of the most funda_
mental Greek tragedieg TheDarkerFaceof theEarth draws its
own inescapableconclusion about the impact of an immoral
institution.
-The BalitmoreSun
A strong and ambitiouspieceof work... [Dove] does one of
the hardestthings to do onstage,somethingmaybeorily a poet
could-she createsin Augustus a living metaphor...[He] is
not only Oedipus here, but Hamlet and Moses, and all the
Greekheroesuniucky enoughto behalf-mortal and half-God...
Throughout the play, the transferenceof the iegend from ancient Greeceto the antebellumSouthworks surprisingly well...
[Dove's]scenesareshapedwith easeand grace;her dialogue,
even when poetic, is expressive;and she has a vivid senseof
character.
--The WashingtonPost
...theplay's selectivityof incident,judicioussparseness,
clean
Iines, even dignified tone and simple staging keep it operating successfullyasa modemization of the classicGreek tragic
mode.
-The Women'sReaiaaof Books
...[this]play begsto be staged.Onecandreama little and wish
that it could be produced in every city, every schooi in the
country.
-The Times(tentoru NT)
[Rita Dove's] riveting and accomplishedplay...should have a
permanent place in the repertoire of the American theater.
-The Star-Ledger
AN INTER\/IDV
VITE
RITA DOI/E
C-onducted
byRobet l4cDowe[ Rrblisherof StoryLinePress,
April20oo
Robert McDowel!
What arethe differencesbetweenwritingpoetryand writing
for the stage?
Rita Dove:
In an interestingway poetry anddramaarenot tbat far apart.
They seemmuch closerto me than poetry and norels, for instancq or evenshort stories.It's becauseofall the things1ou
cannot sayboth ia poetry and in drana - the fict dut 1ou
knowlanguageis not enoug!,tbat itwill ner,.erbe enouglr-You
go in there knowing thag you'rearmedwith language,andit's
all1ou have.Sowhen I waswriting this play I alrnostnever
felt that I vas in a st angecounrry where I didnt [now the
landrnarLs.It wasnt quite a familiar landscape,but it wasnt
really ftightening I could 6nd ny wa;r In poetql theret so
muchyou cant saybecausepart ofthe task is to let the silence
rcverberate,to let eachwordmeanerrrltliDg that it canme{L
In dram4 you cant ktrowwlnds running aroundin someone's
headunlessyouwrite a solilogryor anaside.Solanguagewise,
the concemsandlimitationsareofunvefydm;lr Vhilewriting drarna,I learnedhow to write a monologue,how much of
the pacingofrords andsilencecanbe conrrolledat the script
level.ltrow m2ny stagedirections arc enoug! hcrwmuch of
the time andpacingI canorchesfafe in a particular sceneon
t53
the page, so thatwhen I leavethe playto a cast and director, it
doesnt tum into somethiog totally different.
The most challengingaspectof*.riting this drarna for me, oddly
enough, was the soliloquy Poetry G a1labout interior thought;
the theater tends to be about action. Andyet the most critical
dramatic passagesare often those in*'hich one character shares
her thoughts with the audience. In my earliest versions of the
play no one had any monologues. It seemedBnnatural to have
a character simply talk to the audietrce. Even though poetry
can be one long soliloqql the tone ofvoice is often a *'trisper,
a voice overheard rather thall heard- That leap was a diE{icult
one for me,
rffhen vriting plays,you have to keep askirgyourse[ How do
I get this into the most streanJined form without being histri
onic? How do I pull the theatergoers into this world I am creating? A5 a poet, I tend to1l.?id understatement and subdety
-When
As apla).lrrtht, I must find other modes ofexpression.
working on the play I found it Iiberating to use utterance and
movemert in order to introduce subdery into the play There
were things I could do dut would not work in a poem because
it would seern too - I dont want to say bombastic - but
flamboyant. Iike shouting.
The play came out oflove ofthe theatdcal space,where some
human beings are illuminated on the stage, and others are in
darkness,watching. You lnve an interplay ofbreaths; you have
tension between moving bodies and those stilled bodies attending I have alwaysfound rhe theater to be a magical space,
and I have alwals longed to enter it in some wa)a
ri4
i
I
In tie end I discoveredthat poetry and dramahavr more in
common than Aristode, with his so-called"c.lassicdrarnatic
unities,"mayhalc caredto admit.Alfred Hitchcock oncesaid
that diaflawas "life with the dull bits cut ouq" andGvendotyn
Brooksde5nespoetry as"lift distilled"- where'sthe big dif
rxtter so that
ference?For if a poet planesavayurmecessaqr
ve can seecle?dy to the very core of the sotl, a plalwright
commits the safiresacredenterpriseby tmidng her spodight
on somesdect soulsandthen suornoningthe aodienceto listen, to bearwitnessin the darkRobert McDowel[
How did your musicaltrainirg influetrce)ou?
Rita Dove:
I grewup with all kindsofmusic - bluesandjazzaodpopular
R & B. I havebeenactivelyinvoH in musicsincethe ageof
teo, $'lren I begaoplayitrgthe cello. Playing cbarnbermusic
tdght me the cadencesoffirgoasandthepower ofhannony I
belieyenrypoetry reflectsaninteaserelationshipto the music
ofthe s?okenword"Writing playsinvolvesnot only language
- different characters'
but the iaterpleyof\rariouslanguages
varyingspeechpattemsandinfectiom, personalities- aswell
asthe visible rhythms ofbodies relating to eachother.A do
mestrcsceneir a play is like a string quartet
Robert McDowell
do you acknowledge2
Vhat literary and theatricalio-fluences
r't
Rita Dove:
\XfhenI wasin gradeschoolI beganto imitate the satiriccomic
strips I was readingin Mad l[agazine, which meant writing
Iitde plap invohing my classmates
and peming sardonic1)ricsto populartunes.During the sumrnervacations,
my brother
- who is two yearsolder *ran me- and I would enactradio
playsrvhich we formd in the public library our father rigged
up a micrcphoneto the stereol6tem, andwe tomented our
parents with endlessmurder mysteries irvolving oriental
temples(sowe couldbarg a Jidasagong)andwaterfalls(holdingthe microphonenext to the runnhg Aucet).And then there
wasSbrkespeare.Shakespeare
wasone of my earliestliterary
idluences. I beganreadingthe tragedieswhen I $?s abolt
elevenyears old. No one told me they \.r..ere
difficult, so I
stumbledthroughthem on my own, deliriouslyhappyto have
fornd suchrich ianguage,suchmusicalutteftnces. I started
with Macbethbecausemy motherwasah;ya1s
quoting it while
makingdinner: "Is this a daggerwhich I seebeforeme, / The
handletowardmy hand?"From there I went on toJutius Cae'
sar,Othello and FIamIet.
High school browsingincludedTennessee
Williams and
Adrienne Kennedywho I thought was simply amazing.Col
legeaddedEd Bulliru aadLeRoiJonesandDerek \Walcott,as
well asElmer Rice! The AddingMachine,and all of lonesco.
I had nearlymemodzedLonaine Hansberrls I Raisiain the
Jar by that time, though I dont know exactlywhen I frst
readit.
Robert McDowell:
rWhat difficulties carr
'ou share with readers regarding your
adaptation of a classic?
RiteDove;
Using the ancient Greek dramatic form, with its bfamously
diffrcuk-to-hjndle nzster chorus, prol€d lessproblematic than
I anticipated. I'd grown up in the black church, where caliand responsewas part of the ritual. The black community ex
tends beyond imrnediate family and even the neighborhood;
it's a conmrunity tiat holds itseJfresponsiblefor eachmembert
actioff afld will feel free to voice its opinions - often loudly
and with great sarcasnaSo the gpe of running commentary
provided by tlre Greek Chorus sounds "down home" to me!
Robert McDowell:
Wlren did the inspirationfor TheDarhetFaceoftheEarth co.,r'e
to you?
Rita Dovc:
My husbandand I spent five months inJerusalemin 1979.I
had recendyfinished the manuscriptof my 6rst book of poe'J.Is,The llowHouseontbeConer,' hich contal.nedasection
ofpoernsbasedon slavenarratives,and I supposetlat wason
my mind one late afternoonthat summe! asI stood looking
out overthe walledcity ofJerusalemwith its turrets and citadels.I hadjust rereadSophocles'OedipusRex;andperhapsit
wasthe naturalamphitheaterofthe Kidron valle' whereKing
David cried out at the lossofhis rebelliols sofiAbsalom,per
hapsit was the slantedsunbeamsstriking tie pale stonesof
the Old City like a spotlight dressedwith the palest ofpink
gels- but I found mlseJfmusiagon kingsandall too human
heartbreaks,lookingfor similaritiesbetweenthe classicalseme
of destinyand our contemporaryattitudestowardhistory and
its herces.What j5 it, I *ondered, that makesOedipusinter-
estingasaherolvhenhis coursehasbeensetat birti? Why do
we watch, entbnlled, ifwe alreadyknow his fate?I searched
for a modernaralog4a set of circumstanceswhere the social
structurewas asrigid and all powerirl asthe Greek universe,
one against{fiich even the noblest of characterswould be
powerless.And astle sunbeganto set behind the Mount of
Olives,almmy Ctff songfloatedfrom my husbandt study:
Ob dezoichedcany u cua1t,
CaPtioiry
requieof4 atong
Hdu cdttzse
tkg KkgAlpbal totlg
In a $rangeLnd?
The linesareadaptedftom Psalmr37 the cdesofthe Israelites
in bondage- but surg, in ClifPsversion,by the slavesin the
Arrd there I had my analogzRarelyhashistory seena sJstem
which fosteredsucha senseof futility asslaveryFor the Africanstaken forcibly fiom theil homesand thet roots - language,fimily tribal memory sJsternaticallydecimated,the
white porl€r structuremust haveseemedasall-encompassi.g
asthe implacablewill ofZeus. In a flash,I had the basicconstructs: A cbild bom ofa white plantation mistressand her
Afiican loveris soldoffbut returnstwentyyearslater,rnaware
ofhis origins.The opensecretof miscegenationwould be the
key that tuns the lock ofFatq atrdiflsteadofT:resius, a con
jure woman would prophesythe curse.Pride and rebellious
spirithavelitde chancein the s'stemicviolenceofsla.v.ery
v*rich
brutalizesboth slaveandmaster:In a different world, Amalia
might havebeenawomanofindependentmeansandAr€ustus
a poet; instead,both are doomedto be crushedwhen their
rt8
emotionsfim cormterto the rulingstaos quo.The slaveskncrw
this and function asa Greek choms,comrnentingand warning, all to no avail
Robert McDowell:
This wasirr 1979- but the playwouldnt seethe ligbt of day
until 1994 What happened
Rita Dove:
I wrote the first draft oftlrc play ia lesstlnn a motrth, but it
would take a dozenor so )'earsbefoE I arrived at a version
that I felt wasreadyto be sho*n to the wodd- I dutifrlly sent
a few copiesofthat first dlJt to New Yo* agents,knowing
that itvas €verythingapla)'couldn'tbe to succe€din the com
mercial theaterq'or'[d a historical drarn4 an adaptationof a
Classicwith too marrynon-oainsrreamcharactec. When the
copiescarneba& (someaccompaniedby encouragingbut nothanksnotes),I put them in a draweraadwent onwith my tife
in poerry Every five yearsor so my husbandwould drag out
the manuscriptand as(, "what are you plarmingto do with
thill Id trookat it, 1ry to take out a few duracters, ma)te
shuffle them amund a bit, and put it awayagain-The next
time I'd rcwrite it as prose,tlren put it back in the dmwer
Finallyin 1989,I took along hardlook at the play said,"Wnat
the hell;' andput it back into verse.Who caredifit nevergot
published At leastwhen I was dead and gore, tlre version
scholarswould find among my paperswould be the one I
wantedthem to see.
rt9
Story Line Presspublishedthat vemion of Tle Darler Faceof
theEartb n eaiy $94.I still held no hopesfor a production,
but I thought it would be nice for literature studies- and
ma;6eit would evenget someexposurein stagedreadingslike
the onethe Washingtor,D.C. directorJenniferNelson-who
hadreadthe playinscript wasableto arrargeat the Ro:rad
houseTheaterin SilverSprings,Mary'landshordy after publication. But asit turned out, a board member of the Oregon
Shakespeare
Festivalhad goaen a copy of the gallep in her
handsand.ecorffnendedit to the Festivaldramaturg,and before I knew it, OSFofferedto workshopit with a frst produc
tion option. They hired Jennifer NeJsonto direct the workshop,andso I spentthreeweeksin Ashland,Oregonthat summer*:rtching my scenescometo life - somemore,someless
in a rchearsalroom, discussingrewriting, makingnotesfor
possiblechangesto mull orer later At about that time the
dramaturgofCrossroa&Theatrein New Brurswick, NewJerseycameacrossthe play in a booktore, and Crossroadsapproachedthe OregonShakespeare
Festial to offer a pooling
of resources.The play was fust produced in Oregon in the
summerof 1996,directedby Crossroadsartistic director
RicardoKharl By that time I had rewritten it, mosdyon the
basisofmy experiencesduringthe OSFrorLshop but alsoin
responseto severalstagedreadings- amongthem the wonderfirl one that DereL Walcott directedh November1995at
the 92ndStreet"Y' in Ne\pYork Ciqgwhere Walcott andhis
talentedcastbrought out the frrll potential of.l,l'lratI wastry
ing to sayC.rossroads
tl]er stagedTheDarkerFaceoftheEarth
in the fill of 1997;they had submittedit to the Fund for N€w
AmericanPlals at the KennedyCenterand beengrantedmajor finarcial support fiom the Fund,which in turn led to a
month-long run in W'ashington,DC. right afier the New
Brunsrvickshorvs.
Robert McDowell:
Pleasetell us more aboutthe productionsthe play hashad so
far.Your favorite?
Rita Dove:
.
The play hasseenfour professionalproductionsto date(asof
springzooo), all at oajor not-for-pmfit theaters,and several
collegeproductions,with at leasttwo more professionaland
ma/re balfa dozencollegestagirgsundercontract.The world
premiere,July to Ocober 1995at the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival renrainsny hvorite. The 6oo-s€atAngus Bowmer
Theaterin Ashlurd Oregonis a semi-thruststagebuilt so ingeniouslythat eve.yseataffods an rmobstructedview; asan
audiencemefrber one feelsquite intimately involvedwith the
action on stageeveawhile being treatedto a vision of a stage
"sed'.And the s€tdesigrrby tuchard llay (whq incidentally is
alsothe architectofthe BowmerTheater)w:assapendous.It
wasthe production I fek kept the best balancewhen eploring dramatic"effects"while remainiogfaitiful to the spirit of
the text and evefirhe integrity of the lines-The actorswere
$pe$ly cas! the artistic staffdedicatedandfearless,the tech
nical people topnotcb- Every performancewas met with a
standi4goyatior, sometimesfoot stompingand cheers.Some
peoplewereweepingso bard at the end *rat tiey actuallyhad
to behelpedout oftheir seatsbytle ushers.Nothing canequal
that e+erience!
CrossroadsTheatreput up the next production ayearlater in
their spacein New Brurswick, NewJeney againdirectedby
RicardoKban- Crossroadshasa three-quartertbflst stagein
avery snull space- apprcimately z6o seats- which made
for very intrmate theater indeed. The play was very accessible
in drat space, and the audience was so activ+ engaged tllat
somepeople acoallyblurted out ad\riceto characters on stagel
That sane production - set, cast and all - was tien transferred in lessthan tfuee dals to the Kennedy Cente! where it
played for a month on the huge proscenirm stage of the r2oo
seat Ejsenhower Theater. Thlk about rapid adiustment! And
needlessto say this trarsfer to a vasdy different spacecaused
some problems ofits own.
I was less than pleasedwith the production at the Royal Na
donal Theatre in London, Englaod in the summer of 1999. It
was staged"in the round," with the audience looking do walon
the set from all four sides,*rhich not only obscured sight lines
for huge chunks of the ar-rdiencebut actually worked against
the narrative thrust. The director disregarded my input while
I rlas present duri.g the last three weeks ofrehearsals; he even
tried to mrnipulate my text! By opening nigbt wewerc no longer
on speakingterms, and the actors were pnmed to stage a little
insurection of their o*L
The most receflt production (in Merch 2ooo) occurred at the
Guthrie Theatre h Mirmeapolis. It offered a good cast and a
talented director, but it could have been stronger had the
Guduie allotted more rehearsaltime -it had ody four weeks
instead of the six to eight at the other professional produc
tions. The short rehea$al period made it hard for the director
to adjust problems ofblocking, timing, etc. in such a complex
drama- Also, in myview the set design was unfom.rrate, with
the most intimate scenes- in the bedroorn and the parlor situated the ftFthest away from the audrence . . . and that in a
rjoo seathouse!Overbearirg choreography contributed to the
alienation and slowed the action instead ofacceleratirg it.
A pleasantsurprjse$?sa collegeproducrion in Oberlin, Ohio
in the spring of 1999.CarolineJacksonSmith, a professorof
theaterthere,provedto be acongenialdirector,utilizing awell
thowht-out setdesignto direct apoveful interpretationthat,
castwith professionalactors,I believecouldhavedoneBroadwayproud.
Robet McDo*,elt
Are you *nrLing on anotherplay?
Rita Dove:
Right now I m workilg on severalthings- poems,a memob
a novel 11€ startedtwo theaterprojects:one is a fu111ength
play the other anercningofoae-actswith interrelatedcharacters,Irds wait and see.
T H R E E D ] F F E R E N T A P P R O A C H E ST O
TEACHING AND STUDYING RITA DOVE'S
THL DARKER FACE OF THE EARTH
I. LiteraryAralysis, Englishzzo
Tirught by Ann M. Fox, Assislanr Professor of English at
DavidsonCollegein Davidson,No.th Carolina.
One rvay to read Rita Dore's TheDarker Fau oftbe Eartb is as an
adaptationof Sophocles'OedipuRex.In at essay
compar€the two,
discussing
how andwhy Dovemakesthis interte]ftuallink. Explore
what you thinL the one or two major themesofDove's play are,arrd
why/how she mal<es
use of Sophocles'play to conveythese.Is it
effectivel Important? In addition, explore the major waysin rvhich
Dove's play differs from the Greek original, and why those differencesmatterin light of the literaryendsyou'veattributedto Dove.
Find specificexamplesthat supportyour conclusions.
The aboveexamessaymight be a good startingpoint for classes
that hare dready read OedipurRe, Howeve! it is important to talk
abourorheri.sue.thal branchoft from rhatcompari:on:
CANON]CITY
![hy do you thinl Dove modelsher play-a play by arl AfricanAmerican woman, one spealing very specifically to the slaveexpedencein this country----on
a canodcalwork ofGreeh theaterT
What is the significanceofplacing her play in dialoguewith othersthat havelong beenconsidered"timeless"l
Does shechallengecanodcalstandardsof draJna?
Revisethem?
Reinforcethcm?
To what extent carrthis play still be seenas an outgro*.th ofan
African-American tmdition of theatre in stagirg and/or theme?
\6t
CANONICITY
(Continue4
. You rnight also compareher useofpoetic diction to the innovative languageusedby play*'rights like Ntozake Shange,for example.
DOVE S RXVISION
. What does it meatr that our "Oedipus" figure is carried off in
triumph in the end?
. Does this play still end tragically?How?
. While there are certainly ma;ry slavenarratives yet to be told,
this is not the 6rst rpork ofliterature to depict the slaveexperi_
ence. Why doesDor.e historicize het work in this way?
ANA]-OGIES TO CONTEMPORARY LIFE
' Are there analogiesto be drav,rnbetweenthe play to corrtemporary African American life?
. What about African-Anerican culture-its traditions, its history its ritua.ls-is Dove trying to rcpresent?
SOCIAL STRUCTURX
. In vrhat s?ys does the destructive power of pdvilege become
er,posedin the play?
. Is Amalia a victim or an oppressor?How is she both?
. Are there connections to be drawn between her fate and her
son's?
. To what extent are the economicsof slaveholdinyas well asthe
economicsofmarriage---operant asinsidious "fates" in the plal
. InwhatvraF is the world of tle plantationamicrocosm for the
well as our owtr world, today?
world beyond its gates----as
r56
POTTER REWRSAIJ
. -What are we to make ofthe power reversalsin the pla11e.g.,of
the fact that our father figures Qlector and Louis) are both ineffectual, if not mad?
. Why does Dove invert race and gender power relationslups in
the $rorld oftlfs play?
. Is it any lessinsidious when Arnalia claims Augustus'body sexu
ally than when male slaveowne$would rape thek female slaves?
DESIGNING THE PLAY
. How would you designa production of tlis Play?
. Could it be cast cross-racitly?
FURTHER TOPICS for discussionand e4lotatron
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
Sexrsfi-/racism
Use of offst€e cbaracte.s
Significanceof the pla/s flnal scene/finalimage
Experimentatiotr (either in form or theme)
Parentsand children
The use ofsongs
'curse'
Fate/ the
Sexuality
Coming ofage
Revolutiol
Interracialrelationships
Religion
167
II. English zo: Exposition and Argument
Tirught by Marjorie Rubright, GraduateTeachingAssistant
at the University of Missouri-Columbia in Columbia, Mis
souri.
ResearchAssignrnent:Dove'splay treats asthemes a wealth of histoiical topics that students eajoy exploring. This assignmentbe_
gins with a closereading ofthe play and then requires s$nificant
researchinto some aspect of America's history with slavery The
paper asks the students to retnrn to the play and to bring their
researchto bear on their own careirl analysisof one of the themes
in TheDarherFaceoftbeEattb.
A. CHOOSING ATOPIC
SampleTopics
.
'
.
.
.
.
slavesongs
important rites and rituals ofslaves
educationofslaves
sexualrelations between slavesand masters
interracial children born into slavery
underground railroad
By no meansis this list exhaustive.Your reading should engender
further topics.
'Write
a one paragraphresponseto the following questioas:
. \rhat theme in the play haveyou chosenasyour topic?
. Is your topic primarily connectedto one characterin the play?If
so,who is that characterandhow is he/sheconnectedor involved
with that topic/theme?
. If not, who are the charactersand how are they connected to or
involved with the topic/therne?
r68
Block quote a short passagefrom the play in which your topic ap
pearsarrdanswerthe following question:
. Vhat histodcal information would you lke to have in otder to
more firl1yunderstandthe rnoment you cite? How might having
more historical information shedlight on your interprctation(s)
of this pasage?
List tbree questionsahatyou haveabout your topic asit appearsitr
the passageyou cite.
B. ANNOTATED B]BLIOGRAPI{Y
AND RXSEARCH LOG
For this part of the assignmentyou will be condocting historical
researchon your topic. I{and in an Annotated Bibliography of at
least three sourceswhich na)r include:
. An artide of7 or more pages
. One chapter ofa book
'While
the use of encyclopedia entdes, brief magazine articles,
intemet resoorcesand referencebooks may serveasercellent starting points-your tbree amotated sourcesmust be ftom scholarly
journals. ffyou have a question about a sourceconsult a reference
librarian or )our professor.
Bring your ResearchIog to class.
C. PAPER
TbeDarkerFaceoftle Earth is being producedin AtJantafor an audi
encewell informed about the history of davery The themes that
arise in Dove's play will not only be familiar to that audietrce,but
the c.itic who will rcview the play on openir€ night is an expert on
yorr topic. The director hopesfor a positive .eview but knows that
ifan actor does not frrlly understandhis/her role lvithin the histori
cal contexts that apply to that role, this critic will not offer favor
The director has askedyou to give a talk to either:
. One characterwho is most closely associatedrvith 1'our topic
. The actors involved in one act of the play in rvhich your topic is a
primaiy theme of that act
The director has askedthat you aim not to .egurgitate facts from
thc historybooks (becauseher actors carrread those books them
selves).She does not rvant a "history rePort." She has hired you to
explore why the historical information regarding your topic is importart to the actol's interpretation ofhis or herrole and how having the historical information affects the choices the actorwill make
as he/sheplays the role.
ASSIGNMENT
NOTES
The open endednessof the question is intentional. The question
(pan C) engendersa variety of apProaches to the
for the fina1essa1.
paper Somestudcnts have written paPersin speechform, asifthey
were going to deliver their paper to actors.Other students prefer a
more traditional, thesis-drivenessayaPprcach.
The range oftopics that this assiSnmentencouragesis part of the
pleasure of teaching this tert and part of the students' pleasure
rvheo they read one arother's paPe$. Malty students have $-ritten
essayson ho*- slavesongsfunction as codeJanguageon the plantation. One student, forexample, exploredthemoment that Augustus
rcmains in the housevith Amalia despite the slaves'increasedsinging as the moment of crisis in the play This student er'?lored the
historyofhorvslave songswereusedascoded sPeech,allo*'ing communication between individuals on a plartation as well as cornmu
nication betwcen plantations. This researchcane to bear on hel
assertion that Augusrus'sdecisior to stay in the home when the
slavescalied him back to the plantation is central to the drama of
Augustus'sinre acial identity
OTHERESSAYTOPICS
The complicated relationship berweenHector and Amalia
The snakecults in African religions
The multiple biblical aswell asAfrican-basedreliglous connotations of Hector's seemingobsessionwith killing snakes
The associationofvoodooism with Skt'lla
How voodoo coexistswith the "master's"relision
RECOMMTNDED SUPPIJMENIAI
READING
. TbeSlaoeCommunity:PlantationLife in theAntebellumSoutb.Jotur
'\Z
Blassingane
, Aficant in America:America's
fuarney tbrougb Slat'ery. Charles
Patricia
Smith
&
Johnson
. Nanatipe of tbe L;fe of Frcderick Douglats.Aa American Slazte.
Frederick Douglass
. Incidenxin tbeLife of a Shoe Grl. Hartiet Jacobs
. lVbite lYonen,Blatk Men:Illicit Sexin tbeNinetemtb-CatturySouth
Martha Hodes
. BlacASlaoeNanativer Johr Bayliss
. Mistresses
and Slaeet Phr?tation V'omefi;n Solttb Caroli a Madl
\(/einer
. "Vhm I CanReadm! Title Cleat":Liwaq, Slaoery,annRehgiotttft
tbeAntebellxn Soattr-lanetDuitsman Cornelius
III. Englishrz9:The EuropeanLiteraryTadition
Taught by Diana R. Paulin, Assistant Professor of American Studiesard English at Yale University in New Haven,
Connecticut,
Another approachto Rita Dove's play is to study it in the context
of the European tradition and ask vrhy this play also works when
placed in the US. antebellum context. Thint about the ways in
which the play addressesboth "unive$al" questionsabout farnilial
dynamics and taboos, as well as particular aspectsof US. history
(suchas,slaverymiscegenation,
and the cult oftrue woma lood).
AIso,look at how Dove'spositionaspoet laureateinformsher role
asa national storyteller, sirnilar to Greek epic poets, and influences
't1rama"of slavery
her decision to use this narrative to play out the
arrdrebellionin the US.
POINTS TO PONDER
' WhydoesDove choosethis form Clhe Oedipalmlth/Sophocles'
OedipusRex)to tell this story?
. What US. (racial, national, familiat) mlthologies does she draw
frofi/invoke?
. How doesher play and her strategyfor telling her story resonate
ard modern?(alienationof
with other tragicplays,both classical
audience,endswith rebellion, fall fo tragic hero, etc )
. What doesDove transform/changein her play?
. Vrhat categorywould you put this play in? (tragedy?melodrama?)
why?
. How doessheboth incorporate and traJlsform-/revisethe "tragic
mulatto" conventionfrom rgth and early2oth century narratives?
. What is the importanceof repetitionin the play?
. How is fate tied in *'ith the inevitability ofthe violent ending?In
terms of rebellion?Suicide?Impending Civil War?
. What African retentionsdoessheinsert into the Play?
. Horv doesher play challengemore conventional formulations of
raceandgender?
POSSIBLE
PAPERTOPICS
. Compare the different versiom (rs,arrd2.deditions) ofthe play
'What
changes were made arrd how does this shape the story and
the way in which it emphasizes certain aspects of the tragedy
. How does Dove transform classical formulations ofgendcr in her
modern articulation ofthe Oedipus tragedy?
. I-[ow does race alld the history of race relations in the US. inform
Dove's retelling of this classic or "udversal' tale?
. Tblk about the redemptive possibilities ofRita Dove's play How
does her conclusion invite multiple interpretations of the racial
drana rcptesetted it Darker Face?
SUPPLEMENTAI TEXTS/PLAYS
. Berzon,Judith R. Neithel WbiteNorBIacA:TheMulatto Character;n
Ameican Fiaion. New York NYLI Press,1978.
. Boucicault, Dion. Tre Octonon. 1859.Beit Play oftbeEarly AnericanTheatre:FromtheBegbmingto 1916.F;d.John Gassner New
York:CrownPubtisfung,
1907.r8t - 2rs.
. Fabre, Gene\.ieve.Dzzrbeat1 Mashsand Metaphor Cambridge:
Harvard University Press,1983.
. Hughes,Langston.Mz latto. 1935.BlackTlteatreUS.A: PIqs lryAf
rianAmericdnr,Tbe RecmtPeriol r%S -Tbdqt Revised and Ex
pandedEdition. NevrYork The FreePress,1996.Ed. JamesV
Hatch andTed Shine. New York The FreePress,1996.qz3.
. Johnson, Georgia Douglas. BlueBlood. 1926.BlackFenalePIal
arighx: An AntbologyofPlal: beforery50. Ed.. Kathy A. Perkins.
Bloomington:IndianaIIII 1989.38-46.
. Johnson, Georgia Douglas. Blue-Eyed
BlackBoy. r93S1939.Black
[email protected]: AnAttthology of PIay heforery5o. Ed. Kathy
A. Perkins. Bloomington: Indiana U\ 989. 47-5t.
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