I just finished reading Virginia Mason Vaughan’s Performing Blackness on English Stages, 1500-1800, another work on the list of books I’m reviewing. This book examines instances of blackface on the English stage from the late Medieval period through the eighteenth century. Overall, it’s a good book. I especially like its early description of how early modern actors (and eventually actresses) ‘blackened’ themselves by using makeup composed of burnt cork or coal or by wearing a mask on stage.

Since I am reviewing it formally in my review essay to be published next year (presumably), I will again leave the details of a formal review to that essay. Instead, I’d like to reflect briefly on how this book has gotten me thinking about my next graduate course. I’d like to teach a course specifically on Restoration literature, focusing exclusively on 1660 to 1688. I’d also like for about half of readings for this course to be comprised of plays, since the Restoration is mostly known for its drama.

Reading Performing Blackness on English Stages reminds me a bit of Cynthia Lowenthal’s Performing Identities on the Restoration Stage, an excellent book published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2003. I’m struck by how I’d like to incorporate more of the issues raised by these studies in my class. Of particular interest to me at the moment is race and how the theater could allow Restoration society to try out its constructions of race and see if they worked. I’m also interested in doing more with religion, depictions of Islam in particular.

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