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Aristotle and Black Drama

A Theater of Civil Disobedience

Patrice D. Rankine

Publication Year: 2013

Civil disobedience has a tattered history in the American story. Described by Martin Luther King Jr. as both moral reflection and political act, the performance of civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws is also, Patrice Rankine argues, a deeply artistic practice. Modern parallels to King’s civil disobedience can be found in black theater, where the black body challenges the normative assumptions of classical texts and modes of creation. This is a theater of civil disobedience.

Utilizing Aristotle’s Poetics, Rankine ably invokes the six aspects of Aristotelian drama—character, story, thought, spectacle, song, and diction. He demonstrates the re-appropriation and rejection of these themes by black playwrights August Wilson, Adrienne Kennedy, and Eugene O’Neill. Aristotle and Black Drama frames the theater of civil disobedience to challenge the hostility that still exists between theater and black identity.

Published by: Baylor University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ii-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

...This is a book about the relationship between tradition and the resistance to it that welcomes readers from a wide range of backgrounds: students at the undergraduate and graduate level, scholars, playwrights, actors, critics, and citizens. The scholarly discourse that a reader in the professional fields of Africana and African American studies, classical studies, or drama and ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-24

...Civil disobedience, as leader of the American Civil Rights Movement Martin Luther King Jr. lays out in his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” is an idea and an act, but its artistic and performative dimensions have to this point not been sufficiently explored. Civil disobedience is a political philosophy and tactic with a long historical legacy demonstrated in Western...

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2. Classical Origins of Character and Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro, Electra, and Orestes

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pp. 25-60

...Adrienne Kennedy was born on September 13, 1931, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Kennedy grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and she writes in her autobiographical ruminations People Who Led to My Plays that she read avidly as a child. She studied at Ohio State University and came to love Tennessee Williams’ plays, which she cites as an influence. She is one of the founders of the Women’s Theatre Council (founded 1971), and she came to prominence as a playwright...

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3. The Oedipus Story and the Perfect Play, or the Gospel According to Rita Dove

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pp. 61-98

...Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio, on August 28, 1952. In addition to her many honors, she earned a B.A. from Miami University of Ohio in 1973, graduating summa cum laude, and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1977. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987 with her collection Thomas and Beulah. Dove is known as a poet, not a playwright ...

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4. Racial Intent and Dramatic Form

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pp. 99-142

...Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953) is arguably one of the most important modern playwrights, and certainly among the distinguished American playwrights, of the twentieth century. His play Beyond the Horizon (1918) won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1920. He would win the prize several more times: for Anna Christie (1920) in 1922...

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5. Aristotle’s “Spectacle” and August Wilson’s “Spectacle Character”

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pp. 143-174

...August Wilson (1945–2005) was the most prominent African American playwright of the twentieth century, perhaps the best-known black dramatist ever. Wilson won critical acclaim and acceptance in the mainstream of American drama with plays like Fences (1985), which won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, and The Piano Lesson (1990), which won the Pulitzer....

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6. Freedom Songs and Metaphors of Healing

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pp. 175-204

...The return to Eugene O’Neill in this chapter contextualizes my discussion of two canonical twentieth-century playwrights who happen to be black. Chicago theater company Remy Bumppo’s Mourning Becomes Electra, directed by Timothy Douglass, is evidence that the black body can be an aspect of performance even in a play that is not intentionally about race, as are O’Neill’s...

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7. Civil Disobedience, Truth and Reconciliation and the Cosmopolitan Citizen

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pp. 205-224

...The first decade of the twenty-first century marks a theatrical moment different from all that preceded it. Civil disobedience is still a worldwide phenomenon, as the Occupy Movement and austerity protests across the globe attest, but the black body, its legal and unlawful activity, is not the central concern of these disputes. Rather, civil disobedience in the twenty-first century has taken on an even deeper class consciousness ...

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pp. 225-228

...As a text that lays down the rules for subsequent theater, even if its postmor-tem of fifth-century Athenian drama is limited, Aristotle’s Poetics remains one of many important remnants from classical antiquity. As the mod-ern practitioner engages with drama and its histories, Poetics is there to be rejected or taken up. I have shown how a number of writers of the twentieth ...


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pp. 229-244


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pp. 245-254

E-ISBN-13: 9781602584549
E-ISBN-10: 1602584540
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602584525
Print-ISBN-10: 1602584524

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 852899317
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Aristotle and Black Drama

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Subject Headings

  • American drama -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • African American aesthetics.
  • Aristotle -- Influence.
  • American drama -- Classical influences.
  • Civil disobedience in literature.
  • Classicism in literature.
  • Comparative literature -- Modern and classical.
  • African American theater -- History.
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