“Eighteenth-Century Tragedy and the Creation of Whiteness”
Dr. Angelina Del Balzo
Date: Tuesday, December 17
Place: Library Art Gallery
In 2012, controversy erupted online in response to the casting of Black actress Amandla Stenberg as Rue in the first Hunger Games film, despite being described in the book as Black. Most tellingly, Alana Paul tweeted @sw4q “Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture.” In contemporary Anglo-American culture, women’s innocence is racialized. Jean Marsden has theorized eighteenth-century she-tragedy as being defined by the depiction of the sexual violation of women. This emphasis on gendered feeling has been cited by Marsden and others as beginning in the late 1670s, after the first generation of actresses made their mark on the stage. The importance of female pathos to heroic drama and Oriental tragedy, however, has been undervalued. From The Siege of Rhodes in 1661 onwards, female suffering has been a central feature of tragedy across genres. Actresses did not rise from the dramatic margins in heroic tragedy to prominence in domestic tragedy, but their presence and performances created the theory of tragedy for the next century of English theater. Plays like Aaron Hill’s The Tragedy of Zara sit at the intersection of she- and Oriental tragedy, centering on the suffering of a young Christian slave in love with her captor. Famously, in the adaptation of Oroonoko for the stage, Imoinda is changed to a white woman. By examining the she-tragic overlap between the Oriental and the domestic tragedy, this paper will look at how female pathos in eighteenth-century tragedy became central to the formation of whiteness.