As I mentioned in class, Thomas Bellamy’s play The Benevolent Planters (1789) is an example of anti-abolition discourse, and we might consider it a form of propaganda. Indeed, the play was written in response to William Cowper’s anti-slavery poem, The Negro’s Complaint (1788), and was used by the West India Lobby to forward their agenda.
The play tells the story of lovers, Oran and Selima, who are separated in their homeland, Africa, and end up living on neighboring plantations in Jamaica. It is the play’s planters, Goodwin and Heartfree, that reunite the lovers. The play suggests that the planters are kind and paternal masters, and that the god-fearing, productive lives the slaves lead in the colonies are superior to the idle lives they lived in Africa.
In the final scene of the play, Oran, having been reunited with his beloved Selima by his generous owner, Goodwin, fervently concludes: “Lost in admiration, gratitude, and love, Oran has no words, but can only in silence own the hand of Heaven; while to his beating heart he clasps his restored treasure. And O my masters! […] let my restored partner and myself bend to such exalted worth; while for ourselves, and for our surrounding brethren, we declare, that you have proved yourselves The Benevolent Planters, and that under subjection like yours, SLAVERY IS BUT A NAME.”
Knowing what you know about anti-slavery and pro-slavery discourse, including Bellamy’s play, do you consider Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon (1859) an anti-slavery or a pro-slavery play? Why? Please be sure to cite specific details from Boucicault’s play in your response.
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