The African ambassador’s travels
Playing black in late seventeenth-century France and Spain
in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
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This chapter examines the emergence and significance of the theatregram of the African ambassador in 1660s French theatre, in plays like Le Mort Vivant, by Edmé Boursault (1662), L’Ambassadeur d’Affrique, by Du Perche (1666), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière (1670), and Le Mariage de la reine de Monomotapa by Bel-Isle (1682). Reading this theatregram in conversation with contemporary policies in the French Caribbean colonies, I argue that African ambassadors on stage contributed to the development and dissemination of a solidifying racial discourse in late seventeenth-century France. A thorough examination of the transnational component in Boursault’s play, more specifically, of the play’s all-out and multilayered Spanishness, brings to light the play’s ambivalence towards the notion of hybridity. The internal evolution of the theatregram between 1662 and 1682, however, marks a departure from Boursault’s take: the later plays of the African ambassador corpus are devoid of such ideological ambivalence. This denotes a hardening of racial thinking over the course of those twenty years. Ultimately, that approach promotes the integration of transnational foci and comparative methods into early modern race studies.

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