Oroonoko: A Tragedy

Oroonoko: A Tragedy. Aphra Behn, Thomas Southerne.
Oroonoko: A Tragedy
Oroonoko: A Tragedy
Oroonoko: A Tragedy
Oroonoko: A Tragedy
Oroonoko: A Tragedy
Oroonoko: A Tragedy
Oroonoko: A Tragedy
Southerne's popular dramatic revision of the famed novella by Aphra Behn
Oroonoko: A Tragedy

The Hague: Printed for T. Johnson, 1712. Early edition. Bound with Smith, Edmund. Phaedra and Hippolitus, A Tragedy. [The Hague]; Printed by T. Johnson, 1711. Early edition. Both plays printed as part of Johnson's series A Collection of the Best English Plays. Later quarter calf over marbled boards with paper label to spine. New endpapers with original endpapers retained. Some separation of text block at preliminary blanks and final advert leaf but text block in all tight and square. Ownership signature "H. Spencer Scott. 18 Church Row Hampstead. Dec. 13, 1906" to first original blank; ownership stamp of Alfred Wallis to second blank. On the third blank in a roughty contemporary hand: "The Tragedy of Oroonoko was first performed at Drury Lane in 1696. The comic scenes are full of loose depravity; and in 1759 the text was 'Bowdlerised' by Dr. Hawkesworth who castrated it partly; and the operation was completed in the following year by a Scotch meddler. This edition is unmutilated; copies are seldom to be obtained in good condition." Internally the book is Near Fine, with clean margins and surprisingly fresh, unfoxed pages. Collates 108; 82, [6]: both plays complete. ESTC reports that both of these early editions are scarce, with fewer copies listed than their first editions. 6 copies of Southerne are reported at U.S. institutions and 8 of the Smith.

Aphra Behn's short fiction piece Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave was originally published in 1688, following her successful emergence as England's first professional female playwright a over a decade earlier. Her well established fame at this point made it possible for her to release an anti-slavery work that introduced England to Imoind, "the beautiful black Venus" and "the most well known of the few representations of dark-skinned African women in early modern literature" (MacDonald). By 1696, Thomas Southerne had adapted Oroonoko for the stage, making key alterations in the story's approach to race and gender that softened Behn's political stance and made the narrative more palatable to an Empire that was ambivalently supportive of an institution contributing to its colonial wealth. "Thomas Southern's dramatization is, in its turn, probably best known for changing the skin color of Imoinda from black to white. As her racial and sexual identity are reconstructed in whiteness, Behn's black Imoinda becomes an early example of the enforced invisibility of the black female subject in the dominant cultural discourse" (MacDonald). This is not Southerne's only re-visioning of women in Behn's work; and he adds a comedic subplot featuring "white comic heroine Charlott Welldon, who masquerades as a man for much of the action" as she maneuvers to find a rich husband (MacDonald). As one of this copy's previous owners notes in his annotation, Southerne's play excited audiences but was also considered loose and depraved because it featured women in breeches roles, much as Behn herself had done in her staged comedies. For this reason, later editions were Bowdlerised or "castrated" in the annotator's words. A fascinating opportunity to study a male writer's adaptation of the first female professional author's work, this copy provides additional research possibilities in terms of its provenance, the play's stage and publication history, and its being bound alongside Smith's Phaedra -- a tragedy that purports "to let us Moderns know How Women lov'd two thousand years ago."

ESTC T14966 and T14963.
Near Fine (Item #2863)

Price: $1,275

See all items in Antiquarian, Literature, Women