Charles Mathews's notoriety in American studies and theatre history hinges on his portrayal of an African American actor as an antic buffoon who mispronounces Shakespeare's verse, acts histrionically, and interpolates the song "Possum Up a Gum Tree" in the midst of a soliloquy. Careful attention to evidence of Trip to America reveals five additional African American characters. This essay explores Mathews's performative techniques in portraying all these black characters and challenges historiography that emphasizes his similarities with the later genre of blackface minstrelsy. Mathews's racialized portrayals of blacks, Yankees, and Europeans instead reveal a pattern of affinity with African Americans and antipathy toward Yankees as a critical perspective on the young nation that hinges on the comparability of blacks with the British serving class.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Visual Arts and Performing Arts
- Literature and Literary Theory