Dr. Samuel Obed Doku
Vista Street, NE, Washington,
District of Columbia, United States of America
John Dryden describes Thomas Southerne as “pure” in reference to the purity of his language, and Alexander Pope delineates Southerne in his “Epistle to Augustus” as an “elderly dramatist skilled in expressing ‘the passions’” and cites him along with Johnson, Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Wycherley, and Rowe as great English playwrights” (qtd. in Kaufman 10). However, not many critics are that generous to Southerne, the only playwright courageous enough to bring a black face on to the English theater in 1695, except Shakespeare who did it with Othello in 1603. The best position critics rank Southerne, author of ten plays, is as the sixth best playwright in English Restoration Theatre. Probably, because of the parasite formula that was in vogue in the 17th century when Southerne wrote Oronooko and which he profoundly capitalized on to write his most famous play, he is not particularly regarded as one of the ingenious playwrights of his era. At best, many critics regard Southerne’s talent as falling short of the mercurial abilities of Dryden, Etheridge, Wycherley, Congreve, and Otway. Some critics, however, are of the view that although Southerne was not fashionably original, his creativity in his ability to refashion and reconfigure the original works he preyed on to make them refreshing and entertaining, should render him as one of the best during the apogee moments of the Restoration era. In this piece, I argue that the antimony of racial politics and the salience of mercantilism in Southerne’s Oronooko dignify women and minorities, even as it simultaneously agitated and mollified the nerves of dealers and supporters of the slave trade.