"Mislike Me not for My Complexion": Shakespearean Intertextuality in the Works of Nineteenth-Century African-American Women

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Caliban, the ultimate figure of linguistic and racial indeterminacy in The Tempest, became for African-American writers a symbol of colonial fears of rebellion against oppression and southern fears of black male sexual aggression. My dissertation thus explores what I call the "Calibanic Quadrangle" in essays and novels by Anna Julia Cooper, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins. The figure of Caliban allows these authors to inflect the sentimental structure of the novel, to elevate Calibanic utterance to what Cooper calls "crude grandeur and exalted poesy," and to reveal the undercurrent of anxiety in nineteenth-century American attempts to draw ... continued below

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iv, 165 leaves

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Birge, Amy Anastasia August 1996.

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  • Birge, Amy Anastasia

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Caliban, the ultimate figure of linguistic and racial indeterminacy in The Tempest, became for African-American writers a symbol of colonial fears of rebellion against oppression and southern fears of black male sexual aggression. My dissertation thus explores what I call the "Calibanic Quadrangle" in essays and novels by Anna Julia Cooper, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins. The figure of Caliban allows these authors to inflect the sentimental structure of the novel, to elevate Calibanic utterance to what Cooper calls "crude grandeur and exalted poesy," and to reveal the undercurrent of anxiety in nineteenth-century American attempts to draw rigid racial boundaries. The Calibanic Quadrangle enables this thorough critique because it allows the black woman writer to depict the oppression of the "Other," southern fears of black sexuality, the division between early black and white women's issues, and the enduring innocence of the progressive, educated, black female hero ~ all within the legitimized boundaries of the Shakespearean text, which provides literary authority to the minority writer. I call the resulting Shakespearean intertextuality a Quadrangle because in each of these African-American works a Caliban figure, a black man or "tragic mulatto" who was once "petted" and educated, struggles within a hostile environment of slavery and racism ruled by the Prospero figure, the wielder of "white magic," who controls reproduction, fears miscegenation, and enforces racial hierarchy. The Miranda figure, associated with the womb and threatened by the specter of miscegenation, advocates slavery and perpetuates the hostile structure. The Ariel figure, graceful and ephemeral, usually the "tragic mulatta" and a slave, desires her freedom and complements the Caliban figure. Each novel signals the presence of the paradigm by naming at least one character from The Tempest (Caliban in Cooper's A Voice from the South; "Mirandy" in Harper's Iola Leroy; Prospero in Hopkins's Contending Forces; and Ariel in Hopkins's Hagar's Daughter).

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iv, 165 leaves

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  • August 1996

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  • March 24, 2014, 8:07 p.m.

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Birge, Amy Anastasia. "Mislike Me not for My Complexion": Shakespearean Intertextuality in the Works of Nineteenth-Century African-American Women, dissertation, August 1996; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc278175/: accessed October 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .