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Aristotle and Black Drama
A Theater of Civil Disobedience

By Patrice D. Rankine

Aristotle and Black Drama
Hardback, 270 pages $39.95
Published: 15th July 2013
ISBN: 9781602584525
Format: 9in x 6in

Subjects: All Classics, All Cultural Studies, All Philosophy

Civil disobedience has a tattered history in the American story. Described by Martin Luther King Jr. as both moral reflection and political act, the performance of civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws is also, Patrice Rankine argues, a deeply artistic practice. Modern parallels to King’s civil disobedience can be found in black theater, where the black body challenges the normative assumptions of classical texts and modes of creation. This is a theater of civil disobedience.

Utilizing Aristotle’s Poetics, Rankine ably invokes the six aspects of Aristotelian drama—character, story, thought, spectacle, song, and diction. He demonstrates the re-appropriation and rejection of these themes by black playwrights August Wilson, Adrienne Kennedy, and Eugene O’Neill. Aristotle and Black Drama frames the theater of civil disobedience to challenge the hostility that still exists between theater and black identity.

List of Illustrations


1 Introduction, Civil Disobedience as Resistance to Tradition and Performance

2 Classical Origins of Character and Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro, Electra, and Orestes =

3 The Oedipus Story and the Perfect Play, or the Gospel According to Rita Dove

The Darker Face of the Earth and Sonata Mulattica: A Life in Five Movements and a Short Play

4 Racial Intent and Dramatic Form

Eugene O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun Got Wings and The Emperor Jones

5 Aristotle’s “Spectacle” and August Wilson’s “Spectacle Character”

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

6 Freedom Songs and Metaphors of Healing

Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus and Topdog/Underdog

7 Civil Disobedience, Truth and Reconciliation, and the Cosmopolitan Citizen

Charles Smith’s The Gospel According to James, Thomas Bradshaw’s Mary, David Mamet’s Race, and Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park




This book invites us to revise existing genealogies of black theater and offers us the provocative idea of classical theory of drama as a handmaiden for the theater of civil disobedience. Like the best ideas it is bold and original and, on reading, makes perfect sense.”

—Emily Greenwood, Professor of Classics, Yale University

“Situating Aristotle’s Poetics as a major intertext, Rankine demonstrates that perhaps the most radical form of classical reception is that which sets things in motion—both in the movements of actors on stage and in the conscience of those watching.”

—Denise Eileen McCoskey, Associate Professor of Classics, Affiliate, Black World Studies, Miami University

"The reader is challenged to move beyond the moral constraints of Aristotlelian drama and adopt a consciousness that involves recognizing the interplay of various sociopolitical forces and how they operate simultaneously to create an environment where convention, rather than principle, is challenged."

—Chy Sprauve, Lehman College, Journal of African American Studies

“…this book will be thought provoking and richly rewarding for specialists in classical and/or black literature.”

—L.J. Parascandola, Long Island University, Choice (51:7, March 2014)

Patrice D. Rankine is Professor of Classics and Dean for the Arts and Humanities at Hope College.

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 270 pages
 9in x 6in
7 b/w images

  PER011020, PHI000000, SOC031000
 Baylor University Press

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