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Ways of the WorldTheater and Cosmopolitanism in the Restoration and Beyond$
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Laura J. Rosenthal

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501751585

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501751585.001.0001

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Restoration Legacies

Restoration Legacies

Tragic Monarchs, Exotic and Enslaved

(p.129) Chapter 4 Restoration Legacies
Ways of the World

Laura J. Rosenthal

Cornell University Press

This chapter looks at William Congreve's enormously popular but now unfamiliar play The Mourning Bride (1697) alongside Aphra Behn's play about an Indian queen, The Widow Ranter, and her heroic novella about an enslaved African prince, Oroonoko. The Mourning Bride has become almost invisible in scholarship, but it remained one of the most frequently performed tragedies throughout the eighteenth century and consolidated Congreve's reputation as a serious artist. This tragedy persists mostly through the misquotation “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. The discussion focuses on Zara, a powerful African queen reduced to captivity and humiliated by her European lover for whom she betrays her nation. Zara echoes the powerful Indian queens created by John Dryden. Dryden's Mesoamerican plays first appeared at the beginning of England's entry into the African slave trade in the form of a royal monopoly; The Mourning Bride appeared in the midst of a pamphlet war over the fate of the Royal African Company generated by the threat to its monopoly when its governor, James II, fled the country. While The Mourning Bride does not depict plantation slavery or the slave trade itself, it nevertheless registers the impact of trafficking in African bodies. Congreve's Zara evokes the exotic queens of the Restoration, but is a more complicated figure who demands respect for her dignity and empathy over her abuse. As the chapter suggests, Zara moved audiences not just as a “woman scorned,” but as an African who has been deracinated and enslaved.

Keywords:   William Congreve, The Mourning Bride, Aphra Behn, The Widow Ranter, Royal African Company, African slave trade, Mesoamerican plays, African queen, slave trade, woman scorned

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