What Are Robespierre and Telemachus Doing in Saint-Domingue?: Humanness, Revolutionary Legitimacy, and Political Order in Charles Pigault-Lebrun’s Le blanc et le noir (1795)

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Charles Pigault-Lebrun's play Le blanc et le noir (1795) is one of only a handful of French revolutionary plays to stage the Saint-Domingue slave rebellion, a rebellion today better known as the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804). I argue that Pigault-Lebrun uses early melodramatic generic traits to develop a theatrical thought experiment revolving around three main themes: humanness, revolutionary legitimacy, and political order. Crucially, Pigault-Lebrun does so by transporting French revolutionary figures and themes to the colonial setting, which means that his depiction of Caribbean revolt is seen through a distinctly Parisian lens. The first consequence of this framing is an omission of specifically Haitian concerns. The second is a particular infusion of colonial problems into metropolitan discussions. In analyzing this reciprocal transportation of figures and discourse, the article shows how the colonies not only affected the material lives of millions of Europeans but also influenced crucial questions of humanness, societal change, and political order.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrbis Litterarum
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)186-212
Number of pages27
StatePublished - 2 Mar 2018

    Research areas

  • The Haitian Revolution, The French Revolution, Melodrama, Human Rights, Theatre History

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