The Masque of Blackness
The Travel Log and its Depiction of the 'Other'
There is something inherently cathartic, inherently exciting about the ‘travel literature’ genre that emerged in the later 17th and early 18th centuries. The lands viewed were never accurately depicted; instead, the author would embellish local details and cultures to bring the reader into unexplored territories. This allowed for the audience to safely read the material – their own moral guidelines would be imbued into the story to place itself in the cultural spectrum, and would therefore make the lands stimulating, but not too foreign. Literary scholar Dianna Tillotson claims there is something essentially human about the genre, saying “Ultimately, [the readers] may also be seeking [their] own origins and trying to tie [their] culture and customs into a sense of place” (Tillotson). Therefore, it only makes sense that the author’s own cultural bias translates so vividly to a text that tries to be different. As seen in “The Masque of Blackness,” “Oroonoko, The Royal Slave,” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” local cultures are both examined with wonder and condemned for their cultural differences.
It is clear that Ben Johnson’s “The Masque of Blackness” would have been performed for white audiences, even though its main subjects are...
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