"Look on This Picture, and on This": Framing Shakespeare in William Wells Brown's "The Escape"

Keith M. Botelho, Kennesaw State University


William Wells Brown's "The Escape; or A Leap for Freedom," the first published African-American drama, is examined. Brown, whose play was published in June of 1858, was an antislavery orator and lecturer who also wrote the first African-American novel. Botelho notes that the works of William Shakespeare and the genre of theater served as a powerful way in which Brown could contribute to African-American literary activism. He comments on the Shakespearean influences in Brown's work and analyzes how Brown performed a drama of protest against slavery. The performance and publication of the play are further discussed.