As Americans began defining who was to be counted a citizen in their newly-established republic, Susanna Rowson’s comic opera Slaves in Algiers (1794) makes an earnest case that women be accorded the rights guaranteed to men, playfully turning sexual hierarchies on their head: “Women were born for universal sway; / Men to adore, be silent, and obey.” A fast-paced plot, engaging characterization, and rollicking songs ensured that Slaves in Algiers garnered success when it was first performed at the New Theater in Philadelphia. But Rowson’s play also engages in perpetuating racial stereotypes: set in Algiers at a time when Barbary pirates were seizing more and more U.S. ships in the Mediterranean Sea, Slaves in Algiers is written for a largely white audience driven by outrage at the enslavement of white people in the Barbary states. The play is critical of many aspects of North African cultures, particularly the practices of piracy and enslavement, while not acknowledging the moral and ethical taint of America’s own enslavement of African Americans. In recent years, critics have given increased attention to Slaves in Algiers, particularly to its interwoven feminist, nationalist, and imperialist themes, as well as to its treatment of Muslim and Jewish characters.
This volume is one of a number of editions that have been drawn from the pages of the acclaimed Broadview Anthology of American Literature. The series is designed to make selections from the anthology available in a format convenient for use in a wide variety of contexts; each edition features an introduction and exaplanatory footnotes, and is designed to meet the needs of today’s students.
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