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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Susan Valladares

Valladares, Susan (2019). Afro-Creole Revelry and Rebellion on the British Stage: Jonkanoo in Obi; or, Three-Fingered Jack (1800). The Review of English Studies 70(294): 291-311.

Author(s) from Durham


Scholarship on John Fawcett and Samuel Arnold’s Obi; or Three-Fingered Jack (Haymarket, 1800) has largely focused on how the pantomime (and its later melodrama adaptation by William Murray) were performed and received relative to maturing debates about slavery, abolition and emancipation. My essay contributes to this ongoing investigation by shifting the emphasis away from the heroic agency embodied by Obi’s eponymous ‘Three-Fingered Jack’ in order to explore the politics of black resistance activated by the minor, but important, character of ‘Jonkanoo’. In its recovery of the Jamaican Christmastime festivities that lent this character his name, my essay reinterprets Obi in light of a performance tradition infused with subversive energies. It argues that the pantomime must be understood in the context of the slave revolution in Saint Domingue (1791–1804)—a cataclysmic event poignantly described by the historian Robin Blackburn as ‘the only successful large-scale and generalized slave revolt known in history’—and examines to what extent Obi’s Jonkanoo character might serve as an index for the ambitions as well as limitations of early nineteenth-century acts of cultural transposition.