Author Archives: Laura Rosenthal

Review of Sancho: An Act of Remembrance

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Review of Sancho: An Act of Remembrance

Written, directed, and performed by Paterson Joseph

Co-Directed by Simon Godwin

At the beginning of his one-man show, Paterson Joseph addresses the audience directly and confesses that he wrote Sancho: An Act of Remembrance  because he always wanted to star in a costume drama.  He then stops and briefly becomes Sir Peter Teazle from The School for Scandal to make the point.  Joseph wrote Sancho, he contends, to fulfill this costume drama fantasy, blocked in its realization by his skin color, and also to put to rest the myth that there were no blacks in Britain in the eighteenth century.  “But don’t worry,” he assures the audience, the show won’t be too overly political, and he promises to mix entertainment with, as the title suggests, remembrance of the first black man to cast a vote in a British election.


Joseph uses the act of voting, along with the portrait of Ignatius Sancho painted by Gainsborough, to anchor his performance.  The author, director, and star soon morphs into his eighteenth-century subject, first by simply pulling his socks up over his pants to approximate eighteenth-century style.  Throughout the production he dons and doffs various pieces of clothing, but the transformations mainly emerge from posture, gesture, and pronunciation.  Paterson Joseph as Sancho (and as several other characters) is charming and nimble throughout.  He gives Sancho a slight lisp, as Sancho reportedly had a speech impediment, but he lisp also marks off when Joseph speaks as the actor/author and when he speaks as Sancho. In one scene, then, Joseph reads a letter written from Lawrence Sterne to Sancho in the character of Sancho doing an impression of Sterne, thus with both lisp and Irish accent.  In another scene, he has Sancho recall his own brief acting career by reciting the speech from Thomas Southerne’s  Oroonoko in which the royal slave pledges his love for Imoinda.  The speech is not only beautifully delivered, but also, one imagines, not unlike the way actors presented such set pieces on the eighteenth-century stage as feats of elocution.  Joseph takes us through Sancho’s life, playing Sancho as a frightened child; a cooperative but restless adolescent in the household of the three maiden sisters to whom he had been given as a gift; an eager student excited by an education made possible by John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu; a butler in the Montagu household; and then later as a middle-aged shopkeeper with a wife and children.  Joseph enlivens the production with Sancho’s impressions of the people who fill his life: the racist ladies who first own him; his beloved West Indian wife; his five-year-old son.  Joseph keeps up an extraordinarily high level of energy throughout.  He portrays his subject with admiration, documenting his accomplishments (writing, composing), his vulnerabilities (gambling), his losses (his parents; a beloved daughter), and the many injustices he faced.  Joseph suggests parallels between Sancho’s frustrated career on the stage and enduring prejudices over color in casting. His moving portrait of Sancho begins with Gainsborough’s painting to suggest the importance of his subject and ends with Sancho casting a vote in favor of an abolitionist candidate.

Sancho: An Act of Remembrance entertains and educates.  Sometimes the performance felt a little piecemeal, with many wonderful scenes but without a full sense of Sancho himself.  Joseph seems to have resisted the temptation to fill in too much from imagination.  It also seems more possible than Joseph acknowledges, at least of late, to see “costume dramas” with mixed-race or race-blind casting, although that doesn’t diminish Joseph’s point about acting while black.  From the teasers embedded in Sancho, I would love to see Joseph in a full production of Southerne’s Oroonoko—or as Peter Teazle in The School for ScandalSancho: An Act of Remembrance takes part in the crucial project of rethinking our picture of the British eighteenth century not just in scholarly writing, but in more broadly public venues as well.  True to his word, Joseph achieves this with subtlety and charm, offering a memorable Sancho and a memorable performance.

CFP for Symposium at the University of Maryland


Call for proposals:

The Restoration and the British Empire:

An Interdisciplinary Symposium

April 29th 2016

University of Maryland, College Park

We seek proposals from all disciplines about the Restoration era’s significance for the creation of the British empire, including theater, politics, literature, gender, war, sexuality, colonialism, dissent, religion, and the slave trade.  For purposes of the symposium we define the “Restoration” as roughly 1660-1688, but also welcome considerations of the enduring effects of this period in later times, on other nations, and in all locations touched by this expanding empire.  We particularly encourage proposals that seek to cross oceans & disciplinary boundaries.

This symposium celebrates the move of the journal Restoration

 to the University of Maryland

Keynote Speaker: Timothy Harris, Brown University

Please send proposals of up to one page along with one-page cv to the co-organizers by Nov 1:

Holly Brewer (History) and Laura Rosenthal (English)

Co-sponsored by the UMD English Department; the UMD History Department, and Restoration


Happy Valentine’s Day from Bernard Mandeville



[B]y Love we understand a strong Inclination, in its Nature distinct from all other Affections of Friendship, Gratitude, and Consanguinity, that Persons of different Sexes, after liking, bear to one another: It is in this Signification that Love enters into the Compound of Jealousy, and is the Effect as well as happy Disguise of that Passion that prompts us to labour for the Preservation of our Species. This latter Appetite is innate both in Men and Women, who are not defective in their Formation, as much as Hunger or Thirst, tho’ they are seldom affected with it before the Years of Puberty. Could we undress Nature, and pry into her deepest Recesses, we should discover the Seeds of this Passion before it exerts itself, as plainly as we see the Teeth in an Embryo, before the Gums are form’d. There are few healthy People of either Sex, whom it has made no Impression upon before Twenty: Yet, as the Peace and Happiness of the Civil Society require that this should be kept a Secret, never to be talk’d of in Publick; so among well-bred People it is counted highly Criminal to mention before Company any thing in plain Words, that is relating to this Mystery of Succession: By which Means the very Name of the Appetite, tho’ the most necessary for the Continuance of Mankind, is become odious, and the proper Epithets commonly join’d to Lust are Filthy and Abominable.

Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, 2 vols. With a Commentary Critical, Historical, and Explanatory by F.B. Kaye (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988). Vol. 1. Chapter: [45]REMARKS.

Accessed from on 2014-02-14


Congreve’s “Love for Love” staged reading

For Congreve fans in the DC area, there will be a staged reading of Love for Love on Monday evening.  Sorry for the short notice but I only recently found out about it.  I have attended these before and they are excellent.



When you’re done grading, go to the theater



Ever on the lookout for productions of drama from the extra long eighteenth century, I am passing along the announcement of this production of Le Cid (1636) by Pierre Corneille (translated by Richard Wilbur) at the Storm Theatre in New York.  This is the same theater and the same director responsible for an outstanding production of The London Merchant,  discussed here and here on this blog. The Red Bull Theatre’s production of Volpone might also be of interest.  I have not yet seen this, but admired this company’s deliciously bloody Revenger’s Tragedy a few years ago and hope to see Volpone as well.  Finally, today’s New York Times reviewed a production of Amy Freed’s play, Restoration Comedy, based in part on Colley Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift. The review did not make the production sound particularly tempting, but I would be happy to hear from anyone with a different perspective.

What Matters in Humanities Education

Since we like to talk about teaching here too, readers might be interested in my report on the Teagle Foundation‘s convening on “What Works and What Matters in Student Learning.” The conference specifically addressed the humanities. This link will take you to the web page for the event; scroll down a bit for reports by me and by Ashley Finley of AAC&U. I welcome comments and feedback on what you think matters.

Folger conference on Early Modern Cities

I have been asked to pass along this reminder about an exciting conference at the Folger:

Registrations for the Folger Institute’s September conference, “Early Modern Cities in Comparative Perspective,” will be accepted through 14 September (assuming space remains.)

Support from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation extends grants-in-aid to conference participants from U.S. institutions who are not affiliates of the Folger Institute consortium. The application deadline is 4 September 2012. Please visit the Institute’s website for application materials and guidelines.

The conference schedule and abstracts may be found here.

Questions? Please contact