Shows how theater was essential to the anti-slavery movement’s consideration of forceful resistance

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In the mid-19th century, rhetoric surrounding slavery was permeated by violence. Slavery’s defenders often used brute force to suppress opponents, and even those abolitionists dedicated to pacifism drew upon visions of widespread destruction. Provocative Eloquence recounts how the theater, long an arena for heightened eloquence and physical contest, proved terribly relevant in the lead up to the Civil War. As antislavery speech and open conflict intertwined, the nation became a stage. The book brings together notions of intertextuality and interperformativity to understand how the confluence of oratorical and theatrical practices in the antebellum period reflected the conflict over slavery and deeply influenced the language that barely contained that conflict. The book draws on a wide range of work in performance studies, theater history, black performance theory, oratorical studies, and literature and law to provide a new narrative of the interaction of oratorical, theatrical, and literary histories of the nineteenth-century U.S.

Laura L. Mielke is Associate Professor of English, University of Kansas.

“A masterful grasp on performance, theatrical, and rhetorical histories, including the various critical camps. Laura Mielke’s argument is extremely readable, complex yet easy to follow. An excellent book, grounded in rhetorical styles and strategies, dramatic genealogies and debates, theatrical conventions, and performance theories, while actively contesting and reshaping these fields and conventions and how we view them. Her imbrications of 19th-century theater, oratory, and print culture in service to anti-slavery and pro-slavery positions are thoroughly convincing.”
—Marvin McAllister, Winthrop University

“A historical excavation of all the inherited conflicts and inconsistencies that have come to define our present social moment . . . an indispensable accounting of how American culture performed its own divided loyalties, uncertainties, and unspoken internal contradictions about race, freedom, and national allegiances.”
—Peter Reed, University of Mississippi

Finalist: 2020 Vivian and the Frick Book Award

- Vivian and the Frick Book Award

“Taking antislavery oratory as her focus, Mielke offers an absorbing account of the status of eloquence in the antebellum imagination and changing ideas about moral suasion in the struggle for emancipation.”
American Literary History Reviews

- Tom Wright

"Mielke uncovers antebellum drama’s capacity both to absorb and to influence popular antislavery speech. This essential interdisciplinary study reorients theater as a centerpiece of nineteenth-century American thought."
American Literature

- Michael D'Alessandro

"... Provocative Eloquence offers a compelling study of the role of antebellum theatre as a repertoire that mediated public discourse on violence, slavery, and freedom... Through insightful readings of antebellum texts, Mielke offers a granular account of the complexity of antebellum performance culture. The book is a decidedly provocative text—one that warrants close attention from anyone interested in antebellum US American theatre, antislavery movements, the performativity of political speech, and the capacity of speech to perform violence." - Kellen Hoxworth, TDR

- Kellen Hoxworth

Finalist: Theatre Library Association (TLA) 2019 George Freedley Memorial Award

- TLA George Freedley Memorial Award