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A: Jean Genet Pf: 1959, Paris Pb: 1958 Tr: 1960 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: Colonial Africa, 20th c. C: 8m, 5fOn an upper level, a court sits in judgement on those below. The members of the court, played by blacks wearing white masks, are: the Queen, her Valet, the Governor, the Judge, and the Missionary. On the lower level, four black couples in formal dress dance around a catafalque. Archibald, the master of ceremonies, steps forward and introduces the cast, who are, he explains, only actors. He reveals that the catafalque contains the body of a white woman they have murdered. Deodatus Village, who loves the prostitute Stephanie Virtue, claims to have strangled the victim, a smelly old woman, who later turns out to be a young girl seduced by the blacks' superior virility. Diouf, the priest, is transformed into a woman, who gives birth to dolls mimicking the features of the members of the Court. A black is executed offstage, but, aware that their rule is at an end, the white Court members are murdered one by one, the Queen exclaiming as she dies: ‘How well you hate!’ They then stand to take their bow, before going off to hell. Archibald sums up: ‘What lies behind this architecture of emptiness and words [?] We are what they want us to be.’ Finally, there is a moment of tenderness between Village and Virtue.

A: Jean Genet Pf: 1959, Paris Pb: 1958 Tr: 1960 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: Colonial Africa, 20th c. C: 8m, 5f

This was at the time the most violently powerful dramatic treatment of racial tension. Significantly, Genet called it Les Nègres, deliberately using an offensive term to describe native Africans, and the main thrust of the drama is to show how they are stereotyped by whites and how the blacks can point up the absurdity of these stereotypes to make a mockery of racial prejudice.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Jean Genet (1910—1986) French novelist, poet, and dramatist

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