Other elements are malapropisms (Nextly,..., to bring de conclusion
ob my disgustion to de terminus ob de beginning), wrong word order (the
Bull o'Battles Run instead of the Battle o'Bulls Run), puns (Conthievocracy
instead of Confederacy or Midsummer Ice Cream instead of Midsummer Night's
Dream) or pure nonsense (feller citizens an' oder animals).
The topic of this speech is the American Civil War, which shows that
the minstrels did not restrict themselves to Negro themes. The lecture
conveys a pro-Northern attitude and is full of verbal attacks against and
jokes about the Confederacy. From today's point of view this is not easy
to understand, because it is necessary to know the names and functions
of places, battles and soldiers to get the point.
There were a lot of different possibilities what an afterpiece could
look like. At the beginning of minstrelsy the afterpieces were mostly set
on a Southern plantation. In this case they were a mixture of songs and
dance scenes that were embedded in a low comedy type plot. But these plantation
scenes closely resembled the first part of the show and soon the minstrels
started to look for new possibilities. Among other things they began to
perform burlesques of popular plays of the day.
"Camille" is a parody of a contemporary play that must have been
quite well-known because people had to know the contrast between the original
and the parody in order to understand the parodistic elements. Nevertheless
the two actors announce what they are going to perform.
Sam: I was to do Theatre, to see de "Hospital Tragedy".
Julius: Why, what play do you mean?
Sam: I mean "Camille". Did you ever see it?
Julius: Oh, yes. I saw Ned Forrest play it at the Broadway.
Burlesques or parodies like these were a welcome possibility for the
minstrels to introduce the "wench character", a minstrel playing the role
of a woman.
The wench is another stock character that mostly appeared in the afterpieces,
like Zip Coon, the Negro dandy, a pretentious and exaggeratedly well-dressed,
urban Negro. The stage direction of Camille's entrance gives us a hint
how the wench characters looked like.
Enter Sam, dressed extravagantly as Camille. She has a large "waterfall",composed
of an ox bladder blown up, and painted black, after it becomes dry. She
also has a wreath of vegetables on her head[...].
The scene that follows ridicules love scenes the way they were performed
in the popular melodrama of that time by grotesquely exaggerating and contorting
the typical elements and symbols of love. Flowers are turned into vegetables,
love swears are uncovered as extrinsically motivated,
Army: ...and you'll find me ever by your side - when I'm broke.
or just grotesquely extended.
Camille: Army, I love you! devotedly! [Embrace] devoutly! [Embrace]
madly! [Embrace] excrutiatingly! [Embrace] spasmodically love you! [Embrace
Even the usually emotional and peaceful dying scene turns out to be
a quite violent act.
Camille: Army, I'm dying!
[Camille pulls him by the head and uses him exceedingly rough.]
Army: Die easy, Camille, die easy! [She throws him over her head...]
These are scenes where the comic principle of "incongruity plus surprise"
is brought to a climax because nobody would expect such 'violence' to happen
in this context. This is completed by comic repartee,
Camille: Army, dear Army! How long has this fiery passion burnt inside
Army: About ten minutes.
and the usual puns.
Camille: Army, I feel every indication of a "swine" (instead of
Apart from that, the comical effect was certainly increased by the gestures
and the whole behaviour of the actors on stage. This is indicated here
by quite detailed stage directions. I could imagine that the lover in this
case was played by a physically rather short actor, in contrast to the
wench; which would make it easier for "her" to hurl him across the stage
at the end. Additionally a lot of comical effects were provided spontaneously
by the actors during the performance. "Seldom were any two performances
of an afterpiece burlesque totally alike."(6) This depended "of course
on the talent and inventiveness of the performers" , but also on the reaction
of the audience.
We only have the acting editions of these farces today, and can only
try to imagine what the real performances in the context and the atmosphere
of a minstrel show were like. By simply reading these farces at home at
one's desk it is sometimes difficult to find the reason why they should
be funny, as is the case with "The Thumping Process". But maybe we
have to take into account the different attitude of the people in the last
century towards, and their dependency on medicine and doctors with their
sometimes questionable cures, in order to understand this kind of humour.
In "Sublime and Ridiculous" we find the typical situation where
Julius, an ignorant black, is confronted with a classical drama and its
fictitious world, artificial style and elevated language. He is supposed
to play the role of a comedian in this classical play, which has to go
wrong because he is not able to keep fiction and reality apart. The manager,
who tries to explain the role to him, almost loses his mind because Julius,
who is only supposed to say "I slew your horse", always takes it for real
and insists on not having a horse.
[Manager exits right and rushes on tragically]
Manager: Lucullus, my horse!
Manager: Hey? Did I tell you to say hey? I told you to say, "I slew
Julius: Yes, but I ain't got no horse.
Furthermore Julius is afraid that the tragedian could hurt him if he
told him that he slew his horse, and doubtfully regards the physical constitution
of the tragedian as he enters and starts reciting "Hamlet's soliloquy".
Not recognizing this as a piece of art and not understanding anything he
tries to give the words a sense in his own world.
Tragedian: Get thee to a nunnery.
Julius: Get you to a grocery.
After having finally delivered his sentence "I slew your horse" , his
fears seem to have been warranted because by misunderstanding the word
execute he begins to fear for his life.
Tragedian: Merciful powers! I'm standing here -
Julius: So am I
Tragedian: - To see if my powers will with their lightnings execute
my prayer upon thee.
Julius: Execute! He's a butcher!
He finally calls for the police, once more confirming the stereotype
of the stupid and ignorant black.