Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Thomas Koenigs

Reader 2

Tessie Prakas

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© 2016 Elisabeth S. Mayer


This thesis explores how Shakespeare was used by Antebellum American writers to frame slave revolts as either criminal or revolutionary. By specifically addressing The Confessions of Nat Turner by Thomas R. Gray and "The Heroic Slave" by Frederick Douglass, this paper looks at the way invocations of Shakespeare framed depictions of black violence. At a moment when what it means to be American was questioned, American writers like Gray and Douglass turned to Shakespeare and the British roots of the English language in order to structure their respective arguments. In doing so, these texts illuminate how transatlantic identity still permeated American thought. This thesis also argues that the conscious use of British literature, Shakespeare in particular, by abolitionists constitutes a critique of the unfulfilled American ideals they believe slavery undermines. In addressing depictions of slave revolts and black masculinity in this period, this thesis explores how allusions to Shakespeare helped frame the historiography surrounding how slave revolts in America were and are remembered.