INTRODUCTION
PUncle
erformance is on the run in William Wells Brown’s 1857 play The
Escape, A Leap for Freedom. A sly revision of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s
Tom’s Cabin, Brown’s abolitionist tale of fugitive resistance fea-
tures characters who utilize a combination of wit and brawn to slip free from
the bonds of slavery. The first drama published by an African American, The
Escape crosses and compresses racial melodrama with satire, the slave narra-
tive form with picaresque adventure in order to imagine how black figures
might shrewdly determine ways to emancipate themselves from servitude.
Armed with a skillet for a weapon and an insurgent impulse rooted in Ameri-
can patriotism, archetypal hero Glen and a band of his compatriots dash
headlong into a grand tableau denouement that literally fulfills the promise of
the play’s title. Yet well before the fugitives make their climactic ‘‘leap’’ to
Canada, Brown’s drama mounts its most spectacular escape in the unlikely
hands of Cato, an expedient house servant who wages a one-man, slow-
burning insurrection of blackface minstrelsy in his solo bid for freedom.∞
Although he professes to have initially traveled North ‘‘wid ole massa’’ to
uphold the Fugitive Slave Act and ‘‘to hunt’’ his fellow slaves, Cato’s decision
instead to ‘‘hunt Canada’’ comes in the wake of his having taken sartorial
liberties with his ‘‘owner.’’ North of the Mason-Dixon line and donning the
clothing of his slumbering master midway through act 5, Cato delivers one of
African American dramatic literature’s earliest and most illuminating mono-
logues on the paradoxes of black identity formation. He marvels,
I wonder if dis is me? By golly, I is free as a frog. But maybe I is mistaken;
maybe dis ain’t me. Cato, is dis you? Yes, seer. Well, now it is me, an’ I em a
free man. But, stop! I muss change my name, kase ole massa might foller
me, and somebody might tell him dat dey see Cato; so I’ll change my name,
and den he won’t know me ef he sees me. Now, what shall I call myself? I’m
INTRODUCTION
P
erformance is on the run in William Wells Brown’s 1857 play The
Escape, A Leap for Freedom . A sly revision of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s
Uncle Tom’s Cabin , Brown’s abolitionist tale of fugitive resistance fea-
tures characters who utilize a combination of wit and brawn to slip free from
the bonds of slavery. The first drama published by an African American, The
Escape crosses and compresses racial melodrama with satire, the slave narra-
tive form with picaresque adventure in order to imagine how black figures
might shrewdly determine ways to emancipate themselves from servitude.
Armed with a skillet for a weapon and an insurgent impulse rooted in Ameri-
can patriotism, archetypal hero Glen and a band of his compatriots dash
headlong into a grand tableau denouement that literally fulfills the promise of
the play’s title. Yet well before the fugitives make their climactic ‘‘leap’’ to
Canada, Brown’s drama mounts its most spectacular escape in the unlikely
hands of Cato, an expedient house servant who wages a one-man, slow-
burning insurrection of blackface minstrelsy in his solo bid for freedom.

Although he professes to have initially traveled North ‘‘wid ole massa’’ to
uphold the Fugitive Slave Act and ‘‘to hunt’’ his fellow slaves, Cato’s decision
instead to ‘‘hunt Canada’’ comes in the wake of his having taken sartorial
liberties with his ‘‘owner.’’ North of the Mason-Dixon line and donning the
clothing of his slumbering master midway through act 5, Cato delivers one of
African American dramatic literature’s earliest and most illuminating mono-
logues on the paradoxes of black identity formation. He marvels,
I wonder if dis is me? By golly, I is free as a frog. But maybe I is mistaken;
maybe dis ain’t me. Cato, is dis you? Yes, seer. Well, now it is me, an’ I em a
free man. But, stop! I muss change my name, kase ole massa might foller
me, and somebody might tell him dat dey see Cato; so I’ll change my name,
and den he won’t know me ef he sees me. Now, what shall I call myself? I’m
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