European Theater History

Please watch a video production of Athol Fugard’s play Master Harold…and the Boys at the link below:

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Master Harold… contains material that may startle you. It contains instances of racism and uses of the n-word. These uses are within the context of the play’s setting and characters in South Africa in 1950 during the apartheid era.

Apartheid was the white South African government’s policy of absolute segregation based on race and ethnicity and was in force from 1948 until the 1990’s. Apartheid segregated not only black South Africans; Indians, Asians, and other non-white peoples were targets of the system as well. Black Africans, however, were the most restricted group under the apartheid system. Black South African’s had to carry identity papers at all times, were subject to curfews and searches, could be detained by police without charge or bail, and were restricted to certain neighborhoods, schools, businesses, jobs, houses of worship, etc. Familiarity with whites was strictly regulated and most types of inter-racial association were forbidden. Punishment for violation of the apartheid rules was harsh and police raids into black neighborhoods were routine and often ended in bloodshed. Sympathetic whites were also arrested, beaten and imprisoned.

Athol Fugard, a white South African , worked in a government office and reacted strongly to the injustices he saw (and was supposed to enforce). He left government and became a writer. His political and personal works reflect his strong anti-racist beliefs. Being woke under apartheid had consequences, however, and for decades Fugard’s writing could only be published and produced outside South Africa. He was a frequent target of government restrictions and threats from conservative white South Africans. He wrote Master Harold… in 1982. It’s based on personal experience from Fugard’s youth.

This video production of Master Harold…, originally produced for HBO, features amazing performances by Zakes Mokai (who originated the role of Sam on stage) and, as Willy, John Kani (whom you may know from Captain America, Black Panther, and the remake of Lion King). A young Matthew Broderick plays Master Harold.
I remember how much this play affected me when I first saw it, and I’ve shown it to many classes over the years. I hope you find it powerful.

So, here’s what I’d like you to write about:

Rhinoceros deals with an epidemic that causes humans to transform. Master Harold… deals with a different kind of epidemic—racism—and a different possibility of transformation. Both plays feature a fear of “the other” and confusion over who “the other” is. Both plays contain wisdom, too. One story is told in a realistic way, the other as an absurd fantasy. Cite specific instances in each work that made you think, that moved you. Are there any intersections between the two plays? What conclusions do you draw from watching these plays?

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