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The Octoroon


The Octoroon

The Octoroon, Act IV, 1859 (print held by Special Collections, Templeman Library, University of Kent)[1]
The Octoroon is a play by Dion Boucicault, which opened in 1859 at The Winter Garden Theatre, New York City. Extremely popular, the play was kept running continuously for years by seven road companies.[2] Among antebellum melodramas, it was considered second only in popularity to Uncle Tom's Cabin.[3]

Boucicault adapted the play from the novel The Quadroon by Thomas Mayne Reid (1856). It concerns the residents of a Louisiana plantation called Terrebonne, and sparked debates about the abolition of slavery and the role of theatre in politics. It contains elements of Romanticism and melodrama.

The word octoroon means one-eighth black. Half black is a mulatto, a quarter black is a quadroon.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites The Octoroon with the earliest record of the word "mashup" with the quote: "He don't understand; he speaks a mash up of Indian, French, and Mexican." (Boucicault's manuscript actually reads "Indian, French and 'Merican." The last word, an important colloquialism, was misread by the typesetter of the play.)


  • Plot 1
    • Act I 1.1
    • Act II 1.2
    • Act III 1.3
    • Act IV 1.4
    • Act V 1.5
  • Alternative endings 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Act I

George Peyton returns to the United States from a trip to France to find that the plantation he has inherited is in dire financial straits as a result of his late uncle's beneficence. Jacob McClosky, the man who ruined Judge Peyton, has come to inform George and his aunt (who was bequeathed a life interest in the estate) that their land will be sold and their slaves auctioned off separately. Salem Scudder, a kind Yankee, was Judge Peyton's business partner; though he wishes he could save Terrebonne, he has no money.

George is courted by the rich octoroon and is legally part of the Terrebonne property. He plans to buy her and make her his mistress.

Act II

McClosky intercepts a young slave boy, Paul, who is bringing a mailbag to the house which contains a letter from one of Judge Peyton's old debtors. Since this letter would allow Mrs. Peyton to avoid selling Terrebonne, McClosky kills Paul and takes the letter. The murder is captured on Scudder's photographic apparatus. Paul's best friend, the Indian Wahnotee, discovers Paul's body; he can speak only poor English, however, and is unable to communicate the tragedy to anyone else.

George and Zoe reveal their love for each other, but Zoe rejects George's marriage proposal. When George asks why, Zoe explains that she is an octoroon, and the law prevents a white man from mixed-race couple are united. The tragic ending was used for American audiences, to avoid portraying a mixed marriage.[4]


  1. ^ The Octoroon,Photo from first edition of Act IV, by Dion Boucicault; compliments of Special Collections, Templeman Library, University of Kent.
  2. ^ "The McVay Farewell." Honolulu Commercial Advertiser, June 20, 1899.
  3. ^ "McVay in The Octoroon." Honolulu Evening Bulletin, June 20, 1899.
  4. ^ How to End "The Octoroon", John A. Degen, Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 27, No. 2 (May, 1975), pp. 170-178; The Octoroon

External links

  • A four-act version of the play
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