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Dion Boucicault Collections

The Octoroon

Accession code: UKC/CALB/OCT

The Octoroon or Life in Louisiana : a play in four acts by Dion Boucicault. First performed in the United States at the Winter Garden Theatre, New York in 1859. The play was first performed in London at the Adelphi Theatre in 1861.

Characters in the play

Octoroon Music Cover
  • Zoe Peyton
  • George Peyton
  • Mrs. Peyton
  • Jacob M'Closky
  • Salem Scudder
  • Uncle Pete
  • Paul
  • Wah-no-tee
  • Sunnyside
  • Dora Sunnyside
  • Captian Ratts
  • Pointdexter
  • Jules Thibedoux
  • Judge Jackson
  • Miss McLellan
  • La Fouche
  • Salon
  • Caillou
  • Grace
  • Dido
  • Minnie

Plot

The Octoroon is the story of doomed love. It has all the elements of a good melodrama; murder, threatened poverty, a thwarted love affair and a suicide, or if playing to a London audience, a happy ending. Boucicault set this play in the deep south of the United States.

Zoe Peyton, the central character is the daughter of Judge Peyton who owns Terrebonne, a Louisiana plantation. Judge Peyton's death is the catalyst of the play. Zoe falls in love with his nephew George, recently turned to Louisiana from France. George in turn falls in love with Zoe. However their love is doomed. Zoe has been raised as the daughter of the Judge but her mother was not the judge's wife. Her real mother was a slave, with whom the Judge had been having an affair.

Octoroon means "one-eighth blood" and even though Zoe had been raised as a white southern woman she could never marry George as American antimiscegenation laws forbade marriage between blacks and whites. On top of this Boucicault throws an imminent bankruptcy into the mix. The Judge's wife has been left peniless by his death and a cheque which could have saved them all goes missing. As a result Terrebonne goes up for auction and Zoe, who thought her father had given her freedom, discovers that this was never made legal and is declared a slave and put up for sale along with the rest of the plantation.

The evil villain in the Octoroon is Jacob M'Closky, the overseer of Terrebonne. He is also in love with Zoe and is determined to own her. At the beginning of the play M'Closky waylayed the slave, Paul, who had been sent to collect the mail bag from the river boat. In the mail was the fateful cheque on which the Widow Peyton had been pinning all her hopes. However, M'Closky murdered Paul, stole the cheque and the bankruptcy continues with M'Closky putting in the highest bid for Zoe.

Boucicault harnesses quite a few special effects in this play and introduces some modern inventions. One, a camera, helps bring McClosky's action to light. Paul and a native American, Wah-no-tee, had been playing with the camera before McClosky's attack. Unfortunately for McClosky the camera took a photograph as he committed the murder. After the auction McClosky grants Zoe one more night in her old home, however once she leaves the scene another plantation worker, Salem Scudder, arrives with the fateful photograph and McClosky is unmasked but escapes. Wah-no-tee follows to track him down. The Widow Peyton finally gets her cheque and the bankruptcy auction is cancelled. Zoe, not knowing that she is saved, returns to Terrebonne, takes poison and dies.

Or at least she does in the American version of the play. Boucicault discovered that the heroine's suicide did not go down well with London audiences and changed the ending so that Zoe and George ended up together.

Productions of The Octoroon

Production 1
Winter GardenTheatre, New York, United States
1859

Production 2
Adelphi Theatre, Strand, Westminster, London, England
1861

Related Material

Printed edition
Item number: 0599864
This printed edition of the play is part of the Melville Collection and includes printed musical parts.

Printed edition with handwritten additions
Item number: 0598897
This printed edition of the play is part of the Pettingell Collection.

Printed edition
Item numbers: 0594365 , 0590541 , 0590538, 0590537 , 0590542 , 0590540 , 0590539
These seven printed editions of the play are part of the Pettingell Collection. Some have additional typed cast lists and handwritten notes throughout the text.

Printed edition
Item number: F190283
This printed edition is part of the Calthrop Boucicault Collection.

Novel
Item number: 0612613
Entitled The Octoroon or The lily of Louisiana this is an unabridged reprint from the Halfpenny Journal, Vol.1, 11 Nov 1861-17 Mar 1862. Written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon in 1862 it is based on the Boucicault play.

E-text
A free e-text of The Octoroon is available from the website of the James A. Cannavino Library at Marist College Poughkeepsie, see: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu

External internet page
The Wikipedia entry on The Octoroon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Octoroon

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Last Updated: 31/07/2012