New Meaning of the word Benevolent
Being taken to a brand new exciting place, meeting new people maybe even a new love, and learning new activities one has never heard of, sounds enticing and alluring, but the harsh reality is that it is not. Slave masters in Thomas Bellamy’s play, The Benevolent Planters, is a production that was used as propaganda for the pro-slavery movement. Bellamy’s play promised glorious experiences to those leaving their comfortable home in Africa, for a strange foreign place in a whole new world.
By masking this horrid practice with promises of a better life, the slave traders tricked the slaves into their lies and they would forever know the cruelness of those who now owned them. It also showcased the “benevolent” nature of the slave masters. One of the first pretenses that the slave masters use to lure the Africans onto their ships to a life of chains, is that the weather is far better in England, than in Africa. The actor in this play comments on how hot the climate in Africa is and that he longs for the freedom in the new world. Bellamy also writes that there is no structure in Africa and those that board the ship for England will prosper in the new way of organization and civilization that the Africans so desperately need. In lines thirteen through nineteen though, events take a turn for the worse. All of the excitement and allure is shattered when the “white savage fierce upon me sprung, wrath in his eye, and fury on his tongue, and dragged me to the loathsome vessel near…and plung’d me in the horrors of despair…(Bellamy 245)”.
Just in the prologue alone, promises were offered, then quickly snatched away, never to be seen again. The play starts soon after that and immediately there is a false pretense of hope. The slave masters, whose names are ironically Heartfree and Goodwin make an appearance. By naming his characters such warm and inviting names, Bellamy is trying to communicate that although the slaves seem to be doing the slaves a justice, but in reality, doing them more harm than good. An example of this is when Oran and Selima, two lovers, are separated and sent to different plantations. Goodwin asks Selima to sing a song she has composed to mourn her love that she has lost. Although Goodwin’s act seemed benevolent and true, he in fact just wanted to make her sing and enforce his power over her. The end of the play is what one would call a “happy ending.” The slave masters reunite Oran and Selima, and all is right in the world once again, but that is what Bellamy intended. The slave masters separated the lovers in the first place and are now taking credit for their joyous reunion. This play was saturated in pro-slavery elements and praises the planters for all the good things that happen in the slaves lives.
Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th ed. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010