Cover image for Staging Habla de Negros: Radical Performances of the African Diaspora in Early Modern Spain By Nicholas R. Jones

Staging Habla de Negros

Radical Performances of the African Diaspora in Early Modern Spain

Nicholas R. Jones


$101.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08346-9

$39.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08347-6

Available as an e-book

248 pages
6" × 9"
15 b&w illustrations

Iberian Encounter and Exchange, 475–1755

Staging Habla de Negros

Radical Performances of the African Diaspora in Early Modern Spain

Nicholas R. Jones

Winner of the Outstanding First Book Prize from the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora

Winner of the Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize from the Modern Language Association

“A bold intervention that contributes significantly to the ongoing expansion of early modern race studies beyond the Anglosphere.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Subjects
In this volume, Nicholas R. Jones analyzes white appropriations of black African voices in Spanish theater from the 1500s through the 1700s, when the performance of Africanized Castilian, commonly referred to as habla de negros (black speech), was in vogue.

Focusing on Spanish Golden Age theater and performative poetry from authors such as Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Rueda, and Rodrigo de Reinosa, Jones makes a strong case for revising the belief, long held by literary critics and linguists, that white appropriations and representations of habla de negros language are “racist buffoonery” or stereotype. Instead, Jones shows black characters who laugh, sing, and shout, ultimately combating the violent desire of white supremacy. By placing early modern Iberia in conversation with discourses on African diaspora studies, Jones showcases how black Africans and their descendants who built communities in early modern Spain were rendered legible in performative literary texts.

Accessibly written and theoretically sophisticated, Jones’s groundbreaking study elucidates the ways that habla de negros animated black Africans’ agency, empowered their resistance, and highlighted their African cultural retentions. This must-read book on identity building, performance, and race will captivate audiences across disciplines.

“A bold intervention that contributes significantly to the ongoing expansion of early modern race studies beyond the Anglosphere.”
Staging Habla de Negros: Radical Performances of the African Diaspora in Early Modern Spain is an ambitious monograph that examines the presence of the African diaspora in the Iberian Peninsula through the ‘radical performance’ of black speech, revealing a series of social, cultural and linguistic complexities that until now remained hidden due to the unfounded prejudices of more traditional criticism.”
“By showing how literary representations can illuminate not only the anti-black racism of white authors and audiences but also the impact and agency of black subjects in the African diaspora, Jones’s book offers an innovative framework and plants the seeds for further research on the Iberian world, demonstrating how much this field can contribute to early modern critical race studies.”
“A crucial intervention in discussions about black Africans in Renaissance Europe. Focusing specifically on early modern Spain, Jones offers insightful and nuanced readings of the ways in which (mostly) white Spanish writers appropriated black speech in staged performances and poetry, arguing that such appropriations actually encode black African agency. Importantly, he decenters the author and asks readers to approach these literary forms from the margin to understand how forces beyond the author influence text formation. Jones’s careful, against-the-grain readings open up to readers new archives (and re-present familiar ones from fresh, intriguing perspectives) for the study of black cultural experiences in the Renaissance era.”
“Nicholas R. Jones reveals new worlds in this exploration of the black African diaspora in early modern Iberia. Deftly combining literary analysis, performance studies, and diaspora studies, Jones demonstrates how representations of ‘black speech’ document African voices of agency, presence, and resistance as African identities were boldly formed at the heart of Iberian culture. These lively and critically imaginative arguments are destined to become standard points of reference for years to come.”
“Nicholas Jones makes a necessary and nuanced argument that black folks will always hack the systems of oppression and eagerly make use of whatever agency they can acquire to subvert and chip away at anti-blackness. Jones uses the theories of Audre Lorde, Zora Neale Hurston, and Daphne Brooks to demonstrate how heretofore undertheorized characters in habla de negros texts revel in black joy through artful expressions and speech acts steeped in an Africaneity that Iberian Studies can no longer deny.”
“This compelling study offers many fresh insights into the literary reception of African-Iberian speech performance and recovers depictions that previous scholarship derided as hopelessly biased or monologic. It utilizes these depictions to read not just the formation of early modern black subjectivities but also the role they played in defining the hegemonic order under which these were crafted and codified. Jones directs critical attention to multiple stagings of subaltern performance by Blacks, Africans, and Ibero-Africans as well as their instrumental roles in the formation of early modern global empires.”
“Jones’s innovative comparative work makes space for dramatic resistance and plurality in our telling of imperial histories.”
Staging Habla de Negros manages to create a perfect balance between an exhaustive literary analysis informed by cultural studies and black studies and a short study that connects the past with the present, highlighting the transhistorical and transnational aspects of the staging of the black race, aspects still subordinate to other interests in Golden Age studies.”
“Jones encourages us to conceive of the performance and reception of habla de negros on stages as particular historical sites. Jones’s richly textured descriptions of these visual and aural feasts of Blackness will indubitably spark an important wave of scholarship that focuses on the aural landscape of habla de negros on and off stages in early modern Spain.”
“In viewing habla de negros speech acts as instantiations of Bakhtinian heteroglossia, Jones’s work in Staging Habla de Negros demonstrates the destabilizing power of theatrical embodiments of Blackness by the very nature of their existence. The work this book accomplishes models that type of resistance, itself a “radical performance” of scholarship that deterritorializes paradigms in early modern Iberian theater research about the content and nature of our work.”

Nicholas R. Jones is Assistant Professor of Spanish at Bucknell University.

List of Illustrations

Preface: Talking Black in Spanish


Translating Blackness: An Editorial Note on Translations

Introduction: The Habla de Negros Palimpsest; Theorizing Habla de Negros

1. Black Skin Acts: Feasting on Blackness, Staging Linguistic Blackface

2. The Birth of Hispanic Habla de Negros: Signifying for the Black Audience in Rodrigo de Reinosa

3. Black Divas, Black Feminisms: The Black Female Body and Habla de Negros in Lope de Rueda

Afterword: B(l)ack to the Future; The Postmodern Legacy of Habla de Negros, or Talking in Tongues