In Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the choice to reference Colley Cibber’s widely produced play Love’s Last Shift shows the influence of a drama piece, or theatrical play, using messages behind its genre in order to add morality into Equiano’s audience; seeing it as something they lack. He chooses to parallel Colley’s character of Sir William Wisewoud to not only take from a sympathetic characterization and apply it to his own situation, but to use this in such a way to highlight the disparities and abuse and incite a “good, moral, Christian” audience to feel incredulous for his own situation.
Love’s Last Shift is a sentimental comedy play, where in which the main characters include “middle-class protagonists triumphantly overcom[ing] a series of moral trials.” A large focus of sentimental comedy is promoting morals over vices, appealing to “noble sentiments” by preaching a sort of moralistic behavior through a tragic, pitying type of comedy. Many of these sentimental comedy works show how men are able to be “reformed and set back on the path of virtue” through good deeds and esteemed morals (britannica.com).
In one particular scene, a short scene plays out where a conceited rake, Sir Novelty Fashion, receives a letter from a woman he has been flirting with, Narcissa, right in front of her father, Sir William Wisewoud. These caricatures are a side story of the main plot, where essentially, Sir Novelty Fashion is attempting to woo Narcissa while he already has a mistress (scandalous!!), all while mocking Narcissa’s father, who’s trying to play matchmaker for his daughter to marry an actual gentleman, Elder Worthy. When courting Narcissa, he only truly decided to go meet her and potentially engaging in promiscuous behavior to exact revenge on Sir William, to “have the pleasure of making” the relationship and his “exploits” public (page 41). He even goes on, inciting a provocation by taunting, “Hark you! wou’d not it nettle you damnably to hear my Son call you Grandfather?” (page 41). This kind of tone and attitude shows not only how childish and comedically immature Sir Novelty is, but to a sympathetic audience, pitying how Sir William has to grovel in submission, even oblige Sir Novelty as to not show a crack in his demeanor when his pride has been shattered. Sir William comes to the conclusion that in order to keep his patience (and have good morals), preaching that keeping a cool head is worthwhile by stating:
“How near are men to Brutes, when their unruly Passions break the Bounds of Reason? And of all Passions, Anger is the most violent, which often puts me in mind of that admirable
He that strives not to Stem his Angers Tide,
Does a Mad Horse without a Bridle ride.” – page 42
This is seen referenced in Equiano’s work in order to parallel his and Sir William’s situations in order to garner sympathy. A large focus of this stems from Equiano praying for a sort of noble sentiments, where “resignation, that his will might be done; and the following two portions of his holy word” could lift his “born again Evangelical” spirit, and keep him from “taking the life of this wicked man” (Chapter XI). This, while notably tying into how sentimental comedy attempts to moralize noble sentiments and good deeds, when he references Love’s Last Shift, stating, “That he who cannot stem his anger’s tide/Doth a wild horse without a bridle ride” (Chapter XI). The physical abuse Equiano continues to endure throughout his journey, seen in this instance as Baker “[striking him] often, still keeping the fire in his hand for this wicked purpose” (Chapter XI). His hands, as once tied as he was “hung, without any crime committed…merely because [he] was a free man, and could not by the law get any redress from a white person” due to the degradation of African slaves and inherent racism linked to it, were tied again – his testimony and account of Baker’s exploitation and abuse “could not be admitted against a white” (Chapter XI). These two elements are used as parallels to Sir William’s ideals that one should be a master of their own temper, in that a “Fools power to provoke [one] beyond that Serenity of Temper” shouldn’t be stronger than one’s own belief in a personal moral compass (page 42). This is inherently tied to Equiano’s biblical allusions and his belief in providence and the “the good hand of God” to guide him and in a sense, save him when he’s unable to save himself (Chapter XI).