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Criticism of Blackness in Shakespeare's "Othello"

A Reflective Piece on Racism in "High" Literature

By RL StevensonPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 25 min read
A pedagogical discourse on race and censure of Blackness in Shakespeare’s Othello

For centuries, William Shakespeare has been touted as one of the world’s most celebrated playwrights and poet laureates of the Elizabethan Jacobean Era. It was during the English Renaissance Movement that Europe would witness his theatrical interpretation of whiteness and the aggrandizement of the presumptive power of the white European cultural model.

Undoubtedly, the juggernaut of European colonialism greatly influenced Shakespeare’s propagandist narratives, and it is within the borders of his many works that the literary practitioner showcased anti-Other propaganda and performative bias that catered to the extremely dubious ideologies of white supremacy and the erroneous belief in the lesser existence of its non-white counterparts. Annexation of those borders has propagated a continuum of white supremacist language, rhetoric, and acts of writing the contemporary world that undergird micro and macro-aggressive propaganda fueling continual xenophobic tensions between the races.

Furthermore, because a large majority of his works remain the centerpiece of literary studies in Western pedagogy, Shakespeare’s posturing has greatly influenced whiteness, at work, (as a sovereign, yet covert/silent omnipresence), in varying facets of academia. Thus, critical race studies have increasingly emerged which challenge the pathologies of whiteness and race within the cannon, and expose discursive discourses that focus on marginalized constructions of Blackness more so than on the intentional downplay on the glorification of whiteness. This essay examines the ecology of Othello’s “Blackness” and the consequential side-effects of anti-Other narratives, and briefly examines theories on the political strategy of avoidance and the invisibility of whiteness in Shakespearean scholarship. It also briefly discusses teaching methodologies that ostensibly counteract the latter.

Blackness and the Consequential Side-Effects of Shakespeare’s Anti-Other Narratives

In post-medieval Europe, the construction and exhibition of Blackness in Shakespeare’s plays and poems were heavily steeped in the socio-political and religious traditions that preceded him. In From the Knight’s Tale to The Two Noble Kinsmen: Rethinking race, class and whiteness in romance, quoting Paul Freeman, Dennis Britton notes that medieval religious tenets interconnected class, race, and lineage with the proverbial “curse of Ham” marker.

Consequently, Elizabethans held to the notion that one’s exterior/physiognomy was the composite of their inner expression. In other words, black skin was equivalent to the lower-class Other, a dark and evil way of thinking, being, and doing, ugliness, uncleanness, and ignorance. Conversely, white skin was correspondent with good, purity, godliness, beauty, elitism, and superior intellect. Additionally, according to Britton, in reference to peasantry and the lower class, “Ham had two medieval roles: as the father of a number of peoples, including Black Africans, and as the ancestor of European serfs’” (Britton, 7). Such faulty ontological tenets countersign the disposition of superiority embedded in performative “whiteness” that underscores scholarly discourses on race in Shakespeare’s writings.

Moreover, according to Professor Farah Karim-Cooper’s Anti-Racist Shakespeare, “the early moderns would have inherited their ideas about the values of white and Black from a range of sources: artists manuals that describe the nature and symbolism of color; poetry of the classical and medieval periods that praised ideals of whiteness; sermons that talked about death and damnation using the language and imagery of Blackness and darkness; and religious painting – portraits and frescoes – that emphasized the shimmering divine light of God or Christ and the darkened complexions of devils, demons and death” (Karim-Cooper, 2020).

Shakespeare well understood this biased and unsubstantiated misclassification of race and social status that gave rise to the faulty recognition of anyone with rich expression of melanin to be the lowly servant descendants of Noah’s cursed son, Ham (who, by the way, wasn’t cursed and is customarily confused with his son, Canaan). And, therefore, by design, Shakespeare’s “Black” characters are stereotyped and marginalized because of their Africanness; an attribution that unequivocally determines the schema of each character’s make-up, as well as their ultimate fate. Accordingly, Shakespeare’s construction of his titular Black characters (in Aaron, the Moore, and Othello), forces the reader to look internally transitively as a means of resolving their actions, externally.

Consistent forms of destabilizing Blackness are replete throughout Shakespeare’s constructs of race. And, according to Professor Ania Loomba, in Shakespeare and race: A personal story, "Shakespeare’s plays allow us to trace these patterns. His Othello is a figure who is a Moor in all the different senses of the term — various characters in the play (including himself) harp upon his ‘sooty bosom’ and his ‘thick lips’; recalling age-old stereotypes of Black people, and they call him ‘a devil’, ‘old Black ram’, and ‘a Barbary horse’, all images which attached to sub-Saharan Africans. At the same time, the ‘lascivious Moor’ with his ‘sword of Spain’ also evokes the image of the ‘turbaned Turk’ (the Ottoman enemy that threatened Europe at the time) to whom he compares himself at the end of the play. More than any other play of the time, Othello shows us that skin colour, religion, and geographical origin were often contradictorily yoked together in Renaissance pictures of racial others" (Loomba, 2018).

As a matter of rectification, drawing on parallels between the disparities and inequities of race and class in modern pedagogy and rhetoric (from an historical perspective), educators work to reexamine the conventions of raced ideologies that have normalized white “race-ism” as (the) authority in literary studies and offer more lucid and relative scholarship on matters of race, gender, and sexuality in Shakespeare’s works. The task is often arduous and uncomfortable for undergraduate-level readership of Shakespearean prose, style, and themes; especially, due to the level of sensitivity on race matters in rhetorical spaces and places, or in any environment where the subject is discussed. Here, the reader must engage in self-reflection and resist the urge to judge (as inherently correct) the mis-appropriation of the wrongness of Blackness, based on long-held traditions of stereotyping and marginalization of what it means to be Other.

Moreover, from, Post-medieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies titled "Race-ing the dragon: the Middle Ages, race and trippin’ into the future,” Cord Whitaker asks the reader to consider several critical questions about how the Middle Ages “raced” Africanness:

Exactly how are they raced? Not whether, but how is medieval race-thinking different from modern racism? How does it contribute to the formation of modern racism? What can we decipher of the intellectual, cultural, psychological and even emotional dynamics that give rise to race-thinking in the Middle Ages? In short, how does medieval race work from the inside out” (Whitaker, 2015)?

Not only do Shakespeare’s plays weave, juxtapose, and contrasts a number of these disparaging racial and class elements, which most certainly represent racial and ethnic ambivalence and complicit misrepresentation of Blackness in classical literature (and in the chronicles of history on Black nobility, race, and romance in Europe, the East, and in greater parts of the Mediterranean), Black men, in them, are customarily the victimized poster boys for the wrongness of interracial romance (in Aaron the Moor – a person of obscurity and “secret lover of Tamora”, and in Othello, the Moor – disgraced husband of an interracial love affair).

Yet, it was very common for Black nobility to intermarry with white women or women of other ethnic groups. This portion of the essay focuses exclusively on Othello. From the perspective of a student of literature, composition, and rhetoric, it is my academic observation that Othello’s character, through vice of fictional discourse, is the proverbial image of the disempowered and disavowed Black male, who by virtue of the white male’s pen, is written out of his sacred self (through disparate orthodoxies of literacies that led to his eventual regression, shaming, blaming, psychological, intellectual and emotional stripping, and even death).

Out of all the plays I've read thus far, Shakespeare's Othello is categorically the most racially disagreeable of his literary contrivances about society, race, sex, classism, and overall Elizabethan European culture. The level of contempt for Othello's Blackness is beyond inelegant and repugnant and is less than worthy of acknowledgement. The play encompasses notions of the white male’s motifs, mythemes, and bundling perceptions of the Black male psyche, masculinity, and sexuality, which serve to bolster prejudiced ideals on the politics of assigning value to the body and mind of the so-called barbarous Other.

Essentially, ‘mytheme’, taken from a structuralist theory developed by Claude Levi-Strauss, according to Martin Luther Patrick, in The Myth of the Black Male Beast in Postclassical American Cinema: Forging Stereotypes and Discovering Black Masculinities, Levi-Strauss,

Mapped out constituents call mythemes, achieved through the study of the many versions of a myth that can be found and then extracting from those versions a general pattern or sequence,” where aspects of the text, “identified aspects in the narrative that connote specific themes or characteristics of the story and plot, and…showed how themes can be read through a dual system of horizontal and vertical structures."

Further, playing on the narrative framework of exploiting mythemes involving Blackness, Shakespeare also agitates representation of the “Black mind” motif and infuses psychoanalytic rhetoric — within the scope of “emotional impairment” aka pathos. Likewise, as a matter of rhetorical efficacy, pathos was considered a human frailty, thus an impairment and antithesis to sound reasoning in the field of rhetors. Pathos, or one’s emotional predisposition, is seen as a contemptible impediment, customarily ascribed to emotionally unstable women. The play is also wrought with tacit insults and repetitive denigrating remarks about Othello's dark visage and supposed intellectual ineptness.

Here is an example of Martin Luther Partrick’s Diachronic Myths

that define Othello’s subjectivity.


(This small portion of the essay outlines Patrick's Mytheme Theory)

Guide to Patrick's Diachronic Titles of the Mythemes

*Savage Body: Othello’s ‘Black’ body is read as savage Other

*Savage Mind: Othello’s psychological deterioration stems from his loss of faith in White virtuear

*Object of Desire: Othello loves Desdemona as a ‘White female goddess’

*Clash of Wills: Othello’s quest for self-defined Black masculinity is defeated through Iago’s abuse of White hegemonic power

According to Patrick,

Each of these header diachronic titles also contains mythemes*. Below we have a synchronic history of myth and a diachronic history of racist narratives – in books, plays, and centrally in classical and post-classical cinema – which contain mythemes that perpetuate myths about Black men as beasts. In my textual analysis, I will employ the diachronic and synchronic myth structures and apply them to selected films. I will also demonstrate how these mythemes* can be read beyond Othello if the same myths about Blacks are ‘naturalised’ into perceived racial characteristics that are considered as a threat to hegemonic patriarchal mastery. Below is a map of the synchronic structures that exemplify diachronic titles as mythemes*.

*Savage Body: Othello’s ‘Black’ body is read as savage Other and so are countless other Black characters in narrative fiction

*Savage Mind: The superior/inferior binary myth concerning White vs. Black intellectual perspicacity

*Object of Desire: Othello loves Desdemona as a ‘White female goddess’ and many authors reiterate this racist fantasy in narrative fiction

*Clash of Wills: Othello’s quest for a Black self-defined masculinity is defeated by White hegemonic power and so are countless other Black characters aims

Further, “the aim is to study how White hegemonic authorship draws on a range of myths pertaining to Black men of African heritage as beasts. First, I will explain these myths in relation to the representation of Black manhood performed in Othello and consider whether Othello is a prototype character whose strength and state-appointed power threaten hegemonic White masculinity. Second, by considering how an archetype functions in various films that exemplify synchronic mythemes in diachronic narrative fiction, (re-telling similar stories), I will address the legacy of Othello as a prototype character and examine whether Hollywood has naturalised the myth of Black people’s inferiority. I will therefore suggest the construction of the myth of the Black male beast is divided into four principal synchronic mythemes: the ‘savage body, ‘savage mind’ ‘object of desire’ and the ‘clash of wills’.

*Savage Body: Dirty Black; Beast-like man; ‘Abnormal’ sexual anatomy; Prodigious sexual appetite.

*Savage Mind: Pathological rapist; Unintelligent; Pathological criminal; amoral.

*Object of Desire: The White female goddess; White ‘heroic’ male figure; to be White; Black person possessing White sophistication

*Clash of Wills: Black beast figure battles with White ‘heroic ‘male figure that tames or dominates the beast; Corporeal beast defeated by intellectual man; Civilisation vs Savagery; Black manhood vs. White masculinity


As noted in the above figures, Othello’s “savage body,” is made a spectacle and compared to the beasts of the field, and thus, he is disdained by all because of his Black form. In Act 1.2, he is looked upon as a "thing...with a sooty bosom," that should be feared as opposed to one’s, “delight.” Here, Brabantio chides against Othello, decrying,

Would ever have, t’ incur a general mock, Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom

Of such a thing as thou – to fear, not to delight. (Norton, 1.2:84-86)

Further, in the latter part of Act 1.3, Othello is compared to a donkey, intimating that he is unintelligent, naive/gullible, and subservient (the “savage mind”). Iago contends that,

The Moor is of a free and open nature

That thinks men hones that but seem to be so,

And will as tenderly be led by th’ nose

As asses are. (Norton, 1.3:423-426)

As well, Shakespeare employs the mytheme of the oversexualized Black male as Iago riles up Brabantio, cautioning “Even now, now, very now, an old Black ram is tupping your white ewe” (Norton 1.1.110). Finally, Iago ends his tirade, adding that Othello is a “barbary horse” and that Brabantio’s, “…daughter and the Moor are making the beast with two backs” (1.1.118). All are examples of the mythemes and motifs of “abnormal sexual anatomy” and “clash of wills…in an effort to exaggerate the “white ‘heroic’ male figure that tames or dominates the beast (Patrick, 3). Historically, the politics of white female purity, sexuality, and reproductive autonomy with Black men have invariably catalogued the insurmountable acts of violence against Black males (e.g., the heinous lynching and murder of Emmit Till, or the violent atrocities committed against the whole community of Rosewood, FL - all due to the alleged accosting of a white woman by a Black male, as well as countless other accounts). The archives of the European male chronicles the barbarous actions of White males traditionally imposed upon “Others” to preserve White female purity, engaging in inhumane acts of lynching and other unspeakable hate crimes (safe-guarding against the “mythic Black rapist,” and foreign conflicts over human trafficking and sex trading of White females).

There seems to be a standing precarious notion that white women warrant the level of aggressive protection of white males because sexual relations with non-white males invite “impurities” in the similitude of darkness. For example, in Act 1 Scene 2, the mythemes of the “object of desire” and “clash of wills,” underscore elements of the white male hero versus Black figure conflict. Brabantio’s punitive rebuke of Desdemona’s choosing of Othello implies mental weakness (incapacitation) on her part. He accuses Othello of being a worker of dark magic, suggesting that only a practitioner of dark arts could have so enchanted his pure white princess, exclaiming,

"Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her! For I'll refer me to all things of sense, If she in chains of magic were not bound, Whether a maid, so tender, fair, and happy, So opposite to marriage that she shunned The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,"

Thus, as with Desdemona, white women are conceived paradoxically as “virgin/whore,” as both innocent and puerile. Comparatively, the White male protector syndrome echoes the sentiments of Ersula Ore’s epideictic oratory in Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, and American Identity. In Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Morgan K. Johnson discusses how Ore describes the transgressions of permissible violence in exchange for the virtuous and innocent identity and personhood of the pure white female. Ore also argues that “lynching imagery is a form of political iconography that inculcates citizens in the practices of white democracy by way of modeling anti-Black violence as a customary, natural, and, revered practice of white identity” (Johnson, 55). Overall, Shakespeare's Othello is a classic example of the type of White male aggression that embodies the subject position of their presumed superiority over the subjected Other.

Comprehensibly, it is critical for novice learners of race, sexuality, and gender in post- classical studies of Shakespeare to investigate and engage in dialogue centered around the role motifs and mythemes in Shakespearean literature plays in the construction of “Blackness”. Finally, Patrick asserts that, “myths are structures that realise themselves through the listener…Understanding what a myth is, is intimately related to understanding a process essentially of transformation on of one myth into another,” and, “do not have any meaning in themselves but only in relation to each other” (Patrick, 1).

Of the many observations detailed in the play, Othello’s innate tendencies were used as a weapon of mind control and conformity to “standardized” complexes (language, behaviors, social, and political spaces and places). Additionally, the play also magnifies inherent deficiencies within the framework of a white male-centered social authority and faulty meaning-making of Othello’s person that defined it in its progressive phases of “mental/psychological deficiency”. The mischaracterization of the noble Black male in this play is comparable to literary lobotomization which extinguishes and disembodies the strength and masculinity of his character (i.e., he is deemed as both subversive and psychologically effeminized). Shakespeare further exploits white supremacy through writing disparities and MIS-treatment of the Black male psychology by dehumanizing him through mis-identity of self, intellect, social intelligence, and sexual autonomy.

Additionally, Shakespeare developed and endorsed Othello’s mental capacity as childish and as having a strong dependency on the white male authoritative figure. In opposition to his strong and honorable war-hero image, because he was “Black” and in an interracial relationship, he was vilified and marginalized, deemed unsuitable, and seen as intellectually weak/frail, and mentally, emotionally, and psychologically incapable of managing his own life. His candidacy as a human subject of Shakespeare’s psychological spectacle was involuntary and does not seem to warrant or propose that Othello was mentally ill by birth, but that his white male counterparts fashioned him that way.


Theories on The Political Strategy of Avoidance and The Invisibility of Whiteness in Shakespearean Scholarship

One of early modern New Historicism’s most direct confrontations with the issue of race comes in “Racial Memory and Literary History” (2001), where Stephen Greenblatt argues: According to a widely disseminated eighteenth- and nineteenth-century view, the English have no need of a formal, written constitution; they have instead the works of their greatest playwright. That is, they can dispense with an articulation of the norms, values, and procedures by which freedom and order are established, maintained, and protected . . . because the English possess Shakespeare as a common bond, a supremely powerful expression of what is shared across all the potentially damaging divisions of class, caste, and interest, a symbol of what is most precious to the nation as a whole (Little, 3).

As mentioned in the introductory passages of this paper, the belief in Shakespeare’s prowess and mastery of the pen has been a standing pillar of whiteness in all things European, all things theatrical, all things politically, socially, and poetically liturgical, and in all things, both beautifully and grotesquely complex. The pre-existing social paradigms within economics, politics, religion, race, gender, and sexuality are unequivocally and disproportionately “white”. And, as previously noted, because a large majority of his works remain the centerpiece of literary studies in Western pedagogy, Shakespeare’s posturing has greatly influenced whiteness, at work, (as a sovereign, yet covert/silent omnipresence), in varying facets of academia. However, it is through the bold and outspoken rigor of revisionist scholarship that the white supremacist manifesto (i.e., the complete corpus of Shakespearean literature), stands to be challenged and possibly subverted. Professional workgroups and scholarly thinktanks like the Folger Institute, the English Department at Binghamton University, Shakespeare’s Globe: SuchStuff Podcasts, just to name a few, are progressively emerging to oppose and promote anti-white pedagogy in efforts to decommission institutional bias in literary studies

Moreover, what has become most significant amongst scholars is the pretense of the invisibility of whiteness in academia, which emphasizes the argument on the “political strategy of avoidance.” Essentially, this means to look at the intersections of identity markers of whiteness, unexamined, and illuminate criticisms against intentional rhetorical impairment of the silent power of it. There is a strong tendency to ignore the regularity of the authoritative presence of whiteness in Shakespearean literature, and in settings where his works are contemplated (especially amongst those identifying as white). Accordingly, Karim-Cooper, in How whiteness dominates the study of Shakespeare, contends that, “for too long, ways of looking at Shakespeare have been dominated by a concern with whiteness, but one that goes unacknowledged. For those who study Shakespeare’s work, this has marginalised the voices, concerns and interests of scholars of colour. If we are reading Shakespeare in narrow ways, do we also teach Shakespeare from these same narrow perspectives? And do we pass the same narrow concerns onto another generations of Shakespeare readers and scholars” (Karim-Cooper, 2020)?

Further, concepts of race and the construction of cultural whiteness are often overshadowed by concentrated discussions on the victimized Other. In many aspects, ethnic and racial borders are even embedded within Shakespeare’s works to protect the unspoken wrongness and sanctity of whiteness, alienating the non-white Other from exhibiting and/or assuming scholarly authority in Shakespearean studies. Because Shakespeare is so highly revered, not simply as a man, but as the epitome of Europeanness, there is no academic color line whiteness allows the non-white Other to breach. As such, whiteness is, therefore, culturally and contextually “supremely othered”. Likewise, according to Karim-Cooper, “most think of Whiteness as normal, non-racial, to the point of invisibility. But this is dangerous because it means that everyone else is othered or made strange. When actually according to Richard Dyer’s book ‘White’ – “whiteness needs to be made strange itself” (Karim-Cooper, 2020).

Fundamentally, then, the “Shakespearean'esque” status of whiteness is demoted to the class of minority. Consequently, it is this sense of exclusivity amongst the “raced” that marks whiteness as inversely alien. Unfortunately, the non-white scholar unwittingly finds themselves in heterotopic teaching spaces, because the Shakespearean reality consists of varying degrees of “worlds within worlds”, and a multiplicity of atlases that lead interlocutors to racially charged interpretation of rhetorical spaces and places within the text (i.e., intersections of violence and victimization of the marginalized Other).

Further, whiteness is shrouded in anonymity, and because the predominant curricular model is structured and taught from the Western perspective, students have been programmed to perceive the world through the lens of whiteness and therefore raced matters are not in their purview. The presumption and alterity of whiteness in Shakespeare goes unchallenged, because as a general rule, whiteness is presented and perceived as an inherent, all-encompassing, unspoken desirable human positionality. As a result, race only becomes a matter of reason and discourse when marginalized characters (such as Othello, and Aaron the Moor) are essential to the narrative. As well, in The Sound of Whiteness: Critical Race Theory, Shakespeare and the Classroom, Jennifer Micale of Binghamton University, contends that, “racism is something that makes white people feel white, rather than the normative space they typically experience themselves as occupying. Because of this, recognizing the meaning and construction of whiteness can be both unfamiliar and uncomfortable in American culture” (Micale, 2020).

Correspondingly, David Sterling Brown, Assistant Professor of English, and Jennifer Lynn Stoever, Assoc. Professor of English at Binghamton University, co-facilitated a lively discussion on The Sound of Whiteness, encouraging teachers of Shakespearean literature to understand the magnitude of the, “hierarchical division between black and white,” and how it’s, “heard through the listening ear, our ideological filter” (Stoever, 2020). Sensitive to these differences, Stoever’s work on critical race studies, “led to the discovery of the sonic color line.” Race is conceptually graphic’ yet, according to Stoever, “The Sonic Color Line argues that American ideologies of white supremacy are just as dependent on what we hear—voices, musical taste, volume—as they are on skin color or hair texture…through analysis of the historical traces of sounds of African American performers…reveals a host of racialized aural representations operating at the level of the unseen—the sonic color line—and exposes the racialized listening practices she figures as “the listening ear” (Stoever, 2020). “Black sound” is usually comparable to loud, rowdy and clamorous noise, while whiteness is equivalent to calm, controlled, and orderly environments.

Consequently, the sound of blackness in Shakespeare’s plays is the polar opposite of white sound, i.e., Othello is maligned and mocked as thick-lipped, sooty, and a barbary ram, etc. His is the inherent right to be a nobleman, a hero, a lover, and above all, a human—not a black marker, a pejorative, or a caricature of beingness. He is anything but black, dark, beastly, or evil. Whiteness is somehow muted in this play, even though 99% of the treachery, lies, deception, and subterfuge is committed by white characters. To deny the reality of racial discrimination in Shakespeare’s work is beyond incomprehensible; yet, there are scholars who blindly contend that reading racial discord into the text should be categorically denounced. A classic example of the avoidance of whiteness can be actualized in an excerpt from Barbara Whitson’s essay on Shakespeare’s Attitude Toward Race. Here, Whitson purports that she does not draw her conclusion on any character from the perspective of race or color. Instead, she contends,

The character is just a character, whether he was taken from historical content or mythology. To read race or nationality into the play prevents one from discerning the appreciation and involvement of the character. With education and awareness, audiences are better equipped to understand and formulate differences than the audiences of the Renaissance period. Their understanding of race was limited to religious and political indoctrination. We, the audiences of today are better equipped to handle race and nationality on screen and in print since our exposure is not as limited. Our acceptance of people as people regardless of race, political, or sexual orientation (and I certainly hope this is true,) allows us to better focus on the quality of Shakespeare's creative personalities, unadulterated by bias later assigned or miss- assigned through subsequent generations of interpreters. Therefore, it is my contention that we are better judges of Shakespeare's attitude toward race than previously biased audiences. (Whitson, 2).

Undoubtedly, apologetic positions such as Whitson’s are vehemently contested because such analyses undermine efforts to decolonize Shakespeare’s racist politics and is an impediment to the movement of progressive pedagogy in literary studies. And while the sentiment sounds impassioned, it is destabilized with the rhetoric of white privilege. Likewise, it is completely misguided and ignores the role whiteness has played in the construct of race and its overall role in establishing the rigid standards of prestige in academia. Conversely, in How whiteness dominates the study of Shakespeare, Ambereen Dadabhoy poignantly notes that, “if you’re not gonna’ read race well you have to think about what kind of privilege you have in deciding that you can’t see race anymore, and that’s the same privilege in deciding that Shakespeare gets to speak for all of us, because his white male position can always be rendered transcendent” (Dadabhoy, 2020).

In conclusion, it is apparent that race, bias, generalizations, and social inequities are heavily influenced by respected figureheads of literature such as Shakespeare. No matter how "modern" or "evolved" any one society is, one obvious fact remains, and that is, collectively, all bear a moral responsibility to write narratives that help to foster and facilitate the mindset of racial equability and social justice. Unfortunately, in tandem with Shakespeare, the greater of the institutional authorities are also complicit, and have been for much too long. It is very clear that Shakespeare, along with his contemporaries (and those who preceded and followed him), engaged in "white language biases" to forge the ideologies of white supremist propaganda in literature. Perhaps he was commissioned or contracted to do so by the heads of the crown (as with Renaissance artists who were commissioned to reinterpret images of epic figures once known to be "other). Characterization, formulated in the manner akin to Shakespeare’s Othello, with displaced identities and faulty constructs, are simply to coddle the psyche of their prospective audiences. As modern-day rhetors, it is our responsibility to challenge the status quo and demand pedagogies that unravel and upend academic hierarchies that control how we process realities of our past, present, and future.

That a large majority of his works (especially Othello), are left unchecked and remain the centerpiece of literature in Western academic pedagogy is incomprehensible. It is difficult to separate Shakespeare from the psyche of his racist "characters". Even though the human vices in the play represent voices and props that agitate societal norms, the author is the omniscient narrator; thus, he is the primary "speaker" and constant "agent" in and of the piece. The overall arc typifies the behavior of white supremacists who customarily hold the view of superiority in beingness, dominancy in intellect, and the power gaze over those they classify as insignificantly Other. It is of the utmost importance for scholars to reexamine and dismantle teaching methodologies, pseudo-sciences, and biases in several classes (i.e., institutional racism, scientific racism, theological/religious racism, historical and rhetorical racism) that continue to further deteriorate the fabric of society.


Works Cited

Britton, Dennis. From the Knight’s Tale to The Two Noble Kinsmen: Rethinking race, class and whiteness in romance. Postmedieval 6, 64–78 (2015). Accessed: 11/27/2020.

Dadabhoy, Ambereen. How whiteness dominates the study of Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s Globe: SuchStuff podcast. (26 May, 2020). s6-e2-how-whiteness-dominates-the-study-of-shakespeare/ Accessed 12/10/2020.

Karim-Cooper, Farah. How whiteness dominates the study of Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s Globe: SuchStuff podcast. (26 May, 2020). s6-e2-how-whiteness-dominates-the-study-of-shakespeare/ Accessed 12/10/2020.

Karim-Cooper, Farah. Anti-racist Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s Globe (26 May, 2020). shakespeare/. Accessed 12/10/2020.

Little Jr., Arthur J. Re-Historicizing Race, White Melancholia, and the Shakespearean Property.

Shakespeare Quarterly, Volume 67, Number 1, Spring 2016, pp. 84-103 (Article). Published by Oxford University Press.

Loomba, Ania. Shakespeare and race: A personal story. Shakespeare’s Globe:SuchStuff podcast. (13 Aug, 2018). personal-story-e998feae257. Accessed 12/11/2020.

Micale, Jennifer. The Sound of Whiteness: Critical Race Theory, Shakespeare and the Classroom theory-shakespeare-and-the-classroom. (29 July, 2020). Accessed 12/13/2020.

Morgan K. Johnson (2020) Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, and American Identity, by Ersula J. Ore, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 50:1, 69-71, DOI: 10.1080/02773945.2019.1689083.

Patrick, Martin Luther. The Myth of the Black Male Beast in Postclassical American Cinema: Forging Stereotypes and Discovering Black Masculinities, Department of American and Canadian Studies The University of Birmingham. September 2009.

Shakespeare, William, et al. The Norton Shakespeare. Third edition. New York: W.

W. Norton & Company, 2015.

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  • Tiffany Gordon 2 months ago

    ❤❤❤❤ A superbly written, truth-filled & on-time piece! BRAVO RL! 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

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