Black individuals have a protracted historical past with Shakespeare—and the Bard has a protracted historical past of clashing with white gatekeepers.
Casting of black actor Denzel Washington as Macbeth in Joel Coen’s latest movie the tragedy of macbeth Criticism from some quarters got here as little shock to Dr. Dennis Austin Britton.
Dr Britton is an affiliate professor in UBC’s Division of English Language and Literature specializing in Shakespeare. We talked with him about black individuals’s relationship with Shakespeare.
You fought in opposition to the concept that Shakespeare is just for white individuals. Why?
There’s a deep irony in relation to Shakespeare and black individuals and BIPOC individuals usually.
On the one hand, Shakespeare has lengthy been thought-about “common”—with the distinctive skill to talk to the issues shared by all human beings. This can be a deeply racist view. How may a white man from sixteenth century England characterize, converse for and converse to people throughout time and area – who’ve numerous experiences and methods of dwelling on the planet? After all, white Christian Europeans refused to see non-whites, non-Christians and non-Europeans as totally human with a view to justify slavery, settler colonialism and genocide. It’s exhausting to separate Shakespeare’s claims about universality from the difficulty of an individual thought-about to be a traditionally good human.
However, black individuals have usually been banned or criticized for performing and writing about Shakespeare. After watching a efficiency by Nineteenth-century African-American Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge, a theater critic wrote that Aldridge’s “lips had been so formed that it was fully unattainable for her to pronounce English.” Earlier than we are saying, “Properly, that was a very long time in the past,” the Royal Shakespeare Firm in Stratford-upon-Avon is presently engaged on an all-black manufacturing a lot Ado About Nothing, and the corporate has acquired a number of racist messages in regards to the manufacturing. Behind all of it is the racist notion that Shakespeare is for all human beings, so long as these people are white.
What does historical past inform us about black individuals’s relationship with Shakespeare and his works?
Regardless of white supremacy and its efforts to meticulously defend Shakespeare, black individuals proceed to carry out, learn, and touch upon Shakespeare: WEB Dubois, 19-Century Black Girls Studying Group, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka , Toni Morrison, Janet Sears and plenty of extra. Black individuals have insisted that they’ll do with Shakespeare as they select, in a approach that brings them pleasure and reaffirms who they’re.
when he filmed othello In 1965, he solid Laurence Olivier and put him in blackface. Now Denzel Washington is enjoying the function of Macbeth. How would you react to individuals criticizing that casting alternative based mostly on historic accuracy?
As a lot as some individuals declare that they do not see shade and that we stay in a racial society, race issues quite a bit in relation to Shakespeare. As soon as once more, the query of what Shakespeare is anxious with is central. the tragedy of macbeth The movie is a twenty first century movie adaptation of Macbeth, a play that was impressed by historical past however is just not a precise rewrite of historical past. Shakespeare himself knew that his performs weren’t correct reflections of historical past. For my part, the argument for historic accuracy undermines resistance to makes an attempt at variety and inclusion – not solely in Shakespearean performances, however extra typically.
You train a second 12 months English course known as “Cancel Shakespeare”. What’s behind that course title?
Folks have lately written about what it has to do with Shakespeare, particularly in instructional contexts. Many highschool lecturers are questioning whether or not they need to proceed to show Shakespeare. If there’s a dedication to diversify the curriculum and finish colonialism, how a lot, if any, needs to be taught? And what needs to be achieved with the moments in his performs that categorical previous views of ladies, individuals of shade, queer individuals, and different socially marginalized individuals? Some social conservatives have expressed fears that Shakespeare is falling sufferer to a “cancelled tradition”. The course examines Shakespeare’s performs within the context of public debate about what we must always do with Shakespeare now.
Interview Language(s): English