Episode 15

Welcome to Leadership on Stage and Screen Lecture Podcast, Episode Fifteen.

Race in Shakespeare’s England

As we have seen in both Much Ado and The Winter’s Tale, racial difference does not play much of a role in Shakespeare’s plays—with the notable exceptions of Aaron in Titus Andronicus and Othello in Othello. It’s worth noting that although Caliban in modern productions of The Tempest is often played as a Black slave, that isn’t actually a part of Shakespeare’s original text…

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  1. How did Shakespeare and other playwrights at the time portray characters who were “other” such as Othello? Given their differences in knowledge and understanding concerning race and gender, was that an important distinction to make on stage during the time period?

  2. So if Shakespeare’s plays weren’t seen as sexist at the time because of the different culture, were they also not seen as racist? I understand how racism is a social construct but it was very prevalent during that time in England.

  3. You mentioned that during this time women began to write and publish pieces that argued they were just as capable as men. Are any of these specific writings iconic/well know today?

  4. Going off of the Gender Pamphlet Wars, did women ever argue the idea that women of a higher class were supposed to stay indoors (pale skin tied to higher class/moral standing) while noblemen were able to hunt/ride/expose themselves to the sun? Or did classism ultimately take a higher priority over gender equality in that instance? I guess my larger question is where was the line between what women thought was acceptable versus not?

  5. You said that Calaban would not have been traditionally depicted as a black man, and in modern productions people often do that because of the history of enslaving black people. When do you think this theatrical interpretation would’ve shifted from a Calaban being white, to him being black>

  6. In Shakespeare’s plays involving sexism, it feels as if he is less critiquing misogyny and gender roles and more presenting the common societal ideology of the time. When it comes to the construction of racism in his plays, is Shakespeare introducing a critique of racism, or is he similarly presenting the common views of race/otherness and racial relations within his society. Something tells me it’s not the first one.

  7. You mentioned how we don’t know how Shakespeare feels about white supremacy and Richard Verstegan’s “Restitution and Decayed Intelligence”. Seeing that Richard was a “colleague” of Shakespeares is it fair to say he agreed or disagreed with him? or are there two schools of thought on this as with many other “predicting Shakespeare’s stance on certain issues”?

  8. Are there any accounts of people during Shakespeare’s time that was more accepted than the people classified as “others”? For example, it never really explains why, but Othello is already a military commander in the play, and I wonder if he was based on people or a person who was given an elevated position or was this more of Shakespeare being more liberal with his writing? I would think that writing a black man as a commander and leader of white people would be problematic for the people watching the play.

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