Claremont Discourse: Why Black Lives Matter in Shakespeare

Ambereen Dadabhoy, Visiting Professor of Literature, Harvey Mudd College
Wednesday, March 9th, 4:15PM - Founders Room, Honnold/Mudd Library

Why has the work of William Shakespeare endured over 400 years? What is so special about his genius that sets him apart from not just his contemporaries but also his literary and theatrical descendants? Some would say that it is Shakespeare's ability to hauntingly capture the essence of humanity. To buy into this construction of Shakespeare and his work is simultaneously romantic and problematic because in general the human essence that is being presented to us is white, male, and European. What are we then to make of Shakespeare's black subjects, like Othello? This has been a problem in the critical study of race in Shakespeare because it is tied to historical frameworks that inform the construction of race. The unwillingness to explore race through anachronism, to use a modern optics in order to expose the foundations of racial thinking in Shakespeare, can be a way to erase the black presence that we find in his work. Indeed, one reason why black lives matter in Shakespeare is that Othello circulates in our cultural imaginary as a pre-text undergirding black masculinity and desire. Professor Dadabhoy will discuss how the political, cultural, and social meanings and constructions of blackness (and race) are central to Othello and to her work, which claims that black lives matter in Shakespeare because they are present, have meaning, and expose the limits of the Anglo-American cultural and political body.

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