Shakespeare’s Views on Race?
But Post-Colonial rereadings of Shakespeare did not start with New Historicist revelations that The Tempest is a “discourse of imperialism”. The critique has a rich background among Caribbean writers like George Lamming, Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Aime Cesaire. Shakespeare is in any case very concerned with racial difference. His first black character is Aaron in Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare may have played the role himself), who glories in his colour (IV.ii.97-103) …
What, what, ye sanguine, shallow-hearted boys!
Ye white-lim’d walls! ye alehouse painted signs!
Coal-black is better than another hue,
In that it scorns to bear another hue;
For all the water in the ocean
Can never turn the swan’s black legs to white,
Although she lave them hourly in the flood.
Despite this, some critics have complained that white is assumed as a standard of beauty and sexual attraction in Shakespeare, forgetting too that his most alluring character is of course Cleopatra.
THINK ON ME, THAT AM WITH PHOEBUS’ AMOROUS PINCHES BLACK … ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, I.V.27-8. THE SONNETS ALSO FEATURE THE “DARK LADY” … NOW IS BLACK BEAUTY“S SUCCESSIVE HEIR … SONNET 127.
Curiously neglected by recent commentators, from the insistence on her “dun” complexion she should really be called the “Black Woman” rather than the Dark Lady. It has been argued that she may have been based on a black courtesan called Lucy Negro (Sonnets 127-52).
Shylock in The Merchant of Venice does however present the problem of anti-Semitism. Although he is not a racist type but a complex character in himself, the play is difficult to deal with after the Holocaust.