Reading (Shakespeare) While White
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This lecture resists the tendency to associate “race” with blackness. It instead follows Toni Morrison’s insight that readers are “positioned as white” to offer an examination of the systemic whiteness that describes the ways readers of Shakespeare are created in the United States.
While the study of race has opened up significant pathways within Shakespeare studies, systemic whiteness prevents us from fully appreciating the modern potential for Shakespeare’s investment in race. Understanding systemic whiteness demands the self-scrutiny and personal accountability that make us more credible bearers of the twinned traditions of Shakespeare and humanism.
Given such concerns, what new understanding emerges when we examine the concrete, living, modern reader of Shakespeare and see how race functions as the relevant frame of analysis?
Ian Smith, Professor of English and Richard H., Jr. ’60 and Joan K. Sell Chair in the Humanities at Lafayette College, discovered Shakespeare while studying French classical theater at the University of Paris before completing his Ph.D. at Columbia University. Author of numerous scholarly articles involving Shakespeare’s preoccupation with race, Professor Smith has published Race and Rhetoric in Renaissance England: Barbarian Errors and is currently writing Black Shakespeare, which examines the racial blind spots of modern criticism in relation to Shakespeare’s pervasive interest in blackness and race. In 2016 he was a guest on the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast for an enduringly popular episode about Shakespeare, race, and early modern theatrical practices.