The Globe Theatre in London has been hosting a series of ‘Anti-Racist Shakespeare’ webinars, and the latest installment was no exception to the growing trend of re-examining Bard’s works through the lens of modern thinking.
Assistant professor of English at Trinity University in Texas Kathryn Vomero Santos had some controversial ideas about William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, claiming in the discussion that the language in the play was “racialized” and linked to ideas of “darkness.”
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The professor quoted words such as bat, beetle, black, and night as examples she believed demonstrated the alleged racial bias of the 17th-century playwright. When Macbeth was referred to as “black” in one scene of the play, Vomero Santos stated that the language relies on the dichotomy of “whiteness and blackness and dark and light.”
These allegations were backed by playwright Migdalia Cruz, who argued that the use of words such as Jew, Moor, and Turk showed that Shakespeare had a “racist” mindset. Cruz added that “everyone in his time were racists.”
However, the comments have been met with criticism by some British academics, who have questioned if the professor’s comments suffer from the condition of “moral anachronism.” Historian Jeremy Black suggested that the “idea of blackness as evil” shouldn’t be confused with racism.
The Globe Theatre’s director of education Farah Karim-Coope expressed that, while the theatre may not “agree with everything [the scholars] say,” they “trust their audiences the way Shakespeare did – to judge for themselves.”
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Clearly, there is a growing trend of re-interpreting and re-examining Shakespeare’s plays with a modern-day lens of understanding. These debates around race and language offer an interesting perspective for audiences to explore when tackling William Shakespeare’s texts, ensuring that the complex issues of race and ethnicity remain front and center in our cultural dialogue.