William Shakespeare in Art: A Desire for Diversity
England's National Poet and the "Bard of Avon"
Chandos portrait (attributed to John Taylor) 1600-1610
Oil on Canvas, Artist Unknown
William Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He introduced more than 3,000 words into the English Language. His work includes collaborations, plays, sonnets, narrative poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and performed more often than any other playwright.
Recent research by English Renaissance scholar, Imitaz Habib, examines the political, social and cultural impact of Shakespeare’s approach to racial issues in his plays. Cultural politics played a major role, creating layers of textures for his writing. Habib shows that Shakespeare had significant ties to the Black community of London which may have informed his depictions of race. In Elizabethan England, africans were known as Moors. Shakespeare used the Moor to create effective reflections the ethnocentric lens through which Elizabethans viewed the other.
This exhibit explores the four plays in which Moors play significant roles to demonstrate how Shakespeare characterized race. It also studies the history of Black american actors who played these roles to explore the link between African-american culture and Shakespeare in the achievement of diversity. The characters we focus on are Aaron in Titus Andronicus, the Prince of Morocco in the Merchant of Venice, and the namesakes of Othello and Antony and Cleopatra.