Today: Art 11:00AM - 04:00PM

William Shakespeare in Art: A Desire for Diversity

England's National Poet and the "Bard of Avon"

William Shakespeare

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.


More about Shakespeare

Timeline: Significant Dates in the Life of Shakespeare

Further Reading on Shakespeare and Race

List of People of Color in Shakespearean Roles

Titus Andronicus

Merchant of Venice


Antony and Cleopatra