Presentation Title

"The Moor Makes a Cameo: Serial, Race, and the Ethics of Shakespearean Appropriation"

Presenter Status

Assistant Professor, English

Presentation Type

Oral presentation

Session

Literature

Location

Buller Hall Room 108

Start Date

6-5-2016 11:00 AM

End Date

6-5-2016 11:20 AM

Presentation Abstract

In the opening minutes of the first season of the popular NPR podcasting phenomenon Serial, journalist and host Sarah Koenig characterizes the unfolding murder story as a “Shakespearean mashup” and subsequently invokes both Romeo and Juliet and Othello without naming the plays, their characters, or their lines. Here, I want to consider the ethics of Koenig’s engagement with Othello in her introductory citation. I argue that in its contradiction to the podcast’s aims, its invocation of racial stereotypes, and its inaccuracy, at first glance, Koenig’s Shakespearean reference appears unethical. It does not, as set out by Alexa Huang and Elizabeth Rivlin, “[constitute] a good action,” especially in terms of “responsibility to cultural otherness” (2). Yet by employing Othello as an interpretive touchstone, Koenig opens up thematic echoes that invite comparison. Kim Newton of the American Shakespeare Center suggests this approach when she proses a unit which asks, “How do characters in Othello refer to Othello’s otherness? […] Do the same descriptions apply to Adnan [Serial’s central figure]?” If Shakespeare scholars take these questions seriously, I propose that despite its vexed nature, the citation can ultimately prompt us toward ethical aims. Specifically, as a recent popular artifact, Serial serves as a helpful case study for considering how we construct race in contemporary America, which can in turn inform how we approach the potentially contentious question of Shakespeare and race.

Biographical Sketch

Vanessa Corredera is an Assistant Professor at Andrews University. She teaches courses in Renaissance drama, gender studies and literature, and race and ethnic theory and literature. Her most recent publications include “Complex Complexions: The Facial Signification of the Black Other in Lust’s Dominion” in the collection Shakespeare and the Power of the Face, Ed. James A. Knapp (Surrey: Ashgate, 2015) and “Faces and Figures of Fortune: Astrological Physiognomy in Tamburlaine Part 1” forthcoming in Early Modern Literary Studies.

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May 6th, 11:00 AM May 6th, 11:20 AM

"The Moor Makes a Cameo: Serial, Race, and the Ethics of Shakespearean Appropriation"

Buller Hall Room 108

In the opening minutes of the first season of the popular NPR podcasting phenomenon Serial, journalist and host Sarah Koenig characterizes the unfolding murder story as a “Shakespearean mashup” and subsequently invokes both Romeo and Juliet and Othello without naming the plays, their characters, or their lines. Here, I want to consider the ethics of Koenig’s engagement with Othello in her introductory citation. I argue that in its contradiction to the podcast’s aims, its invocation of racial stereotypes, and its inaccuracy, at first glance, Koenig’s Shakespearean reference appears unethical. It does not, as set out by Alexa Huang and Elizabeth Rivlin, “[constitute] a good action,” especially in terms of “responsibility to cultural otherness” (2). Yet by employing Othello as an interpretive touchstone, Koenig opens up thematic echoes that invite comparison. Kim Newton of the American Shakespeare Center suggests this approach when she proses a unit which asks, “How do characters in Othello refer to Othello’s otherness? […] Do the same descriptions apply to Adnan [Serial’s central figure]?” If Shakespeare scholars take these questions seriously, I propose that despite its vexed nature, the citation can ultimately prompt us toward ethical aims. Specifically, as a recent popular artifact, Serial serves as a helpful case study for considering how we construct race in contemporary America, which can in turn inform how we approach the potentially contentious question of Shakespeare and race.