Presentation Title

P-03 “How Dey Goin to Kill Othello?!”: Key & Peele and Shakespearean Universality

Presenter Status

Associate Professor, English

Preferred Session

Poster Session

Location

Buller Hall

Start Date

3-11-2017 2:00 PM

End Date

3-11-2017 3:00 PM

Presentation Abstract

As a year commemorating the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, 2016 saw repeated assertions of the Bard's lasting cultural significance with words and phrases like “lasting legacy,” “relevance,” “timeless,” and “international appeal” recurring. Essentially, these accolades advocate for a universal Shakespeare, a figure whose works speak across both time and cultures. Yet scholars of Shakespeare and race have been wary of such claims, suggesting that they turn a blind eye toward Shakespeare's historical and continued associations with whiteness as a privileged category of difference. Precisely such an interrogation of Shakespeare and whiteness appears in a surprising place--a Season 3 sketch written and performed by bi-racial comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in their Comedy Central sketch show Key & Peele. A close reading of the sketch reveals how Key and Peele imagine Shakespeare and race, specifically, Shakespeare’s representation of blackness. In under five minutes, Key and Peele launch a potent critique of Shakespeare, invoking the author and his works in order to explore the racialized boundaries of the dramatist and his iconic oeuvre. According to this sketch, Shakespeare’s universality finds its limits when confronted by its potential irrelevance to the black experience due to its inauthentic depiction of blackness. As such, Key and Peele’s satire challenges the comforting narrative of universal Shakespeare, forcing viewers and scholars alike to grapple with whether Shakespeare really does or even can speak to all people across all times.



Acknowledgments

I appreciate the support of a Faculty Research grant, my department, and my research colleagues, L. Monique Pittman and Karl Bailey. I am also grateful for the comments received on this essay from my seminar members in the "Shakespeare and Black America" Seminar at the 2017 Shakespeare Association of America.

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Nov 3rd, 2:00 PM Nov 3rd, 3:00 PM

P-03 “How Dey Goin to Kill Othello?!”: Key & Peele and Shakespearean Universality

Buller Hall

As a year commemorating the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, 2016 saw repeated assertions of the Bard's lasting cultural significance with words and phrases like “lasting legacy,” “relevance,” “timeless,” and “international appeal” recurring. Essentially, these accolades advocate for a universal Shakespeare, a figure whose works speak across both time and cultures. Yet scholars of Shakespeare and race have been wary of such claims, suggesting that they turn a blind eye toward Shakespeare's historical and continued associations with whiteness as a privileged category of difference. Precisely such an interrogation of Shakespeare and whiteness appears in a surprising place--a Season 3 sketch written and performed by bi-racial comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in their Comedy Central sketch show Key & Peele. A close reading of the sketch reveals how Key and Peele imagine Shakespeare and race, specifically, Shakespeare’s representation of blackness. In under five minutes, Key and Peele launch a potent critique of Shakespeare, invoking the author and his works in order to explore the racialized boundaries of the dramatist and his iconic oeuvre. According to this sketch, Shakespeare’s universality finds its limits when confronted by its potential irrelevance to the black experience due to its inauthentic depiction of blackness. As such, Key and Peele’s satire challenges the comforting narrative of universal Shakespeare, forcing viewers and scholars alike to grapple with whether Shakespeare really does or even can speak to all people across all times.