“Not a Moor Exactly”: Shakespeare, Serial, and Constructions of Race
William Shakespeare, Othello, Race, Otherness
As scholars of early modern literature know, Renaissance constructions of alterity were inconsistent and varied. This critical consensus regarding the fluidity of early modern conceptions of otherness has produced a dichotomy between “then” and “now” with which early modern race scholars in particular must grapple, and one that challenges all scholars and teachers of Shakespeare who engage with race in the classroom—if we concede we can talk about “race” at all. In the quest for responsible historical contextualization of early modern race, scholars have vigilantly attended to the differences between Renaissance culture and our own, leading to the assertion that early moderns conceived of race in a more protean way than our modern scientific, phenotypical, stable approach. In doing so, however, they enact a different methodological pitfall—imposing an assumed set of views about race upon moderns. This approach blinds us to the reality of our own racial discourses, which, I suggest, likewise depend on and perpetuate a fluid understanding of race. In turning to a specific example—the nexus of issues raised by a Shakespearean reference to Othello in season 1 of the hit NPR podcast Serial—we find that myriad factors like language, religion, and descent play pivotal roles in modern constructions of race. By recognizing this multiplicity, we can more effectively use nuanced understandings of early modern race to help us uncover the complexities of contemporary racial ideology. And just as significantly, we can employ current conversations about racial identity as a fresh way of reconsidering canonical Renaissance texts.
Corredera, Vanessa I., "“Not a Moor Exactly”: Shakespeare, Serial, and Constructions of Race" (2016). Faculty Publications. 493.