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Wincing at Shakespeare: Looking B(l)ack at the Bard

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 December 2019

Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts, Harvey Mudd College. Email:


This article explores how black artists and intellectuals approach, challenge, and appropriate the works of William Shakespeare. Beginning with W. E. B. Du Bois's contention “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not,” I examine how Keith Hamilton Cobb in American Moor interrogates Shakespeare's presentation of black identity. In particular, I suggest that modes of ambivalence undergird black American engagement with Shakespeare and that this ambivalence creates the space for black artists to interrogate Shakespeare's representation of blackness and white culture's gatekeeping of the Shakespearean text and its performance while also reimagining and recasting that representation to fit their contemporaneous needs.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press and British Association for American Studies 2019

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1 Du Bois, W. E. B. and Provenzo, Eugene F., The Illustrated Souls of Black Folk (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2004), 147Google Scholar.

3 Du Bois, W. E. B., “Can the Negro Serve the Drama?” in W. E. B. Du Bois: A Reader, ed. Weinberg, Meyer (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 242–46, 242Google Scholar.

4 Hall, Kim F., “American Moor Review,” Shakespeare Bulletin, 34, 35 (2016), 524–28, 525CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Hugh Quarshie, “Second Thoughts about Othello,” International Shakespeare Association Occasional Paper 7 (1999), 6.

6 In a discussion at the SAA's annual conference in 2017, Ayanna Thompson spoke about Othello as a “white property.”

7 Keith Hamilton Cobb, American Moor (collection of materials relating to the run of American Moor at the Anacostia Playhouse), Washington, DC: Anacostia Playhouse, 2015), 1Google Scholar.

8 Ibid., 4.

9 Hill, Errol, Shakespeare in Sable (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984), 11Google Scholar.

10 Mathews, Charles, Sketches of Mr. Mathews Celebrated Trip to America (London: J. Limbard, 1827)Google Scholar.

11 Anonymous, “The ‘African Roscius’ with a ‘Vulgarly Foreign’ Accent,” The Times, 11 April 1833.

12 Cobb, 20.

13 Ibid., 15–16, original emphasis.

14 Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin/White Masks, trans. Markmann, Charles Lam (London: Pluto Press, 1986), 22Google Scholar.