Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism

By Ania Loomba | Go to book overview

Introduction
Race and Colonialism in the
Study of Shakespeare

Then and now

I imposed myself upon the world which was rejecting me, challenging their attitude against the colour of my skin, which they held up to my face as an exhibit of the stain against my person; I qualified the challenge with the submission that the quality of service I was performing the State cannot continue to be ignored, that it more than adequately compensated for the 'vices in my blood'. I argued the case that my worth cries out for recognition, even in place of acceptance, as it was said that Othello was respected and recognised but not accepted into Venetian society… I wanted to run because there was no such thing as a normal existence for the children of Ham.1

Thus writes Bloke Modisane, in his autobiography, Blame Me on History. Modisane grew up in South Africa, where a black majority was oppressed by a white minority, a situation that is practically the opposite of the one portrayed in Shakespeare's Othello, where Venice is an all-white city and Othello the only black man. However, 400 years after Shakespeare's play was written, Modisane found in Othello a mirror for his own oppression, as well as for his own determination to fight the racism of the South African apartheid state. During the same years and later, the so-called Renaissance was being taught without any sense that issues of race and colonial difference were central to the culture of the period. The novelist Michelle Cliff writes that she 'studied the Renaissance without dealing with the fact that the slave trade began in the Renaissance and that there were slaves in Europe even as Michelangelo was painting the Sistine ceiling. I was not even aware of it.'2

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