Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England

Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England

Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England

Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England

Excerpt

Or when we deride by plaine and flat contradiction, as he that saw a dwarfe go in the streete said to his companion that walked with him: See yonder giant: and to a Negro or woman blackemoore, in good sooth ye are a faire one...

—George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (1589)

He that cannot understand the sober, plain, and unaffected stile of the Scriptures, will be ten times more puzzl'd with the knotty Africanisms, the pamper'd metaphors, the intricat, and involv'd sentences of the Fathers ...

—John Milton, Reformation Touching Church Discipline (1641)

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lysander rejects his "dark" lover, shouting, "Away, you Ethiop!" and "Out, tawny Tartar" (3.2.257 and 263). Typically, scholars have replicated Lysander's dismissal of the "Ethiop" by refusing to consider such remarks in the context of the elements of race, sexual politics, imperialism, and slavery, which form a prominent set of "subtexts" to the play (Jameson 81). A survey of scholarly editions of Shakespeare's works demonstrates how modern literary criticism remystifies the appearance of blackness in literary works by insisting that references to race are rooted in European aesthetic tradition rather than in any consciousness of racial difference. For example, Harold Brooks, editor of the Arden edition of the play, is typical in seeing Lysander's gibes as only a commentary on Hermia's beauty: "Hermia is conscious of what in unsympathetic eyes may be considered her 'bad points' ... and Lysander has attacked one of them, her unfashionable dark complexion."

Similar evocations of blackness—with similar critical effacement—occur with startling regularity throughout a broad range of Renaissance texts.

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