ENGL308B : Special Topics in Shakespeare; Shakespeare and Black America
This course will explore what Shakespeare has meant to Black America—from W. E. B. Du Bois’s famous claim that he “sit[s] with Shakespeare and he winces not,” to the invention of minstrelsy by T. D. “Daddy” Rice, and his blackface performance of Othello.
James Baldwin hated Shakespeare with the force of a thousand white-hot suns. But as he describes it, his quarrel was less with Shakespeare than with the English language—and Shakespeare stood as the author of “monstrous achievement” in the language. His relationship to Shakespeare changed when his relationship to the language in which he wrote changed. And while a moment in a Shakespeare play (Julius Caesar) may have prompted this change in perspective, the underlying problem was “that the language reflected none of [Baldwin’s] experience.” Just to unpack that claim—that the English language itself structured none of his experience, that the terms and relations of its use produced an alienation effect—is to recognize language as an instrument of oppression, and Shakespeare as a great wielder of that instrument.
This course will explore what Shakespeare has meant to Black America—from W. E. B. Du Bois’s famous claim that he “sit[s] with Shakespeare and he winces not,” to the invention of minstrelsy by T. D. “Daddy” Rice, and his blackface performance of Othello. Shakespeare is not, as many like to imagine, our contemporary. But it seems important to ask what makes him important to us. Why have successive generations have sought to reinterpret Shakespeare and bring him to their own contemporary context? What does this say about the cultural value of Shakespeare? And to what extent have Black Americans been attracted or repelled by this cultural capital? This online course will focus on the value of Shakespeare for American culture, specifically, Black American culture.
Students will be assessed on their participation in class discussion (conducted on discussion board) and collaborative work as part of group discussion. You will be asked to write short response papers and two essays of 4, and 8 pages respectively. You will be allowed to revise and expand your response papers as part of the longer essay assignments. Plays will include: Titus Andronicus (and Julie Taymor’s Titus); Much Ado About Nothing (and Kenny Leon’s production in “Shakespeare in the Park”); and Othello (as well as Keith Hamilton Cobb’s American Moor). We will also read works by Baldwin, Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Toni Morrison.
0201 - Kim Coles