Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

In “Reassessing Race: Exploring the Construction of Identity and Social Hierarchies on the Early Modern Stage,” I argue that the social construction of race is made visible as a process by the early modern English stage, specifically in William Shakespeare’s plays. The presence of Black characters and Black bodies as unwelcomed minorities in the space of a fragile white identity in the plays highlights the ways race was theorized and imagined in the period. Building on research about race and the early modern period by canonical authors including Kim Hall, Patricia Akhimie, and Ayanna Thompson, my research reexamines how Moors and Africans are talked about by white characters in three plays by Shakespeare, and how the performance Blackness both imposes harm and creates possibilities for empowerment. I focus on how characters like Aaron, Othello, and Caliban—marginalized individuals in predominantly white spaces—are marked as incapable of meeting society’s standards in racially driven passages that present Black bodies, Blackness, and non-European identities as problematic, mirroring and advancing early modern discourses of racism and anti-Blackness on and off the stage. While this dissertation does not provide an extensive analysis of race in the early modern period, I focus my attention on these characters whose Blackness becomes a site of demonstrating the making of race and racism through racialized language and performances. By examining how these marginalized characters are products of an already racially constructed environment, I explore how the plays, while evincing a supremacist treatment of race, nonetheless open spaces for considering how characters identified as Moors or Africans are much more than just their Black bodies. The early modern stage and its use of Blackness as a tool for entertainment are interrogated in these plays, and while these characters are presented in complicated ways, the marginalized individuals in Othello, Titus Andronicus, and The Tempest insist on a reckoning with the way race is constructed in and through performance.

Date

6-22-2022

Committee Chair

Barrett, Chris

Available for download on Thursday, June 14, 2029

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