By: Rich Lowry – nationalreview.com – March 14, 2023
Shakespeare has long been dismissed, with others in the Western canon, as a dead white male. Now, there’s another, worse charge against the Bard — he created the concept of whiteness.
Yes, instead of standing in the line of such literary giants as Dante, Chaucer, and Goethe, Shakespeare is to be associated from now on with the likes of the 19th-century French apostle of scientific racism Arthur de Gobineau, George Wallace, and — why not — the Oath Keepers.
If you’ve wondered whether there’s anything that race-obsessed activists, bureaucrats, and academics can’t ruin, the answer is “no,” as they begin to get to work in earnest trying to tear down a towering genius who has had an immense — and profoundly edifying effect — on our culture.
According to a new volume, White People in Shakespeare, the immortal playwright was engaged in “white-people-making.” The contributors to the book aren’t surprised by “the fact of Shakespeare’s global, representational power existing, almost in tandem with a global white cultural supremacy.” Indeed, it only renders “more unremarkable or invisible a unique alliance of white people and Shakespeare.” Q.E.D.
It’s pretty much a direct line from the Globe Theatre in the 16th century to the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Although “it’s quite likely very few if any of those assembled at the Capitol on that day thought of Shakespeare” — perhaps the most unassailable statement in the volume — it was still “white people’s Shakespearean theater on a grand scale.”
The new book, written about favorably in the Atlantic, is hardly an outlier. A couple of years ago, The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Race was published. (“The collection invites the reader to understand racialized discourses, rhetoric, and performances in all of Shakespeare’s plays,” the promotional material explained.) Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre holds an annual event on Shakespeare and race. The Royal Shakespeare Company plans to keep the Bard “relevant” by exposing how racially problematic he is.
If these people have anything to say about it, Shakespeare’s reputation will undergo another turn, from being considered less fashionable than other playwrights in his own time, to being rarely performed after his death, to being rediscovered and ascending to the status of a giant in the 19th century, to becoming toxic in the 21st century for setting the predicate for the white supremacy that supposedly blights the West to this day.
And here poor old Will probably just thought he was writing some plays and sonnets.
Shakespeare’s racial interpreters are trying to take an author of incredible complexity — whose brilliance involves creating rich, multilayered characters and raising moral questions rather than providing ready answers to them — and reduce him down to one thing. There couldn’t be anything less in accord with the spirit and fact of Shakespeare.
Of course, the fecundity of Shakespeare has given us words (from “accommodation” to “obscene”) and phrases (including “it’s Greek to me,” “budge an inch,” “more sinned against than sinning,” and on and on) so commonplace that no one would know their origin. True to form, the authors of White People are particularly interested in the word “fair,” which they count more than 900 times in Shakespeare.
“Fair” often refers to a woman and her beauty, but it had a rich variety of meanings. “So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” pronounces Macbeth. In Troilus and Cressida, set during the Trojan War, Aeneas gets “fair leave” to bring a “fair message” to the Greeks, while the fate of the Trojans depends on the “fair worth” of Hector.
Shakespeare actually pushes back against the standard Petrarchan notion of beauty — blonde hair, pale skin, long neck — in his so-called Dark Lady sonnets: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.”
But it makes as much sense to try to argue the literary racialists out of their take on Shakespeare as to try to convince a Marxist of the usefulness of capital markets. For them, to be white or not be white is the only question.
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Source: Shakespeare’s Plays Not about Whiteness | National Review