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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: March ::
Re: Racism, Sexism, etc. (Was a Lot of Other Things)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0187  Tuesday, 3 March 1998.

[1]     From:   Drew Whitehead <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 3 Mar 1998 10:08:07 +1000 (GMT+1000)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0175  Re: Postings Related to MV

[2]     From:   J. Kenneth Campbell <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Mar 1998 19:57:54 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0168  Re: Is Shakespeare sexist?

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Mar 1998 19:37:12 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Sexism, racism, etc

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Mar 1998 19:03:13 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0183  Re: MV and Shr.

[5]     From:   Shaula Evans <
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        Date:   Monday, 2 Mar 1998 20:16:22 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Racism/Casting (was:  Is Portia Racist?)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Drew Whitehead <
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Date:           Tuesday, 3 Mar 1998 10:08:07 +1000 (GMT+1000)
Subject: 9.0175  Re: Postings Related to MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0175  Re: Postings Related to MV

> On the subject of Kate, David Skeele wrote:
> Is there any textual evidence that she is pretending?  I know that this
> is a choice made in many modern productions (i.e., having her wink
> knowingly at the audience during her last speech), but it always seems
> to me to be a colossal cop-out.  Or are you simply saying that it is a
> conceivable option?

In recent thoughts about The Shrew I have come to consider that the play
almost deserves an alternate title as in Twelfth Night.  I have begun to
think of it as The Corruption of Katherina.  It seems to me that in this
play, with the possible exception of the two (real) fathers, everybody
in this play practices deceit.  Katherine alone stands out as a
character who is true and honest to both herself and others, and this is
something that the other characters cannot adjust to, even her father!
I see the play as a progression from honesty into deceit, where
Katherine finally learns how to survive in (and enjoy, see 4.5.37-49)
this world so full of lying.

Drew Whitehead

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           J. Kenneth Campbell <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Mar 1998 19:57:54 -0800
Subject: 9.0168  Re: Is Shakespeare sexist?
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0168  Re: Is Shakespeare sexist?

I also attended but did not graduate from the U of A.  The Wildcat
certainly knows little of the wild Kate. The Sun Devils of Tempe would
also do well to take another look at this comedy.

How can anyone call The Taming of the Shrew a sexist play.  Shakespeare
would never have gotten away with it in London during Elizabeth's reign.

The ending of the play is a triumph of Kate's dignity and a crafty way
of winning a huge amount of money as well as balance the power in her
marital relationship.

Examine the text.

If during the "subjugation" speech Kate suits the action to the word and
sits Petruchio down on a "joint stool", by the time she arrives at the
lines.

Then vail your stomachs for it is no boot.
And place your hands below your husband's foot
In token of which duty, if he please
My hand is ready: may it do him ease.
Kate, it seems to me, negates the entire speech by lifting up on that
foot, sending Petruchio tail over teacups to the floor.
Petruchio responds with
Why, there's a wench come on and kiss me Kate.

The only other time in the text Petruchio refers to Kate as a wench is
right after she's brained Hortensio with a lute.

From that common ground they can both ascend to their marital bed. Wiser
and richer then any they leave behind at the wedding banquet.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Mar 1998 19:37:12 -0500
Subject:        Re: Sexism, racism, etc

Stevie Simkin wrote:

>  the whole point of reassessing a
> DWEM-dominated canon is to interrogate the criteria by which said canon
> is constructed, and what qualifies a work (or author) for inclusion or
> exclusion.  Saying [as I did] "We celebrate Shakespeare and his works
> because of
> their brilliance" merely reinforces the need to re-examine those
> criteria: one would hope there is something more to them than we might
> be led to fear, given the vague terms in which Larry Weiss's argument
> has been framed.

Shakespeare's works have undergone continual re-examination (more
intently than anyone else's) since at least Nicholas Rowe, and they have
stood up pretty well.  I feel no need to define "brilliance."   Can
Simkin suggest a more precise term to describe a body of work which has
resonated throughout the world for 400 years?

In any event, Simkin's dialectic does not respond to my point.  I did
*not* argue that (a) the quality of Shakespeare's works should not be
reevaluated on a regular basis by any criteria anyone would like to
apply, including cultural ones; or (b) the fact that WS is dead, white,
European or male should play any role in the re-examination.  On the
contrary, I made the opposite point:  The enumerated factors are
neutral.  An author's culture and sex do, of course, influence his or
her products, but it is the results we evaluate.  My thesis is only that
we should not give extra credit for race, ethnicity, sex or ability to
breathe.  Does Simkin think we should?

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Mar 1998 19:03:13 -0500
Subject: 9.0183  Re: MV and Shr.
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0183  Re: MV and Shr.

Stevie Simkin wrote:

> Since in the history of UK establishment theatre  it has been only in
> exceptional circumstances that a black actor has been chosen (allowed?)
> to play the role of Othello, while every "great" white actor from
> Olivier to Anthony Hopkins (for goodness sake) has been given the
> opportunity to impersonate a black character, one would hope the latter.

Olivier played Othello in black makeup which was very convincing, down
to the palms of his hands.  Hopkins played the Moor made up as a
Berber.  Is Simkin arguing that blacks who can be and are willing to be
made up to appear Caucasian should be eligible for equal consideration
in casting white characters?  If so, he'll find no objection here.  I
believe that there was a very fine black American Shakespearean actor
(whose name unfortunately escapes me) who toured Europe during the last
century playing leading Shakespearean roles in white makeup.  To argue
that a black actor should be disqualified from doing so is repugnant.

BUT that is not the same thing as portraying a white character as black
or, as in the Patrick Stewart Othello, a black character as white.  The
postings we have seen about that production confirm that this
idiosyncratic casting may "raise interesting issues" and "put things in
a different light," but to do so it had to alter the heart of the play.
That might be a legitimate thing to do, and since the Bard's works are
in the public domain no one can stop it.  But it is not Othello any more
than the Boys From Syracuse is the Comedy of Errors.

I think the following modern instance can illustrate my point:  It is
possible to play Death of a Salesman with a black cast.  There is not
much about that play that defines it as a *white* middle-class tragedy.
I would love to see Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee play Willie Loman et ux.
But if they did, Matt Damon could not be Biff.  Or, contrariwise, if
Dustin Hoffman and Jean Stapleton were Willie and his wife, Denzel
Washington could not play Biff.  Or, more precisely, if he did it would
add dimensions to the play that Miller did not put there and detract
from what he did give us.

In short, converting a white character to black, or vice versa, might
make a social point, but it alters the drama.  The result is less a
Shakespearean play than an exercise.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shaula Evans <
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Date:           Monday, 2 Mar 1998 20:16:22 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        Racism/Casting (was:  Is Portia Racist?)

>From:           Larry Weiss <
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>I think a more interesting question would be whether it is racist to
>cast Shakespeare's plays to type, or is it necessary to treat minority
>actors as equally eligible to play white characters.

1. Gender-, Race- and Age-blind casting: I have been party to some
interesting discussions on various lists recently with
actors/directors/producers involved in productions including gender-,
race- and age-blind casting.  Shakespeare himself was certainly no
stranger to gender-blind casting (due to the conventions of theatre in
his day, of course).  My personal opinion is that, so long as
unconventional casting choices do not detract from the play; i.e., they
are not "gimicky," and neither add nor subtract from the original
play-they are worth consideration.  Of course, broadening the casting
criteria also frees a production to draw from a larger pool of
talent-and creates an opportunity for talented actors who normally have
little or no contact with Shakespeare to play some wonderful roles.

So, to answer the questions posed by Mr. Weiss:  is it racist to cast
Shakespeare's plays to type?  Well, it is certainly conservative, and it
is easy to hide racism behind the curtain of "tradition."  However, did
Shakespeare cast "to type?"  No, he cast based on the actors he had at
hand-in his case, all men.  If willing suspension of disbelief about
gender was good enough for the Elizabethans, I don't see why  we can not
ask audiences to suspend disbelief about race.

The second question:  is it "necessary" to treat minority actors as
"equally eligible" to play white characters?  I am not certain of what
Mr.  Weis meant by "necessary."   I may only personally reply that it is
a great shame to deny a production the talent of a potentially great
Lear, or Hamlet, or Lady M, or Cleopatra...based on the colour of his or
her skin.

2.  The talent pool: Where I act, the question of race-blind casting is
a bit moot.  Kelowna is
demographically a predominantly white city, with some older
Japanese-Canadians, some second and third generation Chinese-Canadians,
and a small but growing number of fairly recent East Indian immigrants
not all of whom are assimilated and most of whom work in agriculture.
Our acting community, on the other hand, is composed mainly of
middle-class, semi-professionals and professionals-people with the money
and leisure time to indulge in acting as a hobby.  These people are,
unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly white.   I imagine the situation may be
different for people acting in larger centers and in professional
theatre.  If anything, our challenge is to attract and include a greater
variety of people into our group.  (Has anyone had success diversifying
the composition of their Shakespeare companies?)

3.  The Big O: And finally, the Othello question; which is really for
Othello, Shylock,
the Prince of Morroco, etc.  How do people cast these roles today,
especially Othello?  (Yes, I am aware of the recent production with
Patrick Stewart-not really a casting option for us, I'm afraid.)

Shaula Evans
Shakepeare Kelowna

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