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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: Black Cleopatra
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0545  Thursday, 8 March 2001

[1]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 07 Mar 2001 11:57:34 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

[2]     From:   Evelyn Gajowski <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Mar 2001 09:15:54 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 07 Mar 2001 12:52:58 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

[4]     From:   Franklin J. Hildy <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 07 Mar 2001 17:17:16 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

[5]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 07 Mar 2001 21:28:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0523 Re: Black Cleopatra

[6]     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Mar 2001 10:50:44 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 07 Mar 2001 11:57:34 -0500
Subject: 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

  Karen Peterson-Kranz writes:

>Does being "Greek" necessarily and absolutely mean she was
>"white"(whatever THAT term means)?  I would think there is at least a
>possibility that the Ptolemy family may have become blended with
>indigenous Egyptian-African families over time...?

To guard against this blending, the Ptolemys practiced brother-sister
incest.  Of course, Cleopatra violated the Ptolemy taboo against
exogamous sex with both Caesar and Antony. Again, see Michael Grant's
biography of Cleopatra.

Regarding "black" Cleopatra, there is a parallel passage in the King
James version of the Bible, Song of Solomon 1.5 (as I recall).  I have a
call into the resident Biblical scholar to find out what word is being
translated as "black."

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Evelyn Gajowski <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Mar 2001 09:15:54 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

To Karen Peterson-Kranz,

A&C entered with her retinue from upstage right.  As they approached
center, they turned downstage, approached the audience, and came to a
halt.  At "If it be love indeed, tell me how much" (1.1.14), the actor
wearing the "sword" and armor removed the headpiece to reveal that it
was Cleopatra speaking.  At "There's beggary in the love that can be
reckoned" (1.1.15), the actor wearing the "tires and mantles" removed
the veil to reveal that it was Antony speaking.  Michael Edwards
manipulated audience members to participate (as do characters within the
dramatic worlds of Shakespeare's five crossdressing plays) in the
implications of sexual disguise--during the few moments of A's & C's
entrance, we had confused one for the other.  Also, I had never seen
Cleopatra's recollections about her and Antony's crossdressing visually
represented on stage before--let alone at the outset of the dramatic
action.

Evelyn Gajowski
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 07 Mar 2001 12:52:58 -0500
Subject: 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

Richard Burt asks:

>Are there any members of this listserv
>interested in the history of Shakespeare criticism (and knowledgeable of
>it) of Cleopatra who can comment on the issue Cleopatra's blackness? On
>how and when it became an issue in criticism?

And I, in turn, ask:  Have you checked Yashdip Bains' recent
bibliography from Garland?  I'm afraid I do not have a copy in front of
me, and I can't remember precisely how Yashdip covers the issue of
Cleopatra's skin color.

As to when precisely Cleo's skin color became a burning issue, I can say
that, in the early 60s at Harvard, Harbage and Levin might briefly
comment on her skin color, but, for them, it did not seem to be a major
point.  Perhaps Shakespeare really did think of her as a Gypsy, said
Kenneth Myrick at Tufts (circa 1960).

Anthony York, Biblical scholar, just called me about the translation of
"black" in the Geneva Bible's Song of Solomon. The beloved is black, yet
fair.  He says that in the Hebrew "black" has connotations of youthful
beauty and vitality (i.e., not old and gray). But he thinks that early
modern English translators probably missed those connotations. Some
early commentators read "black" as "tanned by the sun."  Nevertheless,
the parallel doesn't seem very helpful w/r/t/ Shakespeare's concept of
Cleo's skin tone.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Franklin J. Hildy <
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Date:           Wednesday, 07 Mar 2001 17:17:16 -0500
Subject: 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

>And Stephanie Hughes writes:
>
>Does being "Greek" necessarily and absolutely mean she was
>"white"(whatever THAT term means)?  I would think there is at least a
>possibility that the Ptolemy family may have become blended with
>indigenous Egyptian-African families over time...?

Stephanie:

I'm not sure I understand why this matters but, if you look into it, I
believe you will find that it would have been a gross violation of
tradition and law for a Ptolemy to marry a non-Greek. As I recall, the
Ptolemy's were very concerned about this and established very rigid
rules against it. (There was a reason why Cleopatra was married to her
brother.) If she got away with marrying a Roman, it was only because the
Roman's had the power to help her get away with breaking these rules.

I've never read anything to suggest that this had anything to do with
race. Greeks don't seem to have been very concerned about differences in
skin color. They were, however, very prejudice against barbarians, which
as you know meant anyone who did not speak Greek, regardless of racial
characteristics. If Egyptians had all been as light skinned and blond
haired as our stereotype of a Swede, rather than a being a Semitic
people, I don't think it would have made the Ptolemy's any more likely
at accept them as equals or any more likely to marry one.

Some Greeks had very dark skin, so did some Italians, but I agree that
that is probably not what Shakespeare was referring to when he uses the
word "black" in this context.

Prof. Franklin J. Hildy, Chair
Department of Theatre           <<http://www.umd.edu/thet>>
University of Maryland

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 07 Mar 2001 21:28:40 -0500
Subject: 12.0523 Re: Black Cleopatra
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0523 Re: Black Cleopatra

Okay, here's the passage from Song of Solomon (Geneva Bible) 1.4-5: "I
am blacke, o daughters of Ierusalem, but comelie, as the frutes of
Kedar, & as the curtines of Salomon. Regarde ye me not because I am
blacke: for the sunne hathe loked vpon me."  Apparently she has been
working in the vineyards, and thus is tanned.

Antony and Cleopatra (Folio) reads: "Thinke on me / That am with Phoebus
amorous pinches blacke,/And wrinkled deep in time" (1.5.27-29).

I say that both women (i.e., literary characters) are "black" because
they've been in the sun, and not because of their genes.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Mar 2001 10:50:44 +0200
Subject: 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

The problem with the notion of "black" in Shakespeare, it seems to me,
does not lie at the level of signifier and signified, but use.  It is
true that "black" could refer to race in what Saussure would call the
language system of the time.  That does not mean that it does in any
particular instance.  The rub is trying to work out the contraining
limits of context without denying the relevance of race or merely
projecting a twentieth-century notion of race onto early modern texts.

It's telling, in the light of the attempts to claim that the dark or
black woman of the sonnets is racially dark, that Dympna Callaghan picks
out the stage direction referring to Blackamoors in Love's Labour's Lost
as an indication of the representation of the racial "other" on
Shakespeare's stage, but does not see Rosalind as being racialised in
any way.  The Sonnets and LLL appear to me to use the term "black" with
regard to a dark beloved in the same way.

This doesn't answer Richard's question about Cleopatra.  What I would
like to ask is: what's at stake in the question?

David Schalkwyk
 

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