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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: Black Cleopatra
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0554  Friday, 9 March 2001

[1]     From:   Evelyn Gajowski <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Mar 2001 08:47:49 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

[2]     From:   Werner Broennimann <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Mar 2001 16:51:10 +0000
        Subj:   Black Cleopatra

[3]     From:   Tom Bishop <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Mar 2001 13:00:06 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0511 Is Cleopatra Black?

[4]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Mar 2001 15:44:25 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0545 Re: Black Cleopatra

[5]     From:   Robert Peters <
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        Date:   Friday, 09 Mar 2001 00:12:40 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0545 Re: Black Cleopatra

[6]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Mar 2001 21:30:53 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0545 Re: Black Cleopatra

[7]     From:   Scott Oldenburg <
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        Date:   Friday, 09 Mar 2001 01:29:13 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0545 Re: Black Cleopatra


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Evelyn Gajowski <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Mar 2001 08:47:49 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0537 Re: Black Cleopatra

To Richard Burt,

I am not aware of analyses of the issue before Janet Adelman's
"Cleopatra's Blackness" in *The Common Liar*, which you've already
mentioned.  As you know, she comments that -- at that time (1973) -- "it
is slightly alarming that criticism has not speculated more widely about
the issue of Cleopatra's color" (184).

My sense is that the question of Cleopatra's blackness has become an
issue in the last decade or so with the onset of discourse on
postcolonial and "race" issues in cultures and texts.  You've already
mentioned those Shakespeareans who deal with "blackness" and "race" more
generally as well as those who deal with the more specific issue of
Cleopatra's blackness.  One of the best of the former is Lynda Boose in
her chapter, "'The getting of a lawful race': Racial discourse in early
modern England and the unrepresentable black woman," in the
Parker/Hendricks collection of essays, *Women, "Race," and Writing in
the Early Modern Period.*  If memory serves, though, nothing in that
collection deals with the specific question of Cleopatra.

Under the influence of Edward Said, I deal with the issue in my chapter,
"Cleopatra and Orientalism," in *The Art of Loving: Female Subjectivity
and Male Discursive Traditions in Shakespeare's Tragedies* (1992).  The
discussion hinges on Romans as imperialists, Egyptians as colonized, and
Philo's description of Cleopatra's "tawny front" (1.1.6).  Because it
emphasizes cultural rather than "racial" difference per se, though, I
cannot pretend to do as thoroughgoing or informed a job as more recent
scholars who more explicitly privilege "race" as a category of analysis.

Evelyn Gajowski
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Werner Broennimann <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 Mar 2001 16:51:10 +0000
Subject:        Black Cleopatra

Chaucer's description in "The Legend of Cleopatra" is unambiguous: "she
was fayr as is the rose in May" (613).  Or is it?  I have not really
done my homework as assigned by Richard Burt, but bluffing my way out of
this embarrassment I think the question of Cleopatra's complexion is
raised by the choric exposition's "tawny front" (l.6), a description
which will be either confirmed or denied by the queen's subsequent
entry.  The history of annotation on "tawny" and its interpretation on
stage and in commentaries might in nuce contain the history of critical
problematisation Richard is looking for.  Certainly the first quote
given in Variorum is striking, to use a neutral term: White (ed. 1883):
"Cleopatra was a Greek, the daughter of Ptolemy, and was probably fair,
although not with Teutonic fairness." Silence about this question, on
stage or in criticism, seems to be a silence about the issue of
miscegenation.

There are many unanswered questions.  Do we really know what "tawny"
means in the context and elsewhere?  Can we differentiate between the
colour quality it denotes and the emotive derogation Philo's use
obviously connotes?  What precisely is the word's relation to
"blackness", with its own many meanings?  Occurrences in Shakespeare are
not as conclusive as we might hope.  "Tawny Spain" in LLL 1.1.170 does
to me evoke terra cotta, and thus the Egyptian desert, but is this
adequate?  Aaron's address to his newborn son ("tawny slave") is not so
obvious either, because Aaron explicitly refers to his son's mixed
parentage.  The subsequent passages to my mind suggest that "tawny" was
a word chosen when the speaker was at a loss for the mot juste:

John Fletcher, "Monsieur Thomas, 1.3.37
If I have Eyes, I have not seen his better.
A handsome brown Complexion.
Mary.
Reasonable,
Inclining to a tawney.

Richard Brome, "The English Moor"
Nat.
It is the handsom'st Rogue
I have ere seen yet of a deed of darkness;
Tawney and russet faces I have dealt with,
But never came so deep in blackness yet.

Dekker/Middleton, "The maginificent entertainment given to King James",
To tell you what cloathes hee had on his backe were to doo him wrong,
for hee had (to say truth) but one suite: homelie it was, yet meete and
fit for a Gardener: In steade of a hat, his browes were bound about with
flowers, out of whose thicke heapes, here and there peeped a queene
apple, a cherie, or a peare, this boon-grace hee made of purpose to
keepe his face from heate, (because he desired to looke louelie) yet the
sunne found him out, and by casting a continuall eye at him, whilst the
old man was dressing his arbours, his cheekes grew tawnie, which colour
for the better grace, he himselfe interpreted blushing.

Werner Br

 

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