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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: July ::
Re: Colour-Blind Casting etc. [was Othello and Bloom]
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1428  Thursday, 10 July 2003

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Jul 2003 01:52:15 -0300
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1414 Re: Othello on Bloom

[2]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Jul 2003 10:14:32 GMT0BST
        Subj:   Re: Colour-Blind Casting etc. [was Othello and Bloom]


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Jul 2003 01:52:15 -0300
Subject: 14.1414 Re: Othello on Bloom
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1414 Re: Othello on Bloom

Douglas Chapman writes,

>Wanting something to be irrelevant, for whatever reason, does not make
>it so. Just as casting an obviously pregnant woman as Desdemona would
>indeed alter things, nez pas?

Not nearly as much as casting someone with no nose.

Adieu,
Sean.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Jul 2003 10:14:32 GMT0BST
Subject:        Re: Colour-Blind Casting etc. [was Othello and Bloom]

>Color-blind opportunity does not mean
>color blind.

No, but it does mean we have to ask ourselves whether or not the
skin-colour of the actor is a signifier or not in any particular
context, because we carry two sets of assumptions in our heads which are
quite opposite one to the other - on the one hand that in a multi-racial
society the colour of someone's skin should not bar them from
opportunity as an actor to play any part, and therefore that we should
suspend naturalistic assumptions about the relationship of the actor's
race (or gender) to the part they play; on the other that in a society
where racial issues are of enormous and pressing significance, the
colour of an actor's skin must be carefully read against the current
politics of race.

In the case of 'realistic' genres like TV soap-opera the first kind of
reading would be impossible, I think. In the case of 'classic' plays,
however, it is not, and, indeed, is so customary that we scarcely think
about it unless the particular production - or the story which is being
told - compels us to.

>Wanting something to be irrelevant, for whatever reason, does not make
>it so. Just as casting an obviously pregnant woman as Desdemona would
>indeed alter things, nez pas?

That, precisely, is the difference I'm trying to get at: a pregnant
Desdemona (whether played by an 'actually' pregnant woman, or by a
padded male actor) would (probably) signify because the nature of the
plot would make it (nearly) impossible to ignore.

There are, of course, a whole raft of questions and problems which one
might associate with this particular issue, which, in the end, are
questions about the 'rules' by which we read acting and performance.
It's cognate with questions about how identical twins must look (Jonson
didn't write a twins play because he said he could never be
realistically convinced of their identity, Shakespeare was quite happy
to write two.) Similar issues arise with setting Shakespeare plays in
historical environments later than the date of the plays themselves - we
are invited to accept the logic of the mise en scene for itself, and not
(or at least not often) to think precisely about the significance of the
dialogue between sixteenth-century language and, say, twentieth-century
dress.

Of course, Douglas Chapman is right to imply that an audience might
refuse to read by the 'rules' that a particular production is trying to
establish - but that's a rather different matter.

David Lindley

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