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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: February ::
A Titus Tangent of Tone
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0064  Monday, 4 February 2008

[1] 	From:	Fiebig,Jeremy <
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	Date:	Friday, 1 Feb 2008 12:46:34 -0600
	Subj:	RE: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

[2] 	From:	Larry Weiss <
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	Date:	Friday, 01 Feb 2008 14:23:44 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

[3] 	From:	Dan Venning <
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	Date:	Friday, 1 Feb 2008 15:57:51 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

[4] 	From:	John W. Kennedy <
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	Date:	Friday, 01 Feb 2008 17:55:04 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

[5] 	From:	Robert Projansky <
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	Date:	Friday, 1 Feb 2008 16:33:31 -0800
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

[6] 	From:	Joseph Egert <
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	Date:	Saturday, 2 Feb 2008 11:13:56 -0800 (PST)
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

[7] 	From:	Kathy Dent <
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	Date:	Monday, 4 Feb 2008 13:32:29 +0000
	Subj:	RE: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

[8] 	From: 	Hardy M. Cook <
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	Date: 	Monday, February 04, 2008
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Fiebig,Jeremy <
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Date:		Friday, 1 Feb 2008 12:46:34 -0600
Subject: 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone
Comment:	RE: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

I recall some graduate research by Jason Narvy at Mary Baldwin College's 
M.Litt program that indicated a high likelihood that Aaron (and other 
notable "Moors") in Shakespeare were not necessarily black or in black 
face. I seem to recall the implication that while not black, these 
characters were likely also not white.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Larry Weiss <
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Date:		Friday, 01 Feb 2008 14:23:44 -0500
Subject: 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

Sure, Aaron can be played by a white man. And Titus can be played by a 
female dwarf. While we're at it, let's cast Richard Griffith as Lavinia. 
But please don't call it Shakespeare's play.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Dan Venning <
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Date:		Friday, 1 Feb 2008 15:57:51 -0500
Subject: 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

Dear Sam:

I would argue that nothing in production "has" to be anything. A (very 
amateur, it seems) production of Titus Andronicus by the Hudson 
Shakespeare Company in 2003 cast a thin Caucasian woman as Aaron (photos 
available at 
http://hudsonshakespeare.org/Past%20Productions/titus_andronicus.htm; I 
had nothing to do with and didn't see this production). A Japanese 
production in 2004 in Saitana used Kenichi Okamoto, who isn't black 
(didn't see this one either).

However, I wouldn't argue that directors who cast a black Aaron are 
being "slavish." After all, the text does *say* he's black; he himself 
comments on it (and his own sense of alienation-and this, I think, is at 
least part of why Aaron is black in the text; he is perceived by all the 
other characters as alien, exotic, foreign, and yes, dangerous, and this 
may be part of what leads him to desire to destroy them all). It's no 
more slavish than a director's making Don Armado a Spaniard, or Richard 
III a hunchback.

Moreover, while the blackness does mark Aaron as foreign, it doesn't 
necessarily mark him as a threat. A Moorish ambassador visited London in 
1600-01 (about ten years after the play was written), and wasn't seen as 
particularly threatening as much as an attractive spectacle. 
Schoolchildren who studied Latin and Roman history would have been 
taught of the great Roman hero Scipio Africanus, who was so called 
because of the color of his skin.

I'm also not confident that Aaron is an example of "Elizabethan racism." 
He's given some of the most moving lines and scenes in the play, and is 
one of the most three-dimensional characters, although still a villain. 
Clearly modeled after Barabas in Marlowe's Jew of Malta, perhaps he, 
like Shylock (or Barabas himself, in my opinion), can be seen not as an 
*example* of outdated stereotypes and racist ideas, but as a *comment 
upon* such views, and upon the violence that can be created by 
alienation and xenophobia.

Dan Venning

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		John W. Kennedy <
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Date:		Friday, 01 Feb 2008 17:55:04 -0500
Subject: 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

Sam Small <
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 >Did not the sight of a black face in Elizabethan
 >times mean foreign?

"It's not that they're wicked or naturally bad
It's knowing they're /foreign/ that makes them so mad!"

 >Apart from the few

"Few," forsooth?

 >lines (that could be altered/removed) that refer to Aaron's
 >skin tone why couldn't a white man play the part?

White men often have. (Indeed, the best Aaron I ever saw was the late 
Eric Tavares; his lapidary reading of "Zounds! ye whore, is black so 
base a hue?" still sounds in my ears after three decades.)

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Robert Projansky <
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Date:		Friday, 1 Feb 2008 16:33:31 -0800
Subject: 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

 >Does Aaron have to be black? . . .  Is this not masked
 >racism? Did not the sight of a black face in Elizabethan
 >times mean foreign? other-continental? alien? plainly, a
 >threat? Far be it from me to be politically correct but didn't
 >Shakespeare use the contemporary  prejudice that the
 >audience would have been smitten and lay it on with a
 >trowel? Apart from the few lines (that could be altered/
 >removed) that refer to Aaron's skin tone why couldn't a
 >white man play the part? My point is - do we have to project
 >Elizabethan racism on a modern, unsuspecting audience?

A: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, see below, and yes.

Doesn't the way one is treated because of one's race and culture have 
some effect on one's character and personality and how one reacts to 
such treatment? Is Aaron really an ethnically fungible character except 
for the mentions of his race?

And take away one of Shakespeare's two big roles for black actors? Why 
not the other one too? Maybe cast Othello as a Florentine? And why not 
make Shylock a Genovese instead of a Jew?

In the 1984 John Barton TV series, Playing Shakespeare, David Suchet and 
Patrick Stewart each had a go at Shylock. Patrick Stewart said he saw 
him as essentially an "outsider" and tried to play that rather than his 
Jewishness. David Suchet played him as a Jew, i.e., as written, and his 
assay is exponentially better. Stewart's attempted de-Semitization of 
the character plainly brought him down. Maybe he was squeamish about 
giving full rein to an inevitably anti-Semitic portrayal, perhaps more 
so because Suchet, himself Jewish, was right there. Suchet, however, 
showed no such inhibitions, so he and WS carried the day.

As for projecting racism on a modern, unsuspecting audience, who doesn't 
expect Shakespeare to reflect an Elizabethan world-view that's 400 years 
old? Producers could perhaps post a warning, like, Please Take Notice: 
Black Person Portrayed Unfavorably Within, or, Contents May Offend; For 
Mature Audiences Only.

Where do you stop messing with the play? Even if you could protect 
today's tender-minded audience from the idea that black in humans means 
wickedness just by casting an Aryan Aaron, how would you protect your 
audience from the no longer universally held notion that a raped and 
mutilated young woman is herself a shameful thing? Instead of killing 
Lavinia should Titus give her a set of prosthetics? Maybe some of that 
conflict in those plays should be rewritten too in favor of trying to 
get those people to get along with each other instead of resorting to 
violence all the time.

Best,
Bob Projansky

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Joseph Egert <
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Date:		Saturday, 2 Feb 2008 11:13:56 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

Sam Small asks:

 >Did not the sight of a black face in Elizabethan
 >times mean foreign? other-continental? alien?"

And Satanic as well. When Emilia begrimes, not Iago's, but Desdemona's 
union with Othello as a "most filthy bargain," I believe this is sermon 
code for devil's compact. Has any editor noted this?

Curious,
Joe Egert

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Kathy Dent <
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Date:		Monday, 4 Feb 2008 13:32:29 +0000
Subject: 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone
Comment:	RE: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

Sam Small 
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 >Apart from the few lines (that could be
 >altered/removed) that refer to Aaron's skin
 >tone why couldn't a white man play the part?
 >My point is - do we have to project Elizabethan
 >racism on a modern, unsuspecting audience?
 >A few lines? Casting decisions are often hung on
 >less than this.

It is clearly central to the characterisation of Aaron that he is black: 
it is as pertinent as Shylock's Jewishness. Of course, we might suppose 
that a white Aaron could play if the rest of the cast were black.... 
(it's been done with Othello), but if the argument is that a modern 
audience is unsuspecting about Elizabethan ideas of race and otherness, 
Titus is a good place for them to learn. Does Sam Small assume that 
(unsuspecting) modern audiences are innocent and not implicated in the 
discourses of racism?

Kathy Dent

[8]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Hardy M. Cook <
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Date: 		Monday, February 04, 2008
Subject: 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone
Comment: 	RE: SHK 19.0058 A Titus Tangent of Tone

 >Off on a tangent from the current discussion of Titus leads me to ask
 >this. Does Aaron have to be black? Of the versions I have seen the
 >director slavishly casts the ebullient Aaron as black as treacle. Is
 >this not masked racism? Did not the sight of a black face in Elizabethan
 >times mean foreign? other-continental? alien? plainly, a threat? Far be
 >it from me to be politically correct but didn't Shakespeare use the
 >contemporary prejudice that the audience would have been smitten and lay
 >it on with a trowel? Apart from the few lines (that could be
 >altered/removed) that refer to Aaron's skin tone why couldn't a white
 >man play the part? My point is - do we have to project Elizabethan
 >racism on a modern, unsuspecting audience?

This submission troubles me because I cannot figure out what Sam is 
asking or rather what his point is in posting this submission?

Is the issue one of color or gender -blind casting?

Or is the concern with displaying the skills of a particular white actor?

Or is this submission yet another post intended to throw darts at 
anything that vaguely promotes or suggests Postmodern thinking? Frankly, 
I am getting tired of the band of usual suspects who almost on cue chime 
up anytime someone utters anything politically or intellectually 
progressive on this list. The tenacity and predictability of this crew 
astonishes me.

However, back on track, let me make an offering that is related, I 
think, to this subject: I saw the so-called "photo negative" production 
of _Othello_ with Patrick Stewart as Othello at the Shakespeare Theatre 
in 1997. I found it to be tremendously illuminating. One of my favorite 
Washington, DC, area actors Craig Wallace played the Duke. Before I saw 
this particular production, I had convinced myself that the Duke was at 
least one more non-racist, other than Desdemona, white character in the 
world of the play. However, Craig Wallace, a black man, enriched my 
understanding of the play by problematizing* my previous view of it 
through the way he delivered the Duke's "I think this tale would win my 
daughter, too." Wallace spewed forth venomous hatred as he spoke in a 
manner and intensity that I had never heard associated with this 
particular line before. His reading changed my entire impression about 
the possibilities for performing this text, and I thank him (and I have 
thanked him personally.) for this fascinating reading. By the way, 
Patrick Stewart is the person who used the term (perhaps even coined the 
term) "photo negative" in a quotation included in an essay about the 
production by Ray Greene: "I call it a photo negative," Stewart says. 
"One of my hopes is that it will continue to say what a conventional 
production of Othello would say about racism and prejudice. It might 
even say it in a more intense and possibly provocative way by reversing 
the usual racial characteristics." 
(http://www.shakespearetheatre.org/plays/articles.aspx?&id=130)

*"Martha, there's one more of those confangled, LIBERAL words, again. I 
guess I should be getting to my reply to the dern commies."


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