Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 649. Tuesday, 12 October 1993.
Date: Tuesday, 12 Oct 93 12:20:58 -0500
Subject: Re:4.0590 Color-blind Casting
"I find the theatrical signals confusing and morally perplexing. What have
others thought and felt?" Phyllis Gorfain's question brought to mind a
fine production of "The Winter's Tale" at the Guthrie, which cast
African-American actors as Hermione, Paulina, and Camillo. How
self-consciously and to what effect? Well, Hermione's "trial" was
powerfully affected: Her long black hair was gone; the actress's own hair,
unstraightened and close-cropped, was revealed; she was dressed in a burlap
sack and her hands were shackled: there was no question that the Guthrie
had imported the imagery, relations, and injustice of American slavery into
this Shakespearean depiction of marriage--heightening the textual focus on
conjugal power relations (whose perspective prevails, whose voice is heard,
etc.). Whether or not one likes the interpretation, the scene was striking
and effective theatrically.
But the effect of the casting of Paulina and Camillo was more problematic.
As adherents to the 'truth' and exemplars of 'higher good,' the
casting--however blind--did link them to Hermione, because after the scene
above one could not ignore color: it had become a primary theatrical
signifier. Unfortunately making all the characters played by black actors
purveyors of Truth simply casts them in one of the roles to which they have
traditionally been consigned in American mythology: the touchstones of
integrity. I'm not sure there is much way around slipping into such
(unconscious?) iconographical shorthand. (The automatic satisfaction of
middle American audiences in seeing two 'black characters' paired up at the
end in contrast to the uneasy reunion of the racially mixed couple raises
further problems, whatever promises it may also afford.) But the
production underscores the problems of trying to mix color-conscious and
color-blind casting, especially in the U.S. where the history of slavery is
likely to surface.
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