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4. Race, Kinship and Inheritance
About this Lecture
In this module, we think about how issues of race are tied up with issues of kinship and inheritance, focusing in particular on: (i) Jessica's decision to elope with Lorenzo in 'The Merchant of Venice', and the extent to which she can 'become white' by leaving her Jewish past behind and converting to Christianity; (ii) the incontrovertibility of Aaron and his child in 'Titus Andronicus' ("Had nature lent thee by thy mother's look, […] thou mightst have been an emperor"); (iii) the importance of inheritance in the definition of particular racial categories, and the convergence of sexual and political considerations that characterises the reactions to interracial relationships in Shakespeare; and (iv) the use of 'blackface' as a means by which black characters literally leave their mark on white ones.
In this course, Professor Miles P. Grier (Queens College, CUNY) explores the issue of race in Shakespeare through the lens of the 'racial plot' – the idea that race is not so much an aspect of one's identity as a process that serves a particular social or political function. In the first module, we introduce the concept of the 'racial plot' and consider the extent to which Shakespeare lived in a world in which racial thought circulated and served social purposes. After that, we turn to four key scholars of race (W. E. B. Du Bois, Leerom Medovoi, Karen Fields and Barbara Fields) to expand on the concepts of race, racism and racecraft. In the third module, we think about the way justice is racialised in Shakespeare, particularly in relation to characters blushing or blanching, before turning in the fourth and final module to the question of how race is tied up with issues of kinship and inheritance, focusing in particular on the figures of Jessica and Lorenzo in 'The Merchant of Venice', Aaron and Tamara (and their child) in 'Titus Andronicus', and Othello and Desdemona in 'Othello'.
Note: All Shakespeare quotations are taken from the Arden Shakespeare (Third Series). Students using a different edition may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.
Miles Parks Grier is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY). His research encompasses Shakespeare Studies, Early American Studies, and African-American Studies. He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Reading Black Characters: Atlantic Encounters with Othello, 1604-1855.
Cite this Lecture
Grier, M. (2021, October 19). Shakespeare and Race - Race, Kinship and Inheritance [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://massolit.io/courses/shakespeare-and-race/race-kinship-and-inheritance
Grier, Miles. "Shakespeare and Race – Race, Kinship and Inheritance." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 19 Oct 2021, https://massolit.io/courses/shakespeare-and-race/race-kinship-and-inheritance