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Shakespeare and Race

3. Racialised Justice: Blushing, Blanching and Blackface

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In this module, we think about the way justice is racialised in Shakespeare, especially in the ways that white and black characters reveal their crimes, and in the way they are treated once they have been convicted. In particular, we consider: (i) the discovery of the conspiracy in Henry V and the idea that one's guilt can be written on one's face – but only if one is white; (ii) the redemptive quality of the punishment that is meted out to the (white) conspirators; (iii) the explicit connection made by Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus between his (black) complexion and the evil deeds that he has committed; (iv) the denial of a redemptive punishment to Aaron at the end of Titus Andronicus, and the extent to which this is because of his race; (v) the sense in which Aaron represents the benchmark for evildoing in the play, the standard by which other evildoers (e.g. Demetrius and Chiron) are measured; and (vi) the extent to which the presentation of Aaron as essentially irredeemable is designed to accomplish the legal, moral and religious potential for redeemable whiteness.


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

APA style

Grier, M. (2021, October 19). Shakespeare and Race - Racialised Justice: Blushing, Blanching and Blackface [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Grier, Miles. "Shakespeare and Race – Racialised Justice: Blushing, Blanching and Blackface." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 19 Oct 2021,

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