April 23, 2016



That's a reproduction of the enscription on Shakespeare's grave stone.

400 years ago today, Shakespeare died. Widely considered the greatest playwright in the English language, his works are widely performed, widely studied, and widely read -- except not in most university English departments anymore which seem to be dedicated to eradicating any notion of worthiness of any Dead White Maleâ„¢.

Revisionism is rampant when it comes to his works. This isn't anything new; in the 19th Century a man named Thomas Bowdler published a book called "The Family Shakspeare" (sic) which removed all the worst violence from Shakespeare's plays. (He then gave his name to the term "bowdlerize".)

But modern revisionists are mostly concerned with Race, Class, and Genderâ„¢. And there's one particular revision that has grated with me for 30 years. I'm going to take this opportunity to gripe about it.

"The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice" is now known usually as just Othello. And it has become accepted wisdom in theatrical circles that the part of Othello must be played by a Negro. Every effort is made to avoid mention of the fact that Shakespeare thought that Othello was a Moor.

See, the problem is that Moors were Caucasian, not Negro. The historical dividing line between Caucasians and Negros was the Sahara desert, not the Mediterranean. Revisionists (such as the radical "Afrocentrists") try to lay claim to northern Africa on behalf of Negros, despite the fact that the only Negros historically north of the Sahara were slaves.

That's because the majority of important African political, scientific, and cultural contributions to the world came from the part of Africa north of the Sahara.

I don't care who actually did it; I just care about the fact that our intellectual betters seem to feel it necessary to lie about it. Nearly everything like that came either from Egyptians, Greek conquerers, Roman conquerers, or Arab conquerers -- and all of those were Caucasian.

I don't think caucasians are in any way superior to any other race, not that it would help any for me to say that. Anyone inclined that way has instantly decided I'm a racist and probably piled a whole lot of other negative adjectives onto that description.

What I care about is being honest. Shakespeare thought that Othello was caucasian. The modern attitude seems to be "Who cares what he thought? He only wrote the play."

That doesn't mean I think Othello shouldn't be played by a Negro actor. You cast whoever you think can give the best performance. It means I think you might also cast a non-Negro if you think he would give the best performance, and you don't worry about political correctness.

UPDATE: Another one that I find really grating: "The most beautiful woman in history was African." I thought Helen of Troy was Greek. "NO, no, no... Cleopatra!"

I've heard that from people who didn't really know anything about Cleopatra other than she was a queen in Egypt when Julius Caesar conquered the place for the Romans. The problem is, Cleopatra was part of the Ptolemy dynasty.

The Ptolemy's were descended from a Greek general who was made governor of Egypt by Alexander after he conquered Egypt. Alexander then left to travel to the east, conquering every nation along his way, until he died in India. At which point all the governors he had left behind effectively became kings of their respective states, and so it was with the Ptolemy's.

The Ptolemy's and other Greeks who ruled Egypt during that period still considered themselves to be Greek, and they continued to rule Egypt for 300 years right up until Caesar showed up and the Romans took over.

So it's true that Cleopatra was African, in the sense that she was born in Africa and lived her whole life there, but that doesn't have anything whatever to do with the part of Africa south of the Sahara or the people who live there.

History is what happened. It shouldn't be rewritten to fit a modern ideology. We harm ourselves when we lie to ourselves about how we became what we are. We must face the truth, warts and all.

And we can start by not rototilling Shakespeare's grave.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Rants at 04:32 PM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
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That doesn't mean we shouldn't do adaptations. Ran is an adaptation of King Lear placed in feudal Japan, with the three daughters change into sons, and IMHO it works better than Shakespeare's version.

And Kurosawa did a version of MacBeth placed in feudal Japan which was outstanding.

One thing that such adaptations make clear is how similar we all are, deep down. The stories work in Europe and work in Japan because deep down we're all human.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 23, 2016 04:42 PM (+rSRq)

2 April 23rd is also the usually accepted birthdate of Will S, in 1564.  Who am I to disagree?

Posted by: Wonderduck at April 23, 2016 09:12 PM (XQ5ac)


I wonder how the people who insist that Cleopatra is an 'African' queen would react if they knew that there is a blonde woman (Berenice II, the wife of Ptolemy III.) in her family tree?

Perhaps even more annoying to their sensibilities is that there is a constellation immortalizing said ancestor!

Posted by: cxt217 at April 24, 2016 05:40 AM (YMZca)

4 On the other hand, there were problems with Shakespeare in the Bush.

Posted by: muon at April 24, 2016 11:05 PM (IUHrD)

5 Heh.  That was pretty good muon.  There's a few idiot professors who would blow a fuse reading that story.

Posted by: ubu at April 25, 2016 09:20 AM (SlLGE)

6 That "[sic]" is unnecessary, assuming you're using it to hint that Bowdler misspelled the playwright's name. "William Shakspeare" was actually the name he signed to his will. Spelling of words and names wasn't as frozen back then.

Posted by: Boviate at April 25, 2016 09:53 AM (XRvFv)

7 Ubu, I first saw that story in one of my Anthropology 101 textbooks. IIRC, the professor used it as an example of cultural relativism.

Posted by: muon at April 25, 2016 11:21 PM (IUHrD)

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