Category: race

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper reflects on International Women’s Day. Dr…

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper reflects on International Women’s Day. 

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper is the Head of Higher Education & Research at Shakespeare’s Globe. In this blog, on International Women’s Day, Farah reflects on her position as a woman of colour, and a Shakespeare scholar and how these facts play a part in her everyday life. 

I’m a mother, a partner, a daughter, a Shakespeare scholar, a woman of colour and as it’s International Women’s Day, I am thinking hard about all of those labels and how I have to negotiate between them all the time.  At the Globe this year we are examining what it means to be a woman; what our relationship to power might be; how women are perceived when they are in leadership positions; and what, if anything, did Shakespeare–that great paragon of white male excellence–have to say about these questions? Given our extraordinary experimental production of Richard II with a cast of women of colour and the West End production of Emilia, a play born here at the Globe, consisting also of mainly women of colour, the subject of this blog will focus on Shakespeare’s notions of women of colour and what it means to me to be one.

Please note: this blog contains offensive language.


Last year I curated a festival about Shakespeare and Race. Coming home from a planning meeting that I happened to bring my 15-year-old daughter to, I was feeling excited and enthused about the important work we were doing to draw attention to race and intersectionality at Shakespeare’s Globe. But while my daughter and I were waiting at the pedestrian crossing, a white man rode by on his bike and told us ‘fucking Pakis to go home’. It was deflating, of course, and I was deeply worried about what my daughter would think. How she might internalise that comment and see herself as something alien in the country where she had been born. She didn’t quite catch what he said–thank goodness–but I did. After living here 22 years, I fear the word ‘Paki’ and always will, I suppose. Would he get off his bike and hit me? Would my daughter be attacked? Questions like this zip into your head until you brush them away quickly. By the time I got home, I felt even more motivated to be proactive in discussions about race and gender at my institution and beyond. I am inspired by the many women of colour who have had to overcome the same horrible effects of our visibility as well as the deflating effects of the invisibility that also come with being a woman of colour. This invisibility, being overlooked, being one of the last on the list make up the daily acts of erasure that gall and hurt.

The scholar Kim F. Hall who was last year’s Sam Wanamaker Fellow wrote a game-changing book about the early modern intersections of race and gender and in so doing unearthed and made visible an entire network of texts, poems and images that comment on, satirise or celebrate women of colour. She reminds us about Shakespeare’s dark women: Hermia ( A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Rosalind (Love’s Labour’s Lost), the dark lady of the Sonnets, for example. While her book shows us how blackness served in early modern England to highlight the superiority of the white European; she tells us that black female beauty was a possibility back then. Many have tried to identify who the dark lady of the sonnets was–perhaps it was Emilia Bassano, perhaps it was nothing more than a fantasy of a woman of colour. Maybe Shakespeare was imagining an alternative to the much-repeated ideal in renaissance poetry of a ‘fair’ or white, wealthy, chaste lady with golden locks, rosy cheeks and glassy bright eyes. Shakespeare in fact, never really describes the perfect beauty the way many other Elizabethan poets did. With his dark lady sonnets, he describes instead the raw, visceral reality of a woman of colour who was the opposite of the conventional ideal, but who his narrator/speaker desired above all else. She is bold, assertive, sexually autonomous and real. I don’t know if Shakespeare knew such a woman, but we do know that Tudor-Stuart London was not a singularly white city. We know that people of colour populated Southwark in fact; that ‘blackamoor’ kitchen maids, servants, metal workers, musicians and more, lived and worked in the metropolis. This is a London we don’t know well enough, a result of centuries of archival research that shows bias towards crafting a purely white history. Women of colour occupied Shakespeare’s imagination and his city; and he offers a beautiful alternative to what he must have felt was the tedious, conventional ideal. Women of colour of Britain must always remember that we have always been here. We belong here too and we aren’t going anywhere.

Further reading 

Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England by Kim F. Hall

Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama by Dr Farah Karim-Cooper

What It’s Really Like To Be A Young Woman Of Color In Tech by Eda Yu 

Hear Farah speak on 15 May as she chairs a panel for  In Conversation: Activism, Women and Power, part of our forthcoming Women & Power festival.

Portrait of Farah Karim-Cooper by Bronwen Sharp 
Richard II production photography by Ingrid Pollard 

Response to The Stage article, 15 August 2018The Globe’s Head of…

Response to The Stage article, 15 August 2018

The Globe’s Head of Higher Education & Research, Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, responds to an article that appeared in The Stage on 15 August 2018:  

Shakespeare’s Globe sparks new row with lighting designers over claims of racial discrimination

week the Globe is hosting a festival to discuss Shakespeare and race. The
workshops and symposium are being attending by a variety of people across the
theatre industry and academia. The academics and theatre artists attending and
participating in the Shakespeare and Race festival have experience of attending
and performing in plays in many other theatres with lighting design. It is not
just the experience of the Globe that is informing this discussion. The Sam
Wanamaker Playhouse utilises various types of handheld candles and stage
designs, all contributing to ensure an actor’s face is illuminated properly. It
would be wrong to deny that this issue exists in theatre today. There are many
factors that contribute to discrimination of an actor of colour, lighting is
certainly an element, alongside other factors including blocking, costuming and
stage design.

glad discussion and debate have been sparked and would encourage a continued
conversation, and invite people to attend the remainder of our festival,
including a workshop on Women and Theatre in Britain, Playing Othello featuring actors who have all played the role, Hip-hop Shakespeare Unplugged,
and Shakespeare and Race Across Borders: a scholarly symposium.

Having discussed the many issues
facing actors of colour with actors attending our festival, this is certainly
an issue that should not be dismissed. The conversation is, and must remain,
complex and our festival is an attempt to open up conversation in the fight
against discrimination.

Staging Race and Diversity.To what extent do choices about…

Akiya Henry

Leo Wan

Jonathan Christie

Stefan Adegbola

Suzanne Ahmet

Staging Race and Diversity.

To what extent do choices about costume, set and lighting either privilege white actors or place actors of colour at a disadvantage? Does staging Shakespeare in historical dress present a challenge to directors and designers when it comes to racial diversity? What are the implicit biases that exist in the casting, directing and staging of Shakespeare’s plays?

This summer Shakespeare’s Globe is hosting a festival dedicated to the topic of Shakespeare & Race. As part of this festival and our ongoing Research in Action programme we are running a workshop entitled Staging Race and Diversity in the Shakespearean Theatre in the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

Using extracts from Macbeth, Richard II and Titus Andronicus Dr Farah Karim-Cooper (Head of Higher Education and Research, Shakespeare’s Globe) and Professor Erika T. Lin (The City University of New York) will be joined by seven actors to examine the relationship between staging practices and racial diversity.

We hope you can join us to unearth, challenge and debate long-held assumptions and to ask questions about how to change practices. We are hoping to have a robust, at times, difficult conversation and we hope those attending will bring their own experiences to bear upon what we discover.

Cast includes:
Stefan Adegbola
Suzanne Ahmet
Jonathan Christie
Akiya Henry
Leo Wan

Shakespeare & Race Symposium speakers. Our Shakespeare &…

Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw

Professor Luke Harris

Ian Smith

Ayanna Thompson

Arthur L. Little and Kim F. Hall

Shakespeare & Race Symposium speakers. 

Our Shakespeare & Race festival culminates in an international symposium – Shakespeare and Race Across Borders: A Scholarly Symposium

This ground-breaking conference brings together scholars from the disciplines of race, Shakespeare, theatre and performance studies to discuss the ways in which race is taught at university, discussed in the critical field and represented in performance.

Keynote speakers for the symposium comprise Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and UCLA, she coined the term “intersectionality” and is a leader in the intellectual movement of Critical Race Theory.

Professor Luke Harris is Associate Professor of American Politics and Constitutional Law at Vassar College and co-founder of the African American Policy Forum.

Ian Smith is a professor of English and teaches at Lafayette College. His current research project, Black Shakespeare, examines Shakespeare’s interest in social and political racial identities.

Professor Ayanna Thompson has written extensively on the subject of Shakespeare and race. Ayanna is the 2018-19 President of the Shakespeare Association of America and Director of the Arizona Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University.

Arthur L. Little is an Associate Professor of English at UCLA and author of numerous articles on Shakespeare, race and justice.

Kim F. Hall (Barnard College) will also be on the panel. Kim is Lucyle Hook Professor of English and Professor of Africana Studies at Barnard College, University of Colombia

Other keynote speakers:

Devon Carbado teaches at UCLA School of Law and has won numerous teaching awards, including the inaugural Fletcher Foundation Fellowship.

Ania Loomba is the Catherine Byson Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania where she researches and teaches early modern literature, race and feminist theory.

Joyce Green MacDonald is the Associate Professor of English at the University of Kentucky.

See the website for a full list of speakers.

Playing Othello.A look at some of the actors who have played…

André Holland photographed by Simon Annand, 2018

Eamonn Walker photographed by Johan Persson, 2007

Lloyd Everitt photographed by Cesare De Giglio, 2015

Kurt Egyiawan photographed by Marc Brenner, 2017

Q Brothers photographed by Simon Kane, 2012

David Harewood in The Complete Walk film, 2016

Playing Othello.

A look at some of the actors who have played Othello at the Globe or as part of Globe projects. 

Hear from our current Othello, André Holland and Golda Rosheuvel who portrayed Othello as a lesbian at the Liverpool Everyman Playhouse at our forthcoming event Playing Othello, part of the Shakespeare & Race festival

Shakespeare and Race. For the first time, Shakespeare’s Globe is…

Shakespeare and Race. 

For the first time, Shakespeare’s Globe is holding a festival on Shakespeare and Race. Farah Karim-Cooper, Head of Higher Education & Research at Shakespeare’s Globe looks at why the time is right. 

Shakespeare’s Globe is hosting its first international festival on Shakespeare and Race. Several questions spring to mind when putting together a festival of this nature at Shakespeare’s Globe:

How does Shakespeare’s work engage with race, racism and people of colour? What was the early modern experience of race? How do modern productions of plays that are preoccupied with race tackle the topic? How do theatre artists engage or not engage with it? Do actors, directors, designers, composers and musicians of colour have access to the same opportunities to pursue a career in theatre and to maintain their careers? How does unconscious bias enable white actors to have the advantage when it comes to costume design, lighting and set design? In other words, do creatives responsible for these arts always think consciously about taking into account skin colour when designing a show? What does it mean to be a person of colour and study, teach, perform, produce and read Shakespeare?

These and many more questions will arise during and beyond the festival – though there is no guarantee of finding answers. Indeed, more questions may be provoked.

Why should Shakespeare’s Globe be concerned with the topic of race now? As an international centre with iconic theatre spaces and a global presence, we aim to explore the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays, his theatres and his moment can be put into dialogue with the present and with issues that we face now in the 21st century, including and especially issues that relate to social justice.

The peer-reviewed journal Shakespeare Quarterly addressed the topic in a special issue. The editors, Kim F Hall (our Sam Wanamaker Fellow, 2018) and Peter Erickson, set some clear objectives for scholars to consider in the advancement of race studies: one of which states the need for “more studies of race and performance that themselves theorise/critique race rather than simply document the activities of people of color in the service of proving Shakespeare’s universality”.

In part, this festival, and, in particular, the symposium that will conclude it, is a direct response to this article’s call for action. In this festival, we want to ask questions about race, but not in a tokenistic way, and not in a way that suggests we are ticking a box or somehow trying to be ‘trendy’.

The aims of the festival are to invite scholars and artists of colour to speak on this topic openly and provocatively; to test our assumptions about theatre practice and racially diverse casting; to examine what it means to be a scholar or an artist of colour in 2018; to interrogate ourselves and the way in which we privilege white history, white authors and the landmark buildings, monuments

and canons that perpetuate such privilege. How can we turn Shakespeare’s Globe upon itself and ask its occupants and supporters to consider Shakespeare not as a model of universality, but as a site of reflection and empowerment? As a collection of works to jump into and scratch around in rather than merely adore, revere and worship?

The topic of race in Shakespeare is a growing field in America that young, emerging scholars of colour are making important contributions to. In the UK, there is less work being carried out in race studies at undergraduate and postgraduate level. One reason for our conference and its deliberate focus on the US and the UK is to find a way to develop the topic on both sides of the Atlantic.

Being able to listen to scholars who have been working in this field for decades and to hear from activists and thinkers like Kimberlé Crenshaw (American civil rights advocate and a leading scholar of critical race theory) and Luke Harris (director of programs and chairman of the board of directors of the African American Policy Forum raises the stakes of this festival.

Shakespeare’s Globe is at a point in its two-decade long history where it is reflecting upon itself as a cultural organisation; this festival is in part a response to the need for the Globe’s own evolving identity to emerge more fully as one that questions, interrogates and celebrates the potentially transformative impact that Shakespeare has on those who study, perform, read and enjoy his plays with their extraordinary, contradictory, troublesome and, most often, challenging themes.

Shakespeare and Race runs from 11-18 August at Shakespeare’s Globe taking in performances, talks, symposiums and panel discussions.