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Shakespeare at the Crossroads of Race, Language, and American Empire


The words and works of William Shakespeare have divided Americans along the lines of race, language, partisan politics, and social class since the founding of the American experiment – a division that continues to the present day. When Shakespeare is performed within the United States, ghosts haunt each production – the ghosts of the African slave, the indigenous American, the European colonist, and the countless immigrants who built a country with their blood, sweat, and toil and died on American soil. Whether attended to or not, the presence or absence of Black, White, or Indigenous bodies in American Shakespearean casting, the inclusion or exclusion of languages other than English in the dialogue spoken, and the new forms of signification that have emerged from Shakespeare’s plays through restagings at various (and, frequently, critical) moments in American history, place Shakespeare firmly at the crossroads of race, language, and American empire. This dissertation examines the audience reception of multilingual/multiracial adaptations of Shakespeare’s Othello and Macbeth in the United States, from the colonial period to the present, with three intentions: (1) to increase understanding around the ways Shakespeare’s plays have been translated, adapted, or appropriated to address the topics of race, language, and American imperialism; (2) to unpack some of the practical strategies used by theatrical practitioners when staging Shakespeare’s plays to create a dialogue with American audience members around some of the most fraught subjects in our current political moment; (3) to gather and analyze audience reception data on how multilingual/multiracial Shakespearean adaptations are being received by a diverse sample of American audience members from around the United States and how those adaptations affect audience perception of Shakespeare’s plays.

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