Shakespeare, race, and adaptation in times of unrest, 1601-1888

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University of Alabama Libraries

This dissertation takes up the question of Shakespeare’s literary afterlives in seventeenth-century England, pre-Jacksonian America, and nineteenth-century Britain and British India. By examining when and where Shakespeare excerpts show up in written texts I perform four case studies of Shakespeare’s use in moments of crisis and change. Beginning with the Earl of Essex’s abortive uprising in 1601 London, I ask how the event has come to be a part of Richard II’s literary history and how that narrative feeds into ideas about British national identity and the creation of an idealized historical past, arguing that the lore surrounding the deposition scene and Elizabeth I’s possibly-apocryphal reaction to the Rebellion and the play gave license to future generations hoping to put Shakespeare to use to further their own political agendas. From there, I turn my attention to commonplace books compiled during the English Civil War and Interregnum, considering the Shakespeare snippets within them and reflecting on how these dramatic extracts function to create a narrative of a completely White England and White archives. I argue that the study of Shakespeare in commonplace books is not only an underrepresented area of scholarship that helps us understand how Renaissance readers interacted with Shakespeare, but that the practice of commonplacing Shakespeare for personal use in the seventeenth century set a precedent for co-opting Shakespeare’s works in order to further various agendas in the nineteenth century. My final two chapters examine how White authors excerpted Shakespeare in nineteenth-century newspapers and novels in both America and England during times of rapid social and political change. In both cases, White authors use Shakespeare to romanticize non-White cultures and events (American Indians/Indian removal policies in pre-Jacksonian America, Indian culture and the First War of Indian Independence in the mid-1850s) for White audiences, contributing to the legacy of excluding non-Whites from conversations about Shakespeare while at the same time insisting on Shakespeare’s “universality.” The authors use Shakespeare to aestheticize their non-White characters, valorize their White protagonists, and practice an “acceptance” of indigenous characters that hides an agenda against interracial relationships and subtly in favor of Indian removal policies and White settler colonialism. Ultimately, this dissertation seeks to acknowledge Shakespeare’s central place in the canon while interrogating the exclusionary culture surrounding him and offering hope for a more inclusive field in the twenty-first century. Based on literary analysis while also offering historicist approaches and engaging with premodern critical race studies and theatre history, this project brings interdisciplinarity to the fore. Once these networks of power become visible, we can better encourage and support modern scholarship’s concerns with accessibility, visibility, and diversifying the canon.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
English literature, Theater history