Why was Shakespeare racist
"I am not what I am"
"I am not what I am" Shakespeare lets the intriguer Iago say, and thus hits the heart of a debate that has always revolved around the staging of Shakespeare's drama "Othello", which premiered in 1604. How to play Othello? How to cast the complex role of "Othello"?
If one looks at these questions in a naturalistic way and occupies roles authentically and realistically - female figures with women, male figures with men, People of Color (PoC) with PoC actors - wouldn't one of the few PoC roles - that of General Othello - have to be filled with a PoC actor?
The counter-discussion, which is much debated especially in the USA, also outlines the problem from a different angle: Doesn't it naturalize the racist attributions in Shakespeare's "Othello" by casting a PoC actor? (Cf. Dreysse, Miriam: "Who is Othello?", In: Bachmann / Kreuder / Pfahl / Volz: "Theater and Subject Constitution", Bielefeld: transcript, 2012, 587-601.) For example, the British actor Hugh Quarshie remarked, for his part, PoC, on the problem of an authentic cast: "Doesn't a black actor risk legitimizing or even making racist stereotypes appear true by playing Othello? Does not a black actor who plays a role originally reproduced for a black made up white actors and was written for a mainly white audience, the white, that is, false, view of black people? [...] Of all the roles in the theater canon, Othello is perhaps the only one that should not be played by a black actor. " (Quoted from Loomba, Ania: "Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism", Oxford 2002, 110th German by the author. / Cf. also Kolesch, "How to play Othello?", In: Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 15 2, 87-103.)
And the actor Michael Klammer also said in a conversation on the subject: "For example, if I were offered a role in 'Othello', I would rather play the intriguer Iago than Othello. I don't have any interest in being cast according to skin color Lust. "
The debate thus moves between representational criticism and the naturalization of attributions and stigmata and accordingly offers both with a white passing (appears white) as well as with PoC occupation cause for discussion.
"I am not what I am" - can offer a paradigm for a theatrical approach to charged material. Racism - the theme in Shakespeare's Othello - works precisely through mechanisms of stigmatization and ascription and thus produces a distorted image that has nothing to do with reality, but rather with a "pathological fixation" (Mbembe, Achille: "Critique of Black Reason". Berlin: Suhrkamp , 2017.) has to do; in short: a "fantasy" (Ibid.) that is not what it is.
Actors are not what they are on stage either, they represent an artistic image of reality, a world of their own, a fiction. Transformation and attribution play just as important a role as abstraction and point to the fundamental possibility of art to represent something other than what is. Theater was and is always the transformation of reality into an opportunity to see reality with different eyes.
The fact that the desire to transform has also provoked contradictions is part of the long history of theater, which has repeatedly been confronted with restrictions and demands as to which characters may appear on a stage and who is allowed to play them. The development that the art of acting has also and above all to do with the fact that in an open society everyone can and is allowed to play anything. This freedom can be argued about - but it is the beating heart of the theater. The decisive factor is how an actor or actress plays a role with their representational means in such a way that the character can be experienced in its complexity for the audience.
This art of representation takes on a political dimension when the roles and their conflicts refer to power relationships and their structural causes. The Berliner Ensemble is the Bertolt Brechts Theater. With his questioning of theatrical media, he triggered a revolution in drama and the art of acting. What is generally known under the term "alienation" is the attempt to present the relationships in such a way that they do not appear like nature, but always become visible as man-made. The actor "is" not his character, but rather he plays it.
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