Stereotypes In Shakespeare's Plays

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STEREOTYPES IN SHAKESPEARE'S PLAYS Stereotypes in Shakespeare's Plays

Stereotypes in Shakespeare's Plays


British national identity is a late historical development, and to some extent the unintended consequence of colonialism and immigration. By treating British national citizenship as a late manifestation of nationalism, I am in some respects following (Sandahl, 2005) argument. British nationalism was forged in response to outsiders, especially to immigration in the twentieth century.

When in Shakespeare's Henry V we confront apparently distinctive notions of English, Welsh or Scottish identity, we must also remember that the social division between aristocracy and peasantry ruled out any easy identification of an emerging English nationalism in Shakespeare's historical dramas. There was no dominant ideology capable of uniting elite and mass, despite the fact that in Elizabethan England the division between Protestant and Catholic meant the internationalism of the Catholic Church no longer bound England to Catholic Europe (Sandahl, 2006). Protestantism and the Virgin Queen rather than 'English nationalism' provided some common cause against an impending Catholic invasion. While one might have disputes about the historical origin of Englishness, British identity and British citizenship are the products of the growth of social citizenship and welfare entitlements some three centuries later.


The African Company performed primarily Shakespeare, and several of its actors had successful careers in Europe after the African Grove Theater was destroyed by vandals in 1823. These actors chose to work in Europe because the only other creative outlet available to them at the time was working in minstrel shows (Lewis, 2000). Although minstrel shows were originally written and performed by white entertainers, eventually many of these musical comedy revues were written and performed by African Americans—who actually performed in blackface.

During the Harlem Renaissance, African American theater companies were founded in several major cities, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York. Paul Robeson emerged as the most important African American actor of the period, starring in Eugene O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924) and The Emperor Jones (1925). Robeson's interpretation of Shakespeare's Othello led to the longest run for a Shakespeare play in the history of Broadway (Hay, 2006). It was also during this period that the first play written by an African American became a true Broadway “hit”—Langston Hughes's Mulatto (1935), a play centering around the conflicts between a white plantation owner and his mulatto son.

In 1940, the American Negro Theater was formed; its mission, according to its founders, was “to break down the barriers of Black participation in the theater; to portray Negro life as they honestly saw it; [and] to fill the gap of a Black theater which did not exist.” This company became the training ground for such luminaries of the entertainment world as Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Ossie Davis (Auslander, 2005).

The rise of nation-states required the production of national citizenship, and this historical development is captured by Michel Foucault's notion of 'governmentality' in which the state becomes increasingly an administrative state whose task is to make populations socially and economically productive (Foucault ...
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