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Shakespeare: Othello

3. Race

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In this module, we think about the critical reception of race in Othello, focusing in particular on: (i) Charles Gildon’s critique of Thomas Rymer’s somewhat unreconstructed views on race and Othello; (ii) the problematic views of critics such as Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; (iii) the distinction made by critics such as Martin Orkin between the racism of characters within the play and the racism of the paly itself; (iv) the interesting work being done on the racial diversity of early modern London; and (v) the vexed question who should be ‘allowed’ to play the character of Othello.

Reading List:
– Charles Gildon, ‘Some Reflections on Mr. Rymer's Short View of Tragedy’ (1694)
– Meredith Anne Skura, 'Reading Othello's Skin Color: Contexts and Pretexts', Philological Quarterly 87 (2008)
– Charles Lamb, ‘On the Tragedies of Shakspere Considered with Reference to Their Fitness for Stage Representation’ (1811)
– G. K. Hunter, ‘Othello and Colour Prejudice’, Proceedings of the British Academy 53 (1968)
– Martin Orkin, 'Othello and the "plain face" of racism', Shakespeare Quarterly 38.2 (1987)
– Duncan Salkeld, Shakespeare and London (2018)
– Imtiaz H. Habib, Shakespeare and Race: Postcolonial Praxis in the Early Modern Period (2000)
– Matthew Steggle, 'Othello, the Moor of London: Shakespeare's Black Britons', in Robert C. Evans (ed.) Othello: A Critical Reader (2015)


In this course, Professor Lisa Hopkins (Sheffield Hallam University) explores six aspects of the critical reception of Shakespeare's Othello. In the first module, we think about the critical reception of the handkerchief, beginning with Thomas Rymer's criticism that Shakespeare could allow so much human suffering to depend on something so insignificant. After that, we think about the ways in which the play has been read in religious terms, before turning in the third module to the critical reception of race in the play. In the fourth and fifth modules, we think about the critical reception of the characters of Iago and Othello, respectively, before turning in the sixth and final module to the critical reception of women in the play.


Lisa Hopkins is Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam University. Her principal research interests are in Renaissance drama, especially Marlowe, Shakespeare and Ford. She is also interested in the influence of Darwin on fiction, adaptation, and the work of Bram Stoker. At the moment, she is completing a book on From the Romans to the Normans on the English Renaissance Stage. She is a co-editor of Shakespeare, the journal of the British Shakespeare Association, and co-editor of the Arden Early Modern Drama Guides.

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Hopkins, L. (2020, January 06). Shakespeare: Othello - Race [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Hopkins, L. "Shakespeare: Othello – Race." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Jan 2020,

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