Graham Bradshaw complains in Misrepresentations: Shakespeare and the Materialists1 that the question of whether or not Shakespeare is racist or not has reduced texts like Othello and The Tempest to the level of evidence, placing critics in the roles of lawyers for the prosecution, labouring to ‘prove’ Shakespeare’s guilt. Until recently, the notion that Shakespeare (like all gentlemen) preferred blondes was accepted without challenge or blame in both literary criticism and film and televisual productions — an assumption that reflects the critic’s and director’s (rather than Shakespeare’s) unknowing racism. In spite of recent readings of the representation of race in Shakespeare, films of these plays, no matter how experimental in form, remain fundamentally conservative in their representation of race, conforming to what James Monaco argues is the Hollywood norm. Monaco asserts that ‘racism pervades American film because it is a basic strain in American history. It is one of the ugly facts that the landmark The Birth of a Nation (1915) can be generally hailed as a classic despite its essential racism.’2 In attempting to ignore race, so much the concern of recent Shakespeare criticism, recent films of The Tempest and Othello, even when seemingly striving for ‘political correctness’, fall into the Hollywood racial trap.
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