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  • Hubert Marlin

Is it possible that Shakespeare would have been black?


The flow of information in the era of cybernetics has reached unprecedented heights. In a fraction of a second, one can retrieve informations buried in the abyss of time, so more and more on the internet, articles proclaiming the darkness of Shakespeare appear,just like pictures of his bust, that make him a not so White man. Also to see clearly, it is opportune first to navigate in the reality of the English life of the 16th and 17th century, because when some affirm that the great British playwriter, could only be white and would never have seen of his life a black person, it’s misleading but an understandable assertion, for those who defend it, because with centuries of brainwashing many assume that Europe has always been white as snow. However when one makes an effort to think and research, it is clear that London of the 16th and 17th century was a multicultural and especially multiracial city, for more than 1500 years with the Roman occupation which began in the year 43. The remains of the black lady with the ivory bracelet found in York are there to recall it.

London of the time of Shakespeare was full of blacks. The African community of Moorish origin, was very important in the city and Queen Elizabeth at the time had also received several complaints from the white population, that asked the Queen to expel them. Besides members of the slave lobby, who had become very powerful because of the slave trade, which had just begun, used the press they were already controlling at the time ,to tarnish the image of blacks, who were in England since at least the Roman period, as well as those derived from Moorish immigration in the more recent centuries.

To be black in England at the time of Shakespeare was not impossible in view of the large number of persons of this race in the country, and especially in London. So it is not equally impossible that Shakespeare, could have been black himself. His work moreover, is greatly marked by the black race, although some believe that, he wrote these roles dedicated to blacks such as the very famous Othello, Leo africanus, which he played himself, and Black Luce of sonnet 144, (Who would have been a black woman who managed a London brothel,) because he had taken up the cause of the black community in Europe, which was seriously undergoing racism and was threatened with the expulsion from British territory by the authorities.

Without questioning the sense of fair play of the English gentleman he was, Shakespeare would undoubtedly have taken up the cause of the blacks, because he was directly concerned in one way or another.

Notwithstanding, the expulsion of the blacks from Great Britain a few years later, will happen under Olivier Cromwell. Between 1641 and 1652, tens of thousands of blacks were banned from British territory, and sent to the Americas. The British war chief, bailed out the crates of the British crown with cheap slaves, that could be shipped to the plantations of Barbados, Brazil, Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago and the southern United States swiftly, compared to slaves from Africa.

In prelude a not so trivial fact was witnessed. The whitening of British culture began a hundred years before, with the great-great -uncle of Oliver Cromwell. Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540) Prime Minister of King Henry 8, will destroy 97% of all the Artefacts of the country, which in general represented centuries of British history, but were no longer in conformity with the racist tone which now advocated a policy of whitewashing the history of the kingdom. Statues will be pirated, frescoes broken. Mosaics pounded. The manuscripts deemed illuminated jagged. Wood engraving reduced to ash. Precious metals representing the former black nobility figures melted. The sanctuaries high places of knowledge conservation from Africa, will also be reduced to rubble. This vandalism went far beyond religious reform. It was a frenzy that erased the artistic heritage of centuries of indigenous crafts, with an intensity of hatred for the imagery that remains palpable until today. The destruction of the nose of the Pharaonic statues in Egypt by the English explorers later, followed this logic that began centuries ago.

What about the portrait of Shakespeare, and certain parts of his work that are often attributed to an African woman, named Amelia Bassano, who was raised in a family of Venetian musicians, who emigrated to England in the 16th century?

While the skeptics assert that Shakespeare would never have met her, it remains unlikely that Amelia Bassano did not influence the work of the British playwriter because one cannot speak of chance, when in both Venetian plays of Shakespeare, there is an Emilia in Othello and a Bassano in the other, The Merchant of Venice. Also in Titus Andronicus, there is an Aemilius and a Bassianus. Bassanio which is the original version of Emilia's family name, when arriving in London. A name that is found in the burial record of her family members. Emilia Bassano, like it or not, was qualified enough to write plays. She was the first poetess of Britain, the very first to have a work published in Latin. Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum in 1611 (O God king of the Jews) A collection of poems that contains several odes to women.

If one can admit that she probably did not write all Shakespeare's plays, as some say, she would at least have contributed to his work, especially in regards to the financial difficulties she encountered later in her life. The situation would have undoubtedly forced her to work for the glory of someone else to sustain herself, beyond the fact that her gender and color would probably have made it impossible for her to make her talent fully known, as her illustrious contemporary William Shakespeare.

Concerning pictures in which William Shakespeare is represented as a white man, one can also draw inspiration from the paintings of the White Jesus Christ, to understand the Western mentality of assimilation of the greatness, or incorporation of the greatness of others in their catalog. However, there are representations of Shakespeare as a man not at all white. Like the other illustrious man of culture the German Beethoven, who was not at all white as snow, he may have himself asked to be represented as white, for commercial reasons. Rampant racism in Europe would have necessarily limited his success, to present a white image of him, was a sham to gain approval and go mainstream. In any case by playing the black Othello or Leo Africanus he played himself in every possible way.

The western world should wait more than two hundred years, to see a black

comedian play the role of Othello in a British theater, in the person of the afro American Ira Aldridge, at the London Royal Theater in 1826. Shunted in London he was forced to play mostly outside of the city and in other European capitals. Dublin, Berlin, Stockholm, Brussels, Vienna, Constantinople and St. Petersburg, will undergo his talent. During a performance in Russia in 1863 where he was almost adopted, the French poet and novelist Théophile Gautier will say bluntly that the performance of Aldridge was "Othello himself, as Shakespeare had created it ... calm, reserved, Classical and majestic. "Aldridge died at the age of 59, on August 7, 1867, while on tour in Lodz, Poland, he received a consistent tribute from his peers.

(The portraits illustrating this article are official however, they may not proudly represent the characters quoted in this article)

Hubert Marlin

Journalist writer


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