“Mislike Me Not for My Complexion”: On Anti-Black Racism and Performative Whiteness in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
- Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 20, Number 4, Fall 2020
- pp. 34-61
- Additional Information
This essay provides an anti-racist reading of the way Black and tawny characters are treated by white characters in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (ca 1600). It gives particular attention to the role of racism in the treatment of an unnamed “negro” woman and the Prince of Morocco. The juxtaposition of these two characters allows the essay to address how issues of gender, class, and race impact the way anti-Blackness is performed in the text. This essay is situated within the emerging discourse of premodern critical race studies, and it argues that the anti-Black racism in the play makes the performance of whiteness visible. Whiteness, this essay argues, is performed through acts of anti-Black exclusion and racism designed to protect the property and privilege of whiteness while maintaining the illusion of white innocence. Making whiteness visible is essential if critics are to deconstruct the logic and structural privileges of white supremacy in early modern texts.