Boston Herald

Race-focused activists come for Shakespear­e

- By Rich Lowry Rich Lowry is editor in chief of the National Review

Shakespear­e has long been dismissed, with others in the Western canon, as a dead white male. Now, there’s another, worse charge against the bard — he created the concept of whiteness.

Yes, instead of standing in the line of literary giants such as Dante, Chaucer, and Goethe, Shakespear­e is to be associated from now on with the likes of the 19th century French apostle of scientific racism Arthur de Gobineau, George Wallace, and — why not — the Oath Keepers.

If you’ve wondered if there’s anything that race-obsessed activists, bureaucrat­s and academics can’t ruin, the answer is “no,” as they begin get to work in earnest trying to tear down a towering genius who has had an immense — and profoundly edifying effect — on our culture.

According to a new volume, “White People in Shakespear­e,” the immortal playwright was engaged in “white—people—making.” The contributo­rs to the book aren’t surprised by “the fact of

Shakespear­e’s global, representa­tional power existing, almost in tandem with a global white cultural supremacy.” Indeed, it only renders “more unremarkab­le or invisible a unique alliance of white people and Shakespear­e.” Q.E.D. It’s pretty much a direct line from the Globe Theatre in the 16th century to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Although “it’s quite likely very few if any those assembled at the Capitol on that day thought of Shakespear­e” — perhaps the most unassailab­le statement in the volume — it was still “white people’s Shakespear­ean theater on a grand scale.”

The new book, written about favorably in The Atlantic, is hardly an outlier. A couple of years ago, “The Cambridge Companion to Shakespear­e and Race” was published. (“The collection invites the reader to understand racialized discourses, rhetoric, and performanc­es in all of Shakespear­e’s plays,” the promotiona­l material explained.)

If these people have anything to say about it, Shakespear­e’s reputation will undergo another turn, from being considered less fashionabl­e than other playwright­s in his own time, to being rarely performed after his death, to being rediscover­ed and ascending to the status of a giant in the 19th century, to becoming toxic in the 21st century for allegedly setting the predicate for the white supremacy that blights the West to this day.

And here poor old Will probably just thought he was writing some plays and sonnets.

Shakespear­e’s racial interprete­rs are trying to take an author of incredible complexity, whose brilliance involves creating rich, multi-layered characters and raising moral questions, rather than providing ready answers to them, and reduce him down to one thing. There couldn’t be anything less in accord with the spirit and fact of Shakespear­e.

But it makes as much sense to try to argue the literary racialists out of their take on Shakespear­e as to try to convince a Marxist of the usefulness of capital markets. For them, to be white or not be white is the only question.

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