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Shakespeare Unlimited podcast

Black Lives Matter in Titus Andronicus

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 155

In his classes at Binghamton University, David Sterling Brown and his students examine Shakespeare’s plays through the lens of Critical Race Theory. You might have heard about Critical Race Theory lately: put simply, it’s a way of looking at society and culture that focuses on the intersections of race, law, and power. Ever since George Floyd’s killing by a white police officer in Minneapolis outraged much of the nation, Critical Race Theory has taken on a new urgency for millions of Americans examining race, law and power with new eyes. Meanwhile, millions of other Americans, pointing to the realities of their own day-to-day lives, are basically saying: “I told you so.”

What does it mean to read a play like Titus Andronicus with questions of race in mind? Brown, who has written extensively about that play, joins us on the podcast to discuss the ways that such a reading reveals an entire dimension of racial imagery and racial violence. We also talk about what it means for theaters and cultural institutions to engage in anti-racist work. David Sterling Brown is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

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FolgerShakespeareLibrary · Black Lives Matter in “Titus Andronicus”

Dr. David Sterling Brown is a professor of English, General Literature and Rhetoric at Binghamton University/State University of New York. He is an executive board member of the RaceB4Race conference series.

He is the author of “‘Is Black so Base a Hue?’: Black Life Matters in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus,” a chapter in the anthology Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); “Remixing the Family,” which appeared in Titus Andronicus: The State of Play (The Arden Shakespeare, 2019); and “The ‘Sonic Color Line’: Shakespeare and the Canonization of Sexual Violence Against Black Men,” published in the August 16, 2019 edition of The Sundial. He is currently finalizing his book project that examines Shakespearean drama, whiteness and the Du Boisian color line. More of his work has been published or is forthcoming in Shakespeare Studies, Radical Teacher, Hamlet: The State of Play, White People in Shakespeare, The Hare, Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies, Shakespeare and Digital Pedagogy, and other venues.

With Jennifer L. Stoever, he joined the Folger Institute in August for a Critical Race Conversation: “The Sound of Whiteness, Or Teaching Shakespeare’s ‘Other “Race Plays”’ in Five Acts.” Watch it now on YouTube.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published November 10, 2020. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “Coal-Black is Better Than Another Hue,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts.

Previous: The Show Must Go Online | Next: The Victorian Cult of Shakespeare


“The Sound of Whiteness, Or Teaching Shakespeare’s ‘Other “Race Plays”’ in Five Acts.”
Watch David Sterling Brown and Jennifer L. Stoever’s Critical Race Conversation on YouTube.

Othello and Blackface
Listen to Ian Smith and Ayanna Thompson discuss an exciting discovery about Othello and historical methods of blackface.

The Folger Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus
Read, search, and download Titus Andronicus online for free.


MICHAEL WITMORE: The truly remarkable thing about the writing of William Shakespeare is that, even from 450 years in the past, he seems to have something relevant to say about almost everything humans do. So you might be wondering: What could he possibly have to say about our current American racial moment? As it turns out, quite a lot. 

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. For those of you in our audience who aren’t steeped in the world of the academy, here’s a term you may not have heard before: “Critical Race Theory.”

What it is, to put it succinctly, is a way of looking at society and culture that always keeps in mind the interplay of race, law, and power.

Ever since George Floyd’s killing by a police officer in Minneapolis outraged much of the nation, Critical Race Theory has garnered new attention. Today, millions of Americans are looking at race, law and power with new eyes. While millions of other Americans, pointing to the reality of their own day-to-day lives, are basically saying, “I told you so.”

For quite some time now, Dr. David Sterling Brown, an Assistant Professor of English, General Literature and Rhetoric, has been doing everything he possibly can to make sure that his students at Binghamton University apply Critical Race Theory to Shakespeare. Recently, David was one of the speakers at a Folger Institute event that we called Critical Race Conversations: The Sound of Whiteness, Or Teaching Shakespeare’s “Other ‘Race Plays’” in Five Acts, where he brought that perspective outside of his classroom. In this podcast, he brings this important perspective to the rest of us. We invited David in—well, actually, he’s speaking from his home—to offer us a Critical Race reading of one Shakespeare play: Titus Andronicus. And if you’re saying to yourself, “OK, what on Earth could there possibly be about Titus Andronicus that has anything to do with Black Lives Matter?” Keep listening.

We call this podcast episode “Coal-Black is Better Than Another Hue.” Dr. David Sterling Brown is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.


BARBARA BOGAEV: David, how do you start a class or a talk or a seminar—whatever—these days about Titus Andronicus? Do you just come right out and say something like, “We’re going to talk about how this play directly relates to what the Black Lives Matter protests are all about.”

DAVID STERLING BROWN: That’s a great question. Now, so, what I do, I don’t really even preface it that way. I always start my classes with a seminar style, and the topic is usually race. So, they already have an awareness of that. But I like to let them get into the play and really figure out what’s going on at first.

BOGAEV: So, you immerse into the play. Great, because let’s do that. I think a lot of Shakespeare fans haven’t seen or read Titus Andronicus. It’s just not that well known. So, to start us off, could you perhaps give us just thumbnail descriptions of the three or four characters in the portions of the play that we’re going to talk about? For instance, who is Aaron the Moor, and who is Tamora, and who is Lucius?

BROWN: Sure. So, Aaron the Moor is a prisoner of war who comes in with Tamora, who is a Goth. She’s a white character who is ethnically different than the Romans, but she’s able to assimilate into Rome because of her whiteness. Aaron is her lover—her illicit lover, I should add. Lucius is the son of Titus Andronicus, who is the play’s protagonist. [Titus] is a Roman general and the patriarch of this family known as the Andronici.

BOGAEV: That’s great. And already you’ve thrown us into this world that, right off the bat, is dealing with issues of otherness. Goth…


BOGAEV: … white, Black. Also, there’s a love triangle. Actually, you should… tell us more. Tell us more about the love triangle, in case people don’t know.

BROWN: Yes, of course. So, the love triangle is one of the, sort of, high points in the play because of what happens later, in Act IV, scene II, when this Black baby of Tamora’s emerges. Tamora, as Queen of Goths, marries the Roman Emperor, Saturninus. So, having sexual intercourse with Aaron produces this Black baby that then, once we get to Act IV, scene II, the play, Shakespeare, the audience, everyone, the characters involved, have to figure out what do we do with this baby.

BOGAEV: It’s complicated, yes.

BROWN: It is.

BOGAEV: You’re right. So, we have otherness, and we have interracial mixing, and racial stereotypes involving sexuality and violence. All of that comes into play. And, of course, issues of women and attitudes towards women.


BOGAEV: And, as you say, racial profiling. Why don’t we start there? What do we learn from Titus about profiling?

BROWN: So, we learn a lot from Titus about profiling. In particular, there are these stereotypes that revolve around people’s ideas about what is Blackness, what is whiteness, et cetera.

We have this Black character, Aaron, who is… pretty much any negative stereotype you can think of that relates to the Black identity, he embodies it. So, we’re talking about hypersexuality is embedded in his character. Evil is embedded in his character. Violence, of course, is embedded in his character. He even talks at one point about how blood and revenge are hammering in his brain.

So, he is, you know, a sensational figure when it comes to thinking about the representation of both stereotypes and also how the Black male identity, in particular, becomes this thing that people seem to just automatically fear; both in the play, but even in our modern world as we’re seeing right now with police responses to Black men and boys, for instance.

BOGAEV: Yeah, you know, you watch this play and you think, “Aaron. He’s just so wicked. He’s, like, pure evil.” But all of these other things are coming into play. I was thinking in terms of the adjective “performative”— and code-switching. The performances that someone of color acts a certain way to assimilate into a culture. But I think you might mean that— and other things.

I’m thinking of a quote, too, from your work that is that, “Racial profiling is a performance of how the Black person appears through the dominant gaze.” So, could you explain that, and how it illuminates this play?

BROWN: Black people don’t get to control our identities in particular. So, when I think about the dominant gaze… essentially, at any given moment, how a Black person is perceived by, you know, the dominant culture—the dominant white culture—can determine what that Black person’s identity. How it registers in the world, for instance.

So, when I think about Tamir Rice, the teenage kid who was killed by police, holding a toy gun; his identity in that moment, how it registered to police as just, “Black individual with gun, threatening,” all of that stuff happens very quickly because these types of ideas, and even ideologies about Blackness, have been engrained in society.

BOGAEV: And, is this how you’ve always looked at this play? That it’s got this meta-level of the play as a performance, and its dealing with performative-ness and race? Or is this something that’s evolved for you?

BROWN: My quick answer to that is, not at all. It’s definitely evolved. I was introduced to Titus Andronicus as an undergraduate at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, in about 2001. And then my professor, Milla Riggio, she mentioned this moment in Titus where Aaron has this line. He says, “Coal black is better than another hue,” in that “It scorns to bear another hue.” She mentioned it as a moment of Black power. Not in the 1960s Black Power Movement sense, per se, but she was doing something so extraordinary for me, as the only Black student in the class at the time, with connecting the past and the present. And so, that was my inroad into Titus.

But these ideas evolved. That whole process of having to think through, “What does it mean to be Aaron in Titus? Is he purely evil? Is he purely a criminal, as some scholars have identified him in their scholarship?” And as a Black man myself, something about that didn’t sit right with me, but it just took me a very long time to figure out why.

BOGAEV: Hmm. It really changes the play for me. I mean, usually I’ve watched this play, and read it, and identified with Lavinia, who we haven’t talked about, but the character who is raped.

BROWN: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: Then her hands are cut off, and her tongue cut out so that she can’t speak of it or implicate anyone or write about them. But then, really, in this context, if you’re white, you are completely implicated in all of these power relationships and all of this profiling, and all of these ways of seeing the other.

BROWN: Yes, that’s absolutely right. I am so glad that you brought up Lavinia because, speaking of the evolution of my ideas about the play, Lavinia, Titus’s daughter, who—and Lucius’s sister—who, as you said, raped and mutilated in the play by Tamora’s two Goth sons, Chiron and Demetrius. I bought into, for a long time, the idea that Lavinia is the most tragic figure in Titus. Of course, when we think about just the heinousness of sexual assault, and it’s something that I also use as a point to educate students on my college campus, about this important social matter.

But Lavinia’s rape and mutilation are only part of the tragic nature of Titus in terms of the extreme violence. It’s physical violence that we see with her situation, whereas when we get to later in the play, and Aaron’s baby is essentially threatened by Lucius. Lucius wants to hang this Black baby. I have to see both the tragedy that could be in what Lucius suggests, and also just again the heinousness of the suggestion that we would hang the most innocent figure in this play.

So power relations—to bring up the term you just mentioned—they really are at work when we think about responses to Lavinia, versus responses to the baby, versus responses to Aaron. And that’s, I think, also part of the work the dominant gaze does.

BOGAEV: Yeah, that’s a really interesting part of your presentation about this play. Here it is, this 400-year old work, and there’s a lynching in it. Not only a lynching, a double lynching. A lynching of a baby, too. And when you do your lecture on this material, you use an image of a noose hanging from a tree as you’re talking about it. It’s just so resonant.

BROWN: Yes. It is. And, you know, I borrowed that idea from Julie Taymor’s 1999 film adaptation within Shakespeare’s play, so there’s the suggestion of lynching.  Lucius wants to hang the baby from a tree, and, “By his side, his fruit of bastardy,” he says, of Aaron. He wants the father to watch this. So the idea that we can sit with a play, 400 plus years later, and think about the idea of lynching of a Black man and a Black boy is too resonant. That can evoke senses of trauma, both the racial trauma that comes with the Black existence, but also the tragedy that we see with the Black existence.

BOGAEV: I want to go back to what you were talking about with Tamir Rice, and this idea of profiling, and seeing Aaron as a monolith, really as, kind of, every Black boy, every Black teenager in a hoodie out for a jog is a thief on the run, like Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.

BROWN: Yes. So, that’s a fabulous question. I see that again through Lucius’s language, first and foremost. His rationale for wanting to hang the child, part of it comes from his seeing the child, and thinking of the child as being too like the sire for ever being good. With that line, he’s essentially saying that this Black baby is too much like the Black father, Aaron, and therefore he too is bad, which is just, you know… there’s the logic of racism right there for you.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and there’s another telling moment that speaks to this constant and instant objectification. That’s the scene where Marcus kills a fly at the dinner table. First off, tell us.


BOGAEV: Remind us, who is Marcus?

BROWN: So, Marcus is Titus’s brother. This dinner scene in Act III, scene II, it’s this moment where Titus has reached his turning point in the play and has decided that he has no more tears to shed. He wants to enact revenge on behalf of his family, because several of his children have been killed, et cetera, et cetera. Then we’ve got, of course, Lavinia.

And a fly, a black fly, enters. A black, ill-fated fly enters the scene. Marcus strikes at the fly with his knife, and immediately Titus has a histrionic response because Titus is thinking, and he even says, “How if that fly had a father and mother?”

So, there’s this idea in Titus’s mind that the fly is somehow linked to Titus’s; it reminds him of his own familial trauma. But once Marcus says that he kills the fly because the fly was black, like the Empress’s Moor—referring to Tamora’s lover, Aaron—there’s again, another switch in Titus’s mindset. He immediately wants to inflict more violence on this already-dead fly, and he starts striking at it with his knife.

BOGAEV: Yeah, he goes kind of nuts. And I always thought this was a really interesting scene because Titus is so eloquent talking, especially about responding to Lavinia and her pain.


BOGAEV: It’s one of the most moving parts of the play, and then we get this fly thing going on. I always read it as revenge and jealousy, and now I’m questioning my… I’m questioning my white privilege here; that I am not seeing—I am not seeing it in this way.

BROWN: That’s an important point. To think about how this play can—and this moment really—make people question white privilege, white supremacy, and even think about, “Let’s racialize Titus’s white pain and his white suffering. That’s all incredibly important.” And he switches from thinking about his white pain and white suffering, but also keeps it in mind, even as he makes this conversion to want to use excessive force with this already-dead fly. That’s also what’s motivating this racist response to the black fly that becomes this symbol for Aaron, and even for Tamora as well.

BOGAEV: Okay, now this is a slippery question, and maybe I’m not asking it right, but what’s Shakespeare up to with his imagery? His Blackness imagery in this scene in particular? I guess the larger question is, when you do this kind of analysis, are you figuring in both how theatergoers in Shakespeare’s time and Shakespeare himself understood interracial relationships and race, and whether that’s even relevant in talking about this play?

BROWN: So, it is definitely relevant, and I think there are different levels at which one can talk about the play. A theater audience is not the same as my classroom audience, which is not the same as my conference audience. And so, the ways that we choose to talk about these plays matter.

But Kim Hall, in her book Things of Darkness, talks about tropes of Blackness, for instance, that have both modern and pre-modern applicability. No one is making these things up, when we look at the play and think about what’s going on with respect to Blackness in all of its different meanings. Shakespeare put it there for us, and he’s making use of these tropes. That fly is doing allegorical, metaphorical work, both backwards and forwards in the play. To make us think, at first, about Titus’s white family, but then, switching us in the climax to think about and really internalize anti-Black sentiments.

BOGAEV: I’m thinking back to when we had Ian Smith on this podcast, and he addressed this whole argument that race wasn’t a consideration in early modern England. Do you run up against that?

BROWN: I do, and my colleagues do as well, and, quite frankly, we’re tired of running up against that. But because it’s not a real serious question or inquiry at this point, when so much research has been done to show otherwise. Particularly in thinking about race, as Kim Hall does in Things of Darkness and others do, as a form of power. And it’s about power relations and how those hierarchies play out with respect to how people look. So skin color, skin difference.

Additionally, I have to mention this really great book Imtiaz Habib published, Black Lives in the English Archives: Imprints of the Invisible in 2008. This book is both profound in terms of the depth of research that he did to uncover a history of Blackness in early modern England, but it’s also significant because of the way that it moves forward as work has done by scholars like Ian Smith, whom you just mentioned, as well as Arthur Little and Ayanna Thompson. It moves forward this real conversation about race in the early modern period, and how it matters.

BOGAEV: Yeah, I never really understood it, because, just looking at the historical context, you have Titus Andronicus was written sometime between 1589 and 1592. That’s already about 25 years after English slave ships started the trade. I mean, the xenophobia, it’s already happening at that time, and the laws that the Crown were putting in place to keep Black Moors out.

BROWN: Correct.

BOGAEV: These were in people’s minds, and they would presumably be in the minds of theatergoers as they went to the Globe to see a Shakespeare play.

BROWN: Yes. You know, one time I heard—and I don’t remember exactly where I heard this—but someone said something along the lines of, “Perhaps there wasn’t necessarily a name for pneumonia in the early modern period, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.” And I think that’s also relevant to the race conversation.

Speaking of—back to the dominant gaze and power relations from the beginning of our conversation—what do people who study Shakespeare want to see? What don’t they want to see? That matters. That is, in part, the driving force for these denials of the existence of race. Because what does it mean to race Shakespeare, for instance, even though Shakespeare obviously raced his work himself? It’s there. And not just in plays like Titus Andronicus, but really all of Shakespeare’s plays.

BOGAEV: And, of course, that legacy of slavery, the slave trade, it came to America just 25 years later in 1619 and we inherited all of this. It was relevant then. It’s relevant now. But do you still get students, when you talk about this play, say something like, “Well, look, they were just more prejudiced back then, so what can we learn from these old plays about what’s going on now?”

BROWN: I love that. Yes, I do get that, and when I get that in the classroom, it’s a great teaching opportunity for us to, one, push back a little, and… you know, “What’s your evidence for saying that people were more prejudiced then. What metrics are being used to make that argument?”

This is where, again, looking at a play like Titus or Othello, because of the way that they center anti-Blackness is very useful. Also getting students to think about colonialism and enslavement, as you mentioned, and racism; it’s important for them to see that things may look different now, but to say that matters were more one way than another, it’s a bit of a stretch.

BOGAEV: Well for theaters trying, then, to do better and present Shakespeare in a way that addresses what’s happening in this moment: anti-racist Shakespeare. And I’m not just talking about Shakespeare’s so-called race plays like Othello. What do they need to do that goes beyond the obvious? I guess, diversity in casting and the like.

BROWN: They need to do a lot. Anti-racist work is a full-time job, so there’s no quick fix to managing how to integrate conversations about race and racism into theater production, for instance. But it needs to happen, and it needs to happen regularly. It’s much like building a muscle. You keep doing it, and you get stronger and stronger.

I think engagement with scholars like myself, my colleagues, is certainly a good step. Reading, of course, is another great step. Both the literary criticism that scholars offer, pre-modern critical race studies offer, scholars offer, but also just reading anti-racist work, and maintaining anti-racist practices. Because, as you said, diversifying a cast, for instance, or diversifying the production staff, that only can do so much if everyone’s mindsets are not in the right place. It really requires a systemic overhaul that is possible—you know, this is not impossible, but it does require a lot of work as I have to repeat that.

BOGAEV: That’s making me think of something that Kenny Leon, the director, said a while back when he was talking about his production of Midsummer that he directed in Central Park. He was on our podcast, and we were talking about how he infused that play with so much African and African-American culture, and dance, and gesture, and costuming, everything.

But he said that even he felt he didn’t have permission to do all that until he sat down with this very eminent Shakespeare scholar, James Shapiro. And talking with him, he started to believe that if Shakespeare were alive today, he would have loved Black people, because he loved popular culture. That’s what Kenny Leon’s realization was, and it gave him this permission to do what he did. He felt—he still felt he needed permission.

Is this still a problem in theater? That even when people try and do the right thing, and you diversify your cast, and your directors, and everyone, your crew. Even when they make it into the sanctum, people don’t feel they have permission to realize their vision on race.

BROWN: Yeah, and you know, I think that the idea of permission—gosh, this is such a big question, because permission… whose permission are we seeking, for instance, to do what we need to do? But also, this reminds me of color-conscious casting. As much as theater directors are grappling with the things they can and cannot do, they’re also thinking about their audiences, right? As Shakespeare did. You know, he thought about his audience. Aaron doesn’t become the king or the emperor in Titus Andronicus; not sure an early modern audience would have gone for that.

There is this policing of the self, and so I think what Kenny Leon was really getting at is this idea that we have to appeal to the desires of the theater audience. We have to appeal to the desires of the dominant culture. I mentioned color-conscious casting because there’s often pushback, still, about choices that directors make to cast, for instance, a Black Juliet or, you know, a Black Hamlet, for instance. I’m thinking specifically about a Broadway production that featured Condola Rashad as Juliet, and there was a lot of flack that they received for that. The reviews were great, but people were just not happy that there was a Black Juliet.

BOGAEV: It’s… well, I mean, whatever frustration I may feel, it’s a million times more for you. I can only imagine. I’m thinking that—and this is a different question on a different tack—but almost all of the guests that we’ve had on this podcast at some point say something like, “Shakespeare comes at things from so many sides and angles that you can never know what he, personally, believed. You can only bring to it what you have.” But I am curious if you have any sense of Shakespeare’s attitudes towards race, having thought about it so much.

BROWN: So, I like to think about it in terms of what Shakespeare gives us. Again, if we look at the language in Titus Andronicus, there’s just these powerful moments where, as much as the play might be expressing anti-racist sentiments, it also expresses racist sentiments, and therein lies the tension that it’s dramatizing.

For us, I think that’s one of the greater things about Shakespeare’s work, is that we can look at it from different angles. And if we shift the optic, we can see this perspective. We shift it again, we can see that perspective.

BOGAEV: It’s so… I mean, of course you can try, but you see such a difference when you have, say, a director like Kenny Leon directing Shakespeare than, I don’t know… you can look back to a million other Shakespeares. Like, Shakespeare in the Park, Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1971, or King Lear with James Earl Jones in 1974. These are both productions that were directed by white men. It’s just exponential, the difference between a white Shakespeare director, who does get some education in Black culture, and does try—is thinking this way, what you’re describing—and a Black director.  

BROWN: Yeah, I mean, you know, for someone who grows up and into their Blackness, they’ve certainly got a head start on a white director who just hasn’t had that experience. So, I think experience is a part of it. But also, too, the education component. Directors really need to take those steps to educate themselves. Because the theater is a cultural tool, as much as, like, movies are important. The theater is an incredible apparatus that can be used in many different ways, and I love to see it when theater is used for good.

BOGAEV: You mentioned Ayanna Thompson a couple times, and we’ve had her on the podcast a couple of times, talking about various things.


BOGAEV: One time she was on talking about Peter Sellars, the director, after she published his biography. But when she was there, she did say, “You know, I’m used to being invited to productions of Othello, because as a Black Shakespeare scholar, that’s the sort of cross we have to bear. I don’t get invited to a lot of Hamlets.” And that’s just… that just raises a lot of these issues you’ve already mentioned. But really, the question is, what’s the best way for white, or people not of color, Shakespeare people, to not pigeon-hole, period?

BROWN: I think that, you know…

BOGAEV: Without dragging poor Ayanna out here every day.  

BROWN: Right.

BOGAEV: Or you, for that matter.

BROWN: Pretty much.

BOGAEV: I mean, am I pulling an Ayanna on you right now?

BROWN: [LAUGH] I like that, “pulling an Ayanna.”

BOGAEV: You know, I feel like yet another white person asking you, a Black academic, how to be less racist.

BROWN: I’m going to quote that. “Pulling an Ayanna.” [LAUGHS] So, you know, on a serious note; yes, I think, hear, and totally, totally, feel what Ayanna was saying there. To your question, directors do need to recognize that scholars of color, Black academics in particular, have much more to say than just their thoughts on race and Blackness. We have scholars who have written on religion. We have scholars who have written on rhetoric, and here I’m thinking of Dennis Britton and Ian Smith. We have scholars who have written on conduct literature in the period—I’m thinking of Patricia Akhimie. So, the opportunities can come if people open up their minds.

You know, it’s funny that you mention Hamlet, because I recently was asked to do an introduction for Rob Myles’ The Show Must Go Online series. And I told the person who asked me, Ben Crystal, I said, “I want to do Hamlet. I don’t want to do Othello. I don’t want to…,” well, they had already done Titus Andronicus, because they’re doing them in order. But, I want to do Hamlet. I have things to say about Hamlet, too.

Directors can call on people, people like you can call on scholars as well, to share their expertise beyond the quote-unquote race plays. And that’s something that I’m trying to push in my work. Piggybacking on work that others had done, to get people to see that race is everywhere. It’s all over Shakespeare, so pick a play. And just, start talking about race.

BOGAEV: Well, I would love to go to a play with you sometime.  

BROWN: Well, that would be fun. I love seeing plays.

BOGAEV: And even if we don’t get to do that any time soon, thank you so much for talking today and coming on the podcast.

BROWN: Of course. Thank you for having me. Really appreciated this.


WITMORE: Dr. David Sterling Brown is a professor of English, General Literature and Rhetoric at Binghamton University/State University of New York.

You can find more of his thoughts on the relevance of Titus Andronicus in a number of books and academic journals: “ls Black so Base a Hue?”: Black Life Matters in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, a chapter in the anthology Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018; Remixing the Family, which appeared in Titus Andronicus: The State of Play, published by The Arden Shakespeare in 2019; and The “Sonic Color Line”: Shakespeare and the Canonization of Sexual Violence Against Black Men, published in the August 16, 2019 edition of The Sundial. He is currently finalizing his book project called Black Domestic Matters in Shakespearean Drama. Dr. Brown was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Our podcast “Coal-Black is Better Than Another Hue” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.

I ask this on every podcast, but please do us a favor; Please rate and review Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts. That really helps us get the word out to people who haven’t heard it yet. Thank you.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website,

Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.