Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture: Ian Smith on "Making Blackness"
Part of Searching for Shakespeare: Celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare’s First Folio
Booking and detailsRegister now
Dates Sat, Apr 22, 2023, 5:30pm
Venue DCPL - MLK Memorial
Tickets Free, registration required
The lecture will take place in the Auditorium. Reception to follow at 6:30pm in The Event Space.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library – Central Library
901 G St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
Join us for the Folger Institute’s annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Lecture, with celebrated scholar Dr. Ian Smith of Lafayette College.
Every year, in commemoration of William Shakespeare’s birthday, the Folger invites a scholar to speak about Shakespeare and early modern life.
Dr. Ian Smith on “Making Blackness”
Recently, more scholars have become interested in examining early modern “blackface,” emphasizing the kinds of cosmetic agents that have been used to create or make blackness on the early modern stage. Such an emphasis relies, in part, on our modern familiarity with face painting that derives from nineteenth century minstrelsy in the United States. The early modern theater recognized another aesthetic, based in textiles and other materials, that highlights an entirely different dimension of “making blackness” and presents new critical histories between the theater and social practices that produced manufactured black bodies, subdued and fashioned according to prevailing political need. In this lecture, I will concentrate on the untapped resource of royal entertainments in this history of making blackness, using Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost as a dramatic point of departure in unearthing and expanding our knowledge of early modern race.
See Shakespeare’s Birthday Lectures from past years on Folgerpedia
Dr. Ian Smith
Dr. Ian Smith
Ian Smith, Professor of English and Richard H., Jr. ’60 and Joan K. Sell Professor in the Humanities in the department of English at Lafayette College, discovered Shakespeare while studying French classical theater at the University of Paris before completing his Ph.D. at Columbia University. He is the author of Race and Rhetoric in Renaissance England: Barbarian Errors (2009) and collaborator on Othello Re-imagined in Sepia (2012). His most recent monograph Black Shakespeare: Reading and Misreading Race has been published by Cambridge UP (2022). He is the recipient of multiple fellowships in support of his scholarship and currently holds the Los Angeles Times chair in the History and Culture of the Americas at the Huntington Library. In 2016 he was a guest on the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast for an enduringly popular episode about Shakespeare, race, and early modern theatrical practices. He is also the Vice President of the Shakespeare Association of America.
Ian Smith on Black Shakespeare
Ian Smith returns to Shakespeare Unlimited and talks with Barbara Bogaev about how we can develop our “racial literacy” and read race in plays like Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet.
Critical Race Conversations: This is not who we are?
America lives with both a history of racial oppression and incidents of racial violence. When that violence breaks out into public view, we hear the phrase, “This is not who we are.” Ian Smith and Michael Witmore examine the tension between the optimism usually associated with the phrase and the denials that are at the core of our nation’s grappling with race.
Othello and Blackface
On the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast, Ian Smith and Ayanna Thompson talk about Elizabethan modes of blackface—which included covering a performer’s body with dyed cloth to simulate blackness—and how Smith’s insight changes how we understand Othello.
This event is part of Searching for Shakespeare: Celebrating 400 Years of Shakespeare’s First Folio, our April 2023 festival in partnership with DC Public Library.
ASL interpretation is available for this lecture.
Please note: All attendees are required to wear a mask. Fully vaccinated artists will not be wearing masks while performing. The Folger is committed to maintaining the highest level of health and safety precautions around COVID-19. Learn more about how we are keeping our audience and performers safe: COVID-19 safety protocols