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A Ghost Named Othello: Race, Women, and Djanet Sears’s Harlem Duet

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2014, 27(1), pp.93-122
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Ji Seung-a 1

1전남대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Djanet Sears’s Harlem Duet is a prequel to Shakespeare’s Othello in which Sears rewrites the love story of Othello and Desdemona from a black woman’s perspective. Sears said that the play has haunted her, ever since she saw Laurence Olivier perform as Othello in blackface. Exploring the dynamic space where race and gender intersect in Othello, she thus calls into question the (mis)representations of Othello’s blackness by white actors. To exorcise a ghost named Othello, she takes the black mask off the white actor’s face and relocates Othello to Harlem, a cultural center of African American heritage. Imagining Othello’s first marriage to a black woman before Desdemona, Sears dramatizes how Othello and his black wife Billie struggle against oppression and self-negation in a white dominant society. Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, which examines the black psyche in a white world, thus sheds lights on understanding racial identity via conflicts between Othello and Billie. Othello rejects his blackness and tries to seek admittance to a white world through another woman named Mona, Shakespeare’s Desdemona. Meanwhile, Billie, who has a very strong racial consciousness as a black woman, regards his love for Mona as his envy of whiteness. Unlike Othello, Billie fights back against white culture which has been reinforcing the silence and invisibility of black women. She criticizes that Othello blindly adopts white culture and whitewashes himself, disregarding black women’s sacrifice for him. By the play’s end, the conflicts between Billie and Othello remain unresolved. Sears thinks that Billie’s anti-white racism is as much violent and dangerous as discrimination against colored people, because it ultimately leads to her mental breakdown. Nonetheless, Sears hopes that Billie, whose shadowy existence comes into being on a center stage, will move forward with her dream. She expects change from within a black community and asks black people to keep pursuing their dreams even amid adversity.

Citation status

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