Studies in Literature, Drama, and Film
Chapter 4. Race, Gender, and Class in Shakespeare’s Sonnets
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RACE, GENDER, AND CLASS IN SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS
With this key [The Sonnets] Shakespeare unlocked his heart William Wordsworth, 1827
It seems to me that the sonnets could only have come from a man deeply in love, and in love with a woman. S. T. Coleridge, 1833
The most direct of the so-called “Dark Lady” sonnets, (127), (130), (131), and (132), contain such a powerful indictment of racism and sexism that they transcend their age and continue to retain their anti-racist, anti-sexist impact and relevance until today. Shakespeare’s ability to sympathize and identify with the (male or female) “Other” lies behind his main dramatic strategy of reversing stereotypes and subverting prejudices in his two central love tragedies of Othello and Antony and Cleopatra. The same strategy is the key to the understanding of The Merchant of Venice. The anti-racism of these sonnets is best understood when linked to the pervasive anti-racist dramatic strategy and “message” of those plays, particularly that of Antony and Cleopatra.
First of all, “Dark Lady” as a label for this group of sonnets is something of a misnomer, and may even be regarded as insulting. It has connotations ← 33 | 34 → similar to those of the racist epithet “Darkie” that was used for African-Americans in times gone by. It may even be said to hide or gloss over the real issue of the “Blackness” of the lady by making the mysteriousness of her...
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