Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism Review

“This controversy reminds us that race is a highly malleable category which historically has been deployed to reinforce existing social hierarchies and create new ones.”

I found this quote to be quite interesting because it applies not only to the book, but in history as we know it. We live in a modern multi-cultural society allowing us to engage in issues race and racism. England during the seventeenth century did not have a system set up quite like ours. It was a homogenous culture with beliefs that were developed under common law, customs, and practices over the years. For a man of a different race, let’s say a Moor to enter the scene, showcased them as being different not necessarily because of racist ideologies but because they did not belong in English society.

Loomba references the Genome Research study that would look into the oppressed castes in India during the 2001 United Nations Conference Against Racism should discuss the caste as a race. However, opponents believed that caste was not race because of there was a distinction between social issues and biology of those specific castes. To each culture they see race as different meaning. As we look through some of Shakespeare’s works, it’s important to understand that Shakespeare was not racist in nature nor should his writing be racist. We should look at his writing as a piece of history cemented during the Elizabethan era.

If we look at Othello, Shakespeare describes him as a Moor with a poor temper, characteristics that are attributed to Moors at the time. Although this might seem racist, it’s Shakespeare’s way of characterizing Othello in a way that audiences understand during the time. Race is definitely a tricky topic to discuss, especially throughout history. However, it is a very interesting to see how it the term develops throughout time.

She’s a Witch!

This Thursday, Mackenzee and I will be doing a discussion on women and witchcraft. In efforts to prepare for our discussion, I thought that there is no better way to dive into the topic without watching a little Monty Python. Granted, this is not a realistic reenactment of the how the trials would have gone, nor is it portraying the right time period. However, it is a amazing way to step back and laugh at a topic that really isn’t a laughing matter. Irony.

Anyways, I hope that you enjoy this post as it is just a great way to introduce the a long and tumultuous history of women and witchcraft. Can’t wait to share and discuss our findings from The Bewitching of Anne Gunter. 

Understanding Under the Molehill?

Probably one of the most complicated books I’ve ever read, Under the Molehill: An Elizabethan Spy Story is interesting way of deciphering whether or not France was trying to side with Protestant England or Catholic Europe. Throughout the book we as the audience are constantly questioning who the mole and even the main character. Even in the review about the book, the commenter did not guess the mole correctly or explain it well. I can honestly say that there is not much that I really understood from the beginning to the end of the book.

It can be said that this book should be read by a select few, probably historians that know the espionage operation from the inside out. But this is not a book that can be read easily during your free time. I do have to admit that this book was a valiant effort to really delve deep into an issue that has been untouched by many historians. Now, I understand why historians don’t come near this topic, probably because it inflicts pain thinking of the concepts.

I would have to say that Bossy, a genius in his own right, laminates his ideas but they are not crafted well. Kind of like having multiple sketches, but no masterpiece. Maybe I can return to this book after my college career when I have gained more knowledge on the topic, but for now this one will be resting on my shelf collecting dust. I do think that the cover is very nice. Optimism is key.

Elizabethan Fashion

Famous portrait of Elizabeth wearing the latest fashion.

A little off topic, but ever since the day we looked at Elizabeth’s portraits, I felt compelled to take a deeper look into the fashion of the Elizabethan era. I found a website that helped simplify what a woman would wear everyday. I’ve posted a photo below, of the list. (you might need to click on the image to get a better look)

List of clothing women would wear during Elizabethan era
List of clothing women would wear during Elizabethan era

Wow, that is a lot of clothes! If I had to wear that many pieces of clothing, it would take me half the day to get dressed and the other half to get undressed. In late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century England, women had to adhere to the Sumptuary Laws. These were laws that provided strict clothing guidelines in order to limit the expenditure by people as well as to create a social hierarchy. Clothing was a sign of status, it not only dictated wealth but also social status in the Elizabethan Class system. Those that disobeyed the Sumptuary Laws faced the possibility of fines, loss of property, title, and even life. Guess I won’t be wearing any clothes trimmed with ermine anytime soon. That was only to be worn by royalty.


Portrait of Lady Diana Cecil wearing the most fashionable clothing during the time. You can see the slashing and ruff mentioned in the text.
Portrait of Elizabeth dressed in the finest and most luxurious cloth and decorations.

Slashing was a popular trend during the time. By slashing or cutting the clothing people were able to see cloth underneath the outerwear. The linings of the clothing would then be pulled out of the slashes. Often women, as well as men, would use contrasting colors to distinguish the outerwear from the linings. Another popular trend was the ruff. This was the frilled collar that men and women adopted. For women, they would open up the front of the ruff to expose the neck and bosom. The ruff was constructed using gauze wings that were raised at the back of the head. Upper class fashion generally used velvets, satin, furs, silks, lace, cottons, and taffeta. These materials were expensive and very luxurious. Most of the fabrics were imported from distant empires, including Italy and the Middle East. The more extravagant they looked, the more people would notice. This was a good thing because the attention could bring them success in court.


Elizabeth as a young girl showing her modesty with clothing

When Elizabeth was young, she often wore clothing that covered her from head to toe. Modesty of the woman was admired by many, however fashion was beginning to emulate a more seductive look during the later part of her reign. You can see this trend in her later portraits as she begins to wear lower cut clothing exposing more of her bosom. However, Elizabeth wanted to remain true to her “Virgin Queen” identity. Her powdery white face often gave off this pure and innocent beauty that was lightly dusted with pink blush. To this day, her image remained a vital part in her success as queen to the people of England.

Later portrait of Elizabeth featuring a more seductive look.


Envisioning America Review

I really enjoyed reading and looking at this book. It was surprisingly easy to read and interesting to see first hand accounts of what the early English settlers thought of the New World and the natives that lived there for so many years. Obviously, the settlers really indulge their audience with their descriptions of the natives, citing them as savages with “brutus ignorance” and people “clothed in loose mantles made of deere skin.” From these descriptions, these savages seemed very primitive and almost incoherent to a functioning life.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a Native American when all of a sudden a massive ship full of weird looking people draped in extravagant cloth were to take your land or community that your ancestors had toiled endlessly to create. I bet that would be like an alien race landing on our planet and saying, “hey this is ours, time for you to move on.” But the English felt justified in their actions.

John Winthrop even addressed this issue by objectifying England’s right to claim land that was not theirs. His rebuttal to his own objection (kind of weird how he wrote this) is “that which lies comon & hath never been replenished or subdued is free to any that will possesse and improve it, for god hath given to the sonnes of men a double right to the earth.” I mean, really? He also goes on to say that the English will provide more benefits for the natives than the land that they are actually on and that God has swept the natives with a plague leaving little inhabitants. These were all justifications to protect the English from any guilt that they might have had.


John Winthrop and his gigantic ruff (collar).


I wonder if the English had any idea that they were the ones to blame for the plague that was brought upon the natives. I mean, they must’ve suspected it a bit. If the natives were the only ones getting sick, then… it had to have been the English. Plagues just don’t happen. I guess that’s a bit modern to think that way, but nevertheless the English were so unrepentant for their doings. I wonder if they even thought they were doing anything wrong? It does seem as if there is a hint of guilt in Winthrop’s objections, however he makes it clear that there is no wrongdoing within his answers.

With hindsight bias, we can look back and say, “yeah, that was probably not the nicest way of handling foreign land,” but this was the seventeenth century. Empire was on their mind. No matter what, the end justified the means.

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