Skip to Main Content

The Great White Bard

Shakespeare, Race and the Future

Published by Oneworld Publications
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

SHAKESPEARE: increasingly irrelevant or lone literary genius of the Western canon?

'Powerful and illuminating' James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, winner of the Baillie Gifford 'Winner of Winners' 2023

Professor Farah Karim-Cooper grew up loving the Bard, perhaps because Romeo and Juliet felt Pakistani to her. But why was being white as a ‘snowy dove’ essential to Juliet’s beauty?

Combining piercing analysis of race, gender and otherness in beloved plays from Othello to The Tempest with a radical reappraisal of Elizabethan London, The Great White Bard entreats us neither to idealise nor to fossilise Shakespeare but instead to look him in the eye and reckon with the discomforts of his plays, playhouses and society.

If we persist in reading Shakespeare as representative of only one group, as the very pinnacle of the white Western canon, then he will truly be in peril. But if we dare to bring Shakespeare down from his plinth, we might unveil a playwright for the twenty-first century. We might expand and enrich his extraordinary legacy. We might even fall in love with him all over again.

***

A TIME MAGAZINE BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023

'Insightful, passionate, piled with facts and has a warm, infectious love for theatre and Shakespeare running through every chapter.' ADRIAN LESTER, CBE

'Dive in and your whole cultural landscape will be refreshed and reframed... A challenging, riveting read, The Great White Bard reminds us how powerful the stories we tell can be on our lives.' ADJOA ANDOH

'Vivid… a thorough analysis but also a kind of love letter… Karim-Cooper sees Shakespeare as holding a mirror to this society, with his plays interrogating live issues around race, identity and the colonial enterprise… Her arguments come to feel essential and should be absorbed by every theatre director, writer, critic, interested in finding new ways into the work.’ GUARDIAN

'There are plenty of books on Shakespeare: but this one is different. This is Shakespeare as we’ve (most of us) never been willing to see him – and the works emerge from the analysis as newly complicit, powerful and yet recuperative.' EMMA SMITH, AUTHOR OF PORTABLE MAGIC

About The Author

Farah Karim-Cooper is Professor of Shakespeare Studies, King’s College London and Co-Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, where she has worked for over sixteen years. Farah has recently served as President of the Shakespeare Association of America and is on the Advisory Council for the Warburg Institute and the Council for the Society of Renaissance Studies. She led the architectural enquiries into early modern theatres at Shakespeare’s Globe, overseeing the research into the design and construction of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the Globe’s indoor Jacobean theatre. She has written two Shakespearean scholarship books published by Arden, and published over 40 chapters in books, reviews and articles and is a General Editor for Arden’s Shakespeare in the Theatre series.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (April 27, 2023)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780861545353

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

'Vivid… a thorough analysis but also a kind of love letter… Karim-Cooper sees Shakespeare as holding a mirror to this society, with his plays interrogating live issues around race, identity and the colonial enterprise. Her critique is at its most absorbing and original when she shows how complicated his approach was… Her arguments come to feel essential and should be absorbed by every theatre director, writer, critic, interested in finding new ways into the work.’ —Guardian

'Anyone reading the contents page alone of Dr Farah Karim-Cooper's The Great White Bard will have their minds blown. Dive in and your whole cultural landscape will be refreshed and reframed. A book of great scholastic yet accessible detail, demanding that we pay attention with new understanding to the work of our greatest playwright, to the staging of that work and its unacknowledged impact on the 21st-century lives of all of us who unwittingly absorb its cultural norms – for good and ill. A challenging, riveting read, The Great White Bard reminds us how powerful the stories we tell can be on our lives.' —Adjoa Andoh

'This glorious book… is insightful, passionate, piled with facts and has a warm, infectious love for theatre and Shakespeare running through every chapter. Thank you to Farah Karim-Cooper for underlining the fact that we all have a right to claim Shakespeare’s work.' —Adrian Lester CBE

'Farah Karim-Cooper has long been at the center of conversations about race in Shakespeare’s plays, drawing on her experiences as a woman of color, director of research and education at the Globe Theatre, and Shakespeare professor. The Great White Bard is a powerful and illuminating result of this sustained engagement, grappling with how Shakespeare can be reimagined as a playwright who speaks to (and is spoken by) those excluded from the dominant culture. Historically grounded, engagingly written, richly informed by stage history, and always attuned to the "form and pressure" of our time, The Great White Bard could not be more timely.' —James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

'There are plenty of books on Shakespeare: but this one is different. This is Shakespeare as we’ve (most of us) never been willing to see him – and the works emerge from the analysis as newly complicit, powerful and yet recuperative.' —Emma Smith, author of Portable Magic

'The Great White Bard is conscientiously constructed and vitally important. The book is pitched perfectly for the general reader, and it provides clear and compelling models for how to read Shakespeare with race in mind.' —Ayanna Thompson, author of Blackface

'The Great White Bard contributes to an essential discussion on Shakespeare and race, one that must include literary scholars, historians, etymologists, audiences and, yes, even actors. Let us all debate and think critically about the issues Karim-Cooper raises. At the end of the day, such tough love can guide us to truly love Shakespeare.' —New York Times

'Suffused with genuine passion.' —The Times

She concludes… “We all have the right to claim the Bard.” Amen to that.’ —Daily Telegraph

'Insightful… Karim-Cooper’s chapter on Antony and Cleopatra tackles with clarity and energy the question of why the Queen of Egypt's racial difference, though flagged in the text, has been consistently ignored in the play’s production history until quite recently… Karim-Cooper provides a good discussion of Othello and a helpfully provocative reading of The Tempest.' —New Statesman

‘[The book] opens up territory that [Karim-Cooper] explores with unfailing dexterity. Karim-Cooper thus puts herself in dialogue with much of the excellent work on Shakespeare and race published over the past 30 years. Still, the examination of Shakespearean drama through the lens of race has seldom been achieved with the verve, clarity and attention to textual detail that she displays here. Her love for the plays is everywhere apparent.’ —Prospect

'Farah Karim-Cooper's analysis comes from a wide and fascinating perspective. This is an accessible yet scholarly book guiding the reader through essential questions about race, gender and so much more in Shakespeare’s plays. It is personal, refreshing and necessary. She has helped me reframe and understand Shakespeare in a different way. Read it and learn!' —Lolita Chakrabarti OBE

'The Great White Bard is essential reading for teachers, students, practitioners and artists. It makes clear why the exploration of Shakespeare’s plays must expose the 400-year-old cultural attitudes contained in them if we are to discover their real relevance and resonance. Farah Karim-Cooper has written an important, illuminating and accessible work that invites our active participation in debate about the plays; to interpret and interrogate them, not to venerate. It belongs in every Shakespeare classroom.' —Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Learning, Royal Shakespeare Company

A bracing and illuminating read.’ —The Bookseller

'The rigorous and nuanced analysis stimulates, and Karim-Cooper’s evenhanded approach refuses to excuse Shakespeare’s racism while insisting that his plays still have much to offer modern audiences. This is a vital contribution to the shelf on Shakespeare.' —Publishers Weekly, starred review

'Illuminating both words and performance – [The Great White Bard is] an essential addition to Shakespeare studies.' —Kirkus, starred review

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images