Folger Shakespeare Library
Stage and Screen Education and Inspiration The American Identity



African American Experiences

African American Experiences

The long, troubled story of race in America includes a complicated relationship between African Americans and Shakespeare. As a symbol of elite white culture, Shakespeare often became a means of establishing barriers in schools and society. Today, some African American performers, audiences, scholars, and students claim Shakespeare as their own, interpreting his works in the light of their own experience. Kim Hall and Caleen Sinnette Jennings give their perspectives on this complex but fascinating topic.

One of the strangest stories of Shakespeare, race, and America comes from the half-forgotten tradition of nineteenth-century minstrel shows. Filled with exaggerated, stereotypical black characters, these once-popular entertainments drew some of their storylines from Shakespeare’s plays. Francesca Royster discusses these and other relationships between Shakespeare and the minstrel shows.

To learn more, select from the list at left. See also Black Americans in Performance.