In Shakespeare: Love Across the Racial Divide, Mohini Patel supported by numerous Shakespeare scholars and theatre personalities, talks about interracial love in Shakespearean drama and their relevance to British society today which, allegedly, records the highest number of interracial marriages in the world. Patel strings across Othello, Titus Andronicus, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Anthony and Cleopatra bringing forth issues centring racial identity and ‘betrayal’. The questions that stood out and that were asked are: does the woman, in an interracial relationship, inevitably forsake a piece of herself – her identity, when she marries outside her race? Does the man, feel guilty of betraying his heritage when he marries outside his race?
Are these the questions that are relevant to the 21st century – the gender stereotyping notwithstanding? We like to believe that we live in a borderless world or in the least a world of flimsy borders composed of cheap, neutral laminate and neon signage if airports bear witness. It is crass to overtly classify human colouring preferring instead, euphemisms of sinful desserts – dark chocolate, crème brûlée, caramel to mention a few. We would deign to admit that there is something devilishly alluring about the golden hues from the South or something ethereally angelic in the paleness of the North, adamantly maintaining that we are beyond such skin-deep fascinations and instead, look for virtue and character. Talking about the insides – It is quite telling that human kidneys are racially priced. We apparently live in a modern world of universal truths, received pronunciation, and deleted pronouns AND in a post-modern world of accepted highlighted cultural differences advertised as a palette of flesh tones. Rewriting Shylock in contemporary verse: when the climate changes, don’t we all bake? Does this cosmopolitan speak ring true or are the Shakespearean concerns as relevant to the relationships of today?
In the show, Patel adeptly weaves lines from Shakespeare, insights from scholars and experience of witnesses to evidence her argument. While, she displays that Shakespeare was a perspicacious observer of the human nature, well versed in the politics and international relations of the time, her bridge between the 16th century and the relationships of today is rather unfortunate, not in the least because today, both the relationship between a man and a woman and, the composition of England has little in common with the Elizabethan era. This is not to suggest that racial identity does not play a part in the setting of a marriage or a relationship but to disembody it from a flurry of other inextricable identities that layer an individual makes for a coloured discussion. Shakespeare himself is rather more nuanced while discussing race – constantly playing human nature and racial prejudice/insecurity against each other and allowing one or the other to dominate in different characters. Can it be said that Othello’s heart might not have been as easy to poison had he been Venetian? And would ambitious Cleopatra be more readily accepted as a consort if she was Roman, well knowing the ill-fate of Clytemnestra many centuries and playwrights earlier?
While race is the occasion for the plot, it is human nature that is its hero.
The show is available to listen on BBC radio 4 and was first broadcast on 2nd May 2016.