Rita Dove’s Shakespeares

  • Peter Erickson


Black writers’ approaches to Shakespeare have never been monolithic. Two of the most memorable passages on Shakespeare in twentieth-century African American letters define the opposite ends of a very wide spectrum. In the paragraph that concludes chapter 6 of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W. E. B. Du Bois declares: “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not.”1 Fifty years later, Du Bois’s mood of serene mutuality is sharply undercut by the angry sense of exclusion articulated in James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village”: “The most illiterate among them [white Europeans] is related, in a way that I am not, to Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Aeschylus, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Racine; the cathedral at Chartres says something to them which it cannot say to me.”2


Live Performance Black Folk Serene Mutuality Verbal Exuberance American Bookseller Association 


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  1. 1.
    W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Terri Hume Oliver (New York: Norton, 1999), 74.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    James Baldwin, “Stranger in the Village,” Notesof a Native Son (New York: Dial, 1955), 148.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Rita Dove, Museum (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon UP, 1983)Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    June Jordan, “Poem about My Rights,” Passion: New Poems, 1977–1980 (Boston: Beacon, 1980).Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    James Baldwin, No Name in the Street (New York: Dial, 1972), 47–48.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Sympathy,” in Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Negro Poets, ed. Countee Cullen (New York: Harper, 1927), 8–9.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    Anthony J. Berret is unconvincing when he argues in Mark Twain and Shakespeare (Lanham: UP of America, 1993)Google Scholar

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© Peter Erickson 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Erickson

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