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Balme, Christopher (2021): Signs of difference. In: Orbis Litterarum, Vol. 76, No. 6: pp. 321-329

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Shylock and Othello are the characters in the Shakespearean oeuvre with the clearest racial markers. However one interprets the ethnic characteristics of 'the Moor'-as a light-skinned Arab or as a darker 'African'-he seems to be a character marked by clear racial distinctions vis-a-vis the other figures. Shylock also has an iconographic history of racial marking. In this paper I shall examine how both figures can be read as tokens of ethnic or racial anxiety. Shakespeare's African play is one of the works seldom performed in the contemporary German repertoire system. The Merchant of Venice is more frequently performed but poses different problems in terms of visual representation. It will be argued that German director's theatre, with its love of experimentation and above all bold metaphoric images, is uncomfortable with the metonymic representation implied by ethnic casting. The discussion draws on Othello and The Merchant of Venice in productions by Fritz Kortner, Peter Zadek, George Tabori and Luk Perceval. Whereas Kortner, Zadek and Tabori stage the alterity figures in a mode of hypertrophic blackness or Jewish stereotyping bordering on (or indeed transgressing) overt racism, Perceval's Othello is white and the alterity conflict seems to be one of age and gender not race.

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