A Visit from Professor Farah Karim-Cooper

Posted: 14th February 2024

It was a privilege for the English Department to host a visit from Professor Farah Karim-Cooper. Professor Karim-Cooper is the Globe Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London, Co-Director of Education and Research at Shakespeare’s Globe, the 2023 Honorary Fellow of the British Shakespeare Association and former President of the Shakespeare Association of America. Last year, she published the critically-acclaimed The Great White Bard: Shakespeare, Race and the Future, which has been described by The Guardian as “An inspiring analysis of Shakespeare and race [that] restores his reputation as a playwright for all”.

As part of their A-Level English Literature course, our Upper Sixth students have been studying one of Shakespeare’s prominent “race” plays: Antony and Cleopatra. In a text dominated by references to the Ptolemaic queen as “Egypt” personified, a “gypsy”, a “strumpet” and “tawny”, Cleopatra’s racial differences are unavoidable when considered alongside virtuous Roman characters such as Octavia, who is “Admired” and nothing short of a “blessed lottery”. In her book, Professor Karim-Cooper has devoted an entire chapter, entitled “Mythologising the Tawny Queen”, to discussing Cleopatra’s character, Shakespeare’s presentation of her race and how theatres have approached casting for this most dynamic of stage roles. During a seminar, the students eloquently engaged in a conversation with Professor Karim-Cooper regarding salient points within this chapter as well as arguments raised by other Shakespeare scholars. Notable lines of discussion included the concept of “misogynoir”, the presentation of Cleopatra in other early modern texts, the boy-actors who would have performed her on a Jacobean stage and post-colonial interpretations of the play.

Following this, Professor Karim-Cooper delivered a more overarching lecture on Shakespeare and Race, during which she focused on the different sociological lenses through which race can be examined in Othello, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice and Titus Andronicus. Also attending the lecture were approximately two hundred other A-Level English students and teachers from both independent and state schools across Surrey. The schools represented in the audience were George Abbot School, Guildford County School, Notre Dame School, St Catherine’s School, Bramley, St Peter’s Catholic School and Tormead School. Hearing academics such as Professor Karim-Cooper discuss their research is a rare enrichment opportunity indeed and thus, the English Department felt it imperative that as many students as possible from the surrounding area should benefit from the experience. The feedback from these schools has been unanimously positive with teachers praising the lecture as “a great opportunity for students and for us to consider some wider perspectives”.

Categories: Academic Senior News
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