Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference: Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference

Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World, 1st Edition

By Patricia Akhimie


220 pages

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Hardback: 9780815356431
pub: 2018-01-24
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Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference reveals the relationship between racial discrimination and the struggle for upward social mobility in the early modern world. Reading Shakespeare’s plays alongside contemporaneous conduct literature - how-to books on self-improvement - this book demonstrates the ways that the pursuit of personal improvement was accomplished by the simultaneous stigmatization of particular kinds of difference. The widespread belief that one could better, or cultivate, oneself through proper conduct was coupled with an equally widespread belief that certain markers (including but not limited to "blackness"), indicated an inability to conduct oneself properly, laying the foundation for what we now call "racism." A careful reading of Shakespeare’s plays reveals a recurring critique of the conduct system voiced, for example, by malcontents and social climbers like Iago and Caliban, and embodied in the struggles of earnest strivers like Othello, Bottom, Dromio of Ephesus, and Dromio of Syracuse, whose bodies are bruised, pinched, blackened, and otherwise indelibly marked as uncultivatable. By approaching race through the discourse of conduct, this volume not only exposes the epistemic violence toward stigmatized others that lies at the heart of self-cultivation, but also contributes to the broader definition of race that has emerged in recent studies of cross-cultural encounter, colonialism, and the global early modern world.


"Richly embedded in the historical discourses of conduct, from ars apodemica to angling, and brilliantly attuned to the legacy of indelible difference in the political present, Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference is a book that will shake up the ?eld."

- Professor Ellen MacKay, Recent Studies in Tudor and Stuart Drama

Table of Contents

List of Figures 



1 Othello, Blackness and the Process of Marking

2 "Bruised with Adversity": Race and the Slave/Servant 

Body in The Comedy of Errors

3 "Hard-Handed Men’: Manual Labor and Imaginative 

Capacity in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

4 "Fill Our Skins with Pinches": Cultivating Calibans in The Tempest

5 Coda: Pedestrian Check



About the Author


Patricia Akhimie is Assistant Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark. She is co-editor of Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World (University of Nebraska Press), with Bernadette Andrea. Her research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the John Carter Brown Library, and the National Sporting Library.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Shakespeare

This series is our home for cutting-edge, upper-level scholarly studies and edited collections. Considering Shakespeare alongside topics such as religion, politics, gender, race, ecology, popular culture, and history, titles are characterized by dynamic interventions into established subjects and innovative studies on emerging topics.

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