“…the dynamics explored in the play are the same dynamics existing in the classrooms…”

Keith Hamilton Cobb

Intro

I do not think that I’m an authority on teaching this work in any sense.   I share my experience with the hope that other White teachers in White-dominant contexts might be able to benefit from my thoughts and improve on my approach.

Danielle Peck
English Educator
Grosse Pointe South High School, Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan

Since the publishing of American Moor by Methuen Drama in the spring of 2020, the embrace by educational institutions across the United States has been extremely exciting.  It is exciting to consider that the structures of White normativity that the play seeks to expose—so compromising of American culture and American-made art—are finding forums for conversation on the high-school level.  On the university level, the play seems to sit at the nexus of several avenues of academic pursuit, be it English, Africana Studies, Theatre Studies, Political Science, Gender Studies, or Critical Race Theory…

Throughout, what educators are discovering is that American Moor, in its unique approach to the issues of endemic American racial bias, seems to sharply reflect practices and behaviors in the lives of those who take it up.  That is to say that the dynamics explored in the play are the same dynamics existing in the classrooms, and in the country at large.  Consequently, though teachers are finding a greater value in tackling the work than in avoiding it, the effort comes with challenges that are as new, and often troubling as the play itself.

In the months since the first educators began to add American Moor to their curriculums, several have responded with frank and revealing expressions of their experiences, both on a personal level as well as in class.  It is my hope that I can build a forum on this page to not only present some of this documentation that may serve as material to help guide others in their work around this play, but also to serve as a place of engagement among academics who have honored me with the taking of this difficult work into their classrooms.

Though you will find references to further related reading within some of the documents offered, I will also feature pieces of other writers as I discover them, or they occur to me, that focus around the questions arising in the play.  My further hope is that others will take from this page what assists them in furthering their own efforts in engaging what, if it is to create any significant change, can never be a foreshortened discussion, and that they will also share their experiences with this work as a learning tool for colleagues.

– Keith Hamilton Cobb

American Moor Teacher's Guide
The purpose of this guide is to introduce students to the characters, situation, and themes of American Moor, and to foster deep engagement with the play both as a literary text and as a performance piece. While some prior knowledge of Shakespeare’s Othello is helpful, the guide is designed to work with or without it. Teachers are free to use their discretion, however the activities, questions, and assessments in the guide are most suitable for 11th and 12th grade students.
Embodying Othello Teacher Guide

Speaking on Shakespeare

Speaking to Line Marshall and attendees of the 2021 Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference
AMERICAN MOOR for Teachers - Reflections and Recommendations
As the subtitle states above, Danielle Peck offers reflections and recommendation based upon her classroom experience with American Moor.  However, equally as important, she offers revelations as well.  Her analysis is of the play and of the experience of watching and teaching the work. But it is also an analysis of the self and it is this that makes all the difference.
American Moor for Teachers

“Why Not This Actor?”

Exploring Person-centered playing in Shakespeare.

Not “Why this actor?” but “Why not this actor?”

Newton South High School

At Newton South High School in Newton, Massachusetts, there is a senior elective to study Shakespeare for an entire year.  This year (2020/21) American Moor was a part of that Shakespeare syllabus, and I was asked to engage in a conversation.  If I seem a bit off my game at points, I was honestly unprepared for the depth of some of the questions…or perhaps I should say I was not prepared to gauge how deeply to indulge myself in the response.  There is always so much to discuss, and answering any one question could consume the hour were it not for my awkward self-editing.  Each new one of these is an adventure.

Othello 202: American Moor

This podcast is the offering of two academics, Jess Hamlet and Aubrey Whitlock, from their platform, The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show.  There, they offer some insightful musings regarding approaches to Shakespeare.  Here, they speak to their experience of American Moor.

Jess Hamlet, PhD, MFA, MLitt 
Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies
The University of Alabama
Aubrey Whitlock, MFA, MLitt
Mary Baldwin College

I questioned as to whether or not this belonged on the education page.  It is not specifically to issues of teaching that they speak, and there are matters that I might dialogue with to greater effect elsewhere.  For instance, their reference to the play as a “solo” work and thus their sense of the director character in the play as limited in its significance begs a broader discussion about a theatrical work of this nature that tends to defy categorization, and the importance of new theatrical forms.  However, their salient theme is that of engagement with the text as a tool for RE-education of everyone involved in the American discussion on race, particularly with regard to pedagogy, which is to say from the ground up.  I think educators will find their conversation useful.  They tend at times in their dialogue toward profanity, so the material may not be appropriate for all ages…

Further Reading

There are any number of other important works written by Shakespeare and race scholars as well as essayists and novelists that would contribute to a comprehensive reading list relevant to American Moor.   Many of James Baldwin’s essays have entered into the discussion as I have developed the play.  Also, there are several appropriations of Othello worth contemplating.  Another that is often talked on is Djanet Sears’ Harlem Duet.  Though it is perhaps less directly relevant to American Moor than is Toni Morrison’s Desdemona,  the re-imagining of Shakespeare’s characters through lenses of  Blackness, or simply the matter of consideration and representation is one of American Moor’s most central themes.  Another important piece of scholarship is Dr. Ian Smith’s essay, Othello’s Black Handkerchief.  Again, this is perhaps not directly related to American Moor.  What it is, however, and no less important, is the exploration and revelation born specifically of Black scholarship.

I expect the list below to grow as educators interact with the page, and perhaps offer their own suggestions.  Please feel free to contact me with thoughts and reflections as well as suggestions of your own.

Desdemona - Toni Morrison

Read Notes

This appropriation is an important look at the pivotal characters that people the world of Othello through the creative lens of an iconic African American novelist.  As such it offers possible insight into character motivations and back stories that we cannot expect from Shakespeare, or from his self-appointed acolytes.

bloomsbury.com/uk/desdemona-9781849433891/

Season of Migration to the North Tayeb Salih

Read Notes

It can be a reach to follow the Othello allusions in this beautiful novel by a Sudanese author about the impact of British Colonialism on African society.  They are most clear when the narrator of the story discusses his relationship with himself as influenced by, and to some extent through, the women in British society with whom he has relationships.  This has less bearing perhaps on American Moor than on the imagining and crafting of the psychology of Othello, the man.  Then again, American Moor has a great deal to do with one being afforded the freedom to do precisely that…

amazon.com/Season-Migration-North-Review-Classics/dp/1590173023

The Souls Of Black Folk W.E.B. Du Bois

Read Notes

Particular focus in this iconic work should be given to Du Bois as he expounds on the idea and the condition of Double Consciousness which echoes loudly in the protagonist’s musings and behaviors in  American Moor.

amazon.com/Souls-Black-Folk-B-Bois/

Second Thoughts About Othello Hugh Quarshie

Read Notes

This is a difficult one to find, because it was published from a talk that the author, Hugh Quarshie, a Ghanaian British actor, gave in 1998 at the University of Alabama.  He speaks with great depth of thought for and against attempting to tackle the role as an African descended actor, mostly against.  This is most interesting in light of the fact that he did ultimately take on the roll in a 2015 RSC production directed by Iqbal Kahn.  His disquisition in this paper influenced a great deal of the thinking that contributed to the creation of American Moor.  It seems to me it should be available as a PDF online somewhere. Here is a good place to begin to look:

worldcat.org/title/second-thoughts-about-othello/oclc/54505364

Journal of American Studies

Read Notes

Wincing at Shakespeare: Looking B(l)ack at the Bard

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 December 2019
AMBEREEN DADABHOY

Abstract

Hamilton Cobb in American Moor interrogates Shakespeare’s presentation of black identity. In particular, I suggest that modes of ambivalence undergird black American engagement with Shakespeare and that this ambivalence creates the space for black artists to interrogate Shakespeare’s representation of blackness and white culture’s gatekeeping of the Shakespearean text and its performance while also reimagining and recasting that representation to fit their contemporaneous needs.

cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-american-studies/article/abs/wincing-at-shakespeare-looking-black-at-the-bard/D021DD221822CD2102D8006ACBE37EFE#access-block

This piece of scholarship is in an online publication of Cambridge University Press, so there is a pay wall to access the article.  It is important reading, however, toward understanding the cultural environment wherein American Moor takes life, and perhaps an arrangement can be made by reaching out to the author at dadabhoy@hmc.edu.

 

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