Passing Strange

Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America

Notions, constructions and performances of race continue to define the contemporary American experience, including our conceptions, performances and employments of Shakespeare. "Passing Strange" examines the contact zones between American constructions of Shakespeare and American constructions of race by asking: How is Shakespeare's universalism constructed within explicit discussions and debates about racial identity? Of what benefit is the promotion of Shakespeare and Shakespearean programs to incarcerated and/or at-risk persons of color? Are they aesthetic, moral or linguistic? Do Shakespeare's plays need to be edited, appropriated, revised, updated or rewritten to affirm racial equality and relevance? Do the answers to these questions impact our understanding of authorship, authority and authenticity? A book that does not shy away from controversial topics or unconventional approaches, this reprint edition of "Passing Strange" examines a wide range of contemporary texts and performances, including contemporary films, novels, theatrical productions, YouTube videos and arts education programs. In addition, "Passing Strange" is written for a broad readership, including Shakespeare scholars, secondary school teachers, theatre practitioners, racial activists and arts education organizers. Uniquely, this book challenges its readers to see American constructions of race and Shakespeare in glorious Technicolor.


Ayanna Thompson is a professor of English at Arizona State University, where she also directs the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Praise for this book

A readable, argumentative discussion of race in a variety of works.

Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

This book is a report on Shakespeare at the coalface of contemporary America. Carefully observing with clarity and compassion the way Americans see themselves in Shakespeare's mirror, Ayanna Thompson subtly unravels hypocrisies, confusions and complications across a range of noble and ignoble motives that are by turns illuminating, chastening and sometimes hard-to-watch. Its radical inclusivity and clear-headedness make 'Passing Strange' a cause for hope, and a model for artistic and social redemption.

Peter Sellars, theatre director