Professor Ayanna Thompson in the New York Times

GW English Professor
Ayanna Thompson

The New York Times recently reported on Play On! a project sponsored by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival asking 36 playwrights from diverse backgrounds to translate the language of William Shakespeare into contemporary modern English.  Our own Professor Ayanna Thompson was one of the dramaturges for the project, working with playwright Mfoniso Udofia on a contemporary Othello.  You can read the full New York Times piece here.

One of the challenges with Othello was the word “Moor.”  Check out the entire piece, but here is an excerpt about the language of “Moor” in Othello, featuring Professor Thompson:

“‘Moor’ is a big, big word,” said Ms. Udofia, part of whose nine-play cycle about a Nigerian-American family will be produced next spring at New York Theater Workshop. “I’m the product of a hyper-racialized time. I don’t know any big, big words that do what ‘Moor’ does.” (She may need to use several different words, depending on context, she said later.)

Ms. Thompson, a professor at George Washington University who has written extensively on race and Renaissance drama, noted that in the early modern period, “Moor” was an elastic term.

“It could mean someone who looked white but was Muslim, or someone who looked black but was Christian, or anything in between,” she said.

Even with some less familiar, less obviously charged plays, the translation process uncovered some unexploded mines. Ms. McLaughlin recalled a workshop reading of her translation of “Pericles” in Ashland last year by actors appearing in OSF’s production, which used the original Shakespeare.

Source: Jennifer Schuessler, “Translating Shakespeare? 36 Playwrights Taketh the Big Risk,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 2016

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