Black Shakespeare(ans) Database

Patricia Akhimie


Scholar Profile by Eliza Feero


Professor Patricia Akhimie is an Associate Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University – Newark, as well as an Affiliated Faculty Member of the Department of African American and African Studies. She received her BA in English from Princeton University (2000), and her MA (2003) and PhD (2011) in English from Columbia University. In addition, she has earned an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (2002). Professor Akhimie teaches courses on topics including Shakespeare and race; Early Modern drama; Comics and Graphic Novels; Archival Research; women’s travel writing; and gender and sexuality in Early Modern literature. Her past research has focused on race in Shakespeare, as well as the intersections between race, conduct literature, and marking and immutability in the Early Modern period. Her current book projects include a new edition of Othello, as well as a monograph on Early Modern women’s travel. Professor Akhimie is a member of the Race Before Race Executive Board, and a current Fellow of the Rutgers University – Newark Mellon Humanities Leadership Program (2021-2022) and of the Folger Shakespeare Library (2021).


Akhimie, Patricia. “Bruised with Adversity: Reading Race in The Comedy of Errors.” The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Embodiment, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, 2016.,

—. “’Bruised with Adversity: Reading Race in The Comedy of Errors.” The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Embodiment: Gender, Sexuality, Race, edited by Valerie Traub, Oxford University Press, 2016.

—. “‘Fair’ Bianca and ‘Brown’ Kate: Shakespeare and the Mixed-Race Family in Jose Esquea’s The Taming of the Shrew.” Journal of American Studies, edited by Patricia Cahill and Kim F. Hall, vol. 54, 2020, pp. 89–96.

—. “Galleries and Soft Power: The Gallery in The Winter’s Tale.” Early Modern Diplomacy, Theatre and Soft Power: The Making of Peace, edited by Nathalie Rivere de Carles, Palgrave, 2016.

—. “Performance in the Periphery: Colonial Encounters and Entertainments.” Acoustemologies in Contact: Sounding Subjects and Modes of Listening in Early Modernity, edited by Emily Wilbourne and Suzanne G. Cusick, Open Book Publishers, 2021.

—. “Pinching Caliban: Race, Husbandry, and the Working Body in The Tempest.” Shakespeare / Sense, edited by Simon Smith, Bloomsbury / Arden Shakespeare, 2020.

—. “‘Qualities of Breeding’: Race, Class, and Conduct in The Merchant of Venice.” The Merchant of Venice: The State of Play, edited by M. Lindsay Kaplan, Bloomsbury / Arden Shakespeare, 2020.

—. “Racist Humor and Shakespearean Comedy.” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Race, Cambridge University Press, 2021.

—. Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference: Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World. Routledge, 2018.

—. “Strange Episodes: Race in Stage History.” Shakespeare Bulletin, vol. 27, no. 3, 2009, pp. 363–76.

—. “Teaching Guide for: ‘Cultivating Expertise.’” Literature Compass, 2020.,

—. “The Work of Gender in Early Modern Travel Treatises: Richard Lassels’s ‘The Voyage of the Lady Catherine Whetnall from Brussells into Italy’ (1650).” Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World, edited by Patricia Akhimie and Bernadette Diane Andrea, University of Nebraska Press, 2018.

—. “Travel, Drama, and Domesticity: Staging Huswifery in Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage.” Studies in Travel Writing, vol. 13, no. 2, 2009, pp. 153–66.

Akhimie, Patricia, and Bernadette Diane Andrea, editors. Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World. University of Nebraska Press, 2019.

Contact Information 973-353-5813

Full Interview Transcript


Feero: Alright, so, I had the privilege of seeing you speak over Zoom last week, about the new edition of Othello that you’re editing. So I became very curious about the ways in which your previous work on Othello as well as race in Shakespeare has affected the way you’re approaching your role as editor. So, I think my first question is, at the end of your intro in Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference, you observe that today, Shakespeare’s plays have long been and continue to be a cultivating strategy for students and scholars. So, I think, given all of the limitations of cultivation which you discuss in your book, I’m curious about how that’s affecting your project now as editor.


Akhimie: Sure, I think I can answer that. Well, my first thought is that, you know, I’m not sure yet. I don’t know if they’re connected at all. But you’re reminding me that this is something that I talked about in the past, and I think it’s true that I’ve always sort of wondered about textual editing. It’s something that I was curious about when I was a student, and around that time, when I first started teaching courses on Renaissance drama, so, as a very new instructor, I started experimenting with in-class exercises where I would give students different versions, like, different editions of the play that we were reading. And that grew into an assignment where I had students create their own edition of a play that had never been, um, never been edited by a modern editor. And I think my reasoning actually does have to do with the work I did in my first book, because you get such a feeling of empowerment and insight from doing the editorial work yourself, from sort of seeing what goes on behind the scenes in putting together a text, especially a text from this time period, which requires a lot of love and care about language. A lot of using the OED, a lot of going to other sources to try and suss out what a pun means, and then trying to explain it to a reader who may have less familiarity than you do with literary texts from that time period. And I think I do imagine it as a cultivating exercise, because within Shakespeare studies, the work of textual editing has really restricted to a very limited group of people. It’s a very small club of people who are taught the skillset that’s needed for textual editing. And then they have conversations amongst themselves about the choices that are made, the editorial choices that are made, and their social significance. So I guess I sort of wondered, well, what would happen if we opened that conversation up to a larger group of people? What if every student who takes a class where they read even one Shakespeare play, what if part of that journey was learning about editing and how it works? Partly that’s tough because editing is a little bit boring. [laughter] But I feel like it also provided an opportunity for some excitement as you’ve described, that you get a little glimpse into the range of possibilities of a text, and that can be fun. I don’t know, though, about the rest of the question, which is, like, is it a successful, can it be a successful cultivating strategy? Since, as I talk about in my book, the function of cultivation is less to make it possible for people to succeed, than to prevent them from doing so. So that’s a trickier one. I’m not sure that one can achieve greatness through textual editing. But, I do think that, just like understanding how cultivation works is itself an empowering journey, I think learning about textual editing does something similar. So maybe I’m more interested in the showing people the inner workings of an edition, in the same way that I was interested in pulling apart comic manuals and ideas about cultivation to show how they work, even though ultimately you might describe me as a pessimist when it comes to how cultivation works and what it’s for.


Feero: That makes perfect sense. And my second question is a bit related, in the sense that it’s probably kind of an impossible question. So, sorry. [laughter] But, in your talk last week, you mentioned that some suggest that Othello should be taught but not performed due to its damaging potential. I’m not going to ask your opinion on that, because I feel like that could be kind of a loaded question. But, I am curious about how that damaging potential interacts with your project of editing. In particular because you were talking last week about the merits of potentially inserting clips of performances into the ebook. So then I’m curious about the potential of performance, perhaps as a more ambiguous space, or as a reparative space. I’m wondering if there’s space for that? How you even approach something like Othello to try to make it productive?


Akhimie: Well, the first thing I think of is that maybe there is some saving potential in making Othello always collaborative. So, having it always be a conversation amongst a range of different interested parties, or disinterested parties, too. So I’m thinking of, for example, right now, as we’re having this conversation, Keith Hamilton Cobb who did “American Moor,” it was his play, is doing a special, let’s call it like a table read/conversation about Othello, where they’re reading through Ernst Honigmann’s edition of Othello, the third — Arden Shakespeare third series Othello, and they really specifically said that’s the edition they’re going to read, not, like, any edition, that one. And I feel like that’s a really, that’s a really exciting move. Because what it says is just “let’s have a conversation around the table, about the play, but also about the edition that gives us, that mediates the play for us.” So, I wonder whether it’s possible to — and I don’t know how to do this yet — but whether it’s possible to create an edition of the play that is constantly referring to other voices, and how they matter in deciphering the meaning of the text, and in talking about its performative possibilities. So that every line, but particularly some of the lines that are, have been most damaging, are lines that, instead of being a one-to-one conversation between either one editor and another, or one editor and one reader, says “what do we imagine this line is sounding like to an audience that could include any number of people? What would you do if we were to change places, and you were the editor instead of me?” Is there a way to signal that that conversation always needs to be happening, in order to mitigate the less positive effects of the play?


Feero: That makes a lot of sense. I think, yeah, because I feel like one of the major dangers of performance is that there’s not space for conversation in a lot of ways, between the audience and the performer. So that makes a lot of sense. So, my next question is moving away from Othello. I’m curious, in Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference, you look at pinching and bruising as forms of this broader type of racial difference, and these somatic markers. But at the same time, I’m really interested in the way in which bruising and calluses become those somatic markers, but also, there seems to be a bit of a difference between something like a bruise and something like a callus — like, does it matter that one of them darkens, I think is my question. Is there that, kind of, differentiating space about a somatic mark?


Akhimie: So, I think that, an easy answer would be to say, yes it makes a difference that some marks are easier to distinguish because they contribute to a chromatic change in the body that is detectable and is much more easily related to our existing ideas about skin color and its meaning, either in our present day world or the early modern period. But, I think actually, if I were to kind of just muse on it, and on the work I did in my first book, I think in the end I was less interested in the appearance of a particular mark than in the process of its creation. So that, in a way, in a sense it doesn’t matter what the mark is. There could be marks, for example, that are not visible to the eye. I don’t talk about those in the book, but I think that’s the, sort of the direction the book is pointing towards, is that what we’re looking for is, a, the application of something that is painful enough to leave a lasting mark on a person’s — on a person, and not even necessarily on their body. But, that that process, because it’s familiar to us, it’s helpful in locating the, that sort of painful, oppressive process, as adjacent to a racializing process that produces a meaning for chromatic difference. But I think that my hope in the end with the book was to say, chromatic difference is just the tip of the iceberg, and our attention to color is important but it actually isn’t the end-all and be-all of racist ideology. Yeah.


Feero: Yeah. That makes sense, yes. I was curious because it does seem like, in some ways it doesn’t matter — but it also, the instinct I think, especially from a modern perspective, is that it should, right?


Akhimie: Mm-hmm. 


Feero: Yeah. So, my next question is a bit connected. I think — so — I’m also interested in your, in the way you look at self-cultivation activities, but also in your chapter on “The Comedy of Errors,” you’re talking about domestic manuals, which can be read either as sort of a self-cultivation for heads of houses, or as a cultivation of others, in terms of the way that they speak about controlling servants or slaves. So, my question is, in what ways does it matter, does it change things, when a cultivation strategy is applicable to the self, or applicable to the other? Like, does it change things? Does it need to?


Akhimie: I think… And I have to say, I love talking about conduct manuals with anybody, because for a long time I read a lot of conduct manuals to help out myself for a long time. Um, I think — this is gonna sound like a cop-out answer — but I think that, potentially, all conduct manuals, and maybe all self-help, that whole genre as it stretches across time, is actually less about organizing the self in a way that is presentable to others, in the way that you want to be presented, and more about controlling other people. So, for example, any kind of cultivating project for the self involves the labor of other individuals who kind of fall outside the frame of the conduct manual. But a great example is, the husbandry manuals, the hunting manuals, where you’re essentially talking about a cast of, like, hundreds to thousands of people, who would be involved in the production of your new-made man or woman. And, but those individuals and the, their experiences, are not of interest to the authors of the conduct manuals, most of the time. Although sometimes there’s a glancing reference to, like, how much you’ll be admired by your servants, or the laborers, for doing well at whatever it is. One of my favorite examples in the husbandry manuals is about fish ponds that, um, because fishing was sort of, like, a new, hot trend. And so every gentleman needs a fishing pond on their land, so that then they can get out their little fishing rod, and they can go fishing, and engage in the contemplative exercise of fishing and kind of being at one with your, the lands that you, in fact, own. And I thought, I wonder how many days it takes, how many people, to make a fishing pond, and then keep it stocked with fish for you to fish for. And there’s no mention of that labor in the texts that describe, that describe fishing. But, you raise a really, I think you raise a really important point, which is that the domestic manuals are probably the genre, or the subgenre, that comes the closest to talking about the experience of laboring people. Because they go to great lengths to describe a relationship that is paternal, or maternal, between masters and mistresses, and servants, and they also describe domestic violence as being part of that relationship. And they describe that the success of that model could be measured by, for example, how many bruises your servants are sporting. And they talk about servants being resistant to that arrangement. And so that, part of the, like, part of the point, is to master your servants, even if it’s through violence, and to get them to a point where they’re not resistant, but instead accepting of this model, and then that would be a good, that would be a success story. To me, that, that — contrary to perhaps the aims of the authors of domestic manuals, it tells another story anyway, about servants who, finding themselves in this role, are not accepting that the cultivation that their masters are pursuing is good for them, despite what the manuals suggest. They say, “you have to beat your servants, if you don’t, you’re doing them a disservice.” But that doesn’t seem to be something everyone in the household agrees with. So there’s another cast of characters who emerge as having a real, recorded experience through the domestic manuals. And I’m not the only person to notice that — I think that’s why the domestic manuals have been of a lot of interest to early modern scholars, including feminist scholars as well.


Feero: That makes sense. And, kind of, on that same vein of, like, female and women’s experience, I know that you’re, one of your current projects is looking at women’s travel in the early modern period. And I’m really curious, because of course I’ve just read your chapter on Othello, which is also about his role as a traveler. So I’m wondering if you could talk a bit about if there’s anything in your current project that is connected, or maybe surprisingly connected, to your work on Othello?


Akhimie: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think my work on women’s travel actually grew out of the chapter on Othello specifically. And it was what I think of as, like, a flip-note moment. Um, I just wanted to talk about — in the chapter on Othello, I just wanted to talk about Desdemona’s travel. And so I went looking, like any good graduate student does [laughter], because this was a dissertation chapter long before it was a book chapter — I just, I went looking for relevant criticism, historiography, on women’s travel, only to find that there was really next to nothing that had been written about it. And, in fact, the most common statement I found was people saying, “well, there’s no women’s travel to speak of, so there’s nothing to talk about.” [laughter] But I did find, I found, in a book about, in Edward Chaney’s book about Richard Lassels, who’s like, a really important figure in early grand tour travel. He had a footnote, and then inside the footnote was another footnote, talking about a woman who had traveled in 1650 to Rome. And that, this woman’s travel was likely the basis of Richard Lassels’ voyage of Italy, which is considered, like, the foundational text of the whole genre of grand tour travel narratives. So I thought, well, I wonder why this other text is buried in this footnote to a footnote? I read it, I got the manuscript, I read the manuscript, and I ended up writing a chapter about it later. But it also, just, it sparked my imagination, that there could be a whole, kind of, untapped archive, of women’s travel in the period. So it’s absolutely related to the chapter on Othello, where I sort of talk about the perils of travel: the more you travel, the more valuable you are. The more you travel, the less trustworthy you are. That’s certainly true for women, it’s — I mean, it’s doubly true for those who are non-native to England. And maybe even more interesting was the fact that travel was so dangerous for women, that there are very few identifiable texts, that sort of self-identify as being travel-writing, where we have a female author saying “hello, I have traveled.” It’s just, it’s a very, very rare document. But, women were travelling all the time, despite the fact that I couldn’t find anything written about it. They were travelling all the time, and women of all race. So, that means that there’s a sea of travelers, moving around the world, at a time when travel writing is kind of coming into fruition as a genre of writing, and travel is key to all kinds of ways of understanding England’s relationship to the world. But, there are no, but there are no first-person documents that talk about this travel. To me, that’s a great literary problem and intellectual problem. It means we have to re-theorize what travel means in the period, because our current theory doesn’t capture the variety of kinds of travelers out there. And it means we need to understand what people understood travel — the purpose of travel to be, or its effect on the self. And that’s the part that’s connected to kind of conduct literature. And how would that be different for women, for whom travel was kind of an illicit act, or problematic, let’s say, is a better word. Um, I’m rambling now, because I’m excited about travel, about women and travel [laughter]. But yes, that project grew out of that, and my end goal is to be able to theorize and then talk about women… no, not women. Gender. Gender, race, and travel, in this time period. And how that story, that hasn’t really been told, is connected to our understanding of travel over a longer period of time, connecting to our present moment where we can talk about forced migration, and all kinds of narratives of travel that we don’t put under the heading of travel first and foremost, especially because we’re talking about women and young people, and how and why they move, sometimes involuntarily. Yeah.

Feero: That makes sense. It makes me very excited to, to see what you find. [laughter] Um, so, we’re kind of at our time limit, but thank you so much for answering these questions, and I’m gonna stop the recording now.

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