Black Shakespeare(ans) Database

Vanessa Corredera


Scholar Profile by Rhya Brooke


Vanessa I. Corredera is an associate professor and departmental chair of English at Andrews University. She graduated from Andrews University, the same institution where she currently works, in 2006 with a BA in English. She later earned her PhD in 2012 in English from Northwestern University with an emphasis in Renaissance literature. At Andrews, Corredera teaches a variety of classes in English, first year introductory courses, and honors courses. Her teaching was recognized in both 2020 and 2021 with distinguished awards for teaching excellence. Currently, her scholarship focuses on race and representation in Shakespearean adaptations, appropriations, and performance and has appeared in EMLS, Shakespeare Quarterly, The Journal of American Studies, and Borrowers and Lenders, as well as The Routledge Handbook of Shakespeare and Global Appropriation. Her book on appropriations of Othello in post‐racial America is forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press. Beyond her scholarly work, Corredera also serves on the Faculty Senate, Honors Council, and the Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Action Council. 


“Lessons for Whiteness: Keith Hamilton Cobb’s American Moor.” Shakespeare, vol. 17, no. 1, 2021, pp. 54-57.

Co-authored with L. Monique Pittman, Karl Bailey, and Kristen Denslow. “‘Were I human’:  Beingness and the Postcolonial Object in Westworld’s Appropriation of The  Tempest.” Variable  Objects. Edited by Louise Geddes and Valerie Fazel.  Edinburgh UP, 2021. pp. 85-107.

“Get Out and the Remediation of Othello’s Sunken Place: Beholding White Supremacy’s  Coagula.” Borrowers and Lenders 8.1 (2020): n.p.

“‘How dey goin to kill Othello’: Key & Peele, Race, and Shakespearean Universality.” Journal  of American Studies vol. 54 no. 1, 2020, pp. 27-35.

“The Moor Makes a Cameo: Serial, Shakespeare, and the White Racial Frame.” The Routledge Handbook to Shakespeare and Global Appropriation, edited by  Christy Desmet, Sujata Iyengar, and Mariam Jacobson. Routledge, 2019. pp. 359- 369.

“Far More Black than Black: Stereotypes, Masculinity, and Americanization in Tim Blake Nelson’s O.” Literature/Film Quarterly vol. 45 no. 2, 2017,  n.p.

“‘Not a Moor Exactly’: Shakespeare, Serial, and Modern Constructions of Race.” Shakespeare Quarterly vol. 67 no. 1 , 2016, pp. 30-50.


“Speak of me as I am”: Othello in Post-racial America, Edinburgh University Press, under contract.

Full Interview Transcript


Brooke: Alright! So I’m here today with Vanessa I. Corredera, and she is an associate professor and departmental chair of English at Andrews University. Her scholarship focuses on race and representation in Shakespearean adaptations, appropriations, and performance and has appeared in EMLS, Shakespeare Quarterly, The Journal of American Studies, and Borrowers and Lenders, as well as The Routledge Handbook of Shakespeare and Global Appropriation. Her book on appropriations of Othello in post‐racial America is forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press.

Alright, so one of the articles that I read by you, which I thought was really fascinating, reads Othello and Jordan Peele’s film Get Out and also draws on Peter Erickson’s method of cross-historical tracing. Erickson describes this method as one that “recognizes and respects boundaries between different periods so that individual points on the larger spectrum remain separate and distinct […] Rather than putting our contemporary moment off-limits as an illegitimate critical resource, this inclusive approach explicitly looks to contemporary art practice as an arena from which, in part, we learn what the issues are and how to formulate the questions to ask.” So would you mind talking a bit about your process of cross-historical tracing? Do you tend to begin in the contemporary? Do you tend to start with Shakespeare? How do these connections between time periods emerge for you?


Corredera: That’s a really good question. I’ll tell you how it emerged with this particular project, but I think the answer would be that they emerge differently depending on the piece or where my mind is at or just sometimes a uncontrolled confluence of I’m working on X and I’m working on Y in two different spaces and the two kind of clash and meet. So this particular piece, I really have to give credit to my students because they were the ones who were all over it. Dr. Corredera, have you seen Get Out? Have you seen Get Out? And I’m a big baby and don’t watch horror movies because they scare me! As they’re supposed to, but I don’t like to be scared!

And so they were telling me that I needed to watch this and they knew that I would be able to write about it. So credit to them, you know, for being excited and attuned to what I was working on and sure enough, I watched it and I was like, oh okay, well there are a lot of overlaps here with Othello. But what was interesting to me were both of course the overlaps, but then also the deviations from Othello and the way that race works in both the different pieces, in the drama and in the film. So I would say that that was definitely a case of starting with the contemporary and then looking backwards. And then there are other times where it might be that I have looked at something in its own time, so I would say that the public-facing piece I wrote for Sundial on the Merchant of Venice in the polity of mercies pedagogy project. That project, now that was collaborative because it was student-led, but that project was definitely one where we started with the early modern: where we looked at the play, and we thought about its themes and its historical contexts. And then we looked to today and considered okay, what for our community would be the modern-day equivalent of what Shylock is experiencing, what some of the other characters are enacting in this particular play. And that helped us explore X, Y themes that were assigned to our group. 

So I don’t think that the cross-historical just goes one way for me. And sometimes it just comes by chance. So the piece that I wrote on Key & Peele and their Othello sketch just happened to be just because I watch Key & Peele. And so I was like, Oh! What’s Othello doing here? Okay! 

And so that just happened to be there. And so it started with the contemporary because that’s what I was watching at the moment. And I think that that’s the beauty of the cross-historical. It’s not unidirectional, and it allows for these really interesting connections that means that you have to be curious and attuned and creative. And I think that’s what really excites me about the method. 


Brooke: Thanks so much, that’s really helpful. And I also love the way that your pedagogy informs that too with your interactions with your students. So that’s great! 

Another question: You consider the limits of the argument of Shakespeare’s universality, the idea that Shakespeare’s work is timeless and speaks to a universal condition, by arguing that this is especially not the case for Black audiences. That said, you see the potential for contemporary adaptations to extend Shakespeare’s relevance to broader audiences. So what is it about adaptations or appropriations that you see as having this power to extend Shakespeare’s authenticity and relevance?

So I know you talked about this a bit in your Key & Peele and Othello paper, but I was wondering if you would talk a bit more about that more and expand on that for those who are watching. 


Corredera: I think that when you’re thinking about adaptations and appropriations, you tend to have the potential for freedom. And I want to say potential because I take really seriously Ayanna Thompson’s work and Josephine McDonald’s work, Peter Erickson’s work where they caution that just because something’s an adaptation or appropriation, especially when it comes to race, It doesn’t mean that that piece will automatically be reparative or ameliorative or reparatory or liberatory or invested in race and social justice in any meaningful way. Sometimes they, in fact, work to reify the very problems inherent in whatever you count as the original Shakespearean text, and on top of that, sometimes they can exasperate them too with some of the choices that are made. So, I just want to preface by saying that. 

But I also think that adaptations and appropriations are often freed a little bit because the idea behind the original or the authentic is about hueing as closely as possible to whatever, as MJ Kidney has said we decide as a collective, is the original work. Whatever we decide is the limit between the original and the adaption. And so that means that adaptations often feel more comfortable being freer with language, with casting choices that are non-traditional. With changing the plot—with excising or adding pieces that might be able to transform the way that issues of gender, sexuality, race, ability function within a particular text. And so, I think it’s that freedom, and I would call it the imaginative potential of adaptation and appropriation that really matters. I think that that is why they can extend Shakespeare’s authenticity and relevance because there’s this potential for imaginative freedom. 

The liberation from having to stick to a particular script. And I think that can happen in really surprising ways and places, so even something that’s more traditional like the public theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing that kept a lot of the language, it kept the narrative, but it played with casting, it played with the cultural touchstones of the production. Kenny Leon and Ayanna Thompson online talk about the way that they allow the actors to use their own accents, so even the voice was this kind of appropriative act, taking away from what looks like the kind of traditional theater and the traditional voice and kind of repurposing it.  

So what I think is really nice about adaptation and appropriation: One, like I’ve been saying, the freedom, but two, their capaciousness. You can adapt and appropriate all over the place. Whether it is the kind of genre or mode or it can be an act of power. To adapt or appropriate even within a genre or mode that looks more traditional or authentic. But the choices made can be appropriative or adaptative even if the genre looks more traditional. So I think it’s that capaciousness that allows for the hope or possibility of appropriations and adaptations to have more relevance, and maybe not extend Shakespeare’s authenticity, but extend his reach and maybe intervene in some of the harm that Shakespeare’s work and Shakespeare as this great signifier has been used against all sorts of people who have been barred from accessing Shakespeare. 


Brooke: So I guess a follow up question to that, while the bulk of your work is on Othello, you also have a co-authored piece that I was really interested in that puts the HBO series Westworld in conversation with The Tempest. So I was curious, are there other contemporary adaptations of other Shakespearean plays that you’re particularly excited about and see as having the potential to open up other yet another untapped space of cross-historical analysis through adaption or appropriation or any of those things that you’ve talked about?


Corredera: Well I, like many Shakespeareans, am waiting to see Joel Cohen’s Macbeth. I’m not sure if I think that it’s gonna be better or open up new avenues because I don’t know yet. But when you have this auteur director, when you have Denzel and Francis McDormand who are these amazing actors doing this particular play in black in white. Cohen has talked about how chiaroscuro has been this kind of framework for him, the play between light and dark, and then of course fits thematically with this play. And then I just happened to have been reading Katie Vomero Santos’s forthcoming work on Macbeth and the racialization of Macbeth with narcotrafficking stories. And so I’m just thinking, and she cites Wayward Macbeth and so I’ve been thinking: How does this kind of circulation of Macbeth and race and ethnicity, how will that kind of inform this production or not. And I mean I’m not the only one. A lot of people who have not been able to watch it are waiting for this holiday season to see, if Twitter is any indication, and maybe it’s not–it can be an echo-chamber for Shakespeareans. I think that that will be exciting. 

But the other pieces I have been really interested in lately have been ones that I think maybe some scholars aren’t as interested in, because sometimes they’re not very good. But I’ve been curious about youth-centered and youth-focused Shakespeare and adaption. So just to give some examples, there has been this Marvel comic book adaption of Shakespeare, it’s like brand new, where the Marvel characters are all Shakespearean. Or there’s the new No Fear Shakespeare, which I’m not a fan of the No Fear Shakespeare, but I am interested in these No Fear Shakespeare graphic novels that are being marketed to high school students because it’s one thing to have the No Fear Shakespeare and making choices about language, but then when you’re making choices about visuals and representation, that’s a whole other way to think about embodied Shakespeare that’s super interesting. Right, once you’re thinking about graphic novels and when they’re tapping into these graphic traditions, of like comic books, etc. So I think youth Shakespeare is a place that I’m really interested in because it dovetails with my interest in thinking through when do we start talking about Shakespeare and race. Is it in high school? Is it in college? How early can we start doing this work? How early is Shakespeare being used to create ideas of racial formation, whether people realize it or not? And I would say usually not. At least my high school experience was that we didn’t talk about Shakespeare and race at all, but I think that’s changing. But then that means that we also need to examine the tools that we’re using for that pedagogy: the films, the graphic novels, the plays, the productions, etc. All the pieces that we’re using to teach Shakespeare and race to say youth and high school students before they get to college. And thinking through what kind of identity politics are going on in those Shakespeare pieces. So those are the ones I’m most excited about. 


Brooke: Oh wow! That’s so great. I actually am really curious because I think pedagogy has come up in a couple of your answers to the questions, and I love that because I have such a deep interest in pedagogy as a former middle and high school teacher, and also a graduate from a university that was largely a teaching college. So I know that where you work, Andrews University, does focus a lot on pedagogy and is largely a teaching institution. So I was wondering as a follow up to that, if you wouldn’t mind talking about the way that you teach Shakespeare in the classroom, or, you started to say this with the Marvel adaptations, or things you might recommend or resources for teaching Shakespeare and race, even at a secondary level. 


Corredera: So the way that I teach Shakespeare and race in the classroom has changed. I think when I first started, it was very traditional, it was very historicist. So even though I was making cross-historical connections in my research, that doesn’t mean that’s what I was always doing in my classroom. I really noticed this when I taught an upper-division seminar on just Renaissance and race in general, so it was a lot more than just Shakespeare. I encouraged my students to think cross-historically; I told them they could write cross-historical papers for their final papers if they wanted to. And I thought it was enough to assign these early modern texts alongside more contemporary theoretical voices. So they might read primary texts and historical texts from the Renaissance, but then they might also read excerpts from Fanon, for example. 

Okay, so that didn’t work. So what I got really was historicist or a version of new historicist readings of the plays and poems and that was fine, but I was like what am I doing that is not allowing the students to feel as if they can make those connections. And so I‘m like, well I’m doing what I was taught to do in grad school, and that’s not a knock on what I was taught to do in grad school, but that also wasn’t their aim. Their aim wasn’t to teach me how to make these cross-historical connections. It was a deep historicist l training. So I changed how I teach and started very intentionally thinking about my end goal, and working backwards from there to think about how every unit can support that. And so I brought in a lot more performance, so it did become a lot more Shakespeare focused. And I still kind of worry about that. I’ve given up reading certain poems and pieces to do a little bit more with Shakespeare. But part of it is about access. I don’t have access to a lot of Marlowe performances, but I do have to RSC Shakespeare performances for example or the globe or whatever. So I brought in a lot more performance, and then I brought in adaptions and appropriations. So for each play, we would watch a performance and think about the performance elements. And then we would also read or watch or listen to an adaptation or appropriation of that same play.

I think that that worked a lot better because the students who wanted to do a historicist reading absolutely could because we still framed the play in that way. But then those who were interested in performance could delve into the performance elements; those who were interested in adaptation and appropriation could delve into those pieces. So it really did help the students make much more cross-historical connections because I changed how I teach.

Just to give a brief example, when we were reading Othello: we read Othello, we read bell hooks, and then we talked about how black masculinity resonates in the 21st century, and what are the presuppositions that 21st century audiences might be bringing to Othello, even if they weren’t in early modernity. Jay-Z’s album, I’m forgetting the title of the album, where the story of OJ had that song, had just come out. So we listened to that song, we talked about how Othello had been a touch stone for the OJ Simpson trial way back in the 90s. And we thought about, so why is Jay-Z bringing up OJ and what are some of the themes that are circulating across all these kind of moments: Othello, OJ Simpson trial, and then this song that had just come out at that particular time, that year that I was teaching. 

So that’s what I try to do. It takes a lot of work and preparation. Sometimes it works really well and sometimes it can go a little sideways because sometimes I can’t control what my students are going to see and the connections they’re going to make. But I want to make sure they’re seeing the relevance of these conversations to their lives, and maybe they’re not going to remember Othello, and they’re probably not going to remember the story of OJ either, but if they can remember these conversations we’re having about race and about identity and take them with them then—Some of them will go on to get PhDs, but lots of them are going to be dentists, and doctors and librarians, and they’ll be able to use those tools in other ways. And then hopefully, if they remember a few pieces of poetry with it, I’ll be really happy.


Brooke: Thanks, I love that so much. Kim F. Hall draws on Toni Morrison’s call for an examination of “literary whiteness” to extend to how we think about race in the early modern period. Your work considers both Blackness and whiteness in Othello, but the bulk of it considers the reception of Black audiences or how we might read Othello from a point of view that centers Blackness. How does centering blackness in Othello influence your readings of whiteness in Othello? Or, maybe more generally, what do you see your relationship being to critical whiteness studies?


Corredera: So I’ll answer both of those because the first one I can answer briefly. I tend to talk a lot because that’s how my brains thinks and I have to be careful with meandering answers. I think that centering blackness in Othello, influences your—not you personally, but one’s or my potential sympathy for and identification with whiteness in the play. As a light-skinned Latina, I’m not in the play, right. But if I’m going to a production, let’s say I’m going to a production growing up, I usually look more like Bianca or Emilia than what’s usually a petite and blonde Desdemona. It defamiliarizes and asks me to put myself in a different narrative position. To think a little bit about who I have sympathy for and why. And this is the thing with Get Out when we talk about the character that Alison Lambs plays, it’s really easy because generally in society, society tries to teach us to be very sympathetic toward white femininity. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be sympathy for Desdemona; she is murdered, she is innocent. But that doesn’t mean that she also isn’t complicit in some of the marginalization and exoticization of Othello. 

So thinking through Othello’s perspective and his point of view and his affective positionality just gives a different approach to some of the other characters. And helps you to see that they’re all kind of complicated and complex and complicit. And that is in part why people love Shakespeare, the characters can be horrible yet interesting. Have beautiful poetry yet incredibly toxic. You can be sympathetic of Othello and know that his abuse of his wife is wrong. And so I think that it allows you to have more sympathy and identification with and for Othello in the way Ian Smith has called for. Seeing it from his perspective allows you to see humanity and subjectivity in that character. 

One of the ways that I respond to critical whiteness studies in general has been to think a lot more about the ways that whiteness positions itself as neutral. The way that whiteness is a shifting target. Who gets to be white and what white has been and when has moved around quite a bit. To call that out, to think about how the predominance of white audiences across Shakespearean domains, especially the theater—so this is in my book, so please read my book—especially the theater, but also comic books, so when you’re looking at the history of graphic novels. When you’re thinking about who’s listening to podcasts. So I’ve written on Serial, but in the book I elaborate kind of on the fact that an NPR audience isn’t necessarily all white, but there is an assumption of a predominantly white audience  So if you’re thinking about these different domain, the way that a film that isn’t marketed as an ethnic or a racial film, so we know what that means: a Black film, or a Hispanic film, well, they’re really usually a white film, but no one’s calling them that. Right, they’re just art, they’re just a film. So it’s been calling that out. And just saying the presumption of whiteness as the intended audience, how does that shape the way that Shakespeare is told. The way that Othello is retold. We’re back to the imaginative potential allowed or disallowed when shaping an adaptation or appropriation. And how then can we combat—and we being those of us who are invested in race and Shakespeare—how can we combat that in our classrooms, in our scholarship, in productions we’re involved in helping shape. How can the preponderance of whiteness be set aside to have new artistic and interpretive possibilities? And acknowledge where sometimes there are challenges like finances, power structures etc. that don’t allow for that setting aside. But at least calling that out when that is the case. 


Brooke: Thanks so much. As a final question: You have an article forthcoming this spring that asks, “Where are we in the Melody” of the New Scholarly Song of Early Modern Race studies–a turn originally posed by Kim F. Hall and Peter Erickson. Where do you situate yourself and your work within that field?


Corredera: You know that was a really influential introduction to a special issue. And I took it to heart. You have two scholars who are taking the time to lay out a kind of roadmap, which is rare. You can have people who are galvanizing for change within a field, but the question is often “How? How do you do it?” And they actually laid out how, here are the things that need to happen.

That is very helpful. That happened early enough in my academic career, where I was also shifting my scholarly focus at the time. So those who teach at teaching heavy institutions know that moving on after the dissertation is a slower process. You don’t just hit out the gate to the book project because you’re teaching so many classes. So it was a little bit into my teaching experience, and I was changing my research. And I took that seriously and I thought about if I want to be part of this conversation, which I do because I’m passionate about it, how do I not stay in the past, but help it move forward, even in a tiny way.

I would say that what I really hope to do is help expand the archive of premodern critical race studies by looking at adaptations and appropriations. I think that in some areas they are still seen as less serious and less significant than archival work. I’m not saying everybody, I’m saying some people. That is, I think, incorrect because they have such a wide reach. They have a potential global real. They definitely reach our students much more often than some of the archives. Because our students aren’t even allowed in some of the archives. They aren’t even  allowed to access certain texts. I think it’s important to speak to and expand on the premodern critical race archive, and I hope I’m doing that by attending to pop culture, by attending to performance, by attending to adaptation and appropriation, and to keep up with the cross-historical elements. Because I think the cross-historical connections also allow for public-facing work so that you can write pieces or do talks. They’re going to help people see history and the present in different ways. And that calls into question how much progress sometimes we assume we’ve made today. If you’re still see resonances with the late 1500s and early to mid 1600s. That should give us pause to think about what hasn’t changed and why. And what investments Western culture continues to make in certain racial, gendered, when it comes to sexuality or ability and those hierarchies, and can we change them? And can we continue to do so? 

That’s what I hope to do. And that’s where I’d situate myself in that work, is to try to how to theorize how to bring premodern critical race studies adaptation and appropriation studies, specifically Shakespeare adaptation and appropriation studies into tighter and more theoretical conversation with each other, in the classroom and in scholarship.


Brooke: Awesome! Thank you so much for joining me today and talking about your work!


Corredera: Thank you for having me!

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