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Speaking process.

IDENTIFICATION OF ETHICAL ACTION may be an inescapable "human" compulsion, evident at least in part, as we all know, in Hamlet's "to be, or not to be," (3.1.56). (1) But the act of speaking the ethical into being, as early modern humanists understood only too well, is in itself no guarantee of the ethical. Human speaking just as easily may be duplicitous, manipulative, in its effects also deadly. Moreover, it remains flail. The tradition that, as Erica Fudge points out, maintained that "speaking is the site of the human" (65) and that placed the "animal" as "the thing which the human is constantly setting itself against," (2) acknowledges simultaneously and by implication that "human-hess" is "a quality which must be learned and can be lost" (65). Humans, according to early modern humanists, have to learn to speak, and so, become "human". Even so, the "human," as Thomas Adams sermonized in the first half of the seventeenth century, remains dangerously proximate to the "animal," in the case of wrongful action, particularly, to "mysticall wolues; rauenous beasts in the formes of men.... The wicked haue many resemblances to wolues." (3)

Indeed skepticism about the possibility of establishing any distinction between the "human"--and the human power of speech-and the "non-human," reaches a point of particular intensity in the late twentieth century in, for example Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain, performed at the National Theater in London, 1980, when, just after he has been raped by Roman soldiers the Druid priest speaks of survival in a manner that infers rejection of speech as means to the ethical, the "human," and the humane:
   We must have nothing to do with them. Nothing. Abandon the life we
   know. Change ourselves into animals. The cat. No, an animal not yet
   heard of. Deadly, watching, ready in the forest. Something not
   human. (Part 1, Scene 6, p.60, my emphasis) (4)

Such a blurring of the distinction between the "human" and the "animal" sounds one of many notes of finitude for that term "humanism" that, invented, as Tony Davies argues, in the nineteenth century, (5) had certain of its origins in the early modern period, one that vested particular importance in the concept of human (meaning "male") intellection or reason, and human (meaning "male") speaking as marks of the "human."

In putting his now famous question, Hamlet attempts of course to speak (ethical) action into being by way of a binary: he juxtaposes the possibility of "being"--suffering "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (3.1.58)--against "not-being" but taking "arms against a sea of troubles" (3.1.59). Significantly and famously for Hamlet, though, that search for singularity in agency, which initial enunciation of a simple binary infers to be also (easily) decidable, proves, as the soliloquy unfolds, impossible to achieve.

I want in this essay to consider other examples of the use of this binaric mode habitual to human speaking, but ones which, in contrast to Hamlet's usage, propose simple oppositional singularities that go unquestioned. Such a habit of speaking, which seeks to conceptualize the world in terms of a putative, easily identifiable, and resolvable binary singularity suggests, I would argue, one possible reason for the fears expressed in different ways by both Thomas Adams and Howard Brenton. In attempting in this essay a reading of a number of diverse examples of such a binaric mode of speaking reality into being, I will also draw briefly on one aspect of a habit of speaking evident in the Southern African Tswana conceptualization of human and "humane" action--though patently in no way "early-modern," and itself arguably a version of what we understand to be deconstruction. What I want to foreground is the particular stress, within this Tswana analytic procedure, upon ongoing multiplicity of relevance. I call such a stress "processual," and want to suggest that such an emphasis may be useful to us for our own (deconstructive) readings. It may help to provide for, or more consistently facilitate, the putative possibility of understanding or effecting the "ethical" and especially the "humane"--just those outcomes which the early modern humanists or perhaps certain present-day human rights activists might have wanted, or still want the terms "human" speaking or "human" action, in differing ways, to resonate. Having noted this, I will seek evidence of processual utterance amid those dominantly patriarchal and misogynist gender binaries apparent in Ben Jonson's writing in Timber or Discoveries as well as in one instance of the scholarship that deals with Hamlet's famous declaration, "Frailty, thy name is woman" (1.2.146). I will then explore evidence of processual utterance amid certain occasional, proto-racist binaries involving the colors "black" and "white" operative in the language of Hamlet. Turning, finally, to a very different set of examples, I will juxtapose, against what I notice in these instances of early modern writing, representative instances of the mode of political and religious enunciation to be found in the early twenty-first century writing of the Anglo-Kuwaiti Sulayman Al-Bassam, in his Al-Hamlet Summit. My aim throughout will be to explore whether attention to the processual potential sometimes apparent in human utterance might counterbalance or help to diminish those deadlier implications or consequences evident from the more dominantly used or recognized mode of (unquestioning) binary singularity.


It may be worth prefacing discussion of this predilection for unquestioning binary singularity in human speaking by way of brief recall of certain early-modern shibboleths concerning speaking in general. In Timber or Discoveries, Ben Jonson articulates early modern faith in speech as, potentially, ideally accurate referential tool. Words are therefore carefully "to be chose[n] according to the persons wee make speake, or the things wee speake of." (6) This is because "speech is the only benefit man hath to expresse his excellency of mind above other creatures. It is the Instrument of Society" (620-21, my emphases). Used properly, then, speech will show exactly what is there. As an "instrument of society," it reveals also the social and commonly held ethical truths or norms that inform what it describes. Such usage confirms the importance of human speaking, revealing a (masculine) "excellency of mind above other creatures." If rational and ethical "human" action is attainable only by the eloquent speaking human being then also "language most shewes a man: speake, that I may see thee" (625). What, for the early modern humanist, would be inhuman would be a way of speaking that obscures not only what happens but the conventional truth content or expected norms held to inform what happens.

I want, for a moment or two, to juxtapose such desire for a trans parent route to a singular and homogenous kind of normative "truth," against aspects of the speaking of human action into being, to be found amongst the Tswana people of southern Africa. (7) This is to step--very briefly--beyond current, scholarly, metropolitan insistence on the primacy of early modern texts together with recovery of their "materiality." I do this not to conflate in any way obvious differences. But if human beings are similar to as well as different from one another, local knowledges from one culture or moment may provocatively intersect with the knowledges of another, on occasion even extend or enrich particular (in this case deconstructive) enterprises. The Tswana do postulate a set of putative ethical norms underlying their common culture, but they pay as well empirical, or what I would call "processual," respect to what they conceptualize as the enigmatic nature of a "reality" that can never fully be held in place, solely by articulated "norms." This means that in the attempt to discern the ethics that might define a moment of particular conflict, they take into account complicating incidents that in the event actually, in process, occur. They do not simply impose upon what happens, or read into what happens, commonly held preconceived notions of truth content. They recognize that particular incidents in the event itself may indeed glimpse or posit different (ethical) possibilities, that might deviate from, complicate or even contradict the ethical articulation in conventional norms--without, either, it must be emphasized, simply dismissing or erasing those norms. Such a conceptualization, registers that there is always a "reality" beyond commonly held "truth content" in or "knowledge" about human experience--something which words such as the "unknown," the "mysterious," the "unpredictable" seek to indicate. That which lies beyond what human speaking until then has been able to propose as true, is in the processual mode of conceptualizing human action given tendentious or profound potential relevance.

From this I extrapolate a way of reading that attends, similarly, not only, "teleologically," as it were, to indications in a text of normative cultural moorings germane to it and its location--especially those simple opposites informing a particular value system--but also processually, to what actually happens in the particular language of that text. Nor is this in order to register a putative "difference" or endless deferral of meaning, against which certain norms might be (temporarily) fortified or exposed. Nor, again, to register contradictions or reveal or confirm some underlying fixed dialectic. The Tswana never deny the norms that exist within their culture, and that help to determine the speaking or the reading of ethical human action into being. But they set these norms against a simultaneous resolve processually to take seriously into account everything that, in the actual event, exceeds, or stretches, or may alter in particular ways conventional norms, or current, commonly held notions of "truth content," A Tswana, or processual mode of reading respects particular cultural frameworks but simultaneously tolerates, meditates, and especially attempts to process and absorb complicating evidence. It meditatively registers that language which, inadvertently or otherwise, points elsewhere, resonates implications prompted by the enigmatic, the inexplicable, or the unpredictable in experience, which no cultural framework or ideological system can ever fully anticipate.

For instance, to read Jonson's recycling of a classical commonplace about "fortune" in Timber or Discoveries processually, is, on the one hand, to register an early modern ("teleological") impulse to assert certain--what we imagine to be--early modern English norms of patriarchy, but, on the other hand, to attend as well to that in his prose which, perhaps inadvertently, admits a more complicated and mixed set of conditions. Let us consider the following passage:
   Ill Fortune never crush't that man, whom good Fortune deceived not.
   I therefore have counselled my friends, never to trust to her
   fairer side, though she seem'd to make peace with them: But to
   place all things she gave them so, as she might aske them againe
   without their trouble; she might take them from them, not pull
   them: to keepe alwayes a distance betweene her, and themselves. He
   knows not his own strength, that hath not met Adversity. Heaven
   prepares good men with crosses; but no ill can happen to a good
   man. Contraries are not mixed. Yet, that which happens to any man,
   may to every man. But it is in his reason what hee accounts it, and
   will make it. (8)

Jonson avers on the one hand that "Ill Fortune never crush't that man, whom good Fortune deceived not," recommending (masculinist) consistency and neo-stoicism in the face of a falsely based trust in what might happen. (9) He argues that "Heaven prepares good men with crosses"; and that "no ill can happen to a good man." Especially noteworthy, he asseverates explicitly that "Contraries are not mixed" (my emphasis). Such language clearly strives for a patriarchal assertion of binary singularity. This is implicitly also binarically poised against inferred complication, changeability, or difference--all also posited as negatively oppositional and, usually, feminine. On the other hand, Jonson's next sentence, qualifies this urge to binary singularity. To observe this is to read processually, to register how Jonson's own prose admits complexities that complicate the binaries upon which he appears to rely. Even as Jonson offers a normative assertion of the inviolability of boundaries between good men and bad men, good and ill fortune, his language admits a more complex reality than what the normative postulate of binarically insulated singularity allows: "yet, that which happens to any man, may to every man" (my emphasis). This concession opens the door to recognition of a potential for heterogeneity that lies within and without the human subject, within and without "any" man, "every" man (or, of course, woman). The teleological urge returns though, in his very next sentence: "But it is in his reason what hee accounts it, and will make it" (my emphasis). This at once draws on the early modern humanist telos of the "rational," to contain and shut out that enigma of inner mixedness or complexity, the potential for multiplicity: both within the human subject as well as in the world she inhabits. Although there are good men, there is reason and contraries are not mixed, nonetheless, "that which happens to any man may to every man" (my emphasis). Language that insists on singularity and homogeneity, simultaneously and processually registers the contrariness of contingency.

Jonson's language may be read processually as well as teleologically everywhere in Discoveries. He targets vanity and arrogance in:
   No man is so foolish, but may give an other good counsell
   sometimes; and no man is so wise, but may easily erre, if hee will
   take no others counsell, but his owne. But very few men are wise by
   their owne counsell; or learned by their owne teaching. For hee
   that was onely taught by himselfe, had a foole to his Master. (563)

The admittedly traditional conflation of wisdom and folly he draws on here is nonetheless one that may be seen simultaneously to disrupt the urge to binary singularity. He writes
   A man should so deliver himselfe to the nature of the subject,
   whereof hee speakes, that his hearer may take knowledge of his
   discipline with some delight: and so apparell faire, and good
   matter, that the studious of elegancy be not defrauded; redeeme
   Arts from their rough, and braky seates, where they lay hid, and
   overgrowne with thornes, to a pure open and flowry light: where
   they may take the eye, and be taken by the hand. I cannot thinke
   Nature is so spent and decay'd, that she can bring forth nothing
   worth her former yeares. She is alwayes the same, like her selfe:
   And when she collects her strength, is abler still. Men are
   decay'd, and studies: Shee is not. (566-7)

Even as Jonson poses the ideal of artistic integrity in the midst of what is self-evidently writing in patriarchal vein, he resorts to philogyny--nature "is always the same, like her selfe ... Men are decay'd and studies:

Shee is not"--a somewhat startling, what Alan Sinfield would call, "faultline." (10) Again, Jonson asserts that
   a wise tongue should not be licentious and wandring; but moved, and
   (as it were) govern'd with certaine raines from the heart, and
   bottome of the brest: and it was excellently said of that
   Philosopher; that there was a Wall, or Parapet of teeth set in our
   mouth, to restraine the petulancy of our words: that the rashnesse
   of talking should not only bee retarded by the guard and watch of
   our heart; but be fenced in, and defended by certaine strengths,
   placed in the mouth it selfe, and within the lips. (573).

When Jonson asseverates that wise speaking needs restraint, his language simultaneously concedes predilection to "wander" beyond the known and legitimate, informing even the "wise" tongue; it registers a potential for innovatory or transgressive speaking, admits that lying within--not, typically for the early modern period, the female, but--the male body, is a heterogeneity that necessitates "a Wall or Parapet of teeth," to "restraine" "licentiousness," "petulancy," "rashness."

Indeed, Jonson's concern, everywhere in Discoveries with ruly and unruly speaking may be set beside Joseph Bristow's point regarding the struggle of nineteenth century sexologists to establish normative categories of sexuality, which the detail of their language of casebook illustration for the greater part resists. (11) The detail of Jonson's language is processually everywhere punctuated by linguistic eruptions, faultlines that belie the teleological endeavor to idealize (in the context of sexuality, the word would be naturalize) a preferred binary singularity. In such ways the detail of the language of Timber or Discoveries returns processually to that in experience that evades, lies beyond, undoes its own speaking into being of "humanist," noticeably patriarchal, binary norms.

Such evidence of processual similitude, proximity, the slippage of "one" into an "other," side by side with dependence on an unquestioning binary singularity invites collocation with, say, Tony Davies's reference to the project of early modern humanism as "an embattled and uncertain construction." (12) Jonson's impulse toward speaking singularity and simple opposition into being in human experience proves never to be entirely comprehensive. Processually, the linguistic tissue of his prose instead entails intimations or uncanny returns of that which renders its assertions of singularity, fabrications of opposites, particular elisions and omissions, always in the end, fictional.

Before I end this section I want to look at one example of how teleological expectations involving the early modern gender binary at least might be unsettled by a more processually inclined kind of scholarly inquiry--this time, though, in the case of Hamlet, with which my next section will be mainly concerned. The editors of the most recent Arden Shakespeare edition of the play, Ann Thompson and Neill Taylor, (13) cite for Hamlet's line "Frailty thy name is woman,"(1.2.146)--which occurs in the First Quarto, Second Quarto, and Folio texts--Dent's suggestion that the proverb alluded to here is Women are Frail (W700.1, a1400). (14) Neither Dent, Jenkins, nor Thompson and Taylor register the possibility that the proverb Flesh is Frail (Tilley, F363, 1575) might just as easily be involved. (15) Why, it might be wondered, do editors register Women are Frail, as the likely allusion, rather than the less gender-located one? I would argue that in doing this they conform to the (momentary) conventional misogyny evident in Hamlet's painful outburst itself, here. Indeed Dent provides one citation for the proverb he chooses, that points toward a more generically proximate conceptualization of human frailty, "Damsell leave of dispaire, Nature, humane, and women's sex is fraile" (Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, 1591, II.71 R4v, my emphasis). This directs us (I would argue, processually) to the possibility of a more diffuse and nonbinarically gendered referent, one indicated also in Tilley's citation for Flesh is frail, "The flesh is weak," (Matt., xxvi, 41). It is worth in this context recalling, too, Falstaff's less misogynist allusion to the more generalized proverb Flesh is frail: "I have more flesh than another man, and therefore more frailty" (I Henry IV, 3.3.153-54). (16) In this context, it might be possible to argue that Hamlet, in a moment of frustrated anger, plays with the proverbial Flesh is frail, by reassigning frailty, sinfulness, and degradation to the feminine, that is, by projecting a proverbial recognition of human frailty onto the female body (his mother's). That this is momentary anger in Hamlet, not fixed misogyny is made clear elsewhere when he speaks differently in, for instance, the line "Use every man after his desert, and who shall scape whipping?" (2.2.524-55), or in "You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it" (3.1.117-78). Such a reading would accord more happily too with the process Janet Adelman discerns in the play's redirection of "ordinary genital sexuality" into the "indiscriminately sexual maternal body." (17)

In any event, the mode of binary categorization evident in the matter of gender construction that I have so far partly been glancing at mainly in Jonson, entails, as is well known, potential consequence of a violent elision of that which exceeds its taxonomies. A processual reading might show what this kind of human speaking cannot everywhere omit, but it cannot free us from the power of its influence, a teleological urge toward binary singularity which Barbara Johnson long since has argued "undergird[s] Western culture's logic about both race and sex." (18) How humane actually, then, is such a habit of speaking binary singularity into being, in Timber or Discoveries (or even in a detail of the scholarship dealing with Hamlet)? For more reasons than his humanist faith in "reasoned" speaking would care to indicate, perhaps, Jonson's own dramatic writing is obsessed by spectres, in the act of human speaking, of violent slippage from the human to the animal.


In Hamlet, one of the many ways in which the speaking of unquestioning binary singularity into being may be traced is of course in conventional or traditional uses of the colors "black" and "white," and related terms, as in, to recall a few of innumerable instances in the play, the Pyrrhus whose "sable arms, / Black as his purpose, did the night resemble" (2.2.448-49), Hamlet's sarcastic "[then] let the devil wear black"(3.2.127), (19) or Claudius's sudden, agonized plea, regarding his own "cursed hand," "is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens / To wash it white as snow?" (3.3.45-46). (20) Among others, Kim Hall, Arthur Little, Ania Loomba, and Peter Erickson have traced the semantic shift from patristic and homiletic to more explicitly racist (21) use of these colors, (22) early modern mythic, performative, and dramatic readings of them, (23) and visual representations (24)--all argued to be evidence, too, of an early modern "moment of intensified English interest in colonial travel and African trade," suggestive of incipient empire building. (25) Patricia Parker delineates brilliantly numerous instances of the operation in the play of this binary: (26) in the context of notions of sullying, adulteration, the maculate, and the immaculate, "the postlapsarian decline from 'honesty' figured as the purity of an immaculate or unspotted 'white,' a decline evoked by the post Edenic 'vnweeded' garden of Q2 and F" (133), the contrast "between the 'modesty' and 'whiteness' of Ophelia" (134), the "old Mole ... in the 'earth' or 'ground'" (135), the dirty and the soiled, "the earthy or abject bodily sense of sullying as muddying ... sounded [also] in Ophelia's 'muddy' death" (4.7.182)(136). She traces the explicit identification of melancholy, mourning, tragedy, and death with racialized figures of blackness in the period and records presentations of "Melancholy" and "Death" as Moors/Moorish. As interesting, from my present perspective, remarking the "network ... [of] polarity of 'black' and 'white' that pervades" (145) the quarto and folio versions of the play, she registers, too, albeit perhaps only fleetingly at the end of her essay, its reversibility, positing a "rhetoric of distinction, the construction of polarity where none may exist" (148, my emphasis). Inadvertently perhaps gesturing toward what I would call the processual elements in the play that complicate and undo the conventional binary, she remarks further, in her concluding section, that "the early texts of Hamlet repeatedly construct such oppositions--of white and black, heaven and hell, angel and devil--and simultaneously undo these polarities" (149, my emphasis). But regrettably she does not pursue this further.

I want now briefly to sketch, as possible complement to such work, how processual examination of aspects of the text might complicate that racist teleology apparent in it. In a play informed, as the editors of the third Arden edition note, by "contradictions and equivocations" (27) such tendentious possibilities are not difficult to find. If Hamlet desires a way of killing Claudius so that his uncle's soul "may be as damned and black / As hell whereto it goes" (3.3.94-95), the presentation of Hamlet's uncle and much else of what happens in the play, taken as "European" artifact (an early modern English structuration of "Denmark") postulate, rather, a devilish and deceptive murderousness for "whiteness." The balanced inversions of act 3, where the guilty Claudius who attempts to find a moment of forgiveness is juxtaposed against a violent and abrasive, although in aspiration ethical Hamlet, capable of both cruelty and slaughter, interrogate further the reductive nature of the conventional teleology of binary singularity (the "good" Hamlet, the "evil'" Claudius).

Moreover, processual complication in the text is not limited to such instances of inversion, or counter-identification. The black Hamlet who confronts the court at its beginning, or the darkness in which the play opens propose more complex resonances for the color "black" than the traditional binary encourages. If the blackness of Hamlet's clothing is a conventional marker of mourning, it can be argued that it emerges as surely in the play, as also marker of sincerity and honesty. His inky cloak hypothesizes a coherent blackness for that ink that is inscribed upon the meaningless blankness of the empty white page, an ink inscribing the blank and in his view amoral white page of Claudius and Gertrude's o'erhasty wedding with other meanings.

The image of darkness with which the play opens, too, powerfully disrupts conventional signification, setting in motion as this darkness does a movement that seeks to articulate and enact ethical action. Moreover the play moves from the darkness of the first scene, via the "morn in russet mantle clad' '(1.1.171) to where Marcellus has already said he knows Hamlet will "this morning" (1.1.179) be found and where they tell him about events occurring "yesternight" (1.2.189). The kind of "brightness" of Claudius's court, to which the play in this way turns, particularly the literal daylight in which it now in act 1, scene 2, functions, perhaps also the resonance of the (glittering) mystique of power attached to the image of the monarch addressing his entire court as the scene opens, (28) and yet, at the same time, the multiple opacities of language usage simultaneously practiced there, in some senses contrasts with the ethical demand for truth emanating from this darkness. Part of the fascination of this play may well lie in its processual presentation of a partly mysterious and unknowable "reality" into being by way, among other things, of a "darkness" which underlines the limits and inadequacies of the conventional semantics of the word "black" itself, or words related to it. In this regard "darkness" is one metaphor for the human condition, located as it always is in experience that seems partly to lie beyond that "discover'ed bourne" that words attempt to fix. In the face of this, the conventional negative signification attached to the word "black" reads merely as means of speaking away, or containing--erecting a wall or a parapet to keep out--the challenge of epistemological profundity and mystery darkness poses. If, as Catherine Belsey articulates it, "culture is the element we inhabit as speaking beings [and] resides in ... the meanings we learn," (29) the darkness in Hamlet points to that which exceeds it. Darkness and blackness in this sense bear philosophical or ontological importance and value as denoting that which, potentially positive as well as negative, lies beyond the grasp of known language, or epistemology. If the night can be "made" "hideous"(1.4. (54) it must otherwise also be potentially beautiful. Horatio and Marcellus's overtly Christian articulations at the end of act 1, scene 1, cannot fully account for or contain the mystery that threatens their need to proclaim faith in the existence of a time "in joint." (30) The brightness of the dawn (or "whiteness" throughout the play as I have just argued) emerges as equally enigmatic. If we do live in conditions that we do not fully understand, we may be sure the fascination of Hamlet comes in part from the extent to which the play makes processual space, as well as in its language and event, through its imagery of darkness for that opaque, sometimes positive, sometimes negative condition of human experience within which human speaking and action has to operate but for which it cannot fully account. (31)

I want to glance here at one other possible direction for a project of reading the colors "black" and "white" processually. Critical discussions of biblical allusions in Hamlet often operate with a "teleology" of an uncomplicated black/white color binary in mind to argue the incipiently racist telos for the play's use of the colors "black" and "white." Such discussions draw inevitably on, and so replicate the symbolic figurations found in, one or other version of Christian scriptures, by way, partly at least, of the Septuagint, Vulgate, Geneva Bible, the Authorized King James version of 1611, or versions since then. (32) But examination of the text "recovered" by European Protestants, among them English Hebraists, in the early modern period, known as the Hebrew Bible, which later versions, from the Septuagint and the Vulgate on sought to translate, suggests a more neutral use there of the black-white binary.

For example, critics suggest that Gertrude's, "Thou turn'st my eyes into my very soul / And there I see such black and spots" (3.4.89-90) resonates Jeremiah 13:23, "Can the black Moor change his skin? Or the leopard his spots?" Patricia Parker argues that this reference points in turn to "the pollution danger associated by Douglas, Kristeva, and others with Leviticus." (33) And Parker specifically indicates here the source of her biblical citation as the Geneva Bible. (34) Although Michael Neill, in turn, writes that the prophet Jeremiah "demands" this question and quotes "Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" as evidence that, significantly, "in the biblical text colour has a complex analogical function: in the first instance it simply stands for that which cannot be changed," "by implication," he insists, there is also racism to be read into it. (35) He maintains that "in Jeremiah the black Moor's skin is shown as a mark of disclosure: making apparent his hereditary sin and the punitive sentence to which he is subject, it speaks of death and apocalypse" (147). again, on Claudius's comment "Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens / To wash it white as snow?" (3.3.45-46) Parker notes "the king ... invokes for his own sin the proverbial impossibility of washing the Ethiope white," relating "the language of washing an Ethiope" to the "context of maimed rites and adulterate mixtures." (36)

But the assumption of a proto-racist binaric singularity operating here, deriving from the "Bible" itself, is interestingly challenged by the relevant passages in the Hebrew Bible which, Avraham Melamed argues to be merely rhetorical, positing only "the impossibility of altering natural characteristics," and without racist inference. (37) Imposing negative resonances onto such imagery may well reflect a post-Hebrew Bible tradition. Referring to Jeremiah's "Can the black change his skin?" Melamed contends:
   Consider the well-known Roman proverb "To wash the black (and make
   him) white", and the contrast is clear. The two sayings may appear
   parallel, but unlike [Jeremiah's formulation], whose words are
   essentially descriptive, the Latin proverb is weighted with
   negative judgements. There are two qualitative differences between
   Jeremiah and Lucianus. One is that Jeremiah, whose complexion is
   lighter, asks a rhetorical question, assuming the empirical fact
   that skin colour cannot be altered and so makes no attempt to do
   so. In Lucianus, by contrast, the black himself stubbornly tries to
   change his complexion.... The second difference is in the washing
   motif, which is very strong in Lucianus and totally absent in
   Jeremiah, who does not allude to a way that the "Cushi" is to
   change his skin colour, since he recognises it as an empirical,
   unalterable fact ... Only in comparing the black's inability to
   change his skin with the Israelites' inability to mend their ways
   is there a potential for a negative stance regarding the black. In
   addition, the sins of Israel here are linked to drunkenness and
   promiscuity, two char acteristics later attributed to the black in
   particular as we shall see on many occasions. One might conclude,
   as did Midrashic authors and medieval commentators, Abarbanel for
   example, that the analogy between the black and the evil deeds of
   Israel is no coincidence, and relates to the negative significance
   of the former's skin colour. But this interpretation comes
   centuries later and is far from the original literal sense of the
   words. It is more a testimony to the value system of the
   commentators than to what the [Hebrew] Bible text originally meant.
   While the prophet's words are somewhat enigmatic, they do not
   automatically carry a specifically negative attitude to the black,
   especially since elsewhere (46:9) Jeremiah refers to them as
   valiant soldiers, and King Zedekiah's black slave too is described
   by the prophet as a most positive figure as we note later on. (57)

Racist resonances later scholarship attaches to the color "black," not only do not appear here, but appear almost nowhere in the originary text. In such contexts it is worth glancing, too, at how Parker's argument that Claudius's earlier reference to his offense, that "it hath the primal eldest curse upon't--/A brother's murder" (3.3.36-38) alluding to the biblical story of Cain, is taken up once again in the context of a later tradition, which she and other scholars use retrospectively (so far as the story in the original Hebrew Bible is concerned):
   the "curse" on Cain was conflated by long tradition with the curse
   of blackness on Canaan or Ham, whose punishment for his own
   "adulterous" sin figured the origin of "black Moors" as well as the
   maculation of racial mixing. Chus, son of Ham, identified with
   southern or "tropic climes," had mingled offspring both white and
   black ... The "primall eldest curse" (F/Q2) on fratricide thus
   recalls the curse that identified Cain with the "curse" on
   blackness itself. (38)

This "long tradition" may not, however, include the Hebrew Bible, where, Melamed notes,
   the genealogy of the birth of Cush is completely neutral, with no
   hint regarding his skin colour. There is no reference
   whatever--positive or negative--to special character traits, his or
   those of his descendants. Canaan, Cush's brother, is punished by
   eternal slavery for the sin of his father Ham against his
   grandfather Noah ... Cush himself is not mentioned, nor is there any
   reference to Canaan's skin colour. The passage, however, became the
   locus classicus for perceptions of the black in the literature of
   the Sages and in the Middle Ages. The identification of Ham and his
   sons as dark skinned and naturally destined to slavery is
   post-[Hebrew Bible], the result of later historical or cultural
   circumstances, and is by no means to be projected anachronistically
   onto the [Hebrew] Bible text itself. (39)

Melamed's argument may be collocated, again, with John Gillies's related arguments on the topic (40) and when Gillies cites Best's "this blacknes proceedeth rather of some natural infection of that man, which was so strong, that neither the nature of the Clime, neither the good complexion of the mother concurring, coulde anything alter" to conclude, by implication at the very least, that the biblical story itself signifies, "regardless, then, of where they may be or with whom they may copulate, moors will continue to beget off-spring 'polluted with the same blot of infection.'" (41) But Gillies acknowledges that the biblical text he is using is the Cambridge Revised Holy Bible, published 1898. (42) His citation of George Best, and use, then, of the (non-Hebrew) Bible suggests a further instance in which later biases in favor of a teleology of binary singularity, inflect claims made about the originary biblical story in the Hebrew Bible itself.

Melamed, it may be added, also points out that the words "Cush" or "Cushi," in the Hebrew Bible (43) have only geographic signification, and are "identified with the Nubians who lived in the south of Egypt." (44) Moses takes a "Cushit" wife during his wanderings in the desert, with no hint of the fear of miscegenation that critics subsequently discern. (45) Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible too, use of the word "black" emerges as "descriptive and not judgemental." (46) The text of the Song of Songs (47) "relates ambivalently though not of necessity negatively to dark skin" (43), as is clear from the change later translations were to make of the line which in the Hebrew reads "I am black and comely," to "I am black but comely." (48) And in terms of a conventional racist binary of black and white it is worth noting briefly that points of contradiction in the use of the word "white" are also to be found in the Hebrew Bible. Although Isaiah describes repentance as becoming white as snow, the punishment Miriam receives for having complained about Moses's black wife, through sibling envy not racism, is that "her own skin [was] turned white but with a disease," that is, "leprous as white as snow" (Num. 12:10). (49) Furthermore, when Melamed cites the writing of the Jewish sages he observes that they describe the "Torah as written 'in black fire,' (Devorim Rabbah, 3:13; Song of songs Rabbah, 5:9)," and quotes R. Berakhiah who said, "Consider the eye-ball; it is not through the white of it that one sees but through the black. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: 'I created light for you out of the darkness'" (Vayikrah Rabbah, 31:8; Bamidbar Rabbah, 15:5) (19). (50) Moreover, "shahar the Hebrew word for dawn, the beginning of light, and 'grew black' (Job 30:30) are exactly the same" (19).

For the sake of achieving a more processual openness toward occurrence of the words "black and white" it may, then, be helpful to be at least aware of Melamed's argument that "a close look at the [Hebrew] biblical attitude [toward] the black shows that it is descriptive and neutral, in special cases enigmatic and ambivalent, sometimes positive, and rarely, if ever, stereotypically, 'racist'" (55). This is in no way of course to suggest that Shakespeare may himself have been an Hebraist. Nonetheless, to register, within the originary text of the Bible itself, a less fixed binaric model, might contribute further to a disabling of the perpetuating effects of, in scholarship too, possible ongoing reiteration, albeit entirely unintentional, of this particular urge toward (discovery of) binary singularity.


Sulayman Al-Bassam's Al-Hamlet Summit, (51) was first performed at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival in 2002 and at the International Festival of Experimental Theatre in Cairo. (52) Al-Bassam, born of an English mother and a Kuwaitan father, has lived for the past eighteen years in England and France. He uses Shakespeare's text as an opportunity to dramatize an unnamed present-day Middle Eastern state, presenting, by his own account, "a composite of many Arab problems that affect peoples from the Arabian Gulf to the Atlantic and beyond." (53) His play is concerned, as he indicates, with "the hypocrisy of rulers who act without sympathy for those whom they rule, who care only for the support of Western finance and armaments, who corruptly seek only the perpetuation of their own power." He jettisons Shakespeare's language in his version which is written in modern English. As a result of a Japanese commission, the play has subsequently been translated into Arabic. (54)

How does The Al-Hamlet Summit speak ethical action into being? Al-Bassam operates by way of the mode of unquestioning binary singularity. He indicates that his play is everywhere informed by a sense of how the fate of his own present-day "Arab world and its people" is inextricably linked to that of the West's. Al-Bassam reproduces here and everywhere the powerful binary of Arab and Westerner that already informs, as is well known, much Western literature. again, Claudius represents the oppressive ruler depending on his power by way of Western support. This is suggested in the play, in turn, by the Arms Dealer, an amoral manipulator who deals expediently with anyone, irrespective of their position or affiliation. After seeking the help of the Arms Dealer, Claudius declares:
   Oh God: Petro dollars. Teach me the meaning of petro dollars. I
   have no other God than you, I am created in your image ... I do not
   try to be pure: I have learnt so much filth, I eat filth, I am an
   artist of filth, I make mounds of human bodies sacrifices to your
   glory, I adore the stench of rotting peasants gassed with your
   technology ... My nose is not so hooked is it, my eyes so
   diabolical as when you offered me your Washington virgins and CIA
   opium.... Your plutonium your loans, your democratic filth that
   drips off your ecstatic crowds, I want them all. (21-22)

Al-Bassam's presentation of Fortinbras, who takes over from Claudius, replicates this binary of, on the one hand, exploitative and vicious ruler (with vicious manipulator behind him) and, on the other, exploited subjects. At the play's close, Fortinbras broods on the possibilities of common or popular resistance he in turn, after Claudius, is likely to face: "it won't be easy, terrorism is not yet defeated, but the pipeline will be completed within a year" (29). The word "terrorism" is used here by him to characterize potential resistance. The play argues that corrupt rulers all use the word or its variants in order to demonize or interpellate any opponent of their own corrupt rule. Only after dreaming of the "pipeline" that will secure his own riches and position does he proceed, hypocritically to outline a rhetoric of altruism, offered by way of a string of notably mundane and predictable formulations, "hunger will be eradicated, the homeless will find refuge, the old will die, and the young will never forget, the poor will find wealth and this barren land will be seen to bloom"(29).

In its own concern with the word "terrorism," too, the play thus also manifests the predilection for unquestioned binary singularity. In this Al-Bassam relies as well on a binary of "terrorist" and "victim," although it is true that he does counteridentify or invert this, as Peter Smith has remarked. (55) He does so, firstly, as mask for capitalist Arab or Western economic exploitation and, as I have just noted, as a term to demonize or interpellate any kind of democratic political opposition. Secondly, he relies on the binaric terms as, inversely, indicee of political and ethical purification or liberation. Thus Al-Bassam inverts conventional structurations of "innocent victim" in one of what are several direct allusions to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in the play, as when Ophelia, dressed in the clothing of fundamentalist Islam declares: "The one who has turned me into a refugee has made a bomb of me ... I will ex-press with [sic] my body what [I cannot] express [in] politics ... So I go to my God pure in my soul in my dignity I am pure" (25-6). (56) Hamlet, particularly, is given a fiercely retaliatory narrative, again manifesting the urge to binary singularity in the equation, corrupt persecutor/exploiter on the one hand, and purified persecuted/exploited on the other:

i. I will clean this land, I will make it pure ... I will cleanse it for you ... I will clean it, I will purge it, blood will flow, I will make blood flow in torrents. I swear in my father's name, I swear in the name of Allah. (16)

ii. The only way to change the geography of a conflict is to have infantry on the ground firing bullets into flesh. (22)

iii. From Allah we emerge and to Allah we return. Run, blood, across the sewers and the graves, stop up the mouths of vermin and hypocrites, the squall that begins in the East moves with mighty power over the seas. (23)

iv. I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Mohammed is his messenger. I Hamlet, son of Hamlet am the rightful heir to this nation's throne. My rule will crush the fingers of thieving bureaucrats, neutralize the hypocrites, tame the fires of debauchery that engulf our cities and return our noble people to the path of God. Our enemies comprehend only the language of blood for this, the time for the pen has passed and we enter the era of the sword ... Let it be so and may God raise the profile of His martyrs! (28)


What to some extent may be startling here is the proximation of that aspect of a yearning for binary singularity to be found in the early-modern Timber of Discoveries, as well as in some uses of the words "black" and "white" in Hamlet, to the search here, in the early twenty-first-century anti-Western Al-Hamlet Summit, for a singular purity in response to what the play in turn also seeks to register as a singular (again) injustice. This proximity collapses assumptions based on traditional structurations of difference between "East" and "West."

In the face of identification of the teleology of binary singularity to be found in each of the three disparate texts I have glanced at, then, how helpful might the processual mode of reading be? Ewan Fernie seems to touch on this problem when, on the one hand, he registers, in Hamlet, language that speaks the messy compromises of human life, but, on the other hand, discerns in it also a language that speaks what he calls a "militant spirituality," one that "seeks emancipation" and an "alternative world" with "real political potential." (57) Fernie himself recognizes that "at this historical juncture, any intellectual engagement with militant spirituality risks being misinterpreted as an endorsement of terrorism" (12). This disclaimer notwithstanding, in his reading of Hamlet in the last act of the play he moves beyond the proscriptions such a form of speaking might enjoin, attempting to discern from what Hamlet says, an "immersion of divinity in the messy human element" (58) which, he argues, enables Hamlet "to act [nonetheless] in favour of the absolute even as a compromised agent in a compromised world" (203):
   Once Hamlet has committed himself to "divinity" rather than the
   furious spirit of a murdered father, the play dramatizes the
   enabling power of a complete commitment. After his mystical
   experience, Hamlet, like Abraham is willing to do whatever is
   required, and without Abraham's "pang"--which suggests Shakespeare
   went further than Kierkegaard beyond ordinary good and evil. As if
   to stress the historical potential of spirituality, Hamlet's
   mystical commitment to a "special providence" is inseperable from a
   commitment to intervening in time. His god of "rashness" plunges
   ethical idealism into the flux and chance of history, abolishing a
   separate sphere of ethics. Only a pledge to the absolute can
   combine the violence of a specific commitment with the assurance of
   doing right. (204)

In this passage, Fernie raises an interesting concept of spiritually valid "rashness" of action. What he writes appears in part as a reading of the final scenes of Hamlet through a prism of the "terrorist" as "liberator"--as in Al-Bassam. If this is so, what may be crucially important is the fact that Hamlet's "rashness" does not entail entering the situation with the deliberate intention of killing whoever may be in his path. Laertes's "rashness" takes us much closer to such a stance in that he has with Claudius--"rashly" with regard also to the well-being of his soul, the play's Christianity, in a different sense, seems to have it--agreed to smear his sword with poison, that is, secretly to bear a lethal weapon that will murder Hamlet. Here, his target is, admittedly, not "anyone" but specifically the imagined enemy Hamlet himself, though it is true that such a position might as easily include a contention (or an urge to binaric singularity) that, argues that anyway, all "innocent" targets are in fact "guilty." Furthermore, neither Hamlet nor Laertes construct what they are doing as actively suicidal in nature. I take it that Fernie is aware of all of this when he concedes what he calls a "sinister" potential to his unfolding point. But such distinctions in the matter of "rashness"--as well as the separate equally important meditation upon the issue of "accident" in the play--need in this regard, perhaps, further attention.

What I find deeply troubling in Fernie's language, despite its qualifications, is its persisting connection to the tradition of speaking I have been tracing, to that part of it that seeks to construct out of the rich darkness--(blackness?)--of multiple partly unknown, complex, often surprisingly proximate experiences and predicaments one single light of commitment that will cleanse and in its particular image remake bright (or "white"?) the universe. Writing in my present location of Israel-Palestine invites me--leaving this color code, if that were only possible, aside--to yearn for and recognize an absolute need for commitment to absolute justice. But I have learned simultaneously to doubt the human speaking on all sides that articulates this: an ongoing reiteration of various urges toward binary singularity, noticeable as I have suggested in this essay in the disparate texts I have glanced at. I do not know if focus on a (Tswana) processual understanding of ethical human action can better help us to move beyond the boundaries of one or other kind of binary singularity--help us to conceptualize who we are or what is to be done in a different way entirely--but at the least, it frames and sharpens understanding of the potential human (animal?) deadliness in this persisting, so far apparently inescapable, binaric predilection toward, in "human" speaking, a ferocious singularity.


(1.) William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins, Arden Shakespeare edition (London: Methuen, 1982) 277. All quotations from the play are taken from this edition.

(2.) Erica Fudge, Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002) 65, 1 (my emphasis).

(3.) Cited in Ibid., 75.

(4.) Howard Brenton, The Romans in Britain (London: Methuen, 1981).

(5.) Tony Davies, Humanism (London: Routledge, 1997).

(6.) Ben Jonson, Timber or Discoveries Made vpon Men and Matter: As they have flow'd out of his daily Reading, or had their refluxe to his peculiar Notion of the Times, London, in Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson, vol. 8 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 621. All quotations are from this edition.

(7.) See John L. Comaroff and Simon Roberts, Rules and Processes: The Cultural Logic of Dispute in an African Context (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1981); Martin Orkin, Local Shakespeares: Proximations and Power (London: Routledge, 2005).

(8.) Herford and Simpson, Ben Jonson, 563.

(9.) We are by now well attuned to the discursive privileging of the masculine in the quotations on speech and speaking evident in the quotations I began with, and equally well versed in registering here the misogyny in Jonson's feminization of fortune.

(10.) See Alan Sinfield, Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

(11.) See Joseph Bristow, Sexuality (London: Routledge, 1997).

(12.) Davies, Humanism, 100.

(13.) William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, (London: Arden Shakespeare edition, Thomson Learning, 2006).

(14.) Ibid., 177 fn146. Citation of proverbs is followed by proverb number in the dictionary mentioned, and then date of first cited usage. See R. W. Dent, Shakespeare's Proverbial Language: an Index, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

(15.) See M. P. Tilley, A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966).

(16.) Stephen Greenblatt et al. eds., Henry IVPart 1, Norton Shakespeare edition. (New York: Norton, 1997).

(17.) Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare's Plays Hamlet to The Tempest (London: Routledge, 1992), 19, 14.

(18.) Barbara Johnson, A World of Difference (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), cited in Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economics of Race and Gender in Early Modern England, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995, 2.

(19.) See also Hamlet's reprimand to the actor playing the murderer Lucianus to "leave thy damnable faces and begin ... the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge" (3.2.247-48); Lucianus's "Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing" (3.2.249); Claudius's reference to his own "bosom black as death" (3.2.67).

(20.) I refer briefly to these lines again below.

(21.) This is not to claim that patristic and homiletic traditions are innocent of racist effects.

(22.) Hall, Things of Darkness, 3.

(23.) See Arthur Little, Shakespeare Jungle Fever: National-Imperial Re-Visions of Race, Rape, and Sacrifice, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000); "'An Essence That's Not Seen': The Primal Scene of Racism in Othello," Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1993).

(24.) Peter Erickson, and Clark Hulse, Early Modern Visual Culture: Representation, Race and Empire in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).

(25.) See Hall, Things of Darkness, 3; Patricia Parker, "Black Hamlet: Battening on the Moor," Shakespeare Studies, 31, 2007; and Ania Loomba, Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

(26.) Parker, "Black Hamlet," 127-64.

(27.) Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Thompson and Taylor, 33.

(28.) Thompson and Taylor, eds. Hamlet, note (164n) that the SD Flourish, which most editors including them include for the SD introducing act 1, scene 2, and emphasizing this power, is not in F/Q.

(29.) Catherine Belsey, Culture and the Real (London: Routledge, 2005), 9

(30.) "Poetry and spirituality are kin," Ewan Fernie argues, "in that both traffic beyond the known world." Ewan Fernie, introduction to Spiritual Shakespeares (London: Routledge, 2005), 4.

(31.) Catherine Belsey notes the psychoanalytic sense that if "we are speaking beings," we nonetheless inhabit a "silent or silenced exteriority, which is also inside us, and which we cannot symbolize, delimit, specify or know, even when we can name it the real'" (14). And John D. Caputo recently asseverates, in the context of current Shakespeare criticism, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in secular materialism, theology, or contemporary theory." John D. Caputo, foreword to Spiritual Shakespeares, ed. Ewan Fernie (London: Routledge, 2005), xix.

(32.) Jaroslav Pelikan, Whose Bible Is It? A Short History of the Scriptures (London: Penguin, 2005), writes, "the Authorized Version was by far the most successful of all English translations of the Bible" (174).

(33.) See Parker, "Black Hamlet," 131.

(34.) Ibid., 154n15.

(35.) Michael Neill, Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 146.

(36.) Parker, "Black Hamlet," 131-32

(37.) See Avraham Melamed, The Image of the Black in Jewish Culture: A History of the Other (London: Routledge, 2003), 56-57, to whom I am grateful for much of the information that follows in this section.

(38.) Parker, "Black Hamlet," 132.

(39.) Melamed, Image of the Black, 55

(40.) See John Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 18-19, 25,172-73.

(41.) From "Experiences and reasons of the Sphere, to proove all partes of the world habitable, and thereby to confute the position of the five ones" published in Richard Hakluyt's The Principle Navigations, and cited in Gillies, ibid 196n74.

(42.) Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference, 194n57.

(43.) Used in Hebrew only later for the word "black."

(44.) Melamed, Image of the Black, 53

(45.) Ibid. 56, Melamed also writes, "the descriptions of the Queen of Sheba, another descendant of Cush, are positive and full of wonder. From the enigmatic statements about Moses's black wife one cannot be sure what Aaron and Miriam were complaining about. That it was her dark complexion is not at all clear from a literal understanding of the [Hebrew] Bible text, and indeed it puzzled the Sages deeply ... Whatever the reason that Aaron and Miriam are said to have complained about, the Bible text as it stands shows that God and Moses both took the part of the black woman." Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), 129-31, describes the story in the relevant passages from the Bible as follows: "Miriam and Aaron are surely not the only sister and brother in history to be periodically annoyed by the great success of a younger sibling.... The Bible describes a conversation between Miriam and Aaron in which they criticize Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married. Whether the woman in question is Moses's wife Tziporrah, or a second wife he might have taken we don't know, nor does the Torah seem to care. What matters is that Miriam and Aaron speak negatively about their brother ... What seems to rankle them is that they are ranked as numbers two and three behind their brother ... God summons the three to the Tent of Meeting where He appears in a cloud and instructs Aaron and Miriam to step forward ... the text describes God as incensed (an anger that is reflected in the punishment Miriam soon suffers) ... Miriam's body is stricken with flaky, snowy scales; it's some sort of horrific skin disease ... Miriam's punishment suggests a biblical view that exalted and mighty figures are to be punished, just like everyone else, when they act badly."

(46.) Melamed, linage of the Black, observes that blacks are designated as "other and different, but rarely, if ever as inferior and animal-like" (58).

(47.) Although composed later, in the Second Temple period, and so more susceptible to current emergence of notions of the barbaric and of the "other."

(48.) See Melamed, hnage of the Black, 43-44: He argues there for the line, "I am black (shehorah) and comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon: Look not upon me because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me," that "'black' and 'comely' are synonymous positive images, reinforcing the speaker's beauty in her own eyes. But she has to contend with the aesthetic norms that saw an advantage in light skin: hence the negative 'Look not upon me ...'. Indeed, elsewhere (6.10) ideal feminine beauty is identified with white: 'Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun?' The very existence of such norms indicates the existential dread of anything identified with a darker complexion: hence the efforts to avoid it, and the attempts to have as light a skin as possible, to keep poles apart from those with dark skin and as close as possible to the light-skinned people one wants to resemble. The subject here is suntanned skin, not natural blackness, that cannot become lighter. Shrinking aesthetically from suntanned skin indicates a dread that the individual who has such a complexion could be identified with one who is normally black-with all the negative aesthetic and moral connotations. The female voice in the Song of Songs takes a stand against such norms. Her opposition indicates just how rooted, how accepted they were: hence the ambivalence in the text. Possibly she, the village girl, the true daughter of Israel, is speaking out against attempts of her city counterparts, the daughters of Jerusalem, to look like the gentiles, the fairer 'children of Japheth' and to accept their aesthetic standards, with all the theo-ethnic implications that their stance implies. She it is who represent the ethnic and religious pride of the dark-skinned and comely, an ancient version of 'Black is beautiful,' against the normative dilemmas of those who want to identify with the light-skinned designator, accepting the gentile world view'" (43). Melamed goes on to show how such ambiguities are lost as later biblical commentators, the sages, take on dominant attitudes within the cultures in which they find themselves.

(49.) Melamed, Image of the Black, 56, observes: "The sin was criticizing something concerning the black wife, and the punishment was whitening the skin of the sinner."

(50.) Melamed, Image of the Black, 19. See also scientific accounts of the colors black and white, their (equally positive) effects, and the relationship between them, all subsumed in metaphoric eagerness to convert their "differences" into fixed exclusive binaries.

(51.) I am very grateful to Peter Smith for kindly sending me a copy of the text of this play, shortly after it was first performed. All quotations from the play are taken from this text.

(52.) See also Sulayman Al-Bassam, The Al-Hamlet Summit, ed. Graham Holderness (Hertfordshire, University of Hertfordshire, 2006), 12-13.

(53.) See here, and for the quotation that follows, Sulayman Al-Bassam's introduction to the publication of the AI-Hamlet Summit in Theatre Forum (2003),

(54.) Al-Bassam, Al-Hamlet Summit, ed. Holderness, 12.

(55.) See Peter J. Smith, "'Under Western Eyes: Sulayman Al-Bassam's The Al-Hamlet Summit in an Age of Terrorism,'" Shakespeare Bulletin 22, no. 4 (2004): especially for what follows, 72-73.

(56.) Holderness in his introduction Holderness ed. AI-Hamlet Summit, 14, refers on this point to Yvette K. Khoury, "'Glaring Stare': Middle Eastern Presentation of Ophelia," paper presented to the MLA 2005 Annual Convention Seminar on "Gender in Arabic Interpretations of Shakespeare."

(57.) Arguments anticipated in Ewan Fernie, "Shakespeare, spirituality and contemporary criticism," introduction to Spiritual Shakespeares, 8.

(58.) Ewan Fernie, "The last act, Presentism, spirituality and the politics of Hamlet," in Fernie, Spiritual Shakespeares, 202.
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Date:Jan 1, 2009
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