Shakespeare in the Harlem Renaissance
When you think about the Harlem Renaissance, theater might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But, says Dr. Freda Scott Giles, theater played a significant role in the blossoming of Black American arts and culture of the 1920s and '30s. Of course, because there’s little in the English-language theater untouched by Shakespeare, he was present in the Harlem Renaissance too. Banner Shakespeare productions included Orson Welles’s hit “Voodoo” "Macbeth," produced by the Federal Theater Project, and the "Midsummer"-inspired "Swingin’ the Dream," which was a Broadway flop despite the talents of musician Louis Armstrong and comedian Moms Mabley.
We talk to Dr. Giles about how the artists and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance regarded the Bard. Plus, we visit the African Company of the 1820s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s to learn about more than a century of Black responses to Shakespeare.
Freda Scott Giles is Associate Professor Emerita of Theater at the University of Georgia. She was a contributor to three books: "Tarell Alvin McCraney: Theater, Performance, and Collaboration," published in 2020; "Constructions of Race in Southern Theatre: From Federalism to the Federal Theatre Project," published in 2003; and "American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity," which was published in 1995.
From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published February 16, 2021. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “I Here Engage My Words,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.