Diversity in cultural representations: Comedy and Othello

by Tom Cheesman

Working Papers WP 09-13
August 2009
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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Comedy (professional, mediated or live, or amateur, demotic and everyday) offers a good starting-point for studying representations of diversity. Representations of diverse or complex ethnoscapes must use caricature and stereotype. Adopting Steven Vertovec’s terms, comedic representations may reproduce or alter existing configurations of diversity, and can script new encounters of diversity. Examples from English theatre and Turkish German literature underline the importance of distinguishing between an abstract concept of diversity and the particular differences which are depicted in texts. A study of German translations of Shakespeare’s Othello shows how cultural history illuminates the present. Othello is a much-travelled text which embodies “colour” and “race” difference. Translations of one couplet (a joke about colour difference) over the past 250 years are compared. This reveals translators under the influence of ideologies of Eurocentrism, imperialism, biological racism, fascism, humanism, and, most recently, competing (moral and political) ideologies of anti-racism. There are now increasing numbers of new Othello translations and adaptations (by no means only in German). They exhibit unprecedented cultural diversity in representations of ethnic diversity.

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