Decolonizing Othello in search of black feminist North American identities: Djanet Sears' Harlem duet and Toni Morrison's Desdemona

Vicent Cucarella-Ramon


The plays Harlem duet (1997) by African Canadian playwright Djanet Sears and Desdemona (2012) by Toni Morrison signify upon European texts aiming to carve out a new definition of what it means to be black in North America. Therefore both texts make for interesting reading in the study of (black) identity construction within US and Canadian contexts for, by revising Shakespeare’s Othello, they rethink and rewrite a social and racial reality unrelentingly disrupted by difference and hybridity. Sears’ play establishes a specific reading of Canadianness in dialogue with African America to erect a possibility of healing and inclusion, offering a feminist vision of the black self. Similarly, Morrison inscribes the voice of Africa within the US to conclude Sears’ account of a feminist and transnational subjectivity for blacks in North America. By reversing the manly ethos that characterized Shakespeare’s story and bringing the role of women to the front, both plays succeed in readjusting the Shakespearean story to render a feminist, transnational, cosmopolitan and democratic definition of the black female self.


black identity; North America; African American; African Canadian; feminist self; Othello

Full Text:



Appadurai, A. (1990). Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. Theory, culture and society, 7(2), 295–316.

Bhabha, H. (2001). The location of culture. (4th ed.). London: Routledge.

Brathwaite, E. K. (1973). Caliban. In The Arrivants (pp. 192–196). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brunhuber, K. B. (2003). Kameleon man. Vancouver: Beach Holme.

Buntin, M. (2004, March). An interview with Djanet Sears. Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project. Retrieved August 15, 2015 from

Carlin, M. (1996). Not now, sweet Desdemona: A dialogue for black and white within the realm of Shakespeare’s Othello. Nairobi: Oxford University Press.

Césaire, A. (2000). A Tempest. (Philip Crispin, Trans.). London: Oberon (Original work published 1969).

Childs, P. & Williams, P. (1997). An introduction to post-colonial theory. London: PrenticeHall/ Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Clarke, G. E. (2002). Odysseys home: Mapping African Canadian literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Condé, M. (2008). Windward heights. New York, NY: Soho Press.

Cucarella-Ramon, V. (2015). Liminality and (trans)nationalism in the rethinking of African Canadian subjectivity: Esi Edugyan’s The second life of Samuel Tyne. Canada and Beyond: A journal of Canadian literary and cultural studies, 5, 27–50.

Derrida, J. (2005). On cosmopolitanism and forgiveness. (Mark Dooley & Michael Hughes, Trans.). London / New York, NY: Routledge (Original work published 2001).

Fraile-Marcos, A. M. (2014). The transcultural intertextuality of George Elliott Clarke’s African Canadianite: (African) American Models Shaping George & Rue. African American Review, 47(1), 113–128.

Gilroy, P. (1993a). The black Atlantic: Modernity and double consciousness. London / New York, NY: Verso.

Gilroy, P. (1993b). Living memory: A meeting with Toni Morrison. In P. Gilroy (Ed.), Small acts: Thoughts on the politics of black cultures. (pp. 175–182). London: Serpent’s Tail.

Gilroy, P. (2000). Against race: Imagining political culture behind the color line. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hurston, Z. N. (1990). Their eyes were watching God. New York, NY: Perennial Library.

Kitts, L. (2014). The sound of change: A musical transit through the wounded modernity of Desdemona. In A. Lanier Seward & J. Tally (Eds.), Toni Morrison: Memory and meaning (pp. 255–269). Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

Locke, A. (1999). The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Lury, C. (1996). Consumer culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Manzanas, A. M. (1996). The making and unmaking of a colonial subject: Othello. Miscelánea: A journal of English and American studies, 17, 189–205.

McDonald, A. (1998). Goodnight Desdemona (Good morning Juliet). Toronto: Grove Press.

Morrison, T. (1987). Beloved. New York, NY: Plume.

Morrison, T. (1993). Playing in the dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination. London: Picador.

Morrison, T. (1998). Paradise. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Morrison, T. (2004). Song of Solomon. (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Vintage.

Morrison, T. (2007). The bluest eye. New York, NY: Vintage.

Morrison, T. (2012). Desdemona. London: Oberon Books.

Pêcheux, M. (1982). Language, semantics, and ideology. (Harbans Nagpal, Trans.). London: Palgrave Macmillan (Original work published 1972).

Pennino, A. (nd). “A Maid Call’d Barbary”: Toni Morrison, Desdemona and the voice of Africa. Retrieved from 1 September, 2015 from CALL_D_BARBARY_TONI_MORRISON_DESDEMONA_AND_THE_VOICE_OF_AFRICA.

Ramos, M. C. (2015). Mapping the World Differently African American. Travel Writing About Spain. València: Biblioteca Javier Coy d’Estudis Nord-americans.

Rhys, J. (1999). Wide Sargasso Sea. (Judith L. Raiskin, Ed.). New York, NY: Norton.

Said, E. (1979). Orientalism. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday.

Sears, D. (1990). Afrika solo. Toronto: Sister Vision.

Sears, D. (1997). Harlem duet. Toronto: Scirocco Drama.

Siemerling, W. (2015). The black Atlantic reconsidered: Black Canadian writing, cultural history, and the presence of the past. Montreal / Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Spivak, G. C. (2003). Death of a discipline. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Stave, S. A. (Ed.) (2006). Toni Morrison and the Bible: Contested intertextualities. New York, NY / Oxford: Peter Lang.

Tharps, L. L. (2008). Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love and Spain. New York, NY: Washington Square Press.

Thiong’o, N. (1967). A grain of wheat. London: Heineman.

Vogel, P. (1993). Desdemona: A play about a handkerchief. New York, NY: Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

Walcott, R. (2003). Black Like Who? Writing Black Canada. (3rd ed.). Toronto: Insomniac Press.

Walker, A. (1982). The color purple. New York, NY: Washington Square Press.

Wright, R. (2002). Pagan Spain. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press.

Yerbi, F. (1965). An Odor of Sanctity: A Novel of Moorish Spain. New York, NY: Dial Press.



  • There are currently no refbacks.