2019 Stevens Award for Best New Essay

Martin Stevens Award
Award Year: 

Winner: Teramura, Misha. “Black Comedy: Shakespeare, Terence, and Titus Andronicus.” English Literary History 85, no. 4 (2018): 877–908.

In this gripping article, Teramura illuminates “a simple fact” (in his modest words) that nevertheless “bears repeating”: “One of the great classical playwrights whom William Shakespeare read, admired, and imitated”—Terence—”was an African” (877). Teramura contextualizes the character of Aaron the Moor from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus within sixteenth-century debates about Terence’s biography and racial identity, arguing that “In the character of Aaron, the audience is forced to acknowledge the crucial contributions of an African slave to the very canon of Latin literature that humanists strove to recover” (899). Teramura handles the complexity of his subject—the early English perception of blackness, plainly stated in the very titles of common grammar school textbooks, but at the same time skewed by persistent whitewashing elsewhere—with due care, backing up each of his claims patiently and thoroughly. It is thus all the more impressive when Teramura closes with this powerful claim: “Shakespeare’s Shakespeare was black” (900). The scale and scope of Teramura’s work produces an innovative argument in which deep and wide-ranging research into theatrical documents generates an important interpretative contribution to our field.

Award Committee: Matthew Sergi, Elizabeth Tavares, Emma Maggie Solberg (chair). Awards announcement and presentation took place during the annual MRDS business meeting in May 2019, at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.