Bardfilm and I were discussing this the other day, and I saw it pop up in a different discussion so I figured we could talk about it here.
Conversation #1 -- Aufidius' final insult to Coriolanus is to call him "boy", and Coriolanus hurls it back at him ten-fold:
Boy! false hound!We were discussing this line, and Bardfilm brought up the idea about how the line would change if the lead were portrayed by a black actor. Same line, same in-play context, just change the skin color of the guy saying it.
If you have writ your annals true, 'tis there,
That, like an eagle in a dove-cote, I
Flutter'd your Volscians in Corioli:
Alone I did it. Boy!
Wait! Hold that thought.
Conversation #2 -- Over on the reddit forum on Shakespeare, we were discussing the moderation of a comment where somebody used the dreaded n-word (although the less offensive -a variation :)). In discussion, a fellow moderator pointed out this bit in Much Ado About Nothing:
Good morrow, prince; good morrow, Claudio:
We here attend you. Are you yet determined
To-day to marry with my brother's daughter?
I'll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.
So the can with the big WORMS label on it is locked and loaded in the opener and I'm ready to push down on the little button. What's your thoughts on the issue of racism in our beloved works? Bardfilm wants to explore it, possibly by adding some racism overtones where none were originally intended, as a way of showcasing just how powerful a single word like "boy" would have been. On the other hand you've got a line like Claudio's that's pretty racist no matter how you look at it. Should we just decide it's no longer funny and remove it?
For bonus points, reconcile your position with Othello. The opening scene(s) are about as racist as you can get, but would we tone it down or play it up? Are you doing the play justice if you only make it a play about racism? (The same argument applies to anti-Semitism in Merchant, I suppose.)