As You Like It

Representation of Race in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s "As You Like It” College

“In the latter part of the 19th century, Japan opened up for trade with the West. Merchant adventurers arrived from all over the world, many of them English. Some traded in silk and rice and lived in enclaves around the 'treaty ports.' They brought their families and their followers and created private mini-empires where they tried to embrace this extraordinary culture, its beauties and its dangers…” (On-screen text)

Branagh uses 19th century Japan to envision a culturally diverse Shakespeare’s As You Like It, where the feudal lords of the medieval France of the play are now lords of mini-empires created by English colonizers in Japan. These lords are not originally of noble blood but are rich, opportunistic merchants who have reinvented themselves as royalty. Away from the European societal norms, this reinvention facilitates the possibility of not only a black lord but also his match with a white Duke’s daughter. While the period, place, and races have been changed, Branagh retains the original Shakespearean language. Although by the end of the eighteenth century slavery was abolished in France, blacks were still seen as an inferior race. But just as the forest is outside the conventions of the court, a colonial outpost in...

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