This is part of a bi-weekly series here at TSS: Early Modern and Open Access regularly showcases peer-reviewed articles (or other resources) of interest to early modernists that are freely available in open access formats.
Claiming a separate space for African American writing, Toni Morrison has long been suspicious of criticism that associates her work with western canonical authors. Yet her 2012 play Desdemona appropriates Shakespeare’s Othello to decry injustice as seen from her present-day vantage point. I argue that much earlier, and to similar effect, three passages from King Lear have their counterparts in Morrison’s second novel, Sula. Two of these passages concern Shadrack, a shell-shocked veteran who, like Lear, loses his mind, occupation, and identity. The third is Sula’s deathbed speech on class, race, and gender norms that guarantee inequality. Just as the Fool in Lear parodies the pseudo-Chaucerian “Merlin’s Prophecy” to comment on corruption in Shakespeare’s England, so Morrison looks back to the oral tradition of Black English for the verbal device of “Signifyin(g).” Dying, Sula signifies on America, whose mainstream prejudicial ideology makes outcasts of its minorities.