Skip to main content

The Great White Bard

Shakespeare, Race and the Future

Farah Karim-Cooper

‘Powerful and illuminating’ James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, winner of the Baillie Gifford ‘Winner of Winners’ 2023


‘Insightful, passionate, piled with facts and has a warm, infectious love for theatre and Shakespeare running through every chapter’ Adrian Lester, CBE


Professor Farah Karim-Cooper grew up loving the Bard, perhaps because Romeo and Juliet felt Pakistani to her. But why was being white as a ‘snowy dove’ essential to Juliet’s beauty?


Combining piercing analysis of race, gender and otherness in beloved plays from Othello to The Tempest with a radical reappraisal of Elizabethan London, The Great White Bard entreats us neither to idealise nor to fossilise Shakespeare but instead to look him in the eye and reckon with the discomforts of his plays, playhouses and society.


If we persist in reading Shakespeare as representative of only one group, as the very pinnacle of the white Western canon, then he will truly be in peril. But if we dare to bring Shakespeare down from his plinth, we might unveil a playwright for the twenty-first century. We might expand and enrich his extraordinary legacy. We might even fall in love with him all over again.

  • Publication date: April 27, 2023
  • ISBN: 9780861545346
  • RRP: £22.00
  • Pages: 336


‘This glorious book… is insightful, passionate, piled with facts and has a warm, infectious love for theatre and Shakespeare running through every chapter. Thank you to Farah Karim-Cooper for underlining the fact that we all have a right to claim Shakespeare’s work.’

Adrian Lester CBE

'The Great White Bard is conscientiously constructed and vitally important. The book is pitched perfectly for the general reader, and it provides clear and compelling models for how to read Shakespeare with race in mind.'

Ayanna Thompson, author of Blackface

'Anyone reading the contents page alone of Dr Farah Karim-Cooper's The Great White Bard will have their minds blown. Dive in and your whole cultural landscape will be refreshed and reframed. A book of great scholastic yet accessible detail, demanding that we pay attention with new understanding to the work of our greatest playwright, to the staging of that work and its unacknowledged impact on the 21st-century lives of all of us who unwittingly absorb its cultural norms – for good and ill. A challenging, riveting read, The Great White Bard reminds us how powerful the stories we tell can be on our lives.'

Adjoa Andoh

‘She concludes… “We all have the right to claim the Bard”  Amen to that.’

Daily Telegraph

'There are plenty of books on Shakespeare: but this one is different. This is Shakespeare as we’ve (most of us) never been willing to see him – and the works emerge from the analysis as newly complicit, powerful and yet recuperative.’

Emma Smith

'Farah Karim-Cooper has long been at the center of conversations about race in Shakespeare’s plays, drawing on her experiences as a woman of color, director of research and education at the Globe Theatre, and Shakespeare professor.  The Great White Bard is a powerful and illuminating result of this sustained engagement, grappling with how Shakespeare can be reimagined as a playwright who speaks to (and is spoken by) those excluded from the dominant culture.  Historically grounded, engagingly written, richly informed by stage history, and always attuned to the "form and pressure" of our time, The Great White Bard could not be more timely.'


James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

'Farah Karim-Cooper's analysis comes from a wide and fascinating perspective. This is an accessible yet scholarly book guiding the reader through essential questions about race, gender and so much more in Shakespeare’s plays. It is personal, refreshing and necessary. She has helped me reframe and understand Shakespeare in a different way. Read it and learn!'

Lolita Chakrabarti OBE

‘A bracing and illuminating read.’


'The Great White Bard is essential reading for teachers, students, practitioners and artists. It makes clear why the exploration of Shakespeare’s plays must expose the 400-year-old cultural attitudes contained in them if we are to discover their real relevance and resonance. Farah Karim-Cooper has written an important, illuminating and accessible work that invites our active participation in debate about the plays; to interpret and interrogate them, not to venerate.  It belongs in every Shakespeare classroom.'

Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Learning, Royal Shakespeare Company

Farah Karim-Cooper

Farah Karim-Cooper is Professor of Shakespeare Studies, King’s College London and Co-Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, where she has worked for over sixteen years. Farah has recently served as President of the Shakespeare Association of America and is on the Advisory Council for the Warburg Institute and the Council for the Society of Renaissance Studies. She led the architectural enquiries into early modern theatres at Shakespeare’s Globe, overseeing the research into the design and construction of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the Globe’s indoor Jacobean theatre. She has written two Shakespearean scholarship books published by Arden, and published over 40 chapters in books, reviews and articles and is a General Editor for Arden’s Shakespeare in the Theatre series.

Author page

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to our newsletters to find out more about our latest books and offers, straight to your inbox.

Select mailing lists