Others note and reflect on the presence of interracial couples and of the offspring such unions produce.

Shakespeare himself would incorporate race into at least eight of his plays, examining the inevitable frictions in a way palatable to theatergoers.

Some conscientious clerks went beyond what was required, providing personal details, as well as employment and health histories.

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“ Because I teach and do research both in the English Renaissance and in post-colonial literature and theory, my courses feed into my research and vice versa,” Habib says.

“ What I’ve discovered, I think changes the contours of existing knowledge on the English Renaissance.

Bathing, while not unknown, is infrequent, and the majority of those you meet will pay little attention to personal hygiene.

With primitive sanitation and high population density, disease is common.

Initially, Habib concludes in Shakespeare and Race, the transported Africans “existed initially as a miscellaneous assemblage of exotic, personally possessed decorative fetishes and human curiosities, and constituted a totally culturally unrecorded and hence silent and invisible community.” That invisibility would gradually diminish, as blacks were gradually absorbed into society, given Christian names, acquired skills, and dispersed into roles as, usually, laborers, menial workers, servants, maids and, for the aristocracy, entertainers.

Yet because there was no official categorization for race, few other than diarists remarked on that distinction.In the old age black was not counted fair, Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name; But now is black beauty’s successive heir, And beauty slandered with a bastard shame, For since each hand hath put on nature’s power, Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face, Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower, But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black, Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack, Slandering creation with a false esteem: Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe, That every tongue says beauty should look so.A visible minority in Shakespeare’s London, blacks attempted to carve out lives for themselves in what must have seemed an often bizarre majority culture in which they found themselves ensconced.Only within the last decade, and owing to the work of several American scholars, including Habib, who examined primary documents of Elizabethan social history, has it been established beyond a doubt that blacks lived in London in the 17th century.Other supporting evidence comes from private accounts.