Adapting Whiteness

Katherine of Aragon in Shakespeare and Fletcher’s All is True and Starz’s The Spanish Princess


  • Zainab Cheema Florida Gulf Coast University



The sources influencing Shakespeare’s representation of racialized queens continue to shape popular media representations of queenship. In this article, I argue that Juan Luis Vives’ Instruction of a Christian Woman influenced Shakespeare’s representation of Katherine of Aragon’s idealized whiteness in All is True (Henry VIII). Moreover, I show how Vives and Shakespeare in turn influence Starz’s 2019 The Spanish Princess. Firstly, I how Vives represents the domestic space of the royal household a form of racial enclosure intended to manage the paradoxical confluence of the queen’s biological reproductivity and the social circulation of her image. Katherine’s patronage of Vives demonstrates her agency in cultivating her cult of queenship through gendered and racially charged notions of kinship, conduct, and labor. These tropes elevate the racial purity of the queen through and at the expense of lower class and enslaved peoples whose work is often rendered invisible. I also argue that Vives and Shakespeare’s praise of Katherine’s exemplary kinship, conduct and labor function as compensatory mechanisms that serve to reify Katherine’s whiteness even as her marriage to Henry VIII is failing. While Starz’s The Spanish Princess recasts Katherine of Aragon’s story through the contemporary lens of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, it nevertheless borrows from Shakespeare and Vives’ construction of queenly whiteness at the expense of racial others.  


Author Biography

Zainab Cheema, Florida Gulf Coast University

Dr. Zainab Cheema is Assistant Professor of Early World Literature at Florida Gulf Coast University. She
has published in journals such as Shakespeare Survey, Borrowers & Lenders, English Language Notes,
Feminist Studies, and the Bulletin of the Comediantes. Her research centers on racial imaginaries in early
modern print culture; Anglo-Spanish literary circulations; and early modern globalizations. She is
currently completing her first monograph on early modern travel literature. Zainab’s language
specializations include English, Spanish, Arabic and Portuguese, and her work has been supported by
grants from the Newberry Library, the Huntington Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the
Fulbright Scholarship Program.