Shakespeare in Shang-Chi

To Reference or not to Reference


  • Jessica McCall Delaware Valley University



Trevor Slattery, played by Ben Kingsley, holds an uncomfortable subject position within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was introduced as the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 (2013), and this appearance occasioned significant criticism for its racist tropes. Slattery was recently re-introduced in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), accompanied by the short film All Hail the King (2021). The racist elements within Slattery’s characterization have been justified in two specific ways: his role as an actor and his portrayal as a clown. With his most recent appearances, both of those covers have been deliberately intertwined with Shakespeare. Long before Harold Bloom asserted Shakespeare as Author-God, the Bard was used as a tool of colonialization around the world; the assumption was that his words and poetry would solidify English as a lingua franca and have a “civilizing,” “gentling” effect on the masses. As Ruben Espinosa states: “Shakespeare is, and always has been, invariably connected to discourses about oppressive structures” (Espinosa 2021, 159). And yet what is especially curious about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most recent use of Shakespeare is the seeming willful ignorance of this complex history.

Author Biography

Jessica McCall, Delaware Valley University

Jessica McCall is Associate Professor of English at Delaware Valley University, Pennsylvania. She has published several articles and chapters in journals and edited collections including "Close Reading: The Theory Which is Not One" in a special issue of Early Modern Culture, co-edited by Phyllis Rackin and Peter Parolin (2017), and "Hysterical Shakespeare: Celebrations of Merry Sexuality" in The Merry Wives of Windsor: New Critical Essays, co-edited by Evelyn Gajowski and Phyllis Rackin (2015). Her current research focuses on the intersectionality of gender, pop culture, and Shakespeare.