Shakespeare in Shang-Chi
To Reference or not to Reference
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.