Shakespeare plays are "problematic" for linking whiteness to beauty, experts have claimed as part of a Globe Theatre project to decolonise the playwright's work.
The London theatre has organised a series of "anti-racist Shakespeare" seminars to discuss "decolonising the plays".
A Midsummer Night's Dream was the topic of the first seminar, with academics saying it included "problematic gendered and racialised dynamics".
Aldo Billingslea, the actor, said the play endorsed the view that "white is beautiful, fair is beautiful, dark is unattractive", making it problematic from the very first line: "Now, fair Hippolyta."
The preference for white over black is evident in the lover Lysander's statement: "Who would not trade a raven for a dove?", Billingslea said, because it was a line "attributing value to these [birds] because of their colour".
Dr Vanessa Corredera, an associate professor of English at Andrews University in Michigan, told the seminar: "In context with other plays and even the Sonnets, this language is all over the place, this language of dark and light ... there are these racialising elements."
She added: "It is a funny and spectacular play. But that spectacle can do a lot to gloss over problematic gendered and racialised dynamics."
A number of Sonnets are addressed to the physically contrasted "Fair Youth" and Dark Lady".
Providing an anti-racist approach to the play for teachers, students and theatre professionals, the seminar also highlighted the use of "tawny Tartar" and "Ethiope" as racial epithets in the work.
The 1595 comedy about beguiled lovers in a magical wood is not normally associated with race, like Othello and other works featuring black characters, such as Antony and Cleopatra and Titus Andronicus.
But Corredera said: "Every play is a race play, as whiteness is part of every play."
A Midsummer Night's Dream has character groups, including fairy royalty, lovers fleeing Athens, and "Rude Mechanicals" who endeavour to put on a play within a play. Each can be viewed via "dominant racialised modes", she added.
These include elements of "Orientalism" in the squabble between the fairy king Oberon and his queen Titania over a voiceless Indian Boy, which also suggests elements of "colonialism".
Fairy royals also carry connotations of class because of their high rank, and gender conflicts in the work are exemplified by Hermia being threatened with death if she refuses to marry.
Billingslea and Corredera agreed audiences and performers could still love Shakespeare and said casting people of colour could give new meaning to the language used in the play. They said theatre professionals could decide what language to use in the play.
The seminar is the first in a series planned by the Globe, which reopened this week, as part of its "commitment to making the Globe truly anti-racist".
However, Sir Stanley Wells, a Shakespearean scholar, said: "The terms fair and dark are very multivalent words. Fair can mean fair of skin, or in the aesthetic sense of beautiful, or in the behavioural sense.
"The contrast of light and dark is also a human universal. I would not represent Shakespeare as racist. He is far more subtle in his portrayal of characters.
"We do see language such as Ethiope and Moor which could be seen as racist. But there is a difference between the racism of a character and the racism of a writer."