• [79] In March 2016 the historian Onyeka produced a play entitled Young Othello, a fictional take on Othello’s young life before the events of Shakespeare’s play.

  • [70] When Laurence Olivier gave his acclaimed performance of Othello at the Royal National Theatre in 1964, he had developed a case of stage fright that was so profound that
    when he was alone onstage, Frank Finlay (who was playing Iago) would have to stand offstage where Olivier could see him to settle his nerves.

  • The UK’s National Film and Television Archive holds over 25 20th-Century films containing performances, adaptations or extracts from Othello including Anson Dyer’s 1920 animated
    Othello, 1921’s Carnival and its 1932 remake, the 1922 German film The Moor, the 1936 Men Are Not Gods, 1941’s East of Piccadilly, George Cukor’s 1947 A Double Life, Orson Welles in Return to Glennascaul and Welles’ own Othello, Sergei Yutkevich’s
    Russian language Othello discussed below, two productions for BBC Television (including Jonathan Miller’s for the BBC Television Shakespeare series, discussed below), Basil Dearden’s All Night Long, Janet Suzman’s 1988 South African TV Othello,
    a film of Trevor Nunn’s RSC production with Willard White and Ian McKellen in the central roles, and True Identity – a crime caper in which Lenny Henry’s character Miles lands the role of understudy to James Earl Jones (playing himself) in
    a production of Othello.

  • [21] However, Jyotsna Singh wrote that the opposition of Brabantio to Desdemona marrying Othello – a respected and honoured general – cannot make sense except in racial terms,
    citing the scene where Brabantio accuses Othello of using witchcraft to make his daughter fall in love with him, saying it is “unnatural” for Desdemona to desire Othello’s “sooty bosom”.

  • [73] A “singular and idiosyncratic”[74] performance of a white actor in the central role was Jude Kelly’s “photonegative” production for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in
    Washington, D.C. in 1997, in which Patrick Stewart played Othello as white, while almost all other speaking parts were played by actors of African descent.

  • The first professional acting appearance by a woman on the English stage was that of Desdemona in Othello on 8th December 1660, although history does not record who took the

  • [93] This plot is also shared by the very first Othello-influenced film: the 18-minute Danish 1911 Desdemona.

  • [12] An English translation by John Pory appeared in 1600 under the title A Geographical Historie of Africa, Written in Arabicke and Italian by Iohn Leo a More… in which
    form Shakespeare may have seen it and reworked hints[further explanation needed] in creating the character of Othello.

  • [92] Carnival, Men Are Not Gods and A Double Life all feature the plot of an actor playing the title role in Shakespeare’s Othello developing murderous jealousy for their

  • [101] The director saw his film as an opposite of Welles’: where Welles began his film with a sequence from the end of the story, highlighting fate, Yutkevitch began with
    his Othello’s back-story, thereby highlighting his characters’ free will.

  • [22] Singh argued that, since people with dark complexions are common in the Mediterranean area, a Venetian senator like Brabantio being opposed to Desdemona marrying Othello
    for merely being swarthy makes no sense, and that the character of Othello was intended to be black.

  • [15] Although characters described as “Moors” appear in two other Shakespeare plays (Titus Andronicus and The Merchant of Venice), such characters were a rarity in contemporary
    theatre, and it was unknown for them to take centre stage.

  • [64] Margaret Webster’s 1943 Broadway production was considered a theatrical landmark, with Robeson (in the words of Howard Barnes) “making the Moor the great and terrible
    figure of tragedy which he has so rarely been on the stage.

  • [26] Regardless of what Shakespeare intended by calling Othello a “Moor” – whether he meant that Othello was a Muslim or a black man or both – in the 19th century and much
    of the 20th century, many critics tended to see the tragedy in racial terms, seeing interracial marriages as “aberrations” that could end badly.

  • When Ellen Terry played Desdemona she commented on how much Booth’s style helped her: “It is difficult to preserve the simple, heroic blindness of Desdemona to the fact that
    her lord mistrusts her, if her lord is raving and stamping under her nose.

  • [49] Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Othello was regarded as the most demanding of Shakespeare’s roles: it is considered a part of theatre legend that
    Edmund Kean collapsed while playing the role, and died two months after.

  • [36] The title role was originally played by Richard Burbage, whose eulogies reveal that he was admired in the role.

  • Scenes in the final movie were sometimes spliced together from one actor filmed in Italy in one year, and another actor filmed in Morocco the next.

  • The effect to modern audiences is (in the words of Daniel Rosenthal) “laughably over-the-top”[105] – in keeping with its nature as a filmed stage performance, rather than
    a performance designed for the screen.

  • [72] Willard White in 1989 was the first black actor to play Othello at Stratford since Paul Robeson thirty years earlier.

  • [102] Laurence Olivier said that the role of Othello demanded “enormously big”[103] acting, and he incorporated what The Spectator described as his “outsize, elaborate, overwhelming”[104]
    performance into the film of his National Theatre production.

  • [55] Salvini always played the role in Italian, even when acting alongside a company performing in English.

  • [32] The hero[edit] There have been many differing views on the character of Othello over the years.

  • Othello explains that, while he was invited to Brabantio’s home, Desdemona became enamoured of him for the sad and compelling stories he told of his life before Venice, not
    because of any witchcraft.

  • [66] Earle Hyman saw the production numerous times when he was 17 and later recalled “this tremendous excitement – the first African-American onstage to be playing this role
    … to all the blacks, he represented us.

  • [112] The overall effect was to create, in Douglas Brode’s words “the tragedy of Iago” – a performance in which Iago’s dominance is such that Othello is a foil to him, not
    the other way around.

  • “[67] The American actor William Marshall performed the title role in at least six productions.

  • There are those who also take a less critical approach to the character of Othello such as William Hazlitt, who said: “the nature of the Moor is noble … but his blood is
    of the most inflammable kind”.

  • He was first played by a black man on the London stage in 1833 by the most important of the nineteenth-century Othellos, the African American Ira Aldridge who had been forced
    to leave his home country to make his career.

  • The first certainly known performance occurred on 1 November 1604, at Whitehall Palace in London, being mentioned in a Revels account on “Hallamas Day, being the first of
    Nouembar”, 1604, when “the Kings Maiesties plaiers” performed “A Play in the Banketinge house at Whit Hall Called The Moor of Venis”.

  • While Shakespeare’s play was written only a few years afterwards, Honigmann questions the view that ben Messaoud himself was a significant influence on it.

  • [30] Many critics have noted references to demonic possession throughout the play, especially in relation to Othello’s seizure, a phenomenon often associated with possession
    in the popular consciousness of the day.

  • [47] 19th Century[edit] Paul Robeson’s iconic performance (see 20th Century, below) was not the first professional performance of the title role by a black actor: the first
    known is James Hewlett at the African Grove Theatre, New York, in 1822.

  • [52] It was also Kean who initiated the so-called “Bronze Age of Othello” by insisting that “it was a gross error to make Othello either a negro or a black”[53] and thereby
    commencing a stage tradition of using lighter makeup rather than blackface.

  • [107] The last of the screen versions to portray Othello in blackface was Jonathan Miller’s for the BBC Television Shakespeare series, with Anthony Hopkins in the title role.

  • [50] Leigh Hunt saw Kean’s Othello in 1819, describing his performance in The Examiner as “the masterpiece of the living stage”.

  • His Othello was called by Harold Hobson of the Sunday Times “the best Othello of our time”,[68] continuing: … nobler than Tearle, more martial than Gielgud, more poetic
    than Valk.

  • [13] Cinthio’s “Moor” is the model for Shakespeare’s Othello, but some researchers believe the poet also took inspiration from the several Moorish delegations from Morocco
    to Elizabethan England circa 1600.

  • [3] Kerrigan suggests that the 1623 Folio version of Othello and a number of other plays may have been cleaned up relative to the Quarto to conform with the 1606 Act to Restrain
    Abuses, which made it an offence “in any Stage-play, Interlude, Shew, Maygame, or Pageant, iestingly [jestingly], and prophanely [to] speake, or vse the holy Name of God, or of Christ Iesus, or of the holy Ghost, or of the Trinitie”.

  • [63] Robeson had previously played the role in London in 1930 with a cast including Peggy Ashcroft, Sybil Thorndike and Ralph Richardson, and would later take the role for
    the RSC in 1959 at Stratford-Upon-Avon.

  • In My Life in Art, Stanislavski recalls Salvini’s scene before the Senate, saying that the actor “grasped all of us in his palm, and held us there as if we were ants or flies”.

  • The first page of Othello from the First Folio, printed in 1623 One year later, the play was included among the plays in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s collected plays.

  • Othello (full title: The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice) is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare, probably in 1603.

  • Othello proceeds to make Desdemona’s life miserable and strikes her in front of visiting Venetian nobles.

  • Conversely, many scholars have seen Iago as the anti-hero of the piece.

  • [27] Given this view of Othello, the play became especially controversial in apartheid-era South Africa where interracial marriages were banned and performances of Othello
    were discouraged.

  • [87][88][89][90][91] Screen[edit] Othello has influenced many film makers, and often the results are adaptations, rather than performances of Shakespeare’s text.

  • [22] Michael Neill, editor of an Oxford edition, notes that the earliest critical references to Othello’s colour (Thomas Rymer’s 1693 critique of the play, and the 1709 engraving
    in Nicholas Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare) assume him to be Sub-Saharan, while the earliest known North African interpretation was not until Edmund Kean’s production of 1814.

  • A.C. Bradley calls Othello the “most romantic of all of Shakespeare’s heroes” (by “hero” Bradley means protagonist) and “the greatest poet of them all”.

  • [48] And Hewlett’s protégé Ira Aldridge played many Shakespearean roles across Europe for forty years, including Othello at the Royalty Theatre, London, in 1825.

  • [95] And Richard Eyre’s Stage Beauty depicts a restoration performance of the play.

  • Later, Bianca accuses Cassio of giving her a second-hand gift which he had received from another lover.

  • [80][81] In June 2016, baritone and actor David Serero played the title role in a Moroccan adaptation featuring Judeo-Arabic songs and Verdi’s opera version in New York.

  • [8] While supplying the source of the plot, the book offered nothing of the sense of place of Venice or Cyprus.

  • [62] The most significant theatre production in wartime America featured Paul Robeson as Othello.

  • [41] These patents stated that “all the women’s parts to be acted in either of the said two companies for the time to come my be performed by women.”

  • [82][83] “Othello” Chechnya National theatre Director Roman Markha (2021) In the fall of 2016, David Oyelowo starred and Daniel Craig appeared in a modern production of Othello
    at the New York Theatre Workshop Off-Broadway.

  • From his first entry, slender and magnificently tall, framed in a high Byzantine arch, clad in white samite, mystic, wonderful, a figure of Arabian romance and grace, to his
    last plunging of the knife into his stomach, Mr Marshall rode without faltering the play’s enormous rhetoric, and at the end the house rose to him.

  • [46] The first professional performances of the play in North America are likely to have been those of the Hallam Company.

  • [58] Booth, in complete contrast, played Othello as a restrained gentleman.

  • The story revolves around two characters, Othello and Iago.

  • [99] Sergei Yutkevich’s Russian film, with a screenplay by Boris Pasternak was an attempt to make Shakespeare accessible to “the working man”.

  • Plot Act I[edit] Roderigo, a wealthy and dissolute gentleman, complains to his friend Iago, an ensign, that Iago has not told him about the recent secret marriage between
    Desdemona, the daughter of Brabantio, a senator, and Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army.

  • [85] The production transferred to Melbourne, Australia with another Māori actor, Regan Taylor, taking over the title role.

  • W. H. Auden, for example, observed that “any consideration of [the play] must be primarily occupied, not with its official hero, but with its villain”.

  • Iago, still in the room, takes note of Brabantio’s remark.

  • [76] In summer 2013, the Royal National Theatre produced the play with Adrian Lester in the title role and Rory Kinnear as Iago.

  • White actors continued to dominate the role until the 1980s.

  • [106] Subsequent critics have been less sympathetic to Olivier’s performance than his contemporary audience had been, tending to read it as racist.

  • Iago goads Cassio on to talk about his affair with Bianca, a local courtesan, but whispers her name so quietly that Othello believes the two men are talking about Desdemona.

  • Due to its enduring themes of passion, jealousy, and race, Othello is still topical and popular and is widely performed, with numerous adaptations.


Works Cited

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• Except where otherwise stated, references to
other works by Shakespeare are to Wells, Stanley and Taylor, Gary (Eds.) “The Oxford Shakespeare – The Complete Works” Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 2005.

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Hoenselaars, Ton “Shakespeare and Translation” in Wells, Stanley and Orlin, Lena Cowen (Eds.) “An Oxford Guide: Shakespeare” Oxford University Press, 2003 pp.645-657 at p.649
134. ^ A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 4 Scene 1 Lines 116-117.
135. ^
Othello 1.3.129-170.
136. ^ Sanders 2007 pp.17-18.
137. ^ Sanders 2007 p.154 and pp.171-172.
138. ^ Buhler, Stephen M., “Musical Shakespeares: Attending to Ophelia, Juliet, and Desdemona” in Shaughnessy, Robert (ed.) “The Cambridge Companion
to Shakespeare and Popular Culture”, Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp.150-174, at pp.171-172.
139. ^ Gillies, p.272.
140. ^ Gillies, pp.277-278.
141. ^ Lanier, 2002, pp.135-136
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