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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: March ::
Re: Black Characters on Shakespeare's Stage
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0195.  Friday, 10 March 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Helen Ostovich <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 11:27:50 +0001 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0184 Qs: Black Characters on Sh's Stage
 
(2)     From:   Matthew Henerson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 09:09:20 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0184  Qs: Black Characters on Sh's Stage
 
(3)     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 18:04:10 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0189 Re: Black Characters on Sh's Stage and Blackfac
 
(4)     From:   Jean Peterson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 17:51:44 -0500
        Subj:   Othello & Race
 
(5)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 09 Mar 1995 23:12:34 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0189 Black Characters on Sh's Stage and Blackface
 
(6)     From:   Dan T. M. How <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 21:52:21 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0189  Black Characters on Sh's Stage and Blackface
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Ostovich <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 11:27:50 +0001 (EST)
Subject: 6.0184 Qs: Black Characters on Sh's Stage
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0184 Qs: Black Characters on Sh's Stage
 
My understanding of how the black characters were played is derived from
Jonson's Masque of Blackness, in which the court performers put on black face
and body makeup.
 
Helen Ostovich
McMaster University
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matthew Henerson <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 09:09:20 -0800
Subject: 6.0184  Qs: Black Characters on Sh's Stage
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0184  Qs: Black Characters on Sh's Stage
 
To Caroline Gebhard:
 
I have never been involved with a production of *Othello*, so I've never had a
chance to check the truth of this, but I have heard that American Actor's
Equity will not allow a theater to hire a white actor to play Othello in
blackface.  I think a theater can petition the union if the artistic
administration wants to tweak the play in some way (all-black cast with white
Othello etc.), and I know that Chicano, Pakistani, and Native American actors
have played it, but I believe the ethnicity of the role is protected by AEA.
If this rule is indeed on the books, I don't know when it came into effect.
Nor do I know how other acting unions in other countries deal with the
question.  There was a white Othello in England (Paul Scofield at the RNT) as
recently as 1980, and Ben Kingsley played it for the RSC in 1989, but I think
he is half-Indian.  I am sorry that this information is not more reliable.
Perhaps somebody else can confirm or deny some of what I've said.
 
Matt Henerson
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 18:04:10 GMT
Subject: 6.0189 Re: Black Characters on Sh's Stage and Blackfac
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0189 Re: Black Characters on Sh's Stage and Blackfac
 
A pedantic correction to Melissa Aaron's note. 'The Masque of Queens' was
performed in 1609, and did not involve black make-up; the 'Masque of
Blackness', performed by Queen Anne and other noble ladies did, but it was
performed in 1605, not 1604.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jean Peterson <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 17:51:44 -0500
Subject:        Othello & Race
 
One very interesting production of Othello (at one of the fringe theaters on
the outskirts of London--maybe it was in Greenwhich, and around 1989?) cast
black actors as both Othello and Iago (Emilia was also black).  But Othello was
a "white man's black man"--light-skinned and caucasian-featured, a real
poster-boy for assimilation, while Iago was much darker and his features more
African.  The contrast emphasized the operation of internalized racism and
"colonial" mentality--Othello was duped into thinking himself equal with the
lily-white senate and Iago's superior (demonstrated through tone of voice and
body language--he treated Iago like a lackey); Othello didn't see how he
himself was being used.  The population of Cyprus, for example, was
dark-skinned and hostile to the Venetians, and sending Othello to calm the
island down was an act of political cynicism to which Othello was oblivious.
Cassio's drunk scene was used effectively to demonstrate the tensions brewing
on the island and in the ranks (his sneering put-downs to Iago took on a nasty
edge that the Cyprians saw and resented)  And the production seemed to suggest
that internalized racism was one of Iago's nameless motives as well--Othello's
marriage to a white woman seemed to arouse in Iago a fearful combination of
disgust, fury, envy and wish to punish...
 
It was powerfully, effectively done.
 
Jean Peterson
Bucknell University
 
[In 1990, The Shakespeare Theatre produced an *Othello*, directed by Harold
Scott, with Avery Brooks as Othello, Andre Braugher as Iago, Fran Dorn as
Emilia, and Jordan Baker as Desdemona that sounds much like the production Jean
Peterson describes above.  As I recall, the production was originally done for
Yale Rep in 1989. --HMC]
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 09 Mar 1995 23:12:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0189 Black Characters on Sh's Stage and Blackface
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0189 Black Characters on Sh's Stage and Blackface
 
Gabriel Egan claims to be confident that there were no black actors on the
sixteenth century English stage. May I ask why? Assuming there were no black
sharers, is it impossible that there were no black hired actors? (There were
black cowboys!)
 
How confident can we be about the color barrier in, say, the 1590s?
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dan T. M. How <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Mar 1995 21:52:21 -0800
Subject: 6.0189  Black Characters on Sh's Stage and Blackface
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0189  Black Characters on Sh's Stage and Blackface
 
Here's a thought...any chance there was an actual African-American in
Shakespeare's troupe?
 

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