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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: March ::
White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0586  Monday, 27 March 2000.

From:           Benjamin Sher <
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Date:           Thursday, 23 Mar 2000 04:00:22 -0600
Subject:        White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO

Dear friends:

There have been, I am sure, many all-black performances of Othello, from
local black high schools up to the great performances of the Harlem
Shakespeare festivals during the 20's and 30's.

How does an all-black performance of Othello isolate Othello, the
protagonist, from the hostile white, European, Venetian world that
despises his race but needs him as their savior? The traditional black
Othello is set off powerfully in an all-white performance. His being
black, that is, physically DIFFERENT from those amongs whom he live,
serves and saves, makes us acutely aware, theatrically and otherwise, of
his alien status as a Christianized pagan in a European world. But how
would and how has an all-black cast handled this? Would they select a
white actor to play Othello?

If not, how has this problem been dealt with in the past and in the
present, during the Harlem Renaissance days, when black actors were,
apparently, not welcome in white theaters, during the Civil Rights
movement of the 60's and today in an age of great black confidence,
cultural independence and even separatism?

What are the moral, psychological and historical repercussions of an
all-black performance of OTHELLO with a "non-black" Othello as
protagonist? How does an all-black cast select ITS Othello for the


P. S. As a Jew, I cannot help but wonder whether the same question might
not be asked about a performance of The Merchant of Venice by an
all-Jewish cast? But let's concentrate on Othello, please.

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