Othello (The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice) is a tragedy by
William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603. It is
based on the story Un Capitano Moro ("A
Moorish Captain") by Cinthio,
a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565. The story
revolves around its two central characters: Othello, a
in the Venetian army and his unfaithful ensign, Iago. Given its varied
and enduring themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and
Othello is still often performed in professional and
community theatre alike, and has been the source for numerous
operatic, film, and literary adaptations.
2.1 Act I
2.2 Act II
2.3 Act III
2.4 Act IV
2.5 Act V
3 Cinthio source
4 Date and context
Iago versus Othello
5.3 Religious and philosophical
5.4 The hero
6 Performance history
6.1 Pre-20th century
6.2 20th century
6.3 21st century
7 Adaptations and cultural references
9 External links
Othello – General in the Venetian military
Desdemona – Othello's wife; daughter of Brabantio
Iago – Othello's trusted, but jealous and traitorous ensign
Cassio – Othello's loyal and most beloved captain
Bianca – Cassio's lover
Emilia – Iago's wife and Desdemona's maidservant
Brabantio – Venetian senator and Desdemona's father (can also be
Roderigo – dissolute Venetian, in love with Desdemona
Doge of Venice
Gratiano – Brabantio's brother
Lodovico – Brabantio's kinsman and Desdemona's cousin
Montano – Othello's Venetian predecessor in the government of Cyprus
Clown – servant
Officers, Gentlemen, Messenger, Herald, Attendants, Musicians, etc.
Desdemona and Othello, by Antonio Muñoz Degrain
Othello costume – illustration by Percy Anderson for Costume
Fanciful, Historical and Theatrical, 1906
Roderigo, a wealthy and dissolute gentleman, complains to his friend
Iago, an ensign, that
Iago has not told him about the secret marriage
between Desdemona, the daughter of a Senator named Brabantio, and
Moorish general in the Venetian army.
Roderigo is upset
because he loves
Desdemona and had asked her father for her hand in
Othello for promoting a younger man named Cassio above him,
Iago considers less capable a soldier than himself, and tells
Roderigo that he plans to use
Othello for his own advantage. Iago
Roderigo to wake
Brabantio and tell him about his daughter's
Iago sneaks away to find
Othello and warns him
Brabantio is coming for him.
Brabantio, provoked by Roderigo, is enraged and will not rest until he
has beheaded Othello, but he finds Othello's residence full of the
Duke of Venice's guards, who prevent violence. News has arrived in
Venice that the Turks are going to attack Cyprus; therefore
summoned to advise the senators.
Brabantio has no option but to
Othello to the Duke's residence, where he accuses
Desdemona by witchcraft.
Othello defends himself before the Duke of Venice, Brabantio's kinsmen
Lodovico and Gratiano, and various senators.
Othello explains that
Desdemona became enamoured of him for the sad and compelling stories
he told of his life before Venice, not because of any witchcraft. The
senate is satisfied, once
Desdemona confirms that she loves Othello,
Brabantio leaves saying that
Desdemona will betray Othello: "Look
to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:/She has deceived her father,
and may thee," (Act I, Sc 3). Iago, still in the room, takes note of
Brabantio's remark. By order of the Duke,
Othello leaves Venice to
command the Venetian armies against invading Turks on the island of
Cyprus, accompanied by his new wife, his new lieutenant Cassio, his
ensign Iago, and Iago's wife, Emilia, as Desdemona's attendant.
The party arrives in
Cyprus to find that a storm has destroyed the
Othello orders a general celebration and leaves to
consummate his marriage with Desdemona. In his absence,
Cassio drunk, and then persuades
Roderigo to draw Cassio into a fight.
Montano tries to calm an angry and drunk Cassio down, but end up
fighting one another. Montano is injured in the fight. Othello
reenters and questions the men as to what happened.
Cassio for the disturbance and strips him of his rank. Cassio is
Iago persuades Cassio to importune
Desdemona to convince
her husband to reinstate Cassio.
Iago now persuades
Othello to be suspicious of Cassio and Desdemona.
Desdemona drops a handkerchief (the first gift given to her by
Othello), Emilia finds it, and gives it to her husband Iago, at his
request, unaware of what he plans to do with it.
Othello reenters and
Iago for the death of
Desdemona and Cassio, after which he
Iago his lieutenant. Act III, scene iii is considered to be the
turning point of the play as it is the scene in which Iago
successfully sows the seeds of doubt in Othello's mind, inevitably
sealing Othello's fate.
Iago plants the handkerchief in Cassio's lodgings, then tells Othello
to watch Cassio's reactions while
Iago questions him.
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. Later, Bianca accuses Cassio of giving her a
second-hand gift which he had received from another lover. Othello
sees this, and
Iago convinces him that Cassio received the
handkerchief from Desdemona.
Enraged and hurt,
Othello resolves to kill his wife and told
Othello proceeds to make Desdemona's life miserable,
hitting her in front of visiting Venetian nobles. Meanwhile, Roderigo
complains that he has received no results from
Iago in return for his
money and efforts to win Desdemona, but
Iago convinces him to kill
Painting by William Salter of
Othello weeping over Desdemona's body.
Oil on canvas, ca. 1857.
Roderigo, having been manipulated by Iago, attacks Cassio in the
street after Cassio leaves Bianca's lodgings. Cassio wounds Roderigo.
During the scuffle,
Iago comes from behind Cassio and badly cuts his
leg. In the darkness,
Iago manages to hide his identity, and when
Lodovico and Gratiano hear Cassio's cries for help,
Iago joins them.
When Cassio identifies
Roderigo as one of his attackers,
Roderigo to stop him revealing the plot.
Iago then accuses
Bianca of the failed conspiracy to kill Cassio.
Othello confronts Desdemona, and then strangles her to death in their
bed. When Emilia arrives,
Desdemona of adultery.
Emilia calls for help. The former governor Montano arrives, with
Gratiano and Iago. When
Othello mentions the handkerchief as proof,
Emilia realizes what her husband
Iago has done, and she exposes him,
whereupon he kills her. Othello, belatedly realising Desdemona's
Iago but not fatally, saying that he would rather
Iago live the rest of his life in pain.
Iago refuses to explain his motives, vowing to remain silent from that
moment on. Lodovico apprehends both
Othello for the murders
Roderigo and Emilia, but
Othello commits suicide. Lodovico appoints
Cassio Othello's successor and exhorts Cassio to punish
Othello is an adaptation of the Italian writer Cinthio's tale "Un
Capitano Moro" ("A
Moorish Captain") from his Gli Hecatommithi (1565),
a collection of one hundred tales in the style of Giovanni Boccaccio's
Decameron. No English translation of Cinthio was available in
Shakespeare's lifetime, and verbal echoes in
Othello are closer to the
Italian original than to Gabriel Chappuy's 1584 French translation.
Cinthio's tale may have been based on an actual incident occurring in
Venice about 1508. It also resembles an incident described in the
earlier tale of "The Three Apples", one of the stories narrated in the
One Thousand and One Nights
One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights).
Desdemona is the only
named character in Cinthio's tale, with his few other characters
identified only as the "Moor", the "Squadron Leader", the "Ensign",
and the "Ensign's Wife" (corresponding to the play's Othello, Cassio,
Iago and Emilia). Cinthio drew a moral (which he placed in the mouth
of Desdemona) that it is unwise for European women to marry the
temperamental men of other nations. Cinthio's tale has been
described as a "partly racist warning" about the dangers of
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
Elizabethan England circa 1600.
Shakespeare closely followed Cinthio's tale in composing
Othello, he departed from it in some details. Brabantio, Roderigo, and
several minor characters are not found in Cinthio, for example, and
Shakespeare's Emilia takes part in the handkerchief mischief while her
counterpart in Cinthio does not. Unlike in Othello, in Cinthio, the
"Ensign" (the play's Iago) lusts after
Desdemona and is spurred to
revenge when she rejects him. Shakespeare's opening scenes are unique
to his tragedy, as is the tender scene between Emilia and
the lady prepares for bed. Shakespeare's most striking departure from
Cinthio is the manner of his heroine's death. In Shakespeare, Othello
suffocates Desdemona, but in Cinthio, the "Moor" commissions the
"Ensign" to bludgeon his wife to death with a sand-filled stocking.
Cinthio describes each gruesome blow, and, when the lady is dead, the
"Ensign" and the "Moor" place her lifeless body upon her bed, smash
her skull, and cause the cracked ceiling above the bed to collapse
upon her, giving the impression its falling rafters caused her death.
In Cinthio, the two murderers escape detection. The "Moor" then misses
Desdemona greatly, and comes to loathe the sight of the "Ensign". He
demotes him, and refuses to have him in his company. The "Ensign" then
seeks revenge by disclosing to the "Squadron Leader" the "Moor's"
involvement in Desdemona's death. The two depart
Cyprus for Venice,
and denounce the "Moor" to the Venetian Seignory; he is arrested,
taken to Venice, and tortured. He refuses to admit his guilt and is
condemned to exile. Desdemona's relatives eventually find and kill
him. The "Ensign", however, continues to escape detection in
Desdemona's death, but engages in other crimes while in Venice. He is
arrested and dies after being tortured. Cinthio's "Ensign's Wife" (the
play's Emilia), survives her husband's death to tell her story.
While supplying the source of the plot, the book offered nothing of
the sense of place of Venice or Cyprus. For knowledge of this,
Shakespeare may have used Gasparo Contarini's The Commonwealth and
Government of Venice, in Lewes Lewkenor's 1599 translation.
Date and context
Title page of the first quarto (1622)
The earliest mention of the play is found in a 1604 Revels Office
account, which records that on "Hallamas Day, being the first of
Nouembar ... the Kings Maiesties plaiers" performed "A Play in the
Banketinghouse at Whit Hall Called The Moor of Venis." The work is
attributed to "Shaxberd." The Revels account was first printed by
Peter Cunningham in 1842, and, while its authenticity was once
challenged, is now regarded as genuine (as authenticated by A.E. Stamp
in 1930). Based on its style, the play is usually dated 1603 or
1604, but arguments have been made for dates as early as 1601 or
The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 6
October 1621, by Thomas Walkley, and was first published in quarto
format by him in 1622:
"Tragœdy of Othello, The Moore of Venice. As it hath beene diuerse
times acted at the Globe, and at the Black-Friers, by his Maiesties
Seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. London. Printed by N. O.
[Nicholas Okes] for Thomas Walkley, and are to be sold at his shop, at
the Eagle and Child, in Brittans Bursse, 1622."
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. However, the version in the
Folio is rather different in length, and in wording: as the editors of
the Folger edition explain: "The Folio play has about 160 lines that
do not appear in the Quarto. Some of these cluster together in quite
extensive passages. The Folio also lacks a scattering of about a dozen
lines or part-lines that are to be found in the Quarto. These two
versions also differ from each other in their readings of numerous
words. Scholars differ in their explanation of these differences,
and no consensus has emerged. 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, and prophanely [to]
speake, or vse the holy Name of God, or of Christ Iesus, or of the
holy Ghost, or of the Trinitie'. This is not incompatible with the
suggestion that the
Quarto is based on an early version of the play,
whilst the Folio represents Shakespeare's revised version. It may
also be that the
Quarto was cut in the printing house to meet a fixed
number of pages. Most modern editions are based on the longer Folio
version, but often incorporate
Quarto readings of words when the Folio
text appears to be in error. Quartos were also published in 1630,
1655, 1681, 1695, 1699 and 1705.
Iago versus Othello
Although its title suggests that the tragedy belongs primarily to
Iago plays an important role in the plot. He reflects the
archetypal villain, and has the biggest share of the dialogue. In
Othello, it is
Iago who manipulates all other characters at will,
controlling their movements and trapping them in an intricate net of
lies. He achieves this by getting close to all characters and playing
on their weaknesses while they refer to him as "honest" Iago, thus
furthering his control over the characters. A. C. Bradley, and more
recently Harold Bloom, have been major advocates of this
interpretation. Other critics, most notably in the later twentieth
century (after F. R. Leavis), have focused on Othello.
Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud
Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moorish
ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I in 1600, sometimes suggested as the
inspiration for Othello.
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.
There is no consensus over Othello's ethnic origin. E. A. J.
Honigmann, the editor of the
Arden Shakespeare edition, concluded that
Othello's race is ambiguous. "Renaissance representations of the Moor
were vague, varied, inconsistent, and contradictory. As critics have
established, the term 'Moor' referred to dark-skinned people in
general, used interchangeably with terms such as 'African', 'Somali',
'Ethiopian', 'Negro', 'Arab', 'Berber', and even 'Indian' to designate
a figure from Africa (or beyond)." Various uses of the word
black (for example, "Haply for I am black") are insufficient evidence
for any accurate racial classification, Honigmann argues, since black
could simply mean swarthy to Elizabethans.
Iago twice uses the word
Barbary or Barbarian to refer to Othello, seemingly referring to the
Barbary coast inhabited by Berbers.
thicklips", which seems to refer to Sub-Saharan African physiognomy,
but Honigmann counters that, as these comments are all intended as
insults by the characters, they need not be taken literally.
Michael Neill, editor of The Oxford Shakespeare, 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. Honigmann discusses the view that Abd
el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun,
Moorish ambassador of the
Arab King of
Barbary (Morocco) to Queen Elizabeth I in 1600, was one
inspiration for Othello. He stayed with his retinue in London for
several months and occasioned much discussion. 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.
William Mulready portrays African-American actor Ira Aldridge
as Othello. The Walters Art Museum.
Othello is referred to as a "
Barbary horse" (1.1.113) and a
"lascivious Moor" (1.1.127). In 3.3 he denounces Desdemona's supposed
sin as being "black as mine own face". Desdemona's physical whiteness
is otherwise presented in opposition to Othello's dark skin: 5.2 "that
whiter skin of hers than snow".
Brabantio that "an old
black ram / is tupping your white ewe" (1.1.88). In Elizabethan
discourse, the word "black" could suggest various concepts that
extended beyond the physical colour of skin, including a wide range of
Othello was frequently performed as an Arab Moor during the 19th
century. He was first played by a black man on the London stage in
1833 by the most important of the nineteenth-century Othellos, the
Ira Aldridge who had been forced to leave his home
country to make his career.
The first major screen production casting a black actor as
not come until 1995, with
Laurence Fishburne opposite Kenneth
Branagh's Iago. In the past,
Othello would often have been
portrayed by a white actor in blackface or in a black mask: more
recent actors who chose to 'black up' include
Ralph Richardson (1937);
John Gielgud (1961);
Laurence Olivier (1964);
Anthony Hopkins (1981),
Orson Welles (1952). Ground-breaking black American actor Paul
Robeson played the role in three different productions between 1930
and 1959. The casting of the role comes with a political subtext.
Patrick Stewart played the role alongside an otherwise all-black cast
Shakespeare Theatre Company's 1997 staging of the play
and Thomas Thieme, also white, played
Othello in a 2007 Munich
Kammerspiele staging at the Royal
Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford.
Michael Gambon also took the role in 1980 and 1991; their performances
were critically acclaimed. Carlo Rota, of Mediterranean
(British Italian) heritage, played the character on Canadian
television in 2008.
The American Revels 1979 production shows Clayton Corbin and Caryn
Othello and Desdemona; in the second plate, West is seen with
Marie Goodman Hunter, an African American actress, as Emilia.
The race of the title role is often seen as Shakespeare's way of
isolating the character, culturally as well as visually, from the
Venetian nobles and officers, and the isolation may seem more genuine
when a black actor takes the role. But questions of race may not boil
down to a simple decision of casting a single role. In 1979, Keith
Fowler’s production of
Othello mixed the races throughout the
company. Produced by the American Revels Company at the Empire Theater
(renamed the November Theater in 2011) in Richmond, Virginia, this
production starred African American actor Clayton Corbin in the title
role, with Henry K. Bal, a Hawaiian actor of mixed ethnicity, playing
Iago. Othello’s army was composed of both black and white
mercenaries. Iago’s wife, Emilia was played by the popular black
actress, Marie Goodman Hunter. The 2016 production at the New York
Theatre Workshop, directed by Sam Gold, also effectively used a
mixed-race cast, starring English actors
David Oyelowo as
Daniel Craig as Iago.
Desdemona is played by American actress Rachel
Brosnahan, Cassio is played by Finn Wittrock, and Emillia is played by
Marsha Stephanie Blake.
Protestant Reformation of England proclaimed the importance of
pious, controlled behaviour in society, it was the tendency of the
contemporary Englishman to displace society's "undesirable" qualities
of barbarism, treachery, jealousy and libidinousness onto those who
are considered "other". The assumed characteristics of black men,
or "the other", were both instigated and popularised by Renaissance
dramas of the time; for example, the treachery of black men inherent
to George Peele's
The Battle of Alcazar (1588). It has been argued
that it is Othello's "otherness" which makes him so vulnerable to
manipulation. Audiences of the time would expect
Othello to be
insecure about his race and the implied age gap between himself and
Religious and philosophical
The title "Moor" implies a religious "other" of North African or
Middle Eastern descent. Though the actual racial definition of the
term is murky, the implications are religious as well as racial.
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. Thomas M. Vozar, in a 2012 article in Philosophy and
Literature , suggests that the epileptic fit relates to the
mind–body problem and the existence of the soul.
There have been many differing views on the character of
the years. 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". On the other hand, F.R. Leavis describes
Othello as "egotistical". 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".
Poster for an 1884 American production starring Thomas. W. Keene.
Othello possesses an unusually detailed performance record. 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". The play is there attributed to "Shaxberd".
Subsequent performances took place on Monday, 30 April 1610 at the
Globe Theatre, and at Oxford in September 1610. On 22 November
1629, and on 6 May 1635, it played at the Blackfriars Theatre. Othello
was also one of the twenty plays performed by the King's Men during
the winter of 1612, in celebration of the wedding of Princess
Elizabeth and Frederick V, Elector Palatine.
At the start of the Restoration era, on 11 October 1660, Samuel Pepys
saw the play at the Cockpit Theatre.
Nicholas Burt played the lead,
with Charles Hart as Cassio;
Walter Clun won fame for his Iago. Soon
after, on 8 December 1660, Thomas Killigrew's new
King's Company acted
the play at their Vere Street theatre, with
Margaret Hughes as
Desdemona – probably the first time a professional actress appeared
on a public stage in England.
It may be one index of the play's power that
Othello was one of the
very few Shakespearean plays that was never adapted and changed during
the Restoration and the eighteenth century.
Shakespeare regained popularity among nineteenth-century French
Romantics, poet, playwright, and novelist
Alfred de Vigny
Alfred de Vigny created a
French translation of Othello, titled Le More de Venise, which
premiered at the
Comédie-Française on 24 October 1829.
Famous nineteenth-century Othellos included Ira Aldridge, Edmund Kean,
Edwin Forrest, and Tommaso Salvini, and outstanding Iagos were Edwin
Booth and Henry Irving.
Paul Robeson as Othello, photographed by
Carl Van Vechten
Carl Van Vechten (1944)
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Columbia Masterworks Records release of Othello
The 1943 production of Othello, starring
Paul Robeson and Uta Hagen,
holds the record for the most performances of any
ever produced on Broadway.
The most notable American production may be Margaret Webster's 1943
Paul Robeson as
José Ferrer as Iago.
This production was the first ever in America to feature a black actor
Othello with an otherwise all-white cast (there had been
all-black productions of the play before). It ran for 296
performances, almost twice as long as any other Shakespearean play
ever produced on Broadway. Although it was never filmed, it was the
first lengthy performance of a
Shakespeare play released on records,
first on a multi-record 78 RPM set and then on a 3-LP one. Robeson had
first played the role in London in 1931 in a cast that included Peggy
Ralph Richardson as Roderigo, and would
return to it in 1959 at
Stratford on Avon
Stratford on Avon with co-stars Mary Ure, Sam
Wanamaker and Vanessa Redgrave. The critics had mixed reactions to the
"flashy" 1959 production which included mid-western accents and
rock-and roll drumbeats but gave Robeson primarily good reviews.
W. A. Darlington of
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph ranked Robeson's
the best he had ever seen while the Daily Express, which had for
years before published consistently scathing articles about Robeson
for his leftist views, praised his "strong and stately" performance
(though in turn suggested it was a "triumph of presence not
Actors have alternated the roles of
Othello in productions to
stir audience interest since the nineteenth century. Two of the most
notable examples of this role swap were
William Charles Macready
William Charles Macready and
Samuel Phelps at
Drury Lane (1837) and
Richard Burton and John Neville
The Old Vic
The Old Vic (1955). When Edwin Booth's tour of England in 1880 was
not well attended,
Henry Irving invited Booth to alternate the roles
Iago with him in London. The stunt renewed interest in
Booth's tour. James O'Neill also alternated the roles of
Iago with Booth.
The American actor William Marshall performed the title role in at
least six productions. His
Othello was called by
Harold Hobson of the
London Sunday Times "the best
Othello of our time," continuing:
"...nobler than Tearle, more martial than Gielgud, more poetic than
Valk. 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." Marshall
Othello in a jazz musical version, Catch My Soul, with
Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis as Iago, in Los Angeles in 1968. His
captured on record in 1964 with
Jay Robinson as
Iago and on video in
Ron Moody as Iago. The 1982 Broadway staging starred James
Earl Jones as
Christopher Plummer as Iago, who became the
only actor to receive a
Tony Award nomination for a performance in the
Laurence Olivier gave his acclaimed performance of
Othello at the
Royal National Theatre
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. This performance was
recorded complete on LP, and filmed by popular demand in 1965
(according to a biography of Olivier, tickets for the stage production
were notoriously hard to get). The film version still holds the record
for the most Oscar nominations for acting ever given to a Shakespeare
film – Olivier, Finlay,
Maggie Smith (as Desdemona) and Joyce Redman
(as Emilia, Iago's wife) were all nominated for Academy Awards.
Olivier was among the last white actors to be greatly acclaimed as
Othello, although the role continued to be played by such performers
Donald Sinden at the
Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company in 1979–1980, Paul
Scofield at the
Royal National Theatre
Royal National Theatre in 1980,
Anthony Hopkins in the
BBC Television Shakespeare
BBC Television Shakespeare production (1981), and
Michael Gambon in a
stage production at Scarborough directed by
Alan Ayckbourn in 1990.
Gambon had been in Olivier's earlier production. In an interview
Gambon commented "I wasn't even the second gentleman in that. I didn't
have any lines at all. I was at the back like that, standing for an
hour. [It's] what I used to do – I had a metal helmet, I had an
earplug, and we used to listen to The Archers. No one knew. All the
line used to listen to The Archers. And then I went and played Othello
myself at Birmingham Rep I was 27. Olivier sent me a telegram on the
first night. He said, "Copy me." He said, "Do what I used to do."
Olivier used to lower his voice for
Othello so I did mine. He used to
paint the big negro lips on. You couldn't do it today, you'd get shot.
He had the complete negro face. And the hips. I did all that. I copied
him exactly. Except I had a pony tail. I played him as an Arab. I
stuck a pony tail on with a bell on the end of it. I thought that
would be nice. Every time I moved my hair went wild." British
Othello ended with Gambon in 1990, however the Royal
Shakespeare Company didn't run the play at all on the main Stratford
stage until 1999, when
Ray Fearon became the first black British actor
to take the part, the first black man to play
Othello with the RSC
Patrick Stewart took the role of
Othello with the Shakespeare
Theatre Company (Washington, D.C.) in a race-bending performance, in a
"photo negative" production of a white
Othello with an otherwise
all-black cast. Stewart had wanted to play the title role since the
age of 14, so he and director
Jude Kelly inverted the play so Othello
became a comment on a white man entering a black society. The
interpretation of the role is broadening, with theatre companies
Othello as a woman or inverting the gender of the whole cast
to explore gender questions in Shakespeare's text. Companies have also
chosen to share the role between several actors during a
Canadian playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald's 1988 award-winning play
Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is a revision of
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet in which an academic deciphers a cryptic manuscript
she believes to be the original source for the tragedies, and is
transported into the plays themselves.
Othello opened at the
Donmar Warehouse in London on 4 December 2007,
directed by Michael Grandage, with
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Othello, Ewan
McGregor as Iago,
Tom Hiddleston as Cassio,
Kelly Reilly as Desdemona
Michelle Fairley as Emillia. Ejiofor, Hiddleston and Fairley all
received nominations for
Laurence Olivier Awards, with Ejiofor
winning. Stand-up comedian
Lenny Henry played
Othello in 2009 produced
Northern Broadsides in collaboration with West Yorkshire
Playhouse. 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. 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. In 2017, Ben Naylor directed the play for the Pop-up
Auckland , with Māori actor Te Kohe Tuhaka in the title
role, Jasmine Blackborow as
Desdemona and Haakon Smestad as Iago.
The production transferred to Melbourne,
Australia with another Maori
actor, Regan Taylor, taking over the title role.
In September 2013, a Tamil adaptation entitled Othello, the Fall of a
Warrior was directed and produced in
Singapore by Subramanian
Adaptations and cultural references
Othello in popular culture
Othello as a literary character has appeared in many representations
within popular culture over several centuries. There also have been
over a dozen film adaptations of Othello.
^ "Cinthioʹs Tale: The Source of Shakespeareʹs Othello" (PDF).
^ a b c Shakespeare, William. Four Tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King
Lear, Macbeth. Bantam Books, 1988.
^ Young, John G., M.D. "Essay: What Is Creativity?". Adventures in
Creativity: Multimedia Magazine. 1 (2). Archived from the original on
20 August 2008. Retrieved 17 October 2008.
^ "Virgil.org" (PDF). Retrieved 18 August 2013.
^ Shakespeare, William. Othello. Wordsworth Editions. 12. Retrieved
Google Books on 5 November 2010. ISBN 1-85326-018-5,
^ Professor Nabil Matar (April 2004),
Shakespeare and the Elizabethan
Sam Wanamaker Fellowship Lecture, Shakespeare's Globe
Mayor of London
Mayor of London (2006), Muslims in London, pp. 14–15,
Greater London Authority)
^ Bevington, David and Bevington, Kate (translators). "Un Capitano
Moro" in Four Tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. Bantam
Books, 1988. pp. 371–387.
^ McPherson, David (Autumn 1988). "Lewkenor's Venice and Its Sources".
Renaissance Quarterly. University of Chicago Press. 41 (3): 459–466.
^ Bate, Jonathan (2004). "Shakespeare's Islands". In Clayton, Tom; et
Shakespeare and the Mediterranean. University of Delaware Press.
p. 291. ISBN 0-87413-816-7.
^ Sanders, Norman (ed.).
Othello (2003, rev. ed.), New Cambridge
E. A. J. Honigmann
E. A. J. Honigmann (ed),
Othello (1997), Arden Shakespeare, Appendix
1, pp. 344–350.
^ a b c Paul Westine and Barbara Mowat, eds. Othello, Folger
Shakespeare Library edition (New York: WSP, 1993), p. xlv.
^ John Kerrigan, Shakespeare's Binding Language, Oxford University
Press (Oxford & New York: 2016)
^ Paul Westine and Barbara Mowat, eds. Othello, Folger Shakespeare
Library edition (New York: WSP, 1993), pp. xlv–xlvi.
^ Shakespeare, William; Ruffiel, Burton (2005).
Shakespeare). Bloom, Harold. Yale University Press.
^ Bate, Jonathan; Rasmussen, Eric (2009). Othello. Basingstoke,
England: Macmillan. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-230-57621-6.
^ Dickson, Andrew (2016). The Globe Guide to Shakespeare. Profile
Books. pp. 331, 334. ISBN 978-1781256343.
^ Making More of the Moor: Aaron, Othello, and Renaissance
Refashionings of Race. Emily C. Bartels
^ "Moor, n2", The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edtn.
^ E. A. J. Honigmann, ed. Othello. London: Thomas Nelson, 1997, p. 15.
^ Michael Neill, ed.
Othello (Oxford University Press), 2006, pp.
^ Honigmann pp. 2–3.
^ "Othello". Walters Art Museum.
^ Doris Adler, "The Rhetoric of Black and White in Othello"
Shakespeare Quarterly, 25 (1974)
^ Oxford English Dictionary, 'Black', 1c.
^ Dickson, Andrew (2016). The Globe Guide to Shakespeare. Profile
Books. p. 342. ISBN 978-1781256343.
^ a b Cartmell, Deborah (2000) Interpreting
Shakespeare on screen
Palgrave MacMillan pp. 72–77 ISBN 978-0-312-23393-8
^ a b "The Issue of Race and Othello". Curtain up, DC. Retrieved 2 May
^ a b "
William Shakespeare directed by Jude Kelly". The
Shakespeare Theatre Company. Archived from the original on 27 July
2011. Retrieved 20 September 2008.
^ Billington, Michael (5 April 2007). ""Black or white? Casting can be
a grey area" Guardian article. 5 April 2007". Guardian. Retrieved 18
^ Michael Billington (28 April 2006). "Othello'' (Theatre review)
''The Guardian'' Friday 28 April 2006". Guardian. Retrieved 18 August
^ "Othello". Cbc.ca. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
^ Roy Proctor, "’Othello’ is Honest on Bare Stage," Richmond News
Leader," February 10, 1979
^ Jones, Eldred (1971). Othello's Countrymen. Charlottesville: Univ of
^ Note also the character of Aaron the Moor in Shakespeare's play
^ ""Moor, n3", The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edtn".
^ Brownlow, F. W. (1979). "Samuel Harsnett and the Meaning of
Othello's 'Suffocating Streams'". Philological Quarterly. 58:
^ Vozar, Thomas M. (2012). "Body-Mind Aporia in the Seizure of
Othello". Philosophy and Literature. 36 (1): 183–186.
^ Shakespeare, William. Four Tragedies. Bantam Books, 1988.
^ Loomis, Catherine ed. (2002). William Shakespeare: A Documentary
Volume, Vol. 263, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Detroit: Gale,
^ Potter, Lois (2002). Othello:
Shakespeare in performance. Manchester
University Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-7190-2726-0.
^ F. E. Halliday, A
Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964, Baltimore,
Penguin, 1964; pp. 346–347.
^ Duberman, p. 477
^ Duberman, p. 733, notes for pp. 475–478
^ Daily Express, 10 April 1959
^ Jet magazine, 30 June 2003
^ The (London) Independent, 6 July 2003
^ Christgau, Robert. Any Old Way You Choose It,
^ Laurence Olivier, Confessions of an Actor, Simon and Schuster (1982)
^ The Arts Desk – "theartsdesk Q&A: Actor Michael Gambon" – by
Jasper Rees – 25 September 2010–2009 The Arts Desk Ltd. Website by
3B Digital, London, UK.
^ Hugo Rifkind. "The Times 9 February 2004 "Black and white more
show"". Entertainment.timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 18 August
^ "Independent article 25 August 1993. "Edinburgh Festival"".
Independent.co.uk. 25 August 1993. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
^ 5 October 2010 "The Docklands" Archived 27 July 2011 at the Wayback
^ "Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia". Canadiantheatre.com. 10 February
2011. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
Othello Cast & Creative – Lenny Henry".
Othellowestend.com. 11 November 2002. Archived from the original on 19
October 2009. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
Othello – The Voice". Retrieved 2017-09-10.
Othello – Good Reads". Retrieved 2017-09-10.
^ "The Cast". www.popupglobe.co.nz. Pop-up Globe. Archived from the
original on 3 June 2017. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
^ "William Shakespeare's Othello : the fall of a warrior,
19th-22nd September 2013, Goodman Arts Centre". National Library Board
Singapore. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
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