Othello Through the Ages from Shakespeare to Fishburne | History Hit

Othello Through the Ages from Shakespeare to Fishburne

History Hit

01 Nov 2015
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Painting of Othello weeping over Desdemona's body. Oil on canvas, ca. 1857. Credit: William Salter / Commons.

The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ took place on 1 November, 1604.

The performance is mentioned in the accounts of the ‘Master of Revels’. The Master of Revels was in charge of the Revels Office, a department within the royal household responsible for entertainment. The account states:

“By the King’s Majesty’s Players. Hallowmas Day, being the first of November, a play in the banqueting house at Whitehall called The Moor of Venice.”

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The famous role of Desdemona would have been played by a man until the Restoration period when women began to appear on stage.

A production staged in 1660 was accompanied by a prologue written by the playwright Thomas Jordan reassuring the audience that the actress playing Desdemona was not a ‘fallen woman’: “As far from being a whore, As Desdemona injured by the Moor.”

Ira Aldridge became the first black actor to play Othello, in the late nineteenth century. However, he received racist abuse in the press.

During the 1940s the part was played by another black actor, Paul Robeson (pictured), who performed it both in London and in New York.

Scene from “Othello” with Paul Robeson, Theatre Guild production, Broadway, 1943-44. Credit: Library of Congress / Commons.

Many iconic actors have played the part, including Laurence Olivier. In 1995 Laurence Fishburne became the first black actor to portray Othello in a film adaptation.

Header image credit: William Salter / Commons.

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