Monday, February 1, 2021

Paul Robeson as Othello

Laurence Olivier, a white British actor played Shakespeare's Othello, an African, onscreen in 1965, but back in 1930, African American actor Paul Robeson played Othello onstage in London.

Portrait of Paul Robeson as Othello

                                                         Laurence Olivier as Othello

Here are some interesting facts about Paul Robeson's performance that I thought would be fascinating to share. This is from American Treasures of the Library of Congress:

A leading British Shakespearean critic, John Dover Wilson, called the performance of Paul Robeson the most notable Othello of the twentieth century.
With Peggy Ashcroft

The son of an ex-slave,Robeson became an All-American football hero as well as an actor and singer. He first played Othello in London in 1930, with noted British actress Peggy Ashcroft (1907-1991) as Desdemona. As the first time since the 1860s that a black actor had played the title role, the production marked a turning point that opened the way for other blacks to play the part. 
With Jose Ferrer and Uta Hagen

In 1943, Robeson played Othello in New York in a production directed by Margaret Webster and starring Uta Hagen (1919-2004) as Desdemona and her husband Jose Ferrer as Iago. According to the New York Times, Robeson "gave to the role a majesty and power that had seldom if ever been seen on the American stage. The performance won Robeson the 1944 Donalson Award (a forerunner of the Tony). 

After running on Broadway for 296 performances, longer than any previous Shakespeare play, the production made a lengthy and triumphant North American tour.

Robeson was truly a great actor, but I'm sorry to say I've only seen him in just a bit of The Emperor Jones when it was on TV one time. Have you ever seen any of his movies?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 


William Kendall said...

I am familiar with his name, but have never seen any of his work. The only version of Othello I've ever seen was the mid-90s version with Laurence Fishburne in the title role and Kenneth Branagh as Iago.

Maria McKenzie said...

I have never seen the Laurence Fishburne version, but I'd like to!