Addendum to the review of the movie OTHELLO

The following is an addendum to the review of the movie OTHELLO.

Among other actors who have portrayed Othello, this is a partial list of productions since the 1952 Welles movie:

Richard Burton 1953 stage play
James Earl Jones 1955 stage play
John Neville 1956 stage play
John Gielgud 1961 stage play
Laurence Olivier 1965 film
Moses Gunn 1970 stage play
Raul Julia 1979 stage play
Paul Scofield 1980 stage play
Anthony Hopkins 1981 TV movie
Avery Brooks 1985 stage play
Laurence Fishburne 1995 film
Note: Fishburne's film presence is dynamic. His resonant voice is so similar to that of Orson Welles and James Earl Jones
Patrick Stewart 1997 stage play
Suresh Gopi 1997 film India (as Kannan Perumalayan in Kaliyattam)
Mekhi Phifer 2001 film adaption (as Odin in O)
Eamonn Walker 2001 TV movie
Ajay Devgan 2006 film India (as Omkara Shukla in Omkara)
Cyril Nri 2007 stage play
Chiwetel Ejiofor 2008 stage play
Lenny Henry 2009 stage play
Art Malik [Pakistani Muslim] stage play

Other actors having played Othello:
Ira Aldridge
Edwin Booth
Richard Burbage
Richard Burton
Billy Crudup (as Ned Kynaston playing Othello in Stage Beauty)
Johnston Forbes-Robertson
Emil Jannings
Wil Johnson
William Marshall
James O'Neill
Paul Robeson
Tommaso Salvini
Keith Hamilton Cobb
David Serero

More information about actors playing Othello can be found at this webpage:

Regarding Othello's race, I have extracted some of the data from the Wikipedia page found HERE


There is no consensus over Othello's race. 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 similarly ambiguous terms as 'African', "Ethiopian' 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. In 1911, James Welton argued more evidence points to him being Sub-Saharan, though Shakespeare's intention is unknown. He cites Brabantio's description of Othello's "sooty bosom," a racial stereotype during this time, and Othello's contrast between his "begrimed" features and purity of the goddess Diana. He argues that interpretations attempting to change Othello from "black to brown" were due to racial prejudice during Reconstruction in America and notes that Othello is described using similar language to Aaron in Titus Andronicus. Virginia Mason Vaughan suggests that the racial identity of the character of Othello fit more clearly as a man from Sub-Saharan Africa than from North Africa (Barbary) as north Africans were more easily accepted into society. She states that by 1604, accounts of Othello as deriving from further south were not uncommon. She notes Rodrigo's description of Othello having "thick lips" was a racial stereotype used by 16th century explorers for southern Africans. Modern-day readers and theatre directors lean away from a North African Moorish interpretation but Shakespeare's textual references are unclear. Iago twice uses the word 'Barbary' or 'Barbarian' to refer to Othello, seemingly referring to the Barbary coast inhabited by the "tawny" Moors. Roderigo calls Othello 'the thicklips', which seems to refer to European conceptions of 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 edition, 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 a black man, while the earliest known North African interpretation was not until Edmund Kean's production of 1814. Honigmann questions the view that Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moorish ambassador of the Arab King of Barbary 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, and thus might have inspired Shakespeare's play, written only a few years afterwards. The exact date that Othello was written is unknown, though sources indicate that it was written between 1601 and 1610, sometime after the Moorish delegation.

Othello and Iago (1901) Othello is referred to as a "Barbary horse" (1.1.113), a "lascivious Moor" (1.1.127), and "the devil" (1.1.91). In III.III 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; V.II "that whiter skin of hers than snow." Iago tells 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 negative connotations.

Ira Aldridge pioneered the prominence of black actors in the role, beginning in 1825 in London. Othello was also frequently performed as an Arab Moor during the 19th century. In the past, Othello would often have been portrayed by a white actor in blackface. Black American actor Paul Robeson played the role from 1930 to 1959. Recent actors who chose to ‘blacken up’ include Laurence Olivier (1965) and Orson Welles. Black English actor Wil Johnson, known for his roles in Waking the Dead and Emmerdale, played Othello on stage in 2004. Since the 1960s it has become commonplace to cast a black actor in the character of Othello, although the casting of the role now can come with a political subtext. Patrick Stewart took the role in the 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; both played without blackface, their performances critically acclaimed.

The definition of a Moor is a member of a Muslim people of Berber and Arab descent living in Northwest Africa. Moor is also defined as a large open marsh land.

20th-century Othellos:

Paul Robeson and Uta Hagen (1943)
The most notable American production may be Margaret Webster's 1943 staging starring Paul Robeson as Othello and Jose Ferrer as Iago. This production was the first ever in America to feature a black actor playing 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 nearly complete performance of a Shakespeare play released on records. Robeson played Othello in three separate productions between 1930 and 1959. He first played it opposite a cast that included Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona and Ralph Richardson as Roderigo, and would return to it in 1959 at Stratford on Avon.

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 also played Othello in a jazz musical version, Catch My Soul, with Jerry Lee Lewis as Iago, in Los Angeles in 1968. His Othello was captured on record in 1964 with Jay Robinson as Iago and on video in 1981 with Ron Moody as Iago. The 1982 Broadway staging starred James Earl Jones as Othello and Christopher Plummer as Iago.

When Laurence Olivier gave his acclaimed performance of Othello at the Royal National Theatre (UK) 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.

Actors have alternated the roles of Iago and 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 and Samuel Phelps at Drury Lane (1837) and Richard Burton and John Neville at the Old Vic Theatre (1955). When Edwin Booth's tour of England in 1880 was not well attended, Henry Irving invited Booth to alternate the roles of Othello and Iago with him in London. The stunt renewed interest in Booth's tour. James O'Neill also alternated the roles of Othello and Iago with Booth.

White actors have continued to take the role. These include British performers Paul Scofield at the Royal National Theatre in 1980, Anthony Hopkins in the BBC Shakespeare television production (1981), and Michael Gambon in a stage production at Scarborough directed by Alan Ayckbourn in 1990. In 1997, Patrick Stewart took the role 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. Two Indian adaptations of Othello has been released. In 1997, Kaliyattam the Malayalam film adaptation starred Suresh Gopi playing the Othello part in the role of Kannan Perumalayan. In 2006, Omkara, the Bollywood version of Othello, Othello née Omkara 'Omi' Shukla was played by Ajay Devgan. In 2016, baritone and actor David Serero took the role in a Moroccan adaptation in New York.

The character of Iago - from Wikipedia at found at


Iago is one of Shakespeare's most sinister villains, often considered such because of the unique trust that Othello places in him, which he betrays while maintaining his reputation for honesty and dedication. Shakespeare contrasts Iago with Othello's nobility and integrity. With 1,097 lines, Iago has more lines in the play than Othello himself.

The character's source is traced to Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio's tale "Un Capitano Moro" in Gli Hecatommithi (1565). There, the character is simply "the ensign".

Among the prose works of Cinthio is the Hecatommithi or Gli Ecatommiti, a collection of tales told somewhat after the manner of Boccaccio, but still more closely resembling the novels of Cinthio's contemporary, Matteo Bandello. Something may be said in favour of their professed claim to represent a higher standard of morality. Originally published at Mondově in 1565, they were frequently reprinted in Italy, while a French translation appeared in 1583 and one in Spanish, with 20 of the stories, in 1590. They have a peculiar interest to students of English literature, for providing the plots of Measure for Measure and Othello. That of the latter, which is to be found in the Hecatommithi, was almost certainly read by Shakespeare in the original Italian; while that of the former is probably to be traced to George Whetstone's Promos and Cassandra (1578), an adaptation of Cinthio's story, and to his Heptamerone (1582), which contains a direct English translation. It has also been noted that the story of Othello and Un Capitano Moro resemble the earlier tale of The Tale of the Three Apples, a story from One Thousand and One Nights. To Cinthio also must be attributed the plot of Beaumont and Fletcher's Custom of the Country.

I have given thought to the possibility that the character Iago may be related to the Biblical patriarch Jacob. Iago is the Italian pronumciation of Jacob. In the Bible, Jacob is known to be a trickster, that is, a deceiver. He tricks his father into giving him a blessing meant for his older brother Esau. he tricks his uncle Lavan into giving him the best of Lavan's flock. And he himself is tricked into receiving the woman Leah on his wedding night when he expected her younger sister Rachel. Of course, Jacob's trickery is not with evil intent as the character of Iago. BUt both characters achiev their desires through lying.

Origin of the character of Othello from Wikipedia at

Shakespeare did not fully creat the character of Othello and the story of the unfaithfull wife. He drew the theme from stories circulating in early Muslim literature, most notably the THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, the stoy of king Shahryar and Sheherazade. The first wife of Shahryar is unfaithfull and so he has her killed. Suspicious that all women are potentially unfaithfull, he has his subsequent wifes executed after the wedding night. Sheherazade manages to save her life by telling Shahryar stories every night but leaving them unfinished so that the king has to wait till the next night to hear the story end and a new one begun. After a thousand and one nights of story telling, the king decides that Sheherazade is really an amazing and wise woman who would never betray him.

Shakespeare has taken the tale of the cukholing wife of a powerfull man and created a story, giving it a racial basis.

Othello is a Moor, that is, he comes from the area of North Africa called by the Berbers, Maghreb, a horizontal line of Muslim states spanning North Africa. Being born and raised there, we have every reason to believe he was raised in the Muslim religion. During the 16th century, at the time that Shakespeare composed his plays, the states of Europe were constantly threatened by the powerfull Muslim Ottoman Turks. A mere century earlier, Spain had to fight off attacks from Muslim NOrth Africa.

Although Chistian Venice is in a state of "cold war" with the Ottomans, the Venetians recuit a powerful general from the Muslim world to protect them from their Muslim enemies.

The play Othello makes a great deal ado abut the protagonist's skin color but there appears to be a lack of mention about his faith. Shakespeare does not tell the audience whether Othello had to convert to Christianity to assume his position as leader of the Venetian army. All we konw is that Othello is a great general and serves his adopted country faithfully, even while being considered "the other" by the very people he has sworn himself to protect.

For more information about the origins of Othello, visit the Google Books site HERE

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