Intersections in theatrics and politics: The case of Paul Robeson and “Othello”
The goals of this dissertation project are to demonstrate how Paul Robeson utilized Shakespeare’s Othello in the broader struggle for African American equality and how the three productions with which he was associated shed light on contemporary political issues. First, it will document Robeson’s three performances as Othello: in London (1930), on Broadway (1942-45) and in Stratford-upon-Avon (1959). Secondly, it will examine Robeson’s political endeavors and theoretical positions at these three historical junctures, which will also elucidate corresponding international political developments (i.e. the spread of fascism across Europe, World War II and the Cold War). The role of Othello will be conceptualized, then, not just as the most important character in Robeson’s theatrical career but also as a means to explore the way in which Robeson’s artistry offered commentary upon or illuminated specific political issues like segregation and anti-fascism.
First, chapter one synthesizes relevant background material on Shakespeare’s play and the stage history of Othello prior to Robeson. Chapters two and three focus on Robeson’s time abroad, primarily in Great Britain, in the 1930s. The second chapter focuses on Robeson’s portrayal of Othello in London in 1930 and the chapter three analyses Robeson’s political development during that period. The fourth chapter details the historic 1942-45 production of Othello that was directed by Margaret Webster and became the longest running Shakespearean play on Broadway. Chapter five outlines Robeson’s corresponding political involvement during the WWII and immediate post-war periods. Next, the sixth chapter examines Robeson’s political endeavors as his artistic career nearly grinds to a halt in the face of anti-communist hysteria. This chapter argues that Othello became even more closely associated with Robeson through these oppressive years as he maintained Othello’s final monologue in his repertoire and aptly titled his recording/publishing venture Othello Associates, Inc. The final chapter concentrates on his triumphant return to the stage as Othello at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1959. This production provided an important forum for audiences to affirm their support not only for Robeson’s artistry, but also for his political views and his victory in the passport case.
0323: American studies
0328: Black history