Red, White and Blue Shakespeare: Was Othello a White Man? Some Patriotic 19th-Century Americans Thought So

By Smith, Wendy | American Theatre, May-June 2014 | Go to article overview

Red, White and Blue Shakespeare: Was Othello a White Man? Some Patriotic 19th-Century Americans Thought So


Smith, Wendy, American Theatre


SHAKESPEARE IN AMERICA: AN ANTHOLOGY FROM THE REVOLUTION TO NOW

Edited by James Shapiro. Library of America, 2014. 672 pp. $29.95.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"SHAKESPEARE BELONGS TO TWO NATIONS now," Willa Cather declared in 1894, and the Library of America's wonderful anthology supports her assertion in rich detail. "A distinctively American response to Shakespeare" began to emerge during the Revolution, notes editor James Shapiro; as the Bard's plays became embedded in the fabric of national life, they served as vehicles for discussion of the nation's thorniest cultural and political issues.

Some overwrought 18th-century poetry suggests that Americans initially thought the best way to claim Shakespeare as their own was simply to demonstrate that they loved W.S. even more than the English did. Visits to his childhood home in Stratford were de rigueur for 19th-century American tourists; their ambivalent reactions to the "small mean looking edifice" are voiced in a charming 1820 essay by Washington Irving and in a ponderously satirical 1903 story by Henry James that seems to go on forever. Shapiro is commendably willing to include lengthy selections, but not all of them deserve the space they occupy.

A scrupulous, anonymous account of the notorious 1849 Astor Place Riot, however, fully merits 42 pages. It offers the most vivid, and the bloodiest, example of Shakespeare being enlisted in American social conflicts. The press touted the rivalry of Shakespearean actors Charles Macready and Edwin Forrest as a contest between English snobbery and American populism; when some 15,000 Forrest supporters protested outside the Astor Place Opera House where Macready was playing Macbeth, the militia fired into the crowd, killing more than 20 people. The pamphlet reprinted here, while deploring mob violence, closes with a reminder that "this mob is but a symptom ... of a society that has permitted thousands of its members to grow up in poverty and ignorance."

Macbeth itself had nothing to do with the riot, but several distasteful 19th-century essays reveal how discomfiting Othello was to a nation consumed by the issue of race. "The passion of Desdemona for Othello is unnatural, solely and exclusively because of his color," concludes staunch anti-slavery activist John Quincy Adams. Confederate sympathizer Mary Preston rationalizes her love for the play by declaring, "Othello was a white man!" It would be another 75 years before America was ready to see Othello played by a black man; an exultant New Masses review from Samuel Sillen of Paul Robeson's 1943 performance proclaims its historic and artistic significance. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Red, White and Blue Shakespeare: Was Othello a White Man? Some Patriotic 19th-Century Americans Thought So
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.