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How Othello became black: a cultural history of Shakespeare's Moor in New York City

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Title: How Othello became black: a cultural history of Shakespeare's Moor in New York City
Author(s): Carlson, Andrew I.
Director of Research: Lee, Esther K.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Lee, Esther K.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Stevens, Andrea; Davis, Peter; Roediger, David
Department / Program: Theatre
Discipline: Theatre
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Othello Shakespeare Theatre Race Whiteness
Abstract: The relationship between William Shakespeare’s black Othello and white Desdemona has held a particular hold on the American imagination for two-hundred and fifty years. During its history on the New York stage, Shakespeare’s Othello has been a battleground for race relations and identities, which continue to be fought and negotiated today. In this study, I ask the following research question: How did productions, criticism, and popular understandings of Shakespeare’s Othello reflect and influence the formation of racial identities in New York City from its first performance in 1751 to the performance of Paul Robeson in 1944? The looks at the ways a community used Shakespearean performance and meanings to define the boundaries and qualities of racial identities. By combining the concept of Whiteness as Property developed by legal race historian Cheryl Harris and the cultural history of the New York theatre developed by Bruce McConachie in Melodramatic Formations, I link larger trends in the history of race with trends in the cultural history of the theatre. I argue that Othello becomes the property of white Americans in the nineteenth century, conferring them financial and cultural benefits. In the 20th century, black Americans claim Othello as their property, thus challenging exclusive white ownership of the legitimate American theatre.
Issue Date: 2011-08-26
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/26412
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Andrew I. Carlson
Date Available in IDEALS: 2013-08-27
Date Deposited: 2011-08
 

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