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WATCH: Actor Sir Patrick Stewart Addresses The Oxford Union, Jan 2013

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Radical Shakespeare Theatre Productions: Patrick Stewart As White Othello In Controversial 1997 Play

RADICAL SHAKESPEARE: Actor Sir Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: Next Generation and X-Men fame, stars as a white Othello in Jude Kelly's 1997 theatre production of William Shakespeare's famous play. Photo by Carol Rosegg/AP.

SIR PATRICK STEWART AND SHAKESPEARE'S OTHELLO, ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH

200

The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Othello black?” each month.

320

The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase “Patrick Stewart Othello” each month.

*All figures for “Sir Patrick Stewart And Shakespeare's Othello, According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.

SHAKESPEARE'S OTHELLO was conceived as a black character, but in 1997 Patrick Stewart caused controversy after being cast as a 'race reversed' white Moor. By Ben Arogundade.

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ALTHOUGH ENGLISH PLAYWRIGHT William Shakespeare originally wrote the character of Othello as a black man, the role has traditionally been played by white actors in blackface, beginning with Richard Burbage in the first ever performance in London's Whitehall in November 1604. Ira Aldridge was the first black actor ever to be cast in the role of the Moor back in 1826. Ever since then most Othello's have been black.

OTHELLO RECAST IN RADICAL SHAKESPEARE
Theatre productions of Shakespeare's play underwent a metamorphosis in the 1990s, as a new generation of irreverent young directors began breaking with Shakespeare’s classical tradition in favour of contemporary interpretations which re-cast the play in the present, complete with new settings, modern costumes and radical approaches to casting. One notable example starred film and theatre actor Sir Patrick Stewart, better known for his roles in Star Trek: Next Generation and X-Men. In what had become an exclusively African American role in the US, Stewart caused a stir in November 1997 when he was cast as the country's first white Othello for decades.

PHOTO NEGATIVE WHITE OTHELLO
Stewart featured in a radical re-interpretation of the play at the Shakespeare Theatre, Washington D.C. In what was termed a “photo negative” production by British director Jude Kelly, all the other cast members aside from Stewart were black. This whitening of Othello — or “race reversing” as it is sometimes called — was intended to both challenge stereotypes and to reflect the endlessly adaptive nature of Shakespeare’s work. To give the performance a modern spin, the male characters were decked out in combat fatigues, and Stewart’s shaved head was accessorised with a hooped earring and a tattoo of a serpent.

WHITE OTHELLO REDUX
In July 2015 Stewart announced that he was to reprise his role as white Othello, twenty years after playing it in Washington, this time in his own London production of Shakespeare's play. “In the big picture, everyone should be able to play anything and I am against embargoes on actors playing roles that differ from their own ethnicity or gender,” he stated.

The SHAKESPEARE MASHUP by Ben Arogundade is out now.

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NEW THEORY:
Was Shakespeare A Cripple? Did He Smoke Marijuana For Pain Relief?

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Shakespeare And Race: Is Othello Really Black?

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THIS MONTH'S PICK

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Is This Really The Face Of William Shakespeare?

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He Died At 53, But What Happened In Between? Shakespeare's Summary Timeline.

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NEW EBOOKS
New Shakespeare Play: Othello And Romeo And Juliet Re-Cast In Gay Comedy Mashup.

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NEXT: IS OTHELLO REALLY BLACK?

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THE FIRST BLACK OTHELLO: Ira Aldridge Was Called 'An Unseemly Nigger' By The English Press

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MORE ABOUT SHAKESPEARE'S OTHELLO

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The Sexual Language of Strangers
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THE CULTURE OF SHAKESPEARE

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