Acting black: 'Othello', 'Othello' burlesques, and the performance of blackness.
A third manifestation of the London playgoing public's heightened awareness of Othello during the early 1830s was provided by Maurice Dowling's Othello burlesque of 1834, premiering at Liverpool's Liver Theatre. Dowling's Othello, "Moor of Venice, formerly an Independent Nigger, from the Republic of Haiti,"(2) spoke the minstrel show black dialect first popularized in England by Charles Mathews on his return from an 1822 American tour. He is convinced of Desdemona's guilt by her loss not of a handkerchief endowed with magical powers but of a bath towel, and sings his version of "It is the cause" to the tune of "King of the Cannibal Islands."
These versions of Othello mark, I suggest, critical moments in the history of the play's staging of race and racial difference. Apparently since its first performance at the Jacobean court Othello had featured a white man in blackface in the title role.(3) Edmund Kean's "tawny" Othello of 1814 revised this tradition, formally linking erasure of the Moor's black body to his successful impersonation of "those minute differences and delicate shades which constitute the very essence of character."(4) Indeed, the Kean-Macready exchange of the role emphasized the status of blackness as an imaginative product of white cultures, both theatrical and racial: if, on succeeding nights, Othello could be played in entirely different styles by two men who were completely dissimilar in physical appearance, then perhaps the collection of signs and gestures known as "Othello" had no real referent at all. As a black man playing the role of a black man, Aldridge forged a new link between signs and meanings. His performance undid Kean's visual erasure of blackness as a locus,of meaning in the play, and also challenged the relevance of previous centuries, efforts by white actors to "act black." Dowling's "travestie" of Othello, among many others, operated in its turn as a reinscription of the white production of black people, in this case particularly black men, on English stages and within English culture at large.
As Aldridge made his London debut, Parliament was engaged in the debates which culminated in the passage on 31 July 1833 of a bill emancipating British-owned slaves in the West Indies. Premiering in the city which was home to Britain's oldest antislavery society but also one of the primary ports through which African slaves entered Britain and were shipped to the New World, Dowling's Travestie was made possible by the racism and class anxieties stimulated by Caribbean emancipation.(5) Dowling's work not only burlesques Shakespeare's Moor--here an "independent nigger" who had fought with Toussaint L'Ouverture in the 1795 slaves, rebellion which defeated a joint Spanish-British invasion and proclaimed a free republic in 1804--but also, as do other Shakespearean burlesques, poises itself to mock Shakespeare's burgeoning presence as a marker of high culture.(6)
This paper, then, is interested in discussing just what it meant to perform race during Aldridge's theatrical career. The Aldridge phenomenon is contextualized by abolition and its cultural aftermaths. Emancipation and revolt--the 1833 act was preceded by a major slave rebellion in Jamaica at Christmas, 1831-sharpened the attention the British public paid to the position occupied by the continuing successful exploitation of nonwhite bodies in maintaining empire, as the imperial focus shifted from the New World to Africa and Asia. Aldridge's onstage presence was just as powerfully conditioned theatrically, by the existing tradition of blackface and tawny Othellos and by the almost exactly contemporary growth of the minstrel show tradition in the United States. The minstrel show, with its parodic exaggeration of black physicality, provided--just as did Dowling's Othello Travestie and later "darkey dramas" like the American Dar's De Money or Desdemonum, An Ethiopian Burlesque(7)--a means of rewriting what white Anglo-American cultures regarded as "the more threatening, chaotic, and subversive aspects of the black body"(8) Othello's black body in Shakespeare's play proved an intense and disorienting problem for nineteenth-century actors, producers, and audiences, as has the subject of Africa in western discourse generally.(9)
Dowling's Othello reveals mass culture in the act of "othering" blackness and reproducing it as a proper colonial subject, a process it accomplished through an even more aggressive dismemberment and reconstitution of what the Kean-Macready Othello so recently had affirmed as one of high culture's Shakespearean icons. While my Shakespearean colleagues might be troubled by the equation of playing Othello with playing Othello Travestie or with jumping Jim Crow, both kinds of performance--one high culture, two mass culture--are linked by their recourse to blackface.(10) For a white man to play a black man, or a "tawny" man, is to open the performance to questions about agency, social class, and the possibilities both of knowing and of stabilizing racial identities for both white and black subjects.(11) As we shall see, this process of fixing names and identities was not (and is not) accomplished easily or fully. Playing race became a deadly serious kind of cultural work aimed at appropriating discourses of racial difference, discourses which often revealed themselves to be inadequate to the problem of incorporating black or African things into the dual western consciousness of white self and alien other. When Ira Aldridge arrived in Europe to begin playing black men, he disrupted and complicated this economy of race in unforeseen ways. White responses to the theatrical self-authorization of blackness, and the effects of Aldridge's performances in roles previously played by white men in blackface, are the dual subjects of the rest of this paper.
Aldridge arrived in England with some personal experience of the shocking effects seeing black people playing Shakespeare could have on white audiences. Having been born into Manhattan's community of free blacks in about 1807 and acculturated into that community through two of its most visible institutions, the African Free School and the African Theatre, he had an early opportunity to participate in the unfolding of some of the critical issues attending black performance in ante-bellum America and Victorian England.(12)
The African Theatre was founded in 1821 by impresario William Brown, with the help of James Hewlett, the first black American known to have played Shakespeare. Newspaper reportage of their shows at the theatre they built near the corner of Bleecker and Mercer streets, the eager crowds of black patrons they attracted, and estimates of their financial success soon attracted the attention of the police. According to the hostile reports of the National Advocate, a Manhattan newspaper, "some of the neighbors, not relishing the jocund nightly sarabands of these sable fashionables, actually complained to the police, and the avenues of African Grove were closed by authority."(13) The defiant response of the African Theatre was to hire a hotel hall near the Park Theatre for the purpose of presenting Richard III. Once again, the police were called, and another New York newspaper reported another silencing:
The audiences were generally of a riotous character, and amused themselves by throwing
crackers on the stage, and cracking their jokes with the actors, until danger from fire and
civil discord rendered it necessary to break up the establishment. The ebony coloured wags
were notified by the police that they must announce their last performance, but they,
defying the public authority, went on and acted nightly. It was at length considered
necessary to interpose the arm of authority. The police finally disrupted a performance by arresting the actors and holding them "in one green room" until, after an evening of harassment, they were released on the promise "never to act Shakespeare again."(14)
This assumption of the impropriety of black people playing Shakespeare is shared by English comic actor Charles Mathews, who toured the eastern United States in 1821-22. While in New York,
Mr. Mathews takes an opportunity of visiting the Niggers (or negroes) Theatre. The black
population being, in the national theatres, under certain restrictions, have, to be quite at
their ease, a theatre of their own. Here he sees a black tragedian (the Kentucky Roscius)
perform the character of Hamlet, and hears him deliver the soliloquy "To be or not to be,
dat is him question, whether him nobler in de mind to suffer or life up him arms against
one sea of hubble bubble and by opossum (oppose,em) end em." At the word opossum the
whole audience burst forth into one general cry of "opossum, opossum, opossum." On
enquiring into the cause of this, Mr. Mathews was informed, that "Opossum up a Gum
Tree," was the national air, or sort of |God Save the King, of the negroes, and that being
reminded of it by Hamlet's pronunciation of "oppose,em," there was no doubt but that
they would have it sung.(15)
Mathews's report of his tour of American theatres suggests his notion of just what the place of blacks was in performance. He includes an afterpiece, "A Monopologue, called All Well at Natchitoches," which is a brief synopsis of the farcical courtship of a Miss Mangelwurzel by Colonel Hiram Peglar. Included in the piece's gallery of emerging American types is Agamemnon, a black slave belonging to Miss Mangelwurzel's jealous guardian, Jonathan W. Doubikin. These four characters are included in a color illustration bound into the front of Mathews's popular pamphlet, instead of any of the other eminently caricaturable people or events he describes. Smiling, obese, ragged Agamemnon, in contrast to the other characters, is caught in the act of moving toward us, a violin in one hand and its bow in the other. It is this same energetic, mischievous, sensuous American type which entered the minstrel show on both sides of the Atlantic as the most prevalent dramatic portrayal of black characters during the years when Ira Aldridge was making a career in Europe.(16)
Between the censorship of the all-black Richard III and Thomas Rice's first performance as Jim Crow in 1828, Ira Aldridge left the United States for England. The attempt to suppress the agency of black performance and the concomitant appropriation of blackness as a spectacle for the consumption of white audiences marks a recurrence of a double representational process whose theatrical roots can be traced to the Renaissance.(17) What distinguishes the censorship of the all-black Richard III and the furor of publicity surrounding Aldridge's European performances is the role played in them by the institution of Shakespeare. The green room was where the enterprising members of the African Company were forced to wait for "authority" to permit them access not only to the serious capitalist endeavor of making money,(18) but apparently also to the equally serious cultural business of playing Shakespeare. A condition of their release was the promise never to perform Shakespeare again, as though their black skins marked them as incompetent signifiers for the communication of Shakespearean meanings. Controlling their own conditions of performance, winning audiences, giving proud voice to their community's presence in New York, progressing from songs and dramatic monologues to an assay of the role in which Edmund Kean himself had created such a sensation in London and on his 1820-21 tour of the United States, the African Company succeeded almost too well, and was duly punished by what the newspapers repeatedly referred to as "authority." In this case, "authority" was embodied by white police power coming to the defense of Shakespeare.
The African Company raid is an early example of the use of Shakespeare as a tool for enforcing cultural and political hegemony.(19) Instead of imperial or colonial power, however, the New York police mounted their defense of Shakespeare on a platform of the cultural authority of whiteness. By aspiring to play Shakespeare publicly for a paying audience, the actors of the African Company exacerbated existing white ill-ease about the possibility of maintaining prevailing constructions of the relative positions and natures of the races.(20) The danger and transgressive power of black Shakespeare lay in its public contradiction of the supposedly rigid and absolute construction of ideologies of racial difference. In performing Shakespeare, the black actors were also enacting and appropriating the cultural sanction bestowed by his works. In exchange for the uncomfortable spectacle of blacks acting white, the audiences of minstrel shows or Othello "burlettas" would be offered the more reassuring spectacle of whites acting black, of reasserting a relation between observer and object which affirmed white authority over, and authorship of, narratives of racial difference.(21)
When Ira Aldridge arrived in London from New York, he began a series of appearances throughout the British Isles in a repertory largely consisting of adaptations of Renaissance and Restoration plays concentrating on heroic black characters.22 The novelty of having a real black man play these parts after centuries of white men in blackface was emphasized to the playgoing public: in the musical melodrama The Slave, Aldridge would take the stage "without having the slightest occasion for having the cosmetic assistance of burnt cork."(23) The Revolt of Surinam, or a Slave's Revenge "must receive an immense portion of additional interest from being supported in its principal character by a Man of Colour."(24) One critic marveled that Aldridge's presence seemed to blur the boundaries between reality illusion: he played "in a style so truly natural that one might take him for the character he represented."(25)
This blurring of actor and role was not always such a marvelous or persuasive phenomenon to its English beholders. One "D. Groats" actively resisted these bland assurances of theatrical magic in his account of seeing Aldridge in a "Fashionable Dramatic Entertainment" on one of his provincial tours. In a letter written on the back of the playbill, Groats tells how he "witness,d the performance of Zenga last Even g--the Audience was respectable--but with the exception that he dress,d and look,d the Moor it was otherwise contemptible."(26) Even as he notes how immune to and uninterested in Aldridge as a phenomenon he was, however, Groats may well be showing himself to have fallen under the sway of the mimetic power he embodied. His phrase "the performance of Zenga" seems to suggest either that the names "Zenga" and "Aldridge" are interchangeable for him, or that the power of the role so compelled his attention that the rest of the evening--which included violin solos, scenes from The Merchant of Venice and the farce, The Padlock, as well as Aldridge's performance of "an entire New Version of JIM CROW"--made no great impression. What he is at pains to communicate to his friend Miss Munro is instead his disgust with the way in which Aldridge has "gull'd" his audiences "most completely":
--he arrived here (would you believe it--) in his own Carriage, a smart Chariot & pair
(Horses his own) mounted Postilions flaunting [?= unclear] Livery, Black velvet Hunting
caps trimm'd with Gold Lace, etc. Two Ladies (White inside) Imperials on the Top--and
his Butler in the Rumble--is that not going it--He has left this for [name unclear] today.--Give
these two bills to my Friend Simson in the Strand, who together with Mrs. S. I hope
is well--It will show him a new way of raising the wind, and paying a visit to John
Groats's brief note is rich in racial, sexual, and class outrage. First, he shares the indignation of much white ante-bellum society in the United States about what it regarded as the social pretension of unsupervised black people. Aldridge's flashy carriage,(28) pulled by his own (not hired) horses, and his liveried servants might awe the credulous, Groats implies, but fail to impress him. Aldridge arrived not only in ostentatious state, but in the company of "Two Ladies (White inside)," that tangled syntax eliding the fact that Aldridge's female companions were white instead of black with their private placement with him inside the closed carriage. White ladies inside a private space with a black man, or ladies who were white inside the darkened carriage interior, or ladies who glowed white within the dusky penumbra of Aldridge's presence--any way that Groats's phrase can be rendered into literal sense, it connotes a vaguely sexualized discomfort.
The idea of white ladies in close proximity to black men, and the discomfort it aroused, has been of course identified as a major element of critical response to Othello.(29) Just as Ludovico insists at the play's end that the sight of Othello and
Desdemona dead together in their marriage bed must be "hid,"(30) Groats finds it strangely difficult to describe clearly just what he sees in that carriage. He was looking at a spectacle which, with all its suggestions of a double racial and sexual transgression, challenged the limits of the scopophilic power of white gazes to produce black and female subjects.
Apart from his brief and confused allusion to Zanga the Moor, Groats does not comment on the pieces Mat node up Aldridge's performance that night at Caledonian Hall; the mere phenomenon of his presence occupies his attention, and his passion. I would like now to turn to one of those works, and to speculate on the effects of Aldridge's presence on the ways in which they produced their notions of blackness.
The "Comic Extracts from THE PADLOCK" which concluded the show D. Groats saw doubtless sent the audience home happy. Isaac Bickerstaff's two-act farce premiered in 1768 to immediate success, playing fifty-three nights in all during its first season and entering repertories all over Britain well into the next century. Comic actor Charles Dibdin came to be permanently identified with his blackface work as Mungo, a disrespectful, sly, presumptuous, music-loving slave. In the play, Don Diego, an elderly Salamancan grandee, has taken the beautiful but poor young Leonora into his house. He has told her parents that at the end of a three-month trial period, he will either marry her, or send her back to them still a virgin. As the action opens, he is preparing to go to her parents to tell them of his decision, leaving Leonora in the care of his foolish housemaid Ursula. Returning unobserved, he locks Leonora, Ursula, and Mungo into the house with a large padlock: "Fast bind, safe find, is an excellent proverb."(31) Mungo and Ursula--the one joyously seduced by music, the other displeased by Diego's lack of trust--allow Leander, a young student who loves Leonora, to climb over the house's back wall and see her. When Diego finally returns, he finds Mungo drunk and discovers Leander with Leonora. The young man swears his love and identifies himself as being from a good family Chastened, Diego admits his folly in attempting to strike such an inappropriate match, releases Leonora from all obligations to him, fires Ursula, and threatens to beat Mungo. The play finishes with a song mocking Diego's foolishness.
Although music--including Mungo's popular song "What a terrible life I am led," which Aldridge sang at the 1840 show Groats saw--is a part of this early version of The Padlock, later evolutions of the show came to include more, and more elaborate, musical interludes. A nineteenth-century acting edition adds six new numbers, changing a seventh from the 1768 version (the final quartet on the moral of the story by Ursula, Leander, Mungo, and Leonora) into a trio for Mungo, Diego, and Leonora.32 The later acting text also includes an engraving of the delighted Mungo dancing to the song Leander plays for him as the price of admission to the house's back gate. Arms raised, standing on one foot with the other leg kicked out, he contrasts with the sedate posture of the mandolin-playing Leander, and recalls Mathews's Agamemnon. The energy and movement of Mungo in the engraving matches the subversive spirit of the dialect song he sings in both versions:
Let me, when my heart a sinking,
Hear de sweet guitar a clinking;
When a string speak,
Such moosic he make,
Me soon am cur'd of tinking.
Wid de toot. toot, toot,
Of a merry flute,
We dance and we sing,
Till we make a house ring,
And, tied in his garters, old Massa may swing.(33) However, the pleasure and wildness Mungo's song claims for himself is always seen through the focusing lens of his "terrible life" as Diego's slave:
Whate'er's to be done,
Poor black must run;
Mungo here, Mungo dere,
Mungo every where;
Above and below,
Sirrah come, sirrah go;
Do so, and do so.
Me wish to de lord me was dead.(34)
The play carefully modulates the emotions of a white audience as it watches the antics of Mungo: sentimental pity evoked by "What a terrible life I am led" segues into boisterous amusement at his abandon to Leander's music and changes again into scandalized laughter at the spectacle of his drunkenness. In his cups, Mungo tells Diego the truth: "Make no noise, I say; dere's young gentleman wid young lady; he play on guitar, and she like him better dan she like you. Fal, lal, lal."(35) As foolish and impotent and old as he is, however, Diego is still white; he ends the play as he begins it, threatening Mungo with a beating.
The character of Mungo had a kind of life of its own, as evinced by the popularity of his songs from the play; "Mungo here, Mungo there, Mungo every where" became a widely-known catch phrase. The kind of capital that Dibdin made of the role is suggested by his probable authorship of a kind of commonplace book of philosophical and moral occasional pieces called The Padlock Open'd: Or, Mungo's Medley. Being a Choice Collection of the Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Verse, Serious and Comic, Of MUNGO The Padlock-Keeper of Drury Lane.(36) A handwritten note attached to the flyleaf of this volume notes the success of The Padlock in its 1768 London premiere and suggests that Dibdin, who "very successfully represented" the role of Mungo, may have been "induced" to seek further "profit under a name which had taken the town." The Mungo of The Padlock Open'd writes thoughtfully on such subjects as educating children, spiritual faith, and "an old Epigram in a Fragment of Petronius Arbiter" in standard English, not in minstrelized dialect.(37) The book's dedication and preface, however, do make allusion to what were presumably the more memorable moments from Mungo's onstage history; its dedication offers the book to its patron "in return for Civilities received; particularly your Humanity in saving from my Master DON DIEGO'S ever-memorable RATTAN, the poor back of your Humble Servant, MUNGO."(38) His preface to his readers asserts that if he can but succeed in "in exhilarating the Mind, or amending the Heart, I shall think my time not spent amiss in my hours of leisure from the hard and cruel service of my Master, DON DIEGO, which could be rendered tolerable only by my sweet and gentle Mistress LEONORA."(39) Dibdin speaks and writes as a white man of the amusing spectacle of his black character's subjection to white power as embodied by the impotent old Don Diego, and by Mungo's compensatory access to the charms of "Mistress Leonora." Both he and his audiences--first performance, and now print--know he is joking about Mungo from a privileged vantage point of whiteness, one which he shares with them despite his disguised work in performing the joke.
This racial in-joking about the attractions of white women and white men's power over black ones obviously was unavailable to Aldridge if, as Dibdin suggests, the fun of Mungo in the theatre rested on a kind of collusion between white audience and white actor in blackface. But Aldridge's Mungo opened a new set of representational opportunities to a white audience. The commodification of blackness as theatrical property proceeded in new and different way, one in which a black subject was seen to cooperate willingly and so convincingly that "one might take him for the character he represented."
If Aldridge as Mungo thus added verisimilitude to the burlesque production of black manhood on white stages, then Aldridge as Othello may well have unsettled the appropriation and re-presentation of narratives of fixed racial identity produced by the play's heritage of blacked-up white men in the title role. The physical presence of black performers, as was so powerfully suggested by the policing of the African Company, challenged the containment and erasure of blackness effected by mainstream theatrical practice, at least momentarily disrupting and further complicating the complicity between white actor and white audience. The physical impact of blackness was itself blamed for a kind of imperviousness to interpretation; one reason (33) Ibid., 21. (34) Ibid., 15. (35) Ibid., 25. (36) The Padlock Open'd: Or, Mungo's Medley. Being a Choice Collection of the Miscellaneous Pieces i and Verse, Serious and Comic, Of MUNGO The Padlock-Keeper of Drury Lane (London: C. Corbett, 1771). Bickerstaff's Mungo was so responsible for the family fortunes that Dibdin's mistress, dancer Harrie Pitt, named their first son Charles Isaac Mungo (Dictionary of National Biography 5:907). (37) The Padlock Open'd, ix. (38) Ibid., iii. (39) Ibid., vi. Edmund Kean advanced for his innovation of tawny instead of black Othello makeup was that black paint obscured "the play of the countenance."(40) This mysterious and stubborn resistance of blackness to being read and fully understood by whites is a recurring trope in European discourse about Africa and Africans, from antiquity through the nineteenth century.(41) British reviewers were haunted by Aldrige's physical appearance, and their fascination with the visual effects of his blackness probably constitutes a variation on this recurring theme of the resistant strangeness of black bodies.(42)
The more that the play's ultimate truth about Othello's black body--that it had lain with Desdemona's white one--was hidden and denied in nineteenth-century theatrical practice, the more power that this miscegenous secret seemed to exercise over the imagination of white audiences.(43) The sexual shock of Othello's blackness, even as played by white men, was such that a trick like William Macready's "thrusting of his dark despairing face, through the curtains of the bed when Emilia calls to him" was enough to cause one female spectator to faint.(44) Even Kean, while choosing a less-black Othello, invested his characterization with a new romantic intensity and passion his reviewers found stirring: only as Othello more closely resembled a white man physically could his true degree of emotional distance and strangeness from white spectators be fully revealed.(45) Such representational attempts as Kean's to deny the bodily manifestation of a racial difference already firmly inscribed in post-emancipation culture may in fact have worked in exactly the opposite way, to affirm its presence. Aaron, Shakespeare's first black character, boasts of his blackness's resistance to incorporation within other racial or social orders:
Coal-black is better than another hue,
In that it scorns to bear another hue;
For all the water in the ocean
Can never turn the swan's black legs to white,
Although she lave them hourly in the flood.(46)
The perhaps unexpectedly contradictory result of Kean's racial strategy of whitening Othello points to a similar resistance of black signs to seamless incorporation within narratives of white superiority.
The Othello burlesques work hard to divest Shakespeare's climactic scene of the marriage-bed murder of a white girl by her black husband of its power to assault the sensibilities of whiteness, a power which persisted despite the theatrical trend toward the gradual whitening of the Moor. In Desdemonum, all the characters, including "Desdemonum" herself, speak in blackface dialect; a minstrel in drag playing Shakespeare's heroine firmly muzzles the sexual and cross-racial horrors incited by Shakespeare's climax. The very title of the burlesque Dar's de Money mocks the institution of Shakespeare generally, and more specifically the work of such stage stars as Macready, as moneymaking scams foisted on the insufficiently skeptical and insufficiently "white" spectator. Here, two sheet-draped chairs stand in for what Jake rather grandly calls "the nuptial couch." In their rehearsal of the murder scene, Jake reveals that "all the great tragediums" create Othello's frothing madness by putting "a bit o'Brown Windsor in deir mouf." Pete, as Desdemona, falls between the two chairs, "the sheet around him over his head and only off his black face,"(47) in what seems a direct attack on the representational power of blackness as it had been traditionally portrayed in the scene.
Dar's de Money is indeed unique among the three burlesques for a moment which specifically points to the kinds of discursive rupture--both performative and spectatorial--I have been discussing. The play argues that whatever their class and artistic pretensions, those uncomfortably powerful straight Othellos are ultimately brothers beneath their blackened white skins to the lazy scheming "black" buffoons onstage at Wood's Minstrel Hall in New York, where Dar's de Money was played; the piece exists figuratively to return black men to the reservation of white discursive power. Yet in lampooning the power of a Macreadyesque moment as a huge joke on white spectators somehow ideologically uncertain of their status as white people, Dar's de Money also admits the difficulty of making and keeping meaningful rules of racial difference. Pete, ready to turn to playing Shakespeare in his search for ways of making money without really having to work, tells jake the story of his "las' dodge": "I whitewashed my hands, and implored persistence as a man what had been garotted. |Long come one feller, dough, who says, says he: |Wictim ob de garotters--you don't say so! Yes, I see! black in de face wid de choking! But,' says he, |dey must have strangled your wrists a little to make your arms so black!'"(48)
The sharp-eyed white man escapes Pete's racial con, but, Dar's de Money seems to imply, many other white people haven't been so lucky or so wise. If white men can play black ones, then so can black ones at least attempt to play white ones, so that the effacing of lines of racial difference represented by passing--or miscegenation--becomes the ultimate nightmare of white supremacy.(49)
The memoirs of Dame Madge Kendal, who as Madge Robertson was Aldridge's last English Desdemona in 1865, share this awareness of the peril into which the presence of a real black man in what previously had been blackface roles could place firm principles of racial difference. Her anecdotes affirm the importance of racial signs in Othello:
Mr. Ira Aldridge was a man who, being black, always picked out the fairest woman he
could to play Desdemona with him, not because she was capable of acting but because she
had a fair head. One of the great bits of "business" he used to do was where in one of the
scenes he had to say, "Your hand, Desdemona." He made a very great point of opening his
hand and making you place yours in it; and the audience used to see the contrast.(50) Kendal's formation by a white racial consciousness of the play must thus acknowledge the enunciative power of a racial position which is white's opposite. Similarly, her identification with the male spectator in the murder scene surely produces her memories of her Desdemona as a helpless white girl, despite the professional and social eminence from which she writes her life story "Although a genuine black," she notes of Aldridge, "he was quite preux chevalier in his manners to women. The fairer you were, the more obsequious he was to you."(51)
D. Groats's angry eyewitness testimony, Mrs. Kendal's memoirs, and the many burlesques and travesties of Othello are all animated by their responses to the conjunction of black male and white female bodies. The cover of Desdemonum, for example, features the smiling face of a black man in a stiff collar emerging from beneath the stage curtain.(52) Such a prodigiously exaggerated portrayal of a black man's body and his body's powers articulates, as did the relatively restrained earlier engraving of Mungo dancing, versions of the problems and threats black bodies were perceived to embody by white culture. These stories and pictures and plays perform acts of narrative mastery over an otherwise troublingly vagrant signifier. That these comic inversions were sometimes uneasy--Desdeinonum's "Oteller" is smiling, but his head is also monstrous, half as tall as a very high proscenium space-bodies the difficulty of establishing firmly closed narratives of racial order.
At first glance, the overtly racist Othello Travestie might well appear to succeed where other white productions of blackness fail; that is, this rewriting of Othello as a sexualized farce of black presumption and impertinence seems to succeed in remastering the Moor. Dowling's project of burlesquing Shakespeare is readily underwritten by the equally important project of affirming that "the courtship and wedded caresses of Othello and Desdemona" must indeed be "extremely revolting."(53) Articulating the powers of whiteness for its audience, Othello Travestie restages Shakespeare's love tragedy as a racial farce whose utter incongruity rests on a foundation of thwarted and perverted desire.
As critics sensitive to Othello's status as a document saturated with languages of color and racial distinction have pointed out, Shakespeare's play makes the Moor available to the other characters and to himself only through recourse to existing discourses of blackness.(54) To Roderigo, frustrated over losing all hopes of winning Desdemona's love, Othello is the lucky "thick-lips" (1. 1. 66); Iago stirs Brabantio's patriarchal rage by reminding him that his daughter not only has married without consulting him but is "making the beast with two backs' with a man who is closer to a Barbary horse" (1. 1. 116-17,111-12) than to the kind of man he would have chosen for her. Desdemona herself admits she was won through her sensitivity to an exotically Orientalizing narrative of Othello's origins. When Iago succeeds in planting doubt in Othello's mind, the Moor immediately expresses this doubt in the terms of a construction of irreconcilable racial and moral difference; although he can barely believe that she has been unfaithful, if she has it may be because he is black. Physically separated from Venice, emotionally separated from his certainty of Desdemona's love, he is no longer recognizable as the "noble Moor" (4. 1. 264) who has so well served Venice's ends; indeed, he comes to resemble the barely domesticated beast of burden that Brabantio so readily assumes he is in Act 1.
For all its slangy impertinence and willingness to subvert Shakespeare worship, Dowling's Othello's Travestie preserves this half-submerged, half-unconscious language of racial exclusion. Dowling's updated vocabulary and inclusion of musical numbers set to popular tunes of the day share with their original the same knowledge of and recourse to discourses of blackness, here given additional point by the white British public's new task of learning how to define itself against a world without British-owned black slaves. What Dowling alters, and must alter, most radically is, of course, the character and motivations of Shakespeare's Moor himself. Dowling's changes work to forestall every opportunity for his Othello to display discursive power within its sharpened vocabulary of black and white, bond and free. Instead of entering in the quiet authority of a "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them" (1. 2. 59), suggesting his ability to command and to be obeyed in Venice, the Travestie Othello insists, in minstrel dialect, that he does not fear Brabantio: "Othello soger--him no run away."(55) Instead of the simple assurance that the "services- (1. 2. 18) he has done Venice will speak louder than any of Brabantio's complaints, thus suggesting a set of terms under which he can be allowed a certain status and dignity in the signiory, Dowling's Othello tries to explain to Brabantio that even the sexual intimacies of marriage may affirm the racial superiority Brabantio fears will be destroyed:
S'pose him dark--him wife so light,
De snow itself from her might borrow!
De piccaninnies may be white
So what de use make more sorrow.(56) This breezy abdication of the irreducible quality of his blackness detours around the complications posed by legitimate actors' investment of the role with mimetic passion. By suggesting that whiteness will triumph over blackness even in the crucible of a racially mixed bed, Dowling's Othello gives up the racial power which remained in straight versions of the play however much the Moor was physically made to r-esemble a white man.
This emptying out of the sign of Othello's blackness is accompanied by an evacuation of his and Desdemona's mutual sexual passion. While Shakespeare's Othello posits that the sexual love between Othello and Desdemona is at least potentially capable of shattering the delicate balance through which Othello the Moor can enjoy a position of prestige and authority in white Venice, Dowling's burlesque concentrates on belittling the nature of the bond's power. Dowling's strategy is to attack it through Shakespeare's Desdemona's culturally improper admission of her passion for her husband, an impropriety compounded by the facts of who and what her husband is. Instead of the Shakespearean character's desire to remain at her husband's side, lest she be bereft of those rites for which she loves him, Dowling's heroine sheepishly admits a helpless sexual attraction. Her admission decontaminates the play's miscegenation of the fearsome fascination it held for its nineteenth-century audiences, reducing this racial fear that perhaps black and white were not different species to the patriarchal attitude toward the ownership of white women's bodies and Sexuality which enabled it.(57) Dowling's Desdemona sings to a popular tune of the day how she would listen to Othello's stories every night while she curled her hair in her father's kitchen:
Once while darning father's stocking,
Oh! he told a tale so shocking;
So romantic--yet so tender,
That I fell fainting 'cross the fender.
When I came about--ah, me!
I was sitting on his knee--
Grateful for the scrape I'd missed--
I thanked him--and he welcome kiss'd.(58) Dowling's version of high culture's masculine and white pleasure of seeing Shakespeare's Desdemona murdered by her black husband is open laughter at Desdemona's shame-faced admission that, after all, she asked for it by being attracted to Othello in the first place. The pornographically-displayed victim of monstrous black passion here becomes a willing co-conspirator in Othello's racial and sexual challenges to white patriarchal authority:
Listen, ladies, if you please--
Never sit on young men's knees,
For though I got a husband by it,
The plan's not good--so pray don't try it."(59)
Dowling's efforts to erode the secret fear at the heart of the play are successful to the precise degree to which they make satirically explicit the contours of the racial unconscious from which Othello draws its power in performance. The major departure of the burlesque from Shakespeare's plot comes at the climax of Othello Travestie. In Dowling, after Othello smothers Desdemona, her ghost "rises between the lights and the bed,"(60) and sings a song to the assembled cast explaining that she has been murdered by Othello. The Moor, stereotypically terrified of ghosts--"Oh! no say dat you come for him / Him tremble so in all him limb"--is seized around the throat by the ghost, and with this threatened revenge
de truth he come
Into him perricranium,
Him no speak more--him feel struck dumb.(61)
In Shakespeare's Othello, of course, it is Iago who refuses to speak and explain the carnage which so "poisons" (5. 2. 364) Ludovico's sight. By having his Othello shocked into silence, instead of Iago choosing silence as his last psychic weapon, Dowling defuses Shakespeare's bitter mystery. Indeed, Dowling's Iago even confesses his perfidy: "Oh dear! I know I am a villain."(62) This confession, however, only comes after the broadest burlesque in the play: Dowling's Desdemona rises from the dead and accuses Iago. After Iago deters Othello from cutting his throat, Roderigo declares "Then let the past be all forgot," with Othello, Desdemona, and Iago agreeing.(63)
Silencing Othello and having all the assembled characters agree simply to forget what has happened to them doubly revises Othello, both revisions suggesting the kinds of tensions which Shakespearean blackface may be designed to address. The silencing of Othello in fact begins with the process of rendering that famous "Othello music"(64) as minstrel-show dialect or working class slang; undoing the power of Shakespeare's language undoes the uneasy power of Shakespeare's scenes, as the burlesquers well understood. To make explicit the ways in which Desdemona's behavior outrages patriarchal norms, as does Othello Travestie, or to mollify white fear by exposing and quashing black people's dangerous racial pretensions, as does Dar's de Money, accomplishes through characterization the same kind of reversal and devaluation that minstrel language accomplishes poetically.
To agree to behave as though the murder never happened also works to perform a kind of communal forgetting of just how closely the Shakespearean spectacle approached the sexual and racial fears of white audiences. For it seems that however strenuously the resources of nineteenth-century English stagecraft attempted to blunt the effect of that scene of enactment of black power over the products of the white imagination, it could never entirely efface it. Indeed, when it was attempting to be most elliptical, as in the movement toward less black Othellos and less explicit murder scenes, its synecdoche succeeded most powerfully in thrilling and shocking audiences. The less white audiences could actually see of the murder, the more they could imagine and Wed imaginings were apparently truly fearful. To rewrite Shakespearean tragedy into racial farce is to reroute spectators' experience of the play onto less obstructed pads of de racial unconscious. But, as I have attempted to show, no part of dominant Anglo-American culture's imagining of relations between the races, whether after emancipation in Britain or in the decades before civil war in America, can be said to be truly safe.
This resistance to certain kinds of representations of blackness became, in the case of Ira Aldridge, a resistance to black performance. After early observing the suppression of black performance in New York, he apparently never truly caught on with producers or audiences in London, either. Instead, his career unfolded on the road, in British provincial theatres and in venues all over Europe and Russia. Indeed, it was in Russia where Aldridge seems to have been most deeply appreciated as a performer." Today, Aldridge survives more strongly as a myth than as a well-documented performer; we know many of the roles he played, including Lear in whiteface in Berlin and St. Petersburg, but his acting texts apparently do not survive, and extended commentary on his methods is scanty. The manuscript file on Aldridge at the Folger Shakespeare library contains one highly suggestive letter, consisting of the "Othello's occupation's gone" speech from Act 5 of the play, copied out and mailed, presumably to an admiring spectator, in 1853. His work has largely vanished, but traces of the phenomenon of his presence survive, themselves a kind of witness to the disruptively stubborn sign of blackness in nineteenth-century of Othello. (1) Playbill 327a, C.G. and D.L. Play Bills. 1832.3. (2) Maurice Dowling, Othello Travestie, An Operatic Burlesque Burletta (London: Lacy's Acting Editio n.d.),2. (3) See Ruth Cowhig, "Actors Black and Tawny in the Role of Othello and Their Critics," Theatre Research International 4 (1979): 133-46. (4) F. W. Hawkins, The Life of Edmund Kean. From Published and Original Sources (London: Tinsley Brothers, 1869), 1:221. Hawkins notes that Kean's tawny Othello "got rid of the difficulty arising f the supposed necessity of blackening the Moor's face, by which much of the play of the countenance was lost." (5) Britain's slave trade was declared illegal in 1807, and full abolition (as opposed to the gradua emancipation of the 1833 act) was passed in 1838. For the class and economic elements of Caribbean emancipation, see Michael Craton, Sinews of Empire: A Short History of British Slavery (Garden City: Anchor, 1974), 238-84; and James Walvin, England, Slaves, and Freedom, 1776-1838 (Jackson: Universit Press of Mississippi, 1986), 74-82. (6) Ray B. Browne, "Shakespeare in American Vaudeville and Negro Minstrelsy," American Quarterly 12 (1960): 374-91, is a full early survey of the subject, although he does not address his material attempt to do here. Nineteenth-Century Shakespearean Burlesques (London: Diploma Press, 1977), ed. Stanley Wells notes that the first nineteenth-century burlesque, John Poole's 1810 Hamlet Travestie, complete with mock editorial annotations, was inspired by Poole's disgust with the "folly," "affecta and "arrogance" of Shakespeare's modern editors (1:xvii). Jonathan Bate, Shakespearean Constitutions Politics, Theatre, Criticism 1730-1830 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), is extremely useful on ways in which the institution of Shakespeare became the property of different political and social ideolo in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; see particularly 41 45 on the "Old Price" riots of occasioned by the management's raising of ticket prices at the new Covent Garden theatre. Bate sees the riots "as a battle for the possession of Shakespeare" (43); Shakespeare's plays made up a signif part of the repertory at Covent Garden and the riots equally "had economic, as well as Bardolatrous, motivations" (45). (7) "Darkey Dramas" is the heading of section 22 of the "International Descriptive Catalogue of Play and Dramatic Works" listed inside the front cover of the printed edition of the anonymous Dar's De Money (London: French's Acting Editions, c. 1880). Desdemonum was printed in New York by the Happy Hours Press in 1874, although both plays had probably been performed much earlier. (8) Eric Lott, "|The Seeming Counterfeit,: Racial Politics and Early Blackface Minstrelsy," American Quarterly 43 (1991): 235. Other works on the minstrel show which I have found useful include Robert C. Toll, Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press,1974),3-103; Nathan Huggins, Harlem Renaissance (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 24886 and Alexander Saxton, "Blackface Minstrelsy and Jacksonian Ideology," American Quarterly 27 (1975): 3-28. (9) See Christopher L. Miller, Blank Darkness: Africanist Discourse in French (Chicago: University o Chicago Press, 1985). Miller notes that Africa is a destabilizing "third element" (16) in the west's attempts to imagine cultures and peoples through their diametrical opposition to itself. He suggests that European writing and thought about Africa "represents a radical confounding of European discourse in its production of objects, for the object |Africa, (or |blackness' or |idolatr |irreflection,) will call into question the terms and conditions of the discourse that created it" ( (10) George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage (New York: Columbia University Press, 1928), 3:631, reports that Thomas "Daddy" Rice jumped Jim Crow, the blackface character he popularized, as the afterpiece of a performance of the Edwin Booth-Thomas Hamblin Othello at New York's Bowery Theatre on 15 November 1832. This conjunction of high and low was a literal demonstration of what I argue is the racial link between the two forms. (11) While I am aware that the notion of "race" and the binary thinking which produces it can be use to perpetuate categorization of white as normal and everything else as deviant, I choose to retain t term because of my conviction that Renaissance and early modern cultures hinged a whole range of gendered political, social, and representational practices on it. In arguing the cultural work perfo by concepts of racial difference, for example, Michele Barrett and Mary McIntosh, "Ethnocentrism and Socialist Feminist Theory," Feminist Review 20 (1985): 27 call attention to ways in which "the black white distinction" has been the means by which "the social and ideological force of racism" has been inscribed in the conduct of western societies. What intrigues me about Aldridge's performances is th degree to which they may have troubled whiteness as the central or only enunciative position in raci discourse. I believe neither that his performances alone undid an entire binary racial consciousness that languages of race are single and internally coherent. (12) Herbert Marshall and Mildred Stock, Ira Aldridge--the Negro Tragedian (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958; repr. 1968), report that Aldridge performed in at least one African Theatre production; see 39. Although maddeningly sketchy in some of its documentation, Marshall and Stock is the only biography; it is scheduled to be reissued soon by Howard University Press. My account of the African Company's Shakespearean projects also derives from Odell, 3:35-37 and 3:7071, and from Errol Hill, Shakespeare in Sable: A History of Black Shakespearean Actors (Amherst: Univers of Massachusetts Press, 1986),11-16. Marshall and Stock, 23-7, is particularly useful on Aldridge's early life in New York. (13) National Advocate, n.d., as cited in Marshall and Stock, 35. (14) Marshall and Stock,35 and 36, cite an undated issue of the New York American for these remarks. (15) Charles Mathews, Sketches of Mr. Mathews's Celebrated Trip to America, Comprising a Full Accoun His Admirable Lecture on Peculiarities, Characters, and Manners; With the most Laughable of The Stor Adventures, and Eight Original Comic Songs (London: J. Limbird, 1823), 9. James V. Hatch, "Here Come Everybody: Scholarship in Black Theatre History," in Interpreting the Theatrical Past: Essays in the Historiography of Performance, ed. Thomas Postlewait and Bruce A. McConachie (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1989), 158, suggests that the performer Mathews saw may have been Aldridge himself; Aldridge was frequently billed as the "African Roscius" and often included "Opossum up a Gum Tree" in his performances. (16) Toll, 27, notes that although New York was the birthplace of minstrelsy, it was Charles Mathews who popularized the minstrel show version of the black man both in the United States and in Britain, and that the earliest minstrel show songs were set to existing British melodies. (17) See, for example, Kim F. Hall, "Sexual Politics and Cultural Identity in The Masque of Blacknes in The Performance of Power: Theatrical Discourse and Politics, ed. Sue-Ellen Case and Janelle Reine City: University of Iowa Press, 1991), 3-18; and Joyce Green MacDonald, "|The Force of Imagination,: The Subject of Blackness in Shakespeare, Jonson, and Ravenscroft," Renaissance Papers (1991): 53-74. The 1993 meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America included a seminar on "Race, Ethnicity and Power in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries," and members, papers and discussion offered much suggestive evidence of my contention here. (18) Marshall and Stock, 31 and 36, cite the suggestion of the anonymous 1849 Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, the African Roscius that the 1821 Richard III was halted at the instigation Price, manager of the much bigger Park Theatre, who was then in the midst of sponsoring Edmund Kean's tour of the United States. Price, according to the theory of the Memoir, was "jealous" of the African Company's success in siphoning off the Shakespeare audience and used his influence with the police to get the shows stopped. (19) E.g., Jyostna Singh, "Different Shakespeare: The Bard in Colonial/Post-Colonial India," Theatre Journal 41 (1989): 445 58. (20) A persistent undercurrent in the New York newspaper accounts of the African Company and its black audiences, for example, criticizes the cohesiveness and the cultural ambitions of the city's neighborhoods of free blacks. As the National Advocate of 3 August 1821 put it, "As their number increased, and their consequence strengthened, partly from high wages, high living, and the elective franchise, it was considered necessary to have a place of amusement for them exclusively.... [A]ccoutered and caparisoned, these black fashionables saunter up and down . . . in all the pride of liberty and unconsciousness of want. In their dress, salutations, familiar phrases, and compliments, their imitative faculties are best exhibited" (cited in Marshall and Stock, 32-33). See also Toll, 3 Emma Jones Lapsansky, "|Since They Got Those Separate Churches,: Afro-Americans and Racism in Jacksonian Philadelphia," American Quarterly 32 (1980): 54-78. (21) The notion of mimicry as a primary means through which colonial discourse attempts to stabilize itself and its others is explored by Homi K. Bhabha, "Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse," October 28.1 (1984): 125-33. Here, Bhabha argues that the mimetic strategies employed by colonizers toward their subjects produces such subjects as "the appropriate objects of a colonialist chain of command, authorized versions of otherness. But they are also . . . the figures doubling, the part-objects of a metonymy of colonial desire which alienates the modality and normality of those dominant discourses in which they emerge as |inappropriate' colonial subjects" (129). While I am not as sanguine as Bhabha is here that the sign of otherness is always necessarily disruptive, I believe that the disruptive effects he argues are probably more available in the speci kind of discourse called performance, in the seeing and doing of otherness, than in non-performative discourses. (22) Jeremy Crump, "The Popular Audience for Shakespeare in Nineteenth-Century Leicester," in Shakespeare and the Victorian Stage, ed. Richard Foulkes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 271 82, is a good account of the circumstances of Shakespearean production for such provincia audiences. Crump, 271, notes that the Leicester Journal of 27 March 1857 approved of an Aldridge Othello as "the drama it should be." (23) From a review in the Manchester Courier, cited by Ruth Cowhig, "Ira Aldridge in Manchester," Theatre Research International 11 (1986): 240. (24) Playbill, Royal Coburg Theatre, from Aldridge's first London engagement in 1825, cited in Marshall and Stock, 54. (25) An undated anonymous review in the Manchester Courier, cited by Cowhig, "Aldridge in Manchester," 240. (26) D. Groats to Miss Munro of No.9 vine Street, Westminster (written on the back of a playbill for Aldridge's program at The Caledonian Hall, Dingwall, 1 May 1840), Manuscript File on Othello, Folger Shakespeare Library. Groats (which may well be a pseudonym) is referring to "Zanga," the passionate Moorish hero of Edward Young's The Revenge, scenes from which, according to the playbill, Aldridge performed that night. (27) Ibid. (28) The Oxford English Dictionary lists an 1826 usage of "imperial" to describe "a kind of roof or which, viewed in its profile, is pointed towards the top, and widens itself more and more in descending towards its base." Groats's plural indicates that the roof of Aldridge's carriage bore mo than one of these domes. (29) See especially Michael Neill, "Unproper Beds: Race, Adultery, and the Hideous in Othello," SQ 4 (1989): 383-412. (30) I take all Shakespeare citations from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974); here, Othello 5. 1. 365. (31) I cite The Padlock. In Two Acts. By Mr. Isaac Bickerstaffe, the promptbook for a 1783 performan Edinburgh marked for Ursula; here, p. 273. This copy, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, is bound wi a prompt for Catherine and Petruchio and is missing pages 269-73. (32) The Padlock, in Dolby's British Theatre, with original Prefatory Remarks, Biographical Sketches (London: Thomas Dolby, 1823). (33) Ibid., 21. (34) Ibid., 15. (35) Ibid., 25. (36) The Padlock Open'd: Or, Mungo's Medley. Being a Choice Collection of the Miscellaneous Pieces i and Verse, Serious and Comic, Of MUNGO The Padlock-Keeper of Drury Lane (London: C. Corbett, 1771). Bickerstaff's Mungo was so responsible for the family fortunes that Dibdin's mistress, dancer Harrie Pitt, named their first son Charles Isaac Mungo (Dictionary of National Biography 5:907). (37) The Padlock Open'd, ix. (38) Ibid., iii. (39) Ibid., vi. (40) Hawkins, 1:221. Hawkins notes that Kean "regarded it as a gross error to make Othello either a negro or a black, and accordingly altered the conventional black to the light brown which distinguis the Moors by virtue of their descent from the Caucasian race." Despite his recognition that Shakespeare describes Othello "with a minuteness which leaves no doubt" that he thought of him as black, Hawkins insists that "there is no reason to suppose that the Moors were darker than the generality of Spaniards, who indeed are half Moors, and compared with the Venetians he would even then be black." This confused ethnography, with its determination to characterize every race by its degree of closeness to or distance from a norm which is unquestioningly conceived of as "white," suggests the ideological underpinnings of a decision Kean and Hawkins present as a matter of innovative and efficient theatrical practice, and further emphasizes the role of racial discourse in producing Othello. (41) Miller, 23-29. (42) Marshall and Stock cite an anonymous review of Aldridge in Oroonoko from The Times (London), 11 October 1825: "This gentleman is in complexion of the colour of a new half-penny, barring the brightness; his hair is woolly, and his features, although they possess much of the African characte are considerably humanized. His figure is unlucky for the stage; he is baker-knee'd and narrow-chest and owing to the shape of his lips it is utterly impossible for him to pronounce English in such a manner as to satisfy even the unfastidious ears of the gallery" (62). They also quote an anonymous 1858 reviewer from The Atheneum expressing "repugnance" at "the labial peculiarities of which we had been forewarned," 217-18. This emphasis on orality and the appetitive energy it can image psychologi suggests how dominant binary racial discourses operated to infantilize black men, and how they attempted a comic neutralization of the economic and sexual threats black men were seen to embody. The broadly whitened lips of typical blackface makeup emphasized the size of the mouth and lips; Toll, 254-56, and Huggins, 258-59, both note the degree to which the size of the mouth of black minstrel performer Billy Kershands became a major focus of his act. (43) Paul H. D. Kaplan, "The Earliest Images of Othello," SQ 39 (1988): 171-86, notes the popularity the smothering scene as a choice for illustrating printed editions of the play. See also James R. Si "|Nay, that's not next': Othello, 5. 2. in Performance, 1760-1900," SQ 37 (1986): 38-51. (44) Julie Hankey, ed., Othello, Plays in Performance Series (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1987 this anecdote from volume 1 of Westland Marston's Our Recent Actors (London, 1888), 64. (45) Cowhig, 135-36, and Bate, 38-42, discuss the reception of Kean's acting style. Cowhig notes, bu does not critically pursue, the "ironic" elements of the sensational impact of "the first tawny Othe ... in expressing the passionate feelings traditionally associated with black Moors" (136). (46) Titus Andronicus, 4. 2. 99-103. (47) Dar's de Money, 25. (48) Ibid., 22. (49) See Bhabha: "The ambivalence of colonial authority repeatedly turns from mimicry--a difference that is almost nothing but not quite to menace--a difference that is almost total but not quite. And [this] other scene of colonial power, where history turns to farce ... can be seen the twin figures narcissism and paranoia that repeat furiously, uncontrollably" (132). Toll, 39-40, notes that the sh music for songs performed by an early blackface troupe, the Ethiopian Serenaders, showed the performers both in blackface character and as undisguised white men. This visual demonstration of true and assumed racial identities further suggests the representational potency of blackface disgui (50) Mrs. Kendal, Dramatic Opinions (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1890), 28-29. (51) Ibid., 29. Mrs. Kendal adds that in the murder scene, Aldridge "used to take Desdemona out of b by her hair and drag her around the stage before he smothered her.... I remember very distinctly thi dragging Desdemona about by the hair was considered so brutal that it was loudly hissed" (30). Hill, 21, observes that no contemporary account of the performance mentioned this sensational flourish, and thinks Mrs. Kendal, writing 25 years after the fact, may somehow be conflating her Othello memories with those of a contemporary Oliver Twist, whose Bill Sykes dragged Nancy around the stage by the hair twice before dashing her brains out on the floor. This particular confusion of det suggests the power of the play's reproduction of, and of Kendal's production within, white ideologie of Othello's blackness. (52) Neill, includes several illustrations from the Folger Shakespeare Library's Art File on the pla which foreground, in increasingly voluptuous detail, the appearance of Desdemona in the bed just before the angry Moor awakens and attacks her, 386-89. He also reproduces an undated caricature from a series called Tregear's Black jokes, which he believes is also a response to Aldridge's Othel "The caricaturist sublimates his anxiety at the scene's sexual threat through the burlesque device o transforming Desdemona into an obese black woman, her snoring mouth grotesquely agape" (391). In the illustration, a dialogue balloon over the head of the grimacing Othello holds that Desdemona "must die, else, she'll betray more Niggers" (392). (53) Charles Lamb, "On the Tragedies of Shakespeare, Considered with Reference to Their Fitness for Stage Representation," in The Dramatic Essays of Charles Lamb, ed. Brander Matthews (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1891), 188. Lamb argues that the physical specificity of performance works to emphasize what might otherwise be mediated through the "beautiful compromise" effected by readers' imaginations, and that the results of this emphasis are sometimes aesthetically and emotion untenable. His assertion that the onstage spectacle of a black Othello making love to a white Desdemona is necessarily and unalterably |revolting' to a white spectator seems particularly applicable to my argument here about the motivations of theatrical attempts to undo Othello's blackness. (54) Besides Neill, see, e.g., Martin Orkin, "Othello and the |plain face' of Racism," SQ 38 (1987): and Jyostna Singh, "Othello's Identity," in Women, Race, Writing in the Early Modern Period, ed. Pat Parker and Margo Hendricks (London: Routledge, 1993). (55) Dowling, 7. (56) Ibid., 8. (57) Edward A. Snow, "Sexual Anxiety and the Male Order of Things in Othello," ELR 10 (1980): 384-41 Karen Newman, "|And wash the Ethiop white': Femininity and the Monstrous in Othello," in Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology, ed. Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O'Connor (London: Methuen, 1987), 143-62. (58) Dowling, 11. (59) Ibid. (60) Ibid., 36 (stage direction). (61) Ibid. (62) Ibid. (63) Ibid. In Desdemonum, Oteller smothers the title character only to have "Cashum" (Michael Cassio enter and tell him that he found the handkerchief on "de stairs" and used it to blow his nose. Relie to discover the truth, Oteller stabs himself and falls on his wife's body to the accompaniment of fiddlers and pipers. According to the final stage directions, the assembled characters "join hands a dance around them. Steller [sic] and Desdemonum get up and join in" (8). (64) The phrase is the title of G. Wilson Knight's chapter, "The Othello Music," in The Wheel of Fir Interpretations of Shakespearean Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930), 97-119. (65) Hankey, 80-83. Joyce Green MacDonald is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, where she tea Renaissance drama. She has published articles on representations of racial difference in the Renaiss on gender difference in modern Shakespearean production, and on Renaissance classicism.
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|Author:||MacDonald, Joyce Green|
|Date:||May 1, 1994|
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