‘Othello was a white man’: Properties of race on Shakespeare’s stage

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2 Scopus citations


At James VI’s marriage to Anne of Denmark in 1589, four young black men danced naked in the snow in front of the royal carriage (Hall 1991:4). In 1554 five black men from Guinea were brought to London by traders, and one of the men fathered a child who became the object of intense scrutiny because, even though his mother was English, he was ‘in all respects as black as his father’ (Tokson 1982:1; Jordan 1968: 6). In 1577 an ‘Eskimo’ couple captured by Martin Frobisher’s expedition to Meta Incognita were brought to London where they could be found on the banks of the Thames with their English-born child, fishing and hunting swans and ducks by royal licence (Mullaney 1988:65). In 1596 Elizabeth (unsuccessfully) issued a warrant ordering that all ‘blackamoors’, black servants, exotic signs of their masters’ wealth, be rounded up so that Casper Van Senden, a merchant of Lubeck, could trade them for English prisoners held captive on the Iberian peninsula (Cowhig 1985:6; Hill 1984:8). Between 1585 and 1692, numerous civic pageants, tableaux vivants devoid of action and dialogue, specify the inclusion of ‘Negroe boys’ or ‘beautiful Raven-black negroes’ (not just English people in blackface), sitting astride effigies of lions, camels, griffins and unicorns (Barthelemy 1987:50, 47). These are not representations of racial otherness performed by the English (or, in the first instance, the Norwegians, since the royal couple were married in Oslo), but the display of people from Africa and the New World motivated by curiosity and profit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAlternative Shakespeares
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 2
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781134780754
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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