Although William Shakespeare wrote this drama about racial prejudice and jealousy in 1602, it wasn't until 1812, when James Hewlett played Othello at New York's African Grove Theater, that a black actor was cast as the North African general for whom the play is named. The African Grove also is believed to have launched the career of Ira Aldridge, the first internationally renowned African American actor. In 1833, Aldridge's Othello broke the color bar at the prestigious Theater Royal at Covent Garden in London. This success lead the actor to various roles throughout Europe during the next 34 years, until his death in 1867. Aldridge's name is inscribed on a bronze plate at the Shakespeare Memorial Theater in Stratford-on-Avon.
Following Aldridge by nearly a century, Paul Robeson performed as Othello in London in 1930. Repeating the role on Broadway 13 years later, Robeson played Othello for a record-breaking 296 performances, then traveled around the country with the play for another two seasons. In 1959, Robeson became the first black man to perform as Othello in the 100-year history of the Shakespeare Memorial Theater in Stratford-on-Avon.
James Earl Jones portrayed Othello at the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1984. In more than four decades as an actor, Jones has received nearly every honor a performer can earn, including two Tony awards, two Obies, two Emmys, and an Academy Award nomination. In addition to his celebrated role as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars triology, Jones costarred in the movie Field of Dreams, starred in the stage and movie versions of The Great White Hope, and won a Tony on Broadway for Fences. In 1980, the NAACP presented Jones with its Hall of Fame Image Award for his outstanding contribution to the arts. He also starred in the ABC series Pros and Cons.
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