This lecture explores the performance of race through illustrations and portraits of two famous Othellos: Edmund Kean, the British actor who tried to ‘whiten’ the character, and Ira Aldridge, the ground-breaking African American actor who attempted to conquer Othello. Both Kean and Aldridge worked as actors with careers spanning black and white parts; for both, Othello presented challenges around agency and racial identity. Kean, it seems, could not escape Othello’s blackness, and Aldridge could not escape Othello. How does Othello act as a site of identity creation and identity limitation? How do illustrations, exhibitions, and academic narratives contribute to that creation and limitation? Despite their attempts to control race on stage, Kean and Aldridge met with spectators whose visual processing of their performances forced them back into familiar racial identities.
This lecture is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register, you can click here.