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This content is taken from the University of Birmingham & Royal Shakespeare Company's online course, Othello: In Performance. Join the course to learn more.
Othello at the RSC 2009
Othello at the RSC 2009

Race in the records

When writing about ‘race’ in Othello, academics will often talk about a number of documents from Shakespeare’s period, which are thought to offer insights into the views of the time.

If you choose to read more about these documents, please be aware that some of the language used in them will feel offensive. They should be read as sources which help us to understand the context in which Shakespeare was writing.

The first extract comes from an open letter from Queen Elizabeth I to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London in 1596 and the second extract comes from Leo Africanus’s book The History and Description of Africa, which was translated in 1600. Extracts from both of these can be found online.

Related links

If you chose to look at these extracts you may also be interested to learn more about the ways in which historical documents have been used to inform interpretations of Othello.

Margo Hendricks’ overview of the essays included in Shakespeare and Race (edited by Catherine Alexander and Stanley Wells) will introduce you to a wide variety of critical approaches to this play

You might also like to listen to Kim F. Hall

and Jerry Brotton and Tim Supple talk more about Moors in Shakespeare’s time

Having read or listened to the above you might want to consider:

  • How historical documents can feed discussions about dramatic works and if this is useful.

  • How your own understanding of Shakespeare’s Othello has been affected by discussion of the times in which he was writing.

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This article is from the free online course:

Othello: In Performance

University of Birmingham