When the famous African-American actor and singer Paul Robeson played the lead in Shakespeare’s Othello in London in 1930, tickets were in high demand during the production’s first week. The critical response, however, was less positive, although the reviews unanimously praised his bass-baritone delivery. When Robeson again played Othello on Broadway thirteen years later, critics praised not only his voice but also his acting, the drama running for 296 performances. My argument concerning Robeson uses elements first noted by Henri Lefebvre in his seminal work, The Production of Space, while I also draw on Paul Connerton’s work on commemorative practices. Using spatial and memorial theories as a backdrop for examining his two portrayals, I suggest that Robeson’s nascent geopolitical awareness following the 1930 production, combined with his already celebrated musical voice, allowed him to perform the role more dramatically in 1943.


Paul Robeson, Othello, Savoy Theatre, Margaret Webster, Spanish Civil War, Henri Lefebvre, Peggy Ashcroft, All God’s Chillun Got Wings, “Ol’ Man River”, Show Boat, Josè Ferrer, Paul Connerton, commemoration, fascism, protest


Agate, James. “The Dramatic World: Mr. Robeson’s Othello.” The [London] Sunday Times (19 May 1930).

Bourdieu, Pierre. “Introduction.” Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London: Routledge Classics, 2010.

Chicago Herald-Examiner. Rev. of Paul Robeson Concert Performance. (11 February 1926).

Coleman, Robert. The Daily Mirror (20 October 1943).

Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989.

Duberman, Martin B. Paul Robeson. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Forner, Phillip S. Edited with Introduction and Notes. Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches, Interviews, 1918-1974. New York: Citadel Press / Kensington Publishing Corp., 1978.

Friedwald, Will. “Paul Robeson in His Depression-Era Prime.” The Wall Street Journal. (5 February 2009). Online at http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123378345964149127.

Guillén, Nicholás. “Paul Robeson in Spain.” Mediodia (Havana, Cuba) 1938. Rpt. and translated in Forner, ed. 123-127.

Hamilton, Virginia. Paul Robeson: The Life and Times of a Free Black Man. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1991.

“Robeson Talks in London for Audience Here.” The New York Herald Tribune (9 June 1930).

Robeson, Paul. “The Artist Must Take Sides.” Speech at rally in aid of Spanish Refugee Children London (24 June 1937). Rpt in Forner, ed. 118-119.

Robeson, Paul. Here I Stand. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.

Robeson, Paul. “Here’s My Story.” Freedom magazine (September 1951). Rpt in Forner, ed, where it is titled, “Ford Local 600 Picnic,” 285-287.

Robeson, Paul. “Interview in PM magazine and Paul Robeson’s Reply.” (12 and 15 September 1943). Rpt. in Forner, ed. 145-146.

Robeson, Paul. “My Fight for Fame. How Shakespeare Paved My Way to Stardom.” Pearson’s Weekly (5 April 1930): 1100.

Robeson, Paul. “Robeson in London Can’t Explain His Success.” London Evening News and African World (rpt. in Baltimore Afro-American). 22 Sept 1928.

Roscoe, Burton. The World Telegram (20 October 1943).

Seaton, Marie. Paul Robeson. London: Dennis Dobson, 1958.

Sillen, Samuel. “Paul Robeson’s Othello.” The New Masses (2 November 1943): 24-25.

Smith, Vern. Interview with Robeson. The Daily Worker (15 January 1935). Rpt. in Forner 94-96.

Swindall, Lindsey R. The Politics of Paul Robeson’s “Othello.” U of Miss. Press, 2010.

Van Gelder, Robert. “Robeson Remembers – Interview with the Star of Othello Partly about His Past.” The New York Times (14 January 1944). Rpt. in Forner 152-154.

Vitkus, Daniel. Turning Turk: English Theater and the Multicultural Mediterranean, 1570-1630. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, 2008.

Webster, Margaret. Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage. New York: Knopf, 1972.

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