- 1 The original play
- 2 Othello and South Africa: An overview
- 3 International adaptations of Othello performed in South Africa
- 4 Original South African translations and/or adaptations of the text
- 5 Chronological listing of South African productions of Othello
- 6 Sources
- 7 Return to
The original play
The full title of the play is The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Also referred to as The Moor of Venice , Othello, or The Moor of Venice or simply as Othello. Possibly written in 1603 or 1604, and first performed by Shakespeare’s theatre group, the King’s Men, as The Moor of Venice on November 1, 1604, in the Banqueting House of London’s Whitehall Palace. The play was apparently based on Un Capitano Moro ("A Moorish Captain"), a short story first published in 1565, written by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio.
The play has over the years had numerous incarnations in many forms across the globe. In the section entitled "Othello and South Africa" (below) we list only those performed (or possibly performed) in South Africa. For further examples of adaptation and visualization, see for example the Wikipedia entry on Othello in Popular Culture, and the two doctoral studies by Barclay Rafferty (2015) and Catherine Ann Rosario (2015) listed under "Sources".
Othello and South Africa: An overview
In the early 19th century this was the most popular Shakespeare play put on in Cape Town, at least 15 performances being done between 1800 and 1864. This includes one travesty and three productions by a Dutch amateur groups Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst and Vlyt en Kunst, in Dutch translation. However, most probably because of its racial overtones, the play was seldom performed in the later 19th and most of the 20th centuries, though the play was regularly studied by University students.
It resurfaced in the later part of the 20th century, influenced by the eventual release of the 1965 Laurence Olivier film in the 1970s and the gradual relaxing of the Apartheid regulations in the 1980s. In 1972 a provocative adaptation, Othello Slegs Blankes ("Othello Whites Only") was done at the Space Theatre (without an "Othello"), and in 1975 an Afrikaans version of the play with Othello played in black-face. The first black Othello in the country was played by John Kani in a landmark production directed for the Market Theatre by Janet Suzman in 1986.
The play and its plot have taken many forms over the years, including a variety of films, operas, ballets, and other stage presentations. (For a list of international translations and adaptations, see for example the Wikipedia entry on the play.)
In the following two sections we list international adaptations performed on stage in South Africa (excluding the operatic versions), then original South African adaptations, created and performed in the country.
International adaptations of Othello performed in South Africa
For more details of the South African PERFORMANCES of these adaptations of the play, see the chronological listing of South African productions of Othello, in the last section below. It includes ALL versions known to have been done in the country.
Othello-travestie by Ibef
Othello-travestie is a work in three acts by an author who signs himself "Ibef". Published by J. J. Stockdale, 1813, it contains "Burlesque Notes in the Manner of the Most Celebrated Commentators; and Other Curious Appendices".
Facsimile version of the 1813 edition, Google E-book
Othello Travestie by Maurice G. Dowling
Othello Travestie is described as "an operatic burlesque burletta", written by Maurice G. Dowling. Based on Shakespeare's Othello, it was first performed at the Liver Theatre, Liverpool in March 1834, and later at the Strand Theatre London. Published in London by Thomas Hailes Lacy, 1834.
Dowling, M. M. G. (1834). Othello travestie: an operatic burlesque burletta. London: T.H. Lacy. (Facsimile version of the text of the original text, Hathi Trust).
Othello: a Burlesque by George W. H. Griffin
A short, 8 page, version created and performed by Griffin & Christy's Minstrels at their opera house, New York in the 1870s and published as Issue 39 of Ethiopian drama by the Happy Hours Company, New York, in 1879 and as no 246 of Ames' series of Standard and Minor Drama.
No text by this name can be traced, but Bosman (1980) records several performances of a "popular burlesque" with this title produced by the dramatic company of the 9th Regiment in the course of two seasons (1866-7). It is usually referred to as a "burlesque", but once also described as a "beautiful semi-serio Opera in 5 acts, the text by Shakespeare". The latter is most probably a tongue-in-the-cheek description to fit the mood of the particular evening's entertainment, but does point to the text by Maurice G. Dowling as the probable source.
Original South African translations and/or adaptations of the text
The play has been translated into a number of South African languages, and a few local adaptations have also been performed.
For more details of the South African performances of these translations and/or adaptations of the play, see the full list of performances below.
Also found as Othello, of De Moor (translated by an unknown author).
Original South African adaptations
Othello Slegs Blankes ("Othello Whites Only") by Donald Howarth
This is an adaptation written and directed by Donald Howarth specifically for production at The Space Theatre (Cape Town) from 24 June 1972, with David Nissen (composer and musician). The play is intended to be performed without the black character of "Othello" appearing on stage. The play text is unpublished, but the original playscript is held by NELM (Collection: SIMON, Barney: 1995. 11. 1. 48).
Poster NELM [Collection: SIEFF, Percy]: 2013. 25. 1. 26
Original playscript, NELM (Collection: SIMON, Barney: 1995. 11. 1. 48).
Brian Astbury. 1979. The Space/Die Ruimte/Indawo.
Chronological listing of South African productions of Othello
Unless noted otherwise in the list below, the play performed is the original Shakespeare text.
1818: A performance in the African Theatre, Cape Town by the Gentlemen Amateurs in conjunction with Mr Cooke and his ladies, on 24 October, 1818; as a benefit for the Liverpool actress Miss Williams. The afterpiece was The Poor Soldier (O'Keeffe).
1829: Performed in English as Othello, or The Moor of Venice in the African Theatre, Cape Town, on 9 December, with as afterpiece The Wags of Windsor (Colman Jr), by the visiting professional actor H. Booth, supported by a number of local amateurs. Booth not only appeared in the roles of "Othello" and "Looney Mactmolter" in the afterpiece, but also sang a song as interlude.
1834: Performed in English, under the patronage of the Governor, as Othello, or The Moor of Venice by the Private Amateur Company (a civil society), in the Amateur Theatre (Liefhebbery Toneel) on 20 August, with A Day after the Fair (Somerset) as afterpiece.
1836: Performed in Dutch as Othello, of De Jaloersche Zwart ("Othello, or The Jealous Black") by Vlyt en Kunst in the Liefhebbery Toneel (Hope Street Theatre)in Cape Town on 19 August 1837, directed by C.E. Boniface. The rest of the programme consisted of De Logen om Best Wil (Garrick). The production appears to have been successful, but did elicit some criticism from a writer called "Philemon" who protested at the gruesome and immoral nature of the play.
1837: Performed in Dutch as Othello, of De Moor van Venetien by Vlyt en Kunst in the Liefhebbery Toneel (Hope Street Theatre) in Cape Town on 19 August 1837, directed by C.E. Boniface. The rest of the programme consisted of Dirk Menschenschrik (Holberg) and some tricks by "een Groote Baviaan" as afterpiece. The musical society De Getrouwheid assisted in the evening's entertainment.
1842: Othello Travestie (Dowling) performed by the Garrison Players in the Garrison Theatre, Cape Town, on 13 May, as an afterpiece to The Irish Attorney (Bernard). The performers included Mr Wellesley ("The Moor"), Mr D. M'Donald ("Desdemona") and Mr Priestly ("Iago"). Repeated on the 19th May apparently.
1852: Performed in Cape Town by members of the Garrison Players, including Captain Hall and Lieutenant Johnson, helped by local English amateurs, on 24 March, 1852, with as afterpiece Charles the Second, or The Merry Monarch (Payne). The performance was part of three evenings done "for the benefit of the unfortunate soldiers who persished in H.M.Steamer Birkenhead". Unfortunately it appears that the three performances had apparently not served their intended purpose, as they eventually ran at a loss of £30.
1858: Performed by J.E.H. English and his company in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 1 October, with Charles Fraser as "Othello" and an actor referred to simply as "a gentleman saved from the Eastern City" playing "Iago". Also performed on the evening was The Corsican Brothers (Grangé and De Montépin/ Boucicault).
1861: Performed as a "musical extravaganza" called Othello, by an unnamed author (probably the text by Dowling), in Cape Town by the Cape Town and Royal Alfred Dramatic Club on 7 March, with My Friend in the Straps (Selby).
1861: Performed in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, by Sefton Parry and his company, on 9 September, with The Good for Nothing (Buckstone). "Othello" was played by John Howard, "Iago" by T. Brazier, "Roderigo" by Mrs Tellett, "Desdemona" by Mrs Parry and "Emilia" by Mrs Bland.
1862: Scene II, Act III was produced in the Grahamstown Garrison Theatre on 27 January by the Non-commissioned Officers of the North Lincolnshire Regiment of Foot, with a cast consisting of Cast: T. H. Smith Esq. (Othello), Sergeant J. Lydon (Iago), Sergeant T. M'Kay (Cassio), Corporal J. Davies (Desdemona), Private J. M'Kechnie (Emilia). Also played was Amoroso, King of Little Britain (Planché). (For more on contemporary responses to the performances, see the entry on the North Lincolnshire Regiment of Foot)
1864: Performed in the Garrison Theatre, Cape Town, by the 11th Regiment as their farewell performance, before leaving for duty in Natal. Also performed was Michael Erle, the Maniac Lover, or The Fayre Lass of Lichfield (Wilks) and a farewell performance by the regiment's company of Amateur Christy's Minstrels.
1866: A burlesque called Othello in Ireland performed on 24 September by the 9th Regiment in the Garrison Theatre, Cape Town, as part of an evening of "Dramatic and Musical Entertainment" as a benefit for of the Band Sergeant T. Earnshaw, along with sword dances by H. Wallace and musical numbers by Signor Bonicoli and Weber.
1867: Othello in Ireland performed "by special request" on 19 March by the 9th Regiment in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, as part of a "Grand Fashionable Night", along with comic song by H.F. Simmonds and the "fashionable farce" Sayings and Doings (Morton).
1867: Othello in Ireland performed by "special request" once again on 8 June by the 9th Regiment in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town. However it is now referred to as a "beautiful semi-serio Opera in 5 acts, the text by Shakespeare". Also part of the evening's entertainment were a "Gymnastics Display" and The Bal Masqué (or Sloppy Sam).
1867: A final performance of Othello in Ireland by the 9th Regiment took place on 3 August in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town. This time accompanied by The Nervous Cures, three gymnastic displays and Scottish folk dances by H. Wallace.
1867: Performed as Othello by the Le Roy and Duret company in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town on 16 December, as part of a "Grand Shakespearian Night", along with a "Pas Seul" by Miss Clara and A Rough Diamond (Buckstone) as afterpiece.
1867: Performed as Othello by the Le Roy and Duret company in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town on 19 December, with Grimshaw, Bagshaw and Bradshaw (Morton) as afterpiece. (The role of "Othello" was played by T. Brazier and W.J.S. Bennee on alternate nights, one on the 16th the other on the 19th.)
1869: Performed as an "Ethiopian Burlesque in 3 Acts" by the Amateur Coloured Troupe in the Young Men’s Institute and Club, Cape Town. (This may have been based on the 1813 three-act Othello-travestie written by "Ibef.", since the later Christy versions - such as the one by Griffin - tended to be one-act pieces).
1895-6: Performed and taken on tour by the Holloway Theatre Company, opening in the Standard Theatre, Johannesburg, on December 26th with W.J. Holloway and Amy Coleridge in the leading roles. The company also included Gerald Lawrence, Amy Grace, Leonard Rayne, John Nesbitt and William Haviland. The company also played other cities, including the Opera House, Cape Town, for a season that opened in May 1896.
1946: Produced by Frank Hammerton for the Cape Town Repertory Theatre Society at the Little Theatre. With E. Clifford Jones, Dan Bosman, Hazel Casson, Pietro Nolte, Mary Dean, Rosa Lussman, Dan Bosman, Frank Hammerton.
1970: Directed by Leonard Schach at Maynardville starring Bernard Brown, Louis Burke, Cecilia Sonnenberg, Jeanne Wennberg, Michael Drin, Don Maguire, Christopher Hale, Geoffrey Frederick, Richard Poore, Ronald Fenton, Kerry Marsh. Decor by Pamela Lewis, costumes by Jennifer Craig.
1972: Othello Slegs Blankes produced at The Space (Cape Town) in 1972. The text was adapted, written and directed by Donald Howarth, and featured John Badenhorst, Limpie Basson, Peter Benedix, Mavourneen Bryceland, Yvonne Bryceland, Ben Dekker, Val Donald, Anthony Flesch, Keith Grenville, David Haynes, John Kennedy, Charles Kidd, Charles Kinsman, Icky Kurgan, Michael McGovern, Paul Slabolepszy, Michael Swinton, David Nissen, Harry Victor. Costumes by Aubrey Couling, lighting by Brian Astbury, music by David Nissen and stage management by Bee Berman.
1975: Shortly after the release of the 1965 Laurence Olivier film in South Africa in the 1970s, PACT produced an Afrikaans version, in a translation by Anna S. Pohl. Breytenbach Theatre and Alexander Theatre. The production featured Louis van Niekerk in the lead role in black-face, Sandra Prinsloo as Desdemona and Marius Weyers as Iago, Tobie Cronjé also included in the cast, and was directed by Francois Swart.
1977: Presented by KRUIK Toneel at the Nico Malan Theatre, opening 29 January. The Pohl Afrikaans translation was used, direction by Pieter Fourie, decor, costumes and lighting by Raimond Schoop. The cast included Marius Weyers (Othello), Pieter Geldenhuys, Johan Esterhuizen, Cobus Rossouw(on loan from SWAPAC), Mees Xteen, Johan Botha, Marko van der Colff, James Blanckenberg, Neels Coetzee, Liz Dick (Desdemona), Sandra Ferreira, Tarina Kleyn, Chris Truter, Henry Hopkins, Fitz Morley, Willem de la Querra, Billy de la Querra, Martin Crous.
1982: Maynardville, opening 8 January 1982 directed by Roy Sargeant for CAPAB with Robert Stephens as Othello, Richard Grant as Cassio and Neil McCarthy as Montano, also starring Bobby Heaney (Roderigo), Michael Richard (Iago), Hugh Rouse (Brabantio), Marko van der Colff (Duke), James Irwin (Gratiano), John Maytham (a senator), Louise Saint-Claire (Desdemona), Fiona Ramsay (Emilia), Janet Buckland (Bianca) and Roger Dwyer (Lodovico). Lighting by Brian Kennedy, decor and costumes by Dicky Longhurst, music by Michael Tuffin. Henry Goodman was the fight director.
1983: A community theatre production by Phyllis Klotz was done in Cape Town, probably the first time a black actor played the leading role in South Africa.
1986: In a landmark production, directed for the Market Theatre by Janet Suzman in 1986, John Kani played "Othello", Joanna Weinberg played "Desdemona" and Richard Haines gave a superb performance as "Iago". Designs were by Johan Engels.
2013: The Playbill Theatre Company performed it in Johannesburg's Jo'burg Theatre, directed by Denel Honeyball, with Muntu Ngubane, Aimee Goldsmith, Craig Wainwright, Miles Petzer, Glen Biederman-Pam, Ryan Dittman, John Whitely, Liesel Retief and Nadia Woodward.
2016: Performed 26 January till 23 February at Maynardville, directed by Fred Abrahamse with set and costume designs by Marcel Meyer, lighting design by Faheem Bardien, original music score by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder. The cast included Pope Jerrod as "Othello", Melissa Haiden as "Desdemona", Marcel Meyer as "Iago", Lee-Ann van Rooi as "Emilia", Stephen Jubber as "Cassio", Matthew Baldwin as "Roderigo", Faniswa Yisa as "Bianca", Robin Smith as "Brabantio", Daniel Richards as "Lodovico" and Siya Sikawuti as "Montano" and "The Duke of Venice".
Arogundade, Ben. 2011. "Most Memorable Othello Adaptations" in Huffpost
Astbury, Brian. 1979. The Space/Die Ruimte/Indawo. Cape Town: Moira and Azriel Fine.
Bosman, F.C.L.. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 99, 109, 121, 123, 160, 201, 231, 234, 256, 258-260, 278, 339, 340, 344-5, 359, 392-3, 422, 445
Distiller, Natasha. 2012. Authentic protest, authentic Shakespeare, authentic Africans: Performing Othello in South Africa. Comparative Drama, 46 (3):339–355.
Dramachicks - a blog
Fletcher, Jill. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg
Foulkes, Richard. 2006. Performing Shakespeare in the Age of Empire. Cambridge University Press
North Lincoln Sphinx Vol 1, No 11. January 28, 1862.
North Lincoln Sphinx Vol 1, No 12. Febuary 28, 1862.
North Lincoln Sphinx Vol 1, N0 13, July 23, 1862. (Keiskama Hoek)
Rafferty, Barclay. 2015 Adaptations of Othello: (In)Adaptability and Transmedial Representations of Race. Unpublished Doctoral thesis, De Montford University
Rosario, Catherine Ann. 2015. Black Rams and Extravagant Strangers: Shakespeare’s Othello and its Rewritings, from Nineteenth-Century Burlesque to Post-Colonial Tragedy. Unpublished PhD thesis, Goldsmith's College, University of London
Teaterwoordeboek, Vaktaalburo, 1977.
Trek, 10(13):18, 1945.
Go to the ESAT Bibliography
Return to PLAYS I: Original SA plays
Return to PLAYS II: Foreign plays
Return to PLAYS III: Collections
Return to South African Festivals and Competitions
Return to The ESAT Entries
Return to Main Page