Felipe Smith

Associate Professor of English at Tulane University. His primary areas of scholarly interest include African American and African Diaspora literature and culture.

One of the most frequently produced Shakespearean dramas in America, Othello inspired a history reflective of societal struggles to assert citizens’ rights in the face of racism and legalized slavery. In 1833, the British actor Edmund Kean, responding to Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s outrage over Desdemona “falling in love with a veritable negro,” “de-Africanized” the Moor. African-American actor Ira Aldridge pointedly performed Othello in Europe as African shortly after Kean’s death. Dark-skinned Othellos were still popular in Britain and America, but mostly in blackface minstrelsy satires like Oteller and Desdemonum and Dar’s de Money. So vexed was the issue of Othello’s racial identity that former U.S. President John Quincy Adams—later, the victorious counsel for the mutinous Africans aboard the slave ship Amistad , whose trial galvanized the abolition movement—declared Desdemona “a little less than a wanton to love a rude, unbleached African soldier.” By contrast, Lewis Tappan, a member of the Amistad mutineers defense committee whose collected papers comprise the foundation of the Amistad Research Center at Tulane—proclaimed Cinque, who led the Amistad mutiny, “another Othello” for his valor and commanding presence. Cultural hero, murderer, anti-slavery icon: Shakespeare’s Othello serves as a Rorschach test of societal values through the ages.

 


View Felipe's faculty profile on Tulane University's website.