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The Folger Spotlight

ENCORES: “‘Othello was My Grandfather’: Shakespeare in the African Diaspora” Lecture by Kim F. Hall (2016)

Folger ENCORES, red theater seats fading into darkness
Folger ENCORES, red theater seats fading into darkness

Folger Public Programs is pleased to present ENCORES, a weekly online series highlighting past performances and recalling the rich history of programming on the historic Folger stage. As many arts and cultural institutions remain closed during this time, these ENCORES provide a way to connect and revisit the breadth of Folger offerings with a wider audience.

ENCORES presents

The Shakespeare Birthday Lecture
‘Othello was My Grandfather’: Shakespeare in the African Diaspora
Delivered by Kim F. Hall on June 27, 2016
Part of the 2016 Anniversary Lecture Series
Read about this event on Folgerpedia

A transcription of this clip can be found on our website.

Listen to the full lecture here (a full transcript is also available).

LecturerKim F. Hall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Hall holds a doctorate in sixteenth and seventeenth century English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research and teaching cover Renaissance/Early Modern Literature and Culture, Critical Race Theory, Black Feminist Studies, Slavery Studies, Visual Culture, Food Studies, and Digital Humanities.

Her book, Things of Darkness, published in 1996 by Cornell University Press, used a black feminist approach to interpret Renaissance literature. This groundbreaking work on racial discourses in sixteenth and seventeenth century Britain helped generate a new wave of scholarship on race in Shakespeare and Renaissance/Early Modern texts. Her second book, Othello: Texts and Contexts (Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2006) offers readers visual and verbal textual materials that illuminate themes in Shakespeare’s play Othello: The Moor of Venice. archive.

Read the introduction by Executive Director of the Folger Institute, Kathleen Lynch:

Hello! Welcome to Folger ENCORES. I’m Kathleen Lynch, Executive Director of the Folger Institute.

Folger ENCORES is a new online program that brings plays, music, and the spoken word from the Folger archives directly to you.

This episode revisits a Shakespeare’s Birthday Lecture. In 2016, Professor Kim Hall, who is the Lucyle Hook Chair and Professor of English and African Studies at Barnard College, presented “Othello was My Grandfather”: Shakespeare in the African Diaspora.

In 2016, we were doing a lot of celebrating at the Folger. It was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we were in the early stages of imagining a major building renovation together with recommitting to the core mission that was going to make clear our welcome to a new, wider, more diverse audience and our determination to bring everyone more fully into the exploration of histories and the legacies of the early modern period, as mixed as those histories are.

The Folger organized a nation-wide tour of copies of our First Folios. Each host institution organized public programs, workshops for high school teachers and college teachers. There were special exhibitions that featured regional collections and histories. We learned how important it was to come out into the communities and share our strengths and learn from theirs.

Back at the Folger, the Institute coordinated an Anniversary Series of Shakespeare’s Birthday Lectures. We wanted to sound some scholarly notes deeply—to provide excellent examples of scholarship in performance, in study of the language, in biographical studies, and in the history of Shakespeare in America.

It’s the latter that Professor Hall addressed, and she did so with a powerful reminder that this 400 year history of reading and performing and teaching Shakespeare in America is the same 400 year history of Black experience in America.

You’ll have to listen to the whole lecture to hear the other examples she provided of Black Americans wrestling with a complicated cultural legacy. Those examples include W.E.B. DeBois and Henrietta Vinton Davis. We give you, in this episode, the third example, where she turns to a contemporary Black man struggling with questions of authority and inclusion in the performance of Othello. It’s the example of Keith Hamilton Cobb and the play, American Moor. Cobb wrote this play and has performed in it, including, at that time, at the Anacostia Playhouse in Washington, DC. The play is now in print, and materials related to several early productions are now part of the Folger’s collections. So by now, these materials and Professor Hall’s analysis of them, are both part of the history of Shakespeare in America that she so masterfully re-centered for us in that Anniversary year.

Thank you for joining us for this excerpt from her lecture, and please come back to further Folger ENCORES.

Encores LogoCheck back each Friday for a new “from the archives” performance, introduced by some of our favorite artists, showcasing the best of Folger TheatreFolger ConsortO.B. Hardison Poetry, and lectures.