Paul Robeson’s 1943 appearance as Othello at New York’s Schubert Theatre had the longest run to that time of any Shakespearean production on Broadway, with more than 280 performances. This costume sketch for the Broadway production is by costume designer Robert Edmond Jones. The attached swatches of four fabrics help us further imagine how Robeson’s costume must have looked. The sketch was given to the Folger by James O. Belden in memory of Evelyn Berry Belden.
Robeson, a football all-American at Rutgers and a 1923 graduate of Columbia Law School, left the legal profession early on to pursue an acting career that soon took him overseas. In London, he played the title role in Eugene O’Neill’s Emperor Jones in 1925 and stood out in the 1928 musical Show Boat. In 1930, he starred opposite Peggy Ashcroft in Othello, a mixed-race casting for the classic play that would have been unthinkable at that time in the United States. This promptbook documents that production, an unsuccessful venture that closed in about six weeks. His return to the United States in the 1940s as Othello showed how racial attitudes had begun to change.