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Shakespeare In Black: African American Interpretations of the Bard

Part of an international initiative marking the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death,

Paul Robeson as Othello, circa 1940s. From the Edwin Salk Collection.

Tulane University’s School of Liberal Arts is hosting a traveling exhibition of the First Folio, the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Assembled after the playwright’s death and published in 1623, the First Folio is the only source for eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays, many of his best known, including Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, The Tempest, and As You Like It. It is considered one of the most important secular books of English literature ever printed.

Copies of the First Folio will be on display in all 50 states and in Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico during 2016. The Newcomb Art Museum on Tulane’s campus is the Louisiana site for First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, which will be on display from May 9-31. More information on this exhibition and related programming can be found on the Tulane First Folio website and the site for the Newcomb Art Museum.

Front cover of Langston Hughes’ Shakespeare in Harlem.

As part of an “archival circuit” related to the Shakespeare exhibition on Tulane’s campus, the Amistad Research Center is currently featuring a small exhibition entitled Shakespeare in Black: African American Interpretations of the Bard. This exhibition examines African American treatments of Shakespeare in the fine arts, literature and drama. On display are works related to sculptures of Shakespearian actors and actresses produced by Richmond Barthé in the 1930s and 1940s, Langston Hughes’ 1942 blues-inspired poetry collection Shakespeare in Harlem and a later play by the same title that was derived from Hughes’ poetry, as well as photographs and promotional material related to Paul Robeson’s acclaimed portrayal of Othello during the 1940s.

Amistad’s exhibition will run concurrently with the First Folio exhibition from May 9-31. Those interested in learning more about Shakespeare and the African American experience are encouraged to listen to two excellent podcasts produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library. They are episodes 19 and 20 of the Shakespeare Unlimited series.

Photograph of Richmond Barthé’s bust of Sir Lawrence Olivier as Hotspur, circa 1945.

Images from the Richmond Bathe Papers, Carol Brice Papers, Edwin Salk Collection, Countee Cullen Papers, and library collection. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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