One of Paul Robeson's most famous stage roles was his portrayal of Othello. Reading Shakespeare and hearing Shakespeare are two totally different experiences. This activity requires that you listen to Robeson's famous monologue from Othello. The audio is a clip from the 1944 commercial recording of Shakespeare's Othello, where Othello has killed Desdemona out of a jealous rage, but discovers that he was tragically deceived by Iago whom he had mistakenly trusted. This monologue was one of Robeson's most famous elements of his concert programs. To hear the voice of Robeson himself, click on player below:
Soft you, a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know't.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their med'cinable gum. Set you down this.
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th' throat the circumcised dog
And smote him â€“ thus.
He stabs himself.
Lodovico. O bloody period!
Gratiano. All that is spoke is marred.
Othello. I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this,
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.
He falls over Desdemona and dies.
Questions for Discussion
- After listening to Robeson's monologue, what emotions come through? Support the emotions that you hear along with evidence from the text and what you have learned about Paul Robeson from other areas of this site.
- What other conflicts are evident in this monologue? Support your conclusions with observations from the text and the audio.
- Recognizing that Robeson's commitment to portraying the dignity of African Americans on stage, how does this monologue represent the problem of an African leader living in a white society? Consult other parts of this site to support your answer.
The Electronic New Jersey Project extends its gratitude to Pavilion Records Ltd for granting permission to use the audio recording of Paul Robeson's dramatic performance of Shakespeare's Othello from Pavilion Records Othello Compact Disc.
For further information about Paul Robeson click here.