A contract for Othello

Paul Robeson as Othello
Paul Robeson as Othello

Folger Finds delivers delightful and insightful moments with the Folger collection. Sarah Hovde, a cataloger at the Folger Shakespeare Library, unearths the contract between the producer, the director, and the star of the longest-running Shakespeare play on Broadway, Othello.

The Theatre Guild’s 1943 production of Othello was the first major production of the Shakespeare play in the United States to cast a black Othello, noted actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson, together with an otherwise white cast. The production was quite popular, and still holds the record for longest-running Shakespeare play on Broadway, with 296 performances between October 1943 and June 1944. (It then toured the U.S. and Canada for another season, playing in 45 cities between September 1944 and May 1945.)

The two unassuming typescript pages below are the contract made between the Theatre Guild and the play’s producer John Haggott, director Margaret Webster, and star Paul Robeson.

The contract sets out the expected run of Othello – starting outside of New York City for three weeks before opening in New York’s theatrical district – and shares creative control over “all artistic aspects of the production” between Robeson, Haggott, and Webster. Additionally, it gives Robeson, “solely and exclusively,” the final say on casting and costume decisions.

Othello Contract Clause

The souvenir program included a full spread of still photographs from the play, background on Othello‘s theatrical history, and commentary by Webster on the centrality of race to Othello and how previous casting decisions had handled this aspect of the play.

Want to learn more about Paul Robeson? Listen to this Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode, and be sure to check out our upcoming America’s Shakespeare exhibition.