Today: Art CLOSED

People of Color in Shakespearean Roles

J.A. Arneaux (1855 - ?)

Most noted for playing Iago and Richard III. African American actor born in Georgia of a white French Father and a black mother. Actor and manager of the Astor Place Company of Colored Tragedians; the leading Black dramatic troupe in America in the 1880s.1

John Mason Brown (1900-1969)

Ira Aldridge (1807-1865)

First African American actor to perform the role of Aaron in Titus Andronicus. Forty years as a Shakespearean actor abroad. First to break free of limiting Black actors of playing Shakespearean roles. He played two roles: Othello and The Prince of Morocco, in addition to Aaron. Died in Poland.

William Henry Brown (1815-1884)

Founder of the New York African Theater. Retired West Indian steamship steward. Created the African Grove theater in New York City, where Richard III (21 September 1821) and Othello were produced. 3

Roscoe Lee Brown (1922-2007)

Soothsayer and Pindarus in Julius Ceaser.

Jack Carter (1902-1967)

African American actor. Played Macbeth in Macbeth

Henrietta Vinton Davis (1860-1941)

First African American to perform Cleopatra. Born in Baltimore, Md. She was a teacher, elocutionist, dramatist, impersonator and activist. Founded her own drama company. 

Ossie Davis (1917-2005)

Graduate of Howard University. A Celebration of Paul Robeson” (1988, benefit concert).

Ruby Dee (1922-2014)

Wife of Ossie Davis and actress within her on right. Played in King Lear (1965), Taming of the Shrew (1965), Hamlet (1975)

Jasper Deeter (1893-1972)

Actor/Director. Founded New York’s Hedgerow Theatre.

Owen Dodson (1914-1983)

African American poet and playwright. Director. 4

Charles Dutton (1951- )

Yale School of Drama.

James L. Farmer (1920-1999)

Mentor and activist.

Thomas T. Fortune (1856-1928)

Orator, Civil Rights leader, journalist, writer, and editor. Leading economist in the black community, activist.

Al Freeman, Jr. (1934-2012)

Actor, mentor and activist

Morgan Freeman (1937- )

In 1990, Morgan Freeman starred in "The Taming of the Shrew" in New York Park. Season two of Shakespeare Uncovered to understand how and why “Taming of the Shrew” was written. 6

Charles Gilpin (1878-1930)

African American actor. Highly regarded during the 1920s. Do not see any works relating to Shakespeare.

Richard B. Harrison (1864-1935)

Actor, teacher, dramatic reader and lecturer.

James Hewlett (1778-1836)

First African American Shakespearean actor. Premier actor of William Henry Brown, Manager, New York African Theater.

Paul Molyneaux Hewlett (1856-1891)

Dramatic actor born in Cambridge, Mass. Immigrated to Britain to seek acknowledgement and hone his skills.

Errol Hill (1921-2003)

Trinidad born playwright, actor and theater historian. One of the leading pioneers in the West Indies theatre”. 5

Ellen Holly (1931- )

Actress. Played a racially ambiguous role crossing both Caucasian and African heritages. Played Regan in King Lear.

Robert Hooks (1937- )

Actor, producer and political activist. He played the role of ‘Henry V’ at the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1965.

Earle Hyman (1926 – 2011)

Actor. Played the title role of Prince of Morocco.

James Earl Jones (1931- )

Actor. Performed Shakespeare’s Othello at the White House Evening of Poetry (2009)

Canada Lee (1907-1952)

Actor and important pioneer for African Americans. Played in The Tempest in 1945 for Margret Webster’s NY Performance.

William Marshall (1924-2003)

Actor, director and opera singer. Voice recording as Othello in the Merchant of Venice (1964).

Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979)

Debater and activist, actor who memorized roles of Othello, Hamlet and Prince of Morocco of The Merchant of Venice. Political activist and leader of the Brotherhood of Pullman Porters Movement.

Paul Robeson (1889-1976)

Athlete, scholar and actor. Graduate of Rutger’s University. Robeson’s Shakespearean work as Othello was first seen in London 1930, because of the discrimination he experienced here in the United States. Public angered by his association with the Communist Party.

Samuel Morgan Smith (1833-1882)

Actor, appeared as Othello, Richard III, Macbeth, Hamlet and Shylock in 1866, later made his claim to fame playing Othello at the London Olympic theatre.

Howard Taubman (1907-1996)

Music critic, theater critic, and author.

Henry Wallack (1790-1870)

Actor and colleague of Ira Aldridge.

Denzel Washington (1954- )

“Much Ado About Nothing.” Played the role of Don Pedro

Jane White (1922-2011)

Actress, won an Obie Award for her roles in the 1965-66 NY Shakespeare Festival: Coriolanus and Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Egbert Austin Williams (1874-1922)

Entertainer, actor, and comedian. American/Bahamian blackface vaudeville star. Played several Shakespearean roles.

Paul Winfield (1939-2004)

Television, film and stage actor. Played at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.


Dowdall, B. African Americans and Shakespeare: Partners in Search of Humanity.

1Wilmeth, D. and T. Miller. The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre.

2Hill, E. Shakespeare in Sable: A History of Black Shakespearean Actors.

3Hill, A., ed. An Historical Dictionary of African American Theater.

4Wilkerson, M. Review of Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One: The Life of Owen Dodson.

5Hughes, M. A Companion to West Indian Literature.

6Robinson, J. Shakespeare Uncovered: The Taming of the Shrew with Morgan Freeman.


William Shakespeare in Art: A Desire for Diversity Introduction

More about Shakespeare

Timeline: Significant Dates in the Life of Shakespeare

Further Reading on Shakespeare and Race

Titus Andronicus

Merchant of Venice


Antony and Cleopatra