Multiple Othellos

While Shakespearean female characters invariably appear as idealized figures when they are pictured alone, male characters like Othello always appear as enacted by particular actors. Charles Dillon played several Shakespearean characters and was certainly not singled out for his Othello. Nonetheless, the reviewer for the Athenaeum claimed his 1856 performance of the role as the herald of a new period of Shakespearean performances, praising specifically the natural quality of his acting: "The Othello was natural, not at all declamatory, sometimes familiar, always domestic, and rather intensely passionate than vehemently demonstrative"(161).
In contrast, Gustavus Vaughn Brooke, who debuted as Othello in 1848, was singled out for his portrayal of the role and very often contrasted with Tomasso Salvini. Edmund Yates claimed that he was "manly, soldierly, with all of Salvini's gallantry and pathos, without a suggestion of Salvini's repulsive violence". Others preferred Brooke's passion because "it had more of the irregularity and the sudden contrasts which denote extreme tension of feeling"(84). Brooke, like Dillon, appears seated. The domesticity attributed to Dillon is easier to convey than Brooke's passion.

Tomasso Salvini also was well known for his Othello which stunned audiences in its 1875 Drury Lane production. An Italian actor, he provoked considerable response with the innovation of cutting his throat rather than stabbing himself. Altogether his portrayal was noted as Othello as "a barbarian, whose instincts, savsage and passionate, are concealed behind a veneer of civilisation"(402). Certainly his portrait offers the most exotically dressed Othello. He is also the only one who holds a weapon. All three actors are featured in Meadows's Illustrated Works, offering a range of actorly representations of this role where Cleopatra and Titania appear individually not as portrayed by as imagined.

Victorian Actors and Actresses in Review: A Dictionary of Contemporary Views of Representative British and American Actors and Actresses, 1837-1901. Compiled and edited by Donald Mullin. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983.